I had ambition once and I had my heroes, those I wanted to emulate but never had the ability to, and for a long time I felt as overawed and star-struck as the next punter in their presence. The first time I spoke to Sir Chris Bonington I couldn't even get a sentence out and it took me three meetings before I managed more than a mutual nod of recognition on bumping into Kenton Cool ..........and boy did his nod make me feel good! Some time in the last few years all that changed. Whether it was maturity, familiarity, or become accepting of my limitations since my neck injury I don't know. Heroes became friends, inspirational adventures became everyday and while I could understand, appreciate and to an extent empathise with the feelings of these achievements I knew and still know they're horizons far beyond my reach. But in letting go of unreachable dreams I was suddenly able to see what the average do have.
To be an Andy Kirkpatrick, a Steve Peat, a Shauna Coxsey or a Leo Houlding requires not just ability but a massive amount of dedication and focus. In return for that 24/7 365 days a year focus they reach incredible heights but each successive height becomes higher and harder to reach. The new route, the next competition, the next project becomes all engrosing - and it has to be to maintain the standards they've reached, and the field of view narrows. For those of us with the fortune to have neither the ability nor the dedication to reach such heights though the lack of focus allows us to get our highs more frequently, more achievably and across so many more disicplines. We have the advantage of the whole field of view of the outdoor adventure shop.
For the mediocre we can get our kicks from a first ever skiing trip in our 50's, from riding the World's fastest zip line, from thrutching and slithering up an HVS or riding a Peak District Trail there and back in a day. We can get it from a wild camp, our first sea kayak or a tandem paraglider flight. Our highs don't have to take a season of our lives and they don't have to be limited through necessity to a single activity. We are free to push ourselves in any and all and when the experience is more important than the result we don't get the lows of failure. We have the vast majority of each other with who we can relate and we have experiences in common both to aim for and to reminisce about.
Learning to ski at 53
There's enormous freedom in being able to sample the whole spectrum of adventure over a single discipline. When you do a bit of everything at a mediocre level you get to see a wider view of the outdoor world and in being amazed by the wonders in each environment you get to feel more of a tangible attachment watching the films of the Ueli Steck's, the Steve Birkinshaw's and the Hazel Findlay's. Back in the mid 2000's I went to MacGillycuddy's Reeks with Jake Mayer shortly after his record breaking contiguous State Summits trip and on a wild camp in Hag's Glen in the back end of a hurricane he was as happy as on the summit of Everest. Despite his record breaking achievements he was the same as you and I without the competition of a record to achieve and outside his usual environment was as appreciative and fulfilled at what we did achieve as his two average companions.
Ueli Steck making last minute preparations at Kendal Mountain Festival
I'm no longer star-struck when I meet Sir Chris or Kenton and despite years of reporting on the outdoors I don't think I have a single selfie with anyone of note. I understand now; they're different people from you and I. I've seen how hard they work, whether it's opening events, on the lecture circuit or in the gym pre-expedition it's not a glamourous life. In all but a very very few cases it's a short time at the top, is unlikely to be financially rewarding and having reached the heights anything lower will never be quite the same.
Me? I'm happy being mediocre. I get to see the whole picture and choose my highs from the full range. There's nothing wrong in being mediocre, we can still get out there and enjoy the outdoors within our own limits and get as much out of it as those we look up to in awe.