courage: mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty
In February of 2011, I was thinking about courage and how technology can change the amount of courage that a wilderness trip requires (see: Modern Technology and Courage in the Wilderness). I concluded that certain types of technology can reduce the risks of wilderness travel and reduce the courage it takes to tackle the trip. In a more recent article a commenter made a remark about how boat type can affect courage. In his example, he used an inflatable kayak in an area where the norm is hard-shelled sea kayaks. While his choice may or may not make sense — I’m not going to judge it — it made me think about courage again. It occurs to me that courage can encompass both bold and stupid choices.
If we make a courage scale charting bold on one side and stupid on the other, I think we can use it to help rank our decisions in relation to courage (I’m starting to dig scales since I wrote The Adventure Matrix: Ranking Trips on a Graph and What’s the Difference between a Kayak or Canoe Expedition, Trip and Adventure?).
I’ll illustrate both extremes with examples from kayaking trips that happened in the spring/summer of 2011 on the Great Lakes. During one, a solo kayaker (me), equipped with all the proper rescue equipment, training, immersion gear, a proper sea kayak and a conservative risk management plan, spent 45 days kayaking 800 miles from Port Huron, MI to Grand Marais, MN. During the other, a man who had just purchased a huge cockpit recreational kayak, without any training, no maps, no wetsuit or drysuit and no rescue gear set off from Sault Ste Marie to paddle to Wisconsin on Lake Superior. Arguably, both solo trips took some amount of courage. Since we’re not talking about the amount of courage, I don’t need to mention, but I will, that I actually think his trip took much more courage with the equipment he had and lack of training than mine did. He didn’t even have a risk management plan to help him make decisions about when to paddle and when not to paddle. Due to that he ran into problems on Whitefish Bay about a week after he set off on his trip. He launched out into “huge” waves that were crashing over the side of his boat and onto his massive sprayskirt (see Estimating Wave Height for Canoes and Kayaks), and was blown over a sand bar at a point, capsized, made it to shore and was rescued by a home owner who put him up in a cabin for a few days. After that he turned around and decided to head down the St. Mary to Lake Huron and then to Lake Michigan and Wisconsin (arguably a safer route for an open boat such as his).
While, I hate to call the courage it took to do my trip bold, because that sounds super not humble, it was certainly on that side of the scale. The other trip was definitely stupid. Feel free to argue this in the comments.
So, it seems to me that on trips that may take courage, that courage isn’t necessarily a smart or bold type of courage, and somehow gear choices can tilt the courage scale one way or the other. (I will note that I think skills play a part here. A skilled person can make a storm-worthy shelter with a tarp, while it’d be a courageous but stupid choice for someone that didn’t have a clue on how to set up a tarp.) On my trip, I managed the risk with what I think was well-thought-out and well-accepted gear choices. On the other trip, his gear was marginal at best for the trip he attempted. To me, that’s just stupid and putting yourself at unnecessary risk, especially if you choose inappropriate gear because it feels more courageous.
But, rating courage based on what I might perceive as stupid isn’t as cut and dry as some of my other philosophy articles. I’m still not sure where I stand on this. Any thoughts?