Marolt: A thousand family dinners I didn’t miss
Amidst the publicity and excitement of my brothers being inducted into the National Ski Hall of Fame last week, someone asked if I had any regrets about not sticking with them as a mountaineering partner through all the years and adventures. The questioner knew I had an inside track with them, as their older brother. I started out climbing and skiing the backcountry with them but quit early on.
I told him honestly that I didn’t have any regrets.
I mean, sure, I’d like to be the guest of honor at a big event and have films shown about my incredible adventures with all kinds of important and well-known skiing celebrities standing on the stage, one after another, saying all kinds of nice things about me and welcoming me into their select company.
After all, I am only human. That kind of thing sounds great. It is not the thing that happens to an average guy and that is exactly why it appeals to most.
Still, I don’t have an ounce of regret.
The guy kept pestering me. What about those incredible views from the world’s highest peaks? It’s not like many will ever experience those. What about the physical challenge? Pushing yourself to the limit and coming home as proof that you won? What an adventure to set an edge into an icy ridge 25,000 feet above sea level! What does that feel like?
You saw the film of them making turns on Everest, down along a fixed line of climbers lumbering upwards, step by laborious step, with oxygen masks covering their faces. The climbers must have thought they were hallucinating. You didn’t have to imagine very hard what the expressions on their exhausted faces looked like under those masks. You don’t regret being a part of that?
I told him that I really didn’t, even though that would have been darn cool to be a part of.
What about being out in nature that way; a thin layer of nylon as the wall of your home protecting you from the worst the elements can hand out.
Think of it; a piece of cloth protecting you from 100 mile-per-hour blasts of wind carrying air chilled to 50 degrees below zero, drifting snow threatening to bury you alive as you try to sleep, the deafening roar of a storm preventing all but the most rudimentary communication between you and your tentmates, and the thump of unseen avalanches breaking loose just beyond the front door of your tent as your mind struggles to recall the topography around you to convince yourself that you really are out of harms way. At that point there’s no way of knowing. What a thrill to be in the center of nature at the crescendo of its masterwork.
When you put it like that, I told him, it does sound thrilling. And I know it is. Everyone who comes out of a good scare intact raves about the experience. I’ve had tastes of it myself. But, I’m afraid I won’t waver on this — I have no misgivings about giving up these experiences early on, even if it would have led to recognition and fame.
He said I hadn’t convinced him. Your brothers saw the world, he pointed out. From the barren expanses of Alaska’s interior to the frozen tundra in Kazakhstan, from the first and last sunlit points in South America to climbing into the barrel of the Jetstream in Asia, there lies a road well-traveled that connects them all. That road leads through the largest cities and tiniest villages of the world and is trod upon by all manner of human life. What culture! What traditions! What shared knowledge between such a large cross section of humankind! This, in and of itself, would make it worth it for me.
I admitted that what he said is all very true and that my brothers had grown in many ways due exactly to what he just described. Sure, we could all benefit from seeing more how the world operates — the more obscure the spots we visit, the better. Still, I have never second-guessed myself about giving up the opportunity to do as they did.
Yet, I could not convince him.
He told me I had to make my argument with a reason. He pointed out it was one easy thing to say that I didn’t harbor any regrets about not being a world-class, widely famous ski mountaineer. With all the great advantages that would offer, it would be an entirely different thing to state a valid reason why I would have no such regret.
It is because I know what it takes, I told him.
Roger Marolt contently finds small adventure wherever he looks. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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