Two Octobers ago, I paused on the bank of the Gardner River and wondered just exactly why I would choose to be standing there in a swimsuit in twelve-degree air.
We’d been there before–at least, my husband, two older kids, and I had. At that particular stretch of the Gardner, runoff from a distant thermal feature flows in, creating a pocket of warm water known as Boiling River. People come, year-round, to soak in the warmed, mineral-laden waters. The kids were small and we were just taking a short little hike to check it out. While I enjoyed watching steam rising from the river into the crisp mountain air, I didn’t envy the small group of people the chilly minutes it would take to dry off and don warm clothes. No wonder there were more spectators than soakers.
Over the years, we’ve talked about going back and getting in, but it never happened. Until this year. Our youngest, born a few months after the aforementioned walk to Boiling River, wanted to do this thing she’d been hearing about all her life.
In the days before the proposed soak, I watched the forecast. Even though it was early October and the air would be chilly, the weather looked perfect. Sunny. Dry. Cool but not cold. But weather patterns shift. The predicted highs and lows dropped lower and lower. Eventually, there was snow in the mix and I was less and less certain I wanted to subject myself to stripping to my swimming suit in wintry weather. I wanted to say, “Maybe another time . . . “ But our girl was getting older. There might not be another time. Soaking at Boiling River wasn’t a thing she wanted to do. It was the thing she wanted to do.
And I didn’t want to be the reason she didn’t.
Starting with sleet, the weather made good on the predictions. Before long sleet turned to blinding sheets of slippery snow. When it comes to crisp morning air, mountains, and winter, I’m a fan. But adulthood has left me vulnerable to cold temperatures which—unless I armor myself with layers—seep deep into my bones.
A swimsuit hardly counts as a layer.
When the morning arrived, it was nineteen degrees. I wondered if maybe my daughter would change her mind. She didn’t, so I put on my suit, fleece pants and shirt, and topped it all with a coat, hat, and gloves. By the time we pulled into the parking lot, the temperature had dropped to twelve degrees.
I bolstered my resolve during our short walk. You can do this! We’re making memories! It will be an adventure!
This is how I came to be standing on a riverbank in twelve-degree air wearing nothing but a swimsuit and Keens.
Adventure carries a degree of pain or peril. We live an adventurous life one choice at a time. Scroll or read? Hit snooze or the gym? Relative comfort or certain but short-lived suffering? Get in the water or stand and watch?
I chose the water. Together, my husband, daughter, and I picked our way across the slick stones that lined the river bottom. Through knee-deep water that was warm only in comparison to the air, we made our slow way downstream. Rocks and boulders of various sizes had been stacked to capture thermal water and create a makeshift pool.
When we reached the pool, I dropped my nearly-numb self into the warmish mix of the chilly Gardner and the rapidly cooling runoff. Like the first time we’d been to Boiling River, spectators outnumbered soakers. I envied them their hats, gloves, and cozy fleece and wondered if I’d made the right choice.
Cold is quick to turn to misery. It would have been easier to watch from the riverbank. It would have been more comfortable to watch.
Sort of. Sitting out comes at a price.
It’s healthy and right that we are sometimes participants and other times spectators. But living an adventurous life means we choose our spectatorship. It is not our default.
Shivering and laughing, my husband, daughter, and I sat in the tepid little pool. We admired our frosty mountain surroundings. We moved from place to place in search of warmer water. Together. Eventually, regretfully, I could take no more. I told them to stay in as long as they wanted and made the fraught journey back upstream, climbed out, and grabbed my towel. Before long, I was snug in my fleece.
After a quiet walk back to the vehicle, my daughter let loose. “That was awesome! We never have to do it again, but that was awesome!”
That girl lives an adventurous life. She’s jumped off cliffs. Plunged into the Atlantic in the cold. Encountered a bear at close range. She wakeboards. Wake surfs. Downhill skis. Even with that list, I’ve never heard her respond like that. I came so close to missing it.
That girl has also experienced some stuff—the kind of stuff I’d rather carry myself. I’m her mom, I’d prefer to spare her the suffering. How is it that I think I’d choose to take the big things when it’s tempting to skip what seem like little ones?
Suffering—hers, mine, and yours—builds souls. According to Paul, it produces growth—first of endurance, then character, then hope. This is a good thing because we need them all. Physical or faith, we build muscle by using muscle.
We live an adventurous life one choice at a time. When we choose wisely, we strengthen our muscles. Whether physical or faith, we make demands on them so we have what it takes when life demands something from us.
Happy trails ~