Does summiting a peak or paddling a first descent have value if it hasn’t changed us in the process? The adventure films we watch are packed with feats of bravery and uncertainty—would they be so compelling if the heroes didn’t meet their lofty goals? What if we focused instead on the depths of emotion and intuition that come into play on a truly adventurous expedition?
Yvon Chouinard famously said about $80,000 guided climbs on Mt. Everest, “The whole purpose of planning something like Everest is to effect some sort of spiritual and physical gain and if you compromise the process, you’re an asshole when you start out and you’re an asshole when you get back.”
So what happens when we don’t make it to the top of our mountain? When our trip doesn’t pan out the way we planned? The 2014 Spirit of Adventure winner at the 5Point Film Festival, Nobody’s River, is one of the few adventure films brave enough to ask that question. (Check out the trailer here.)
The film follows four women who traveled to Mongolia and Russia to paddle one of the last great free-flowing rivers—the Amur. Their goal was to paddle from its headwaters to its Pacific Ocean delta, more than 3,100 miles. The goal seemed pretty straightforward, but the film showed a different expedition story than most adventure films.
Before the team even left U.S. soil, one woman’s longtime partner passed away in a tragic accident, ripping the group up emotionally and leaving them questioning whether they should even continue. Once on their way, glorious days of paddling the massive Mongolian wilderness and sweet connections with hospitable locals were mixed with threatening weather, unpredictably dangerous water and sketchy border-crossing bureaucracy.
The camera never flinched from the grief-pressed emotional breakdowns, and captured impromptu dance parties on the Mongolian steppe. Instead of dwelling on whether or not they’d make it to their goal, the film delved into the emotions of the journey and gave voice to the women’s instincts as they weighed risks and rewards along the way.
I saw the film at this year’s 5Point Film Festival in April, and it made me wonder, are we too caught up in reaching our goals to be quiet and tune into the subtle ways we’re growing throughout the journey? Instead of trying to shut off our emotions, can we experience them fully and appreciate them as part of what makes our lives rich?
We often talk about goals and failure, and learning from failure. But maybe things are more complicated than that sometimes. What are our ultimate goals when we go out into the wild? Is it really to simply summit a mountain? Or paddle a river? Or, like Yvon Chouinard says, to affect a more personal gain?