You can’t climb until you’re tired, run until you collapse, cry until you sleep, sit in the rain and refuse to move and make it home alive. Because getting back home safely is part of any adventure, you have to measure your efforts. You have to know yourself and what you can do, and turn back before it’s to late. Those who have spent a lot of time with a backpack on putting one foot in front of the other either on dirt or snow or rock or spinning around the axis of a crank know it’s the most basic form of compromise.
Today my wife sent me a photograph of her holding our son. In it they are at the pumpkin patch. There are bales of hay and gourds and maybe the tail of a pony blowing in the wind. She is looking off camera one way, and he is looking off the other, his fingers in his mouth and eyes that are leaden with fatigue.
Other photos pop into my message feed. He and he cousin collapsed on the floor of a bounce house. He drives a faded red tractor. He tries to pick up a pumpkin that is far to heavy for a 2 year old to lift.
Then a video. He trots around the bounce house in big loping steps, pushing against the inflated floor, moving faster and faster. His angle of repose approaches critical until his feet are no longer moving supports but a fulcrum over which his body rotates down until he crashes into the soft orange PVC, rolls over and laughs. His cousin does the same. “I fell down again!” one says, “I fell down too!” says the other.
That photo she sent was just before she put him in the car and drove him home. He was fading fast. It came on him unaware. One minute he was running, the next he wanted nothing but to be held. If you’d have asked him, he’d have said he wasn’t tired. And they say if you wait until you’re tired to turn back, you’ll never make it home.
But that only counts for mountaineers, hikers and bikers on a long trail ride. It’s for when you are out on the ragged edge, far from home, far from the car, far from a place where you can communicate with anyone, and far from where they would come to render aid should you need it in the back country.
And I remember walking out over that edge. Back when I was young and Mom could carry me home, lay me in my bed, kiss my forehead and leave the door cracked behind her while the house went still and warm as if the world around us was also tired and in need of rest.