It’s part of the human condition to wonder what comes next When the adventure is finished, and the adrenaline ebbs away to leave the cold, hard reality of what remains, it is a peculiarly human thing to want to know how the person with whom we have spent hours of our lives, living an intense experience, learns to cope with the extreme events that have changed them forever.
Sometime, the most emotive affairs, the intriguing events that allow us to see what it really means to be human, take place afterwards. When night falls; when the dust has settled, the final embers of the fire are dwindling, and the storm has passed and left a trail of devastation in its wake. All is changed. Nothing will ever be the same again.
For Jon Gupta, who offers us a narrative that bares his soul, the effects of a lifetime’s achievement – an expedition that might never be beaten – are where the true emotional depths are found. And darkness, too. Noone understands the turmoil of that inner conflict. Where do I go from here? Can I return to normal life? Is there anything left to keep me sustained? Revelation only comes in the form of fresh challenges and a new perspective.
ForMary McIntyre, however, in the hours and days after her climb, the disappointment of not reaching the summit never comes. Instead, she experiences calm descending over her reflections about her decision on the mountain. What story did she want to tell herself? What reality could she create for herself once she had accepted her fear and stepped wilfully into the unknown? Likewise, Christian Murillo sits in the heavy shadows of long nights before Bolivian summit attempts, allowing negative thoughts to gestate and grow. Not until he understands his reaction to that darkness, accepting failure on the ascent of Sajama, can he learn how to overcome it towards the summit of Illimani and beyond.
Kelvin Trautman reflects not only on his time in Greenland, but also far in the past to answer the questions raised by climate change. He knows that not everyone will be able to experience what he did, nor will that experience remain the same for much longer. The damage has already been done and even now continues, compounded every minute of every day. How will we resolve this? he asks. What is the solution? Is there one? Are there clues to be found in the past as to how humanity will manage the changes to come?
For Aniol Serrasolses, it is a promise, one final hurrah. A last-minute decision too good to pass up, despite the risks. His moment of reflection comes before, during, and afterwards, each moment lived in crystal clarity as he paddles off the edge of a 100ft drop at Ram Falls, Canada.
Reflection gives experiences context, and weaves value and emotion into them. It takes them beyond the mere sum of their parts, and imbues them with a life of their own. Seeing into that intensely private world offers us a rarefied perspective; it allows us a glimpse into what makes these amazing people human.