50 Years Of Going Out To Play
by Scott Murison
50 years of having fun sure has gone by quickly. The strange thing with time, just like with a good book, is you are really only involved in the chapter you are in. My life, like most people’s, has several chapters. I was not born into an adventure-seeking family and raised on rivers, riding over dales, climbing hills and taking luge lessons in Rangoon.
Chapter 1 (0 to 16)
The first chapter in our life is shaped tremendously by our parents and the household we live in. My parents, through their knowledge, interests, love and vision, enrolled me in hockey, lacrosse, downhill skiing and motocross. Fascinating, as neither my Mom nor my Dad did any of these things! At this age, kids participate in an unconscious manner. When I was 6 it never struck me that learning to ski would serve me as a good life-long hobby. I skied because my parents dropped me off at the ski hill and said they would be back at 4:00 pm to pick me up. I don’t think I meditated on which hockey league to sign up to. I just went to the dressing room where I was dropped off and coach Q37 took over from there. There was no “why?” - you just go with the flow laid out by your parents.
In a similar vein there is no conscious risk or reward assessment going on at this age. You get dropped off, do your thing, have fun and then, if you really play your cards right, you might get a cool snack after. I rambled on like this from primary school to high school with no complaints. I have always been a very fortunate guy; I chose the right parents who exposed me to a lot of great experiences from organized sports to summers spent at a cottage with very little supervision. In the end I am glad I survived all the unsupervised summer moments in boats, hiking, paddling, swimming and riding motorcycles. These experiences set me up well for the next 45 years where there are fewer coaches, rules and clear right/wrong, yes/no decisions. In hindsight this was the period where my ability to assess risk started to develop. The risks could be mortal, moral or social.
Chapter 2 (17-30)
Hair here, hair there, smelly pits and big zits. This is a time my father would refer to youth as being “empty headed mouth breathers”. This is also the time I got to make more and more choices for myself and explore outside the box. I spent many summers of my youth travelling across eastern North America to race motocross bikes, and most of my winters skiing all over. My parents helped me learn there is a lot of variation in what people think is normal. Normal food in Louisiana is different than normal food in Quebec City. “Not normal” was a feeling I became quite comfortable with and this opened a lot of doors for fun. In hindsight I think the constraints of a rink did not satisfy my curiosity for what was “not normal”. I plunged myself into canoe tripping, telemark skiing and rock climbing. I worshipped the likes of Yvon Chouinard and Bill Mason. They inspired me to do away with normal and pursue a life that would leave me feeling quenched and alive.
This shift in my interests really ramped up the need for responsibility, reflection and calculated risk assessment. Leaving the rinks behind and heading onto rivers and cliffs with no coach, parents or rules shifted the locus of control completely. If I splattered myself, drowned or got lost, I had nobody to blame but myself.
It was during this period I finished my Bachelor of Commerce (maybe the only male grad with a ponytail?). I worked for a brief period in the Audit Department at Indian and Northern Affairs in Ottawa. After a few months in cubicle land it quickly became clear that I was not cut out for the finance world just yet. The cubicles had the same fence effect that the rink and rules did. I spent my days yearning to climb and be outside. I could not stop myself from dreaming about and planning the next climbing trip. The drive to try harder, riskier and more exotic trips infected me.
I was lucky or driven enough to get myself on a Canadian/Polish expedition to Pakistan’s BroadPeak (8047m) in 1991. 8000m peaks raise the stakes of the game to 11. This trip tested my moral fortitude, my physical endurance and my mortal decision making. I came out of this 3 month trip with some good lessons. When you put people in really stressful situations, some fold, some run and some pull through. I saw plenty of #1 and #2 and sadly only small amounts of #3. I saw selfish behavior that risked the lives of others. I came up to a belay station where the belayer did not trust my anchor so had himself anchored into a better one. On the return home I watched the expedition and its leader abandon an injured climber. I spent 10 days walking and carrying this guy out with no money and almost no food. Lost 30lbs in the process but we both got back to Skardu alive to find the others had left for home.
It was during these years that I met Kieran, my business partner, and I’ve always been thankful that he’s a guy who always pulls through and never runs.
Having friends who have been tested by danger, heartbreak, loss and forks in the road is crucial in the high risk situations. It was by no accident that I left the safety of the audit world with its rules and confines to open a small business with Kieran. We had both seen our moral and physical selves tested to the limits on numerous occasions and were satisfied with each other’s judgement.
Starting a small business is exciting and not without risk! Kieran and I dove into this in the same way we would a climbing trip. Acknowledging the risks and then calculating a plan that cut out the risks we had control over. During this period there were numerous occasions climbing where I consciously said to myself, “There is a chance I will die if I attempt this next move/adventure but I have decided I am OK with this and I will die doing what I like.” You make similar decisions if you are self-employed - there is always a chance you could go bankrupt.
Chapter 3 (30-35)
After 10 years of climbing, I guess I matured and changed my risk assessment criteria and started saying “I am not OK dying today, I would like to live a little longer.” This marked my switch to kayaking and a more stable business.
The business was maturing and we enjoyed some success while in my free time I was learning how to whitewater kayak. Smoother sailing, certainly, but was not done with my old ways. There are always more rivers or harder ways to do rivers you already know. It took only a few years of pedestrian whitewater kayaking before I started exploring further afield. Paddling the Sun Kosi, Bhoti Koshie, Marshyangdi, Duhd Kosi and other rivers in Nepal, I witnessed near drownings and dead bodies in rivers this time, as opposed to mountains. Similarly, our business world had amped up with the opening of 3 Boatwerks kayak shops, Air Werks, a clothing store, and the Silver Bean Café. Maybe I had not matured yet? I had let my guard down and become comfortable with ridiculous levels of risk again. Once again we capitulated and rejected the excessive risk. We closed Air Werks, sold the Silver Bean and the kayak shops and I took up something I thought might be hard but not so risky.
Chapter 4 (36-51)
Maybe you don’t have to come close to dying to feel alive? I thought this a novel approach to living. In the early 2000’s road riding and triathlon were on a tear. It looked safe and it can be as hard as you want so I thought it might be a good fit. I was a svelte 190 lb kayaker who had spent the last decade trying very hard not to swim, I only ran to the bathroom on occasion and I rode my mountain bike only once in a while to run a shuttle for kayaking. How hard could it be? (Famous words that my wife has repeated back to me many times!)
I learned to embrace suffering. I loved the power to control the effort of riding and running at barely sustainable efforts. Racing triathlons was 1-5 hours spent constantly monitoring my body and brain to ensure it was going as fast as it possibly could. The focus was similar to paddling or climbing really demanding routes except there was little chance of dying. How cool is that! For the last 15 years I have had the pleasure of adapting my body and brain to this new game. After our kids arrived I was unwilling to put in the time and effort required for 3 sports, so after completing several ½ Iron Mans and attending the Olympic Distance Age Group World Championships in Lausanne, Switzerland, I cut my effort down to just cycling.
I love the process of having a goal (a race or event) and diligently training my body to accomplish the task at hand. You train, your body adapts, and it molds itself to the new demands. For 10 years I have been loving riding in the mountains of Europe and have slowly shed weight from 195 down to 170 lbs. With the arrival of my kids and hanging out with my great wife Kathy, the tractor-beam-power of doing high risk things has ebbed. I guess I am maturing, or just growing old, but now my decision tree is different.
Goals and aspirations are paired with my health and as a “mature=old” father I want to be around to see my kids go through life’s experiences. My drive is no longer to scare the living shit out of myself to feel alive, but to be healthy to see more life.
What a journey we are all on!