We all encounter setbacks in life. It can be hard to pick oneself up, dust oneself off and get back to what it is we were trying to achieve. But imagine if the setback resulted in a shattered leg, and to get back into it runs the risk of having the same, or worse happen again. It takes a great deal of courage, self-control and motivation to stand at the edge and face those demons, then make that push forward...
In my blogs I put forward ideas from Adventure Psychology to help people figure a way to thrive in uncertain times, and make sense of the crazy world. By adopting an Adventure Mindset (I'll gradually reveal how) you can approach the challenges of life with an adaptable resolve, and embrace the chaos knowing full well that it's a wild ride so you might as well enjoy it!
“It’s one thing to get back on a horse as it roams the paddock. It’s another thing completely when it is rearing up at the edge of a cliff, and to be thrown is to potentially crash down over the edge and to the ground far far below..."
Tormented by demons: the drive to return to BASE
Less than a year ago, in between lockdowns, Hans made a decision that would have longer term impact on his life.
He weighed up the conditions, did the calculations, decided to go for it. He broke one of his rules “never go solo”. But it seemed right.
To exhibit a boldness of spirit, a level headed judgement under pressure is a hallmark in approaching the world with an #AdventureMindset. With risk comes reward.
Everything was going well. Until the last moment when a binary decision went the wrong way.
“Should’ve gone right!” He addresses the camera. He adopts an air of flippancy and humour. Such a ‘simple’ decision. He bet on black but the chips fell on red...
He is sitting on a sloping pile of slate with a badly shattered leg (is there any other kind of shattered leg?).
It’s painful to watch on video even. His cries of anguish knot the stomach. But remarkably he can be heard giving himself a pep talk to “ok, let’s keep it cool!’. He becomes composed, proactive, organised. He’ll get through this. It will be the most excruciating few hours of his life to come but his spirit will prevail.
So what happened? He is a BASE jumper, and this part of North Wales is his ‘patch’. He has pioneered exits in the vicinity. It’s a remote place. No phone signal (another black mark in the copy book of personal ‘rules’ about when and where to jump).
The exit he had in mind was near the most spectacular waterfall in the country. A nice little grassy plateau with a lone tree to anchor his static line from.
The flight path was to be exhilarating and challenging, through the trees, with a ‘U’ turn to hit a technical landing zone just before a wall bordering an open field with telegraph lines criss-crossing. But he was confident.
It all seemed right, what the hell. So he did it. And unfortunately fate intervened at the last moment.
Cue weeks in hospital (after crawling out and driving himself there on his shattered left leg - changing gears all the way), and months of recovery – both physical and mental. What would his future be? Would he be able to walk properly let alone jump? Jumping meant so much to him.
Tracking his progress over the months it became more apparent how badly he had injured himself – he may have lost his foot such was the damage.
There is more to tell about how his #AdventureMindset brought out innate qualities that helped him through those months, and provoked an entrepreneurial spirit. But I want to focus on this last week.
We had talked for some time about making a short film about his road to recovery, with the anticipation that we would revisit the ‘scene of the crime’ together and capture his thoughts and reactions to being back at this place of omens.
It was envisaged this may take place some months earlier, but lockdown intervened. And as it happens to an outside observer, it was assumed he would be mobile enough to get back there. In fact, it was only in the last month or so that he started being able to put his weight on the leg and to begin to walk with a limp.
Hans drew on his drive to ‘get back in the air’ to push himself on the road back to weight bearing, with frustrations along the way and much self doubt. Would he even be able to do anything meaningful in the future in the outdoors?
I didn’t have high expectations on meeting him early last week, when we went for a walk up a hillside in Wales, his slow progress frustrating him and apologising to me that he was holding us back. On the contrary my friend! I was just happy to see he could at least hobble about in the landscape he loved!
He brought along a packed BASE rig, and I humoured him much of that day helping scope out exits on the hillside (we couldn’t find any), thinking that he was using the rig as a motivating factor to get him out and about – a psychological and physical training tool.
Later that week, after he had rested his leg which he admitted was mighty sore for a few days, we decided to return to Pistyll Rhaeadr, where the accident happened. We could capture some footage of him talking through the accident, showing me where he landed and crawled, and of course revisiting the exit to see how he dealt with being back up there after all this time.
So I really didn’t expect him to ‘get back on the horse’ there and then.
But that’s what he did.
There was clear emotion passing across his face as he talked through the various phases of his both exhilarating and traumatic experience. Perhaps somewhat jaded at the whole thing thinking back over, he at times was enthusiastic and energised pointing out landmarks and talking about his flight down. Then an expression would pass across his visage and he would shake his head. Conflicting emotions stirred up in the retelling...
Back at the top of the hill, at the exit he first opened in the valley, overlooking the infamous ‘Dire Straits’ where the chain of events leading to the accident began, he decided he was going for it.
I still couldn’t process the fact he was going to jump. He had made remarkable progress in terms of getting out in the hills, aided by walking poles, but to jump already?
It was more about the psychological barrier he had to conquer.
But then, part of being driven adventurously is exactly that drive. It can torment a person to want to do what one loves, being robbed of the potential to do those things. This torment, frustration, can in itself become the ultimate driving force. You are told to stay away from the cliff edge, but this sparks an overwhelming urge to approach the cliff edge and go beyond it!
Hans dropped down onto the exit ledge, highly exposed, standing there composing himself. Giving himself another pep talk. Flashing through his mind would doubtless be elements of the previous incident. A whirlwind of thoughts, cogs spinning in his mind. The wind picked up a little and not in a favourable direction.
I waited poised on another outcrop with camera ready, heart in mouth, cramp setting in for what seemed a prolonged period.
As Hans describes it, the cogs that were spinning, the jumble of thoughts, what-ifs, suddenly settled, the noise inside dropped off as with a lull in the wind. His mind said ‘go for it’.
Moments later he landed after a great flight, his face again a mixture of emotions, but this time jubilant (with a hint of near tearfulness).
It had all come together, he had put the demons to rest. His dedication to getting himself ‘over the hump’ paid off.
It can be a major challenge to get back on the horse when it has thrown you far and you have to reconstruct yourself before jumping back on it. And whilst time does heal wounds, it perhaps also can exacerbate doubt, or amplify the psychological ramifications of what went wrong before.
It’s one thing to get back on a horse as it roams the paddock. It’s another thing completely when it is rearing up at the edge of a cliff, and to be thrown is to potentially crash down over the edge and to the ground far far below...
So hats off (Big BASE Beanie) to my pal, Hans, for accomplishing this major milestone in his route back into the pursuit he loves so much. And to pioneering exploits that keep the spirit of adventure truly alive and kicking.
Hans. Solo. The return to BASE....