Where could you be swept off to?
Futurism, surprise West Virginia hikes and the spirit of adventure
“It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road & if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
These are the words of Bilbo Baggins, cousin of Frodo, the focal hero of The Lord Of The Rings trilogy. Bilbo had broken with the ways of Hobbiton long ago, going off on adventures of his own before he’d eventually hand over the Ring of Power to Frodo, to be hiked into Mount Doom and destroyed.
Frodo had never left the Shire or its surrounding boroughs. His challenge in Lord of the Rings was not simply to hike across the known world, but to find the will to leave his home and embrace the unpredictability of a quest.
This weekend I traveled to West Virginia with my daughter and a few friends from our rock climbing community. We were to camp in Fayetteville, WV, and spend three days climbing the fantastical rock faces of the New River Gorge National Park. I must say — on day one, we didn't keep our feet…and we were swept away.
Our group leader had been to this particular rock formation before, the Sandstonia cliffs where we’d spend day one ascending the rock. But he’d taken the 20-minute hike before and didn’t much care for it. So a new route was devised which would be….faster. Supposedly.
We stepped off the road.
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Two hours later, covered in cuts from thorns, our knees and bones aching from a bushwhacking traverse across West Virginian wilderness…our small group made it to Sandstonia. Two hours. What happened doesn’t matter. Our friend had believed that if we parked in a different lot and approached Sandstonia from the east, instead of the north, we’d save time. Not only was that wrong, it wasn’t even a well-traveled path. No one hikes in that way.
I was frustrated on that long slog. My body hurt. I wanted to be climbing 90 minutes ago. But up in front of me, there was a light, or rather, a sound…the chirping whistles of my 12-year-old daughter, Sylvie.
She was having the time of her life on this disastrous hike.
“Look at this forest!”
“Oh my God, do you see that rock formation?”
“We’ve gotten to see so much of the forest we wouldn’t have seen!”
“I’m glad we got lost”
Sylvie was not phased by this setback. She was not lost. She was right where she wanted to be, which is to say lost in a forest with a GPS map, plenty of daylight, and a working camera for photography. This navigational screw-up was now a grand adventure. Her positivity carried our group through what would have most certainly been a contentious and frustrating ordeal.
It’s a superpower Sylvie has under pressure. I don’t have it. I work daily to cultivate that strength, but it is not in my nature. That’s why I do this newsletter and read philosophy to fuel it. I’m trying to teach myself these things and hammer those lessons in deep.
Every day we’re alive is an opportunity to live our values. To practice philosophy. To show what we’re about. If you’re waiting for planned moments to show your character and beliefs, you’re missing out. Maybe the world is missing out on what you have to offer. Be awake.
That way you won’t miss the quest when you’re smack dab in the middle of it.
On a related note
I interviewed James Pethokoukis of the American Enterprise Institute. He is the author of the new book, The Conservative Futurist: How to Create the Sci-Fi World We Were Promised. In our talk, James mentioned the mindset to me about the call to adventure Tolkien harkens toward in that line from Biblo to Frodo, but about our technological stagnation that has grounded our once romantic visions of a sci-fi future. Maybe we need to go get lost (in space).
Watch the video interview here
Yes, AI is making big leaps right now. So are self-driving cars and even flying taxis. But many of these innovations that excite the imaginations of dreamers are under threat of government crackdown and regulatory cease & desist. James lays out in his book why this happened after the Space Race, and what can be done to unlock the future so many of us dreamed of as children.
It is possible. What are we willing to risk to set foot on the road?
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