The Catastrophe and Mistakes

The Catastrophe is full of surprises. It is full of uncertainty and risk. It is full of disappointments, and failures, and mistakes. (It’s also full of some other things, but more on that in later posts).

To adventure is to fail … over and over again. To adventure is to fail seven times, and to get up eight. That’s what makes it “adventure” as opposed to a picnic.

Cresting over Mineral Pass, July 2019

I am not talking here about the failures and mistakes that come from poor planning or poor preparation. I am talking about the failure and mistakes that happen in spite of good planning and preparation. If there is no Catastrophe, then there is no adventure … because adventure lives in the Catastrophe. And so do lots of good stories.

I was lucky enough to realize this about 20 years ago. And over that time I have developed a solid, productive relationship with my mistakes. I don’t just mean that I learn from my mistakes. I also mean that I have an affective relationship with my mistakes. My mistakes are not like a friend, but nor are they like an enemy. My mistakes are like a casual acquaintance. I don’t hate my mistakes, I can acknowledge them with a wave, and even sit down and have a “not unfriendly” chat with them once in a while. I can even swap stories with them.

Bushwacking in the Canadian Rockies … Welcome to the Catastrophe! Elk-Limestone Traverse, 2007

I suspect that part of the reason that I have been wilderness tripping for so long — and have enjoyed it so much — is because of my affective relationship to the Catastrophe. My mistakes aren’t my enemy, and so they exist in a much healthier, adventure-friendly context.

When I am adventuring I make mistakes … usually because I am pushing myself to do things that involve a lot of uncertainty. I cannot genuinely challenge myself without making mistakes. But I do not allow those mistakes to define me. I make lots of mistakes, and yet I don’t see myself primarily as a “mistake-maker”. I see myself as a problem-solver. I see myself as a competent person who ventures vulnerably through the Catastrophe. I take full responsibility for my mistakes, but I am also very clear that while those are indeed “my mistakes” … they are not “me”.

I take full responsibility for the mistakes that I make … but those mistakes don’t define me.


Fixing a flat tire 19 km from the scheduled pick-up point, near the end of a 4-day trip in the Southern Purcells.
Exit via bike along a deactivated logging road. October 2018

When I hike in the Catastrophe I am hiking with the spirits of Don Quixote, Sisyphus, Ernest Shackleton, and Jean Paul Sartre. Good company to have on an adventure.

In later posts I will talk about other aspects of the Catastrophe.

2 responses to “The Catastrophe and Mistakes”

  1. First things first Steve… Apart from the scratches, nice legs! Buckminster Fuller coined the phrase ‘mistake mystique’. From what i recall he was writing about the idea that many people on the planet have an aversion to making mistakes which will typically lead to avoiding challenging or risky situations. He uses the analogy of sailing, where the person sailing the boat is continually making minor corrections to his/her sailing path. The sailor isn’t making mistakes on purpose however, he is engaged in the process of following an imperfect path and has an easy, relaxed relationship with the multiple, small mistakes being made. Like yourself, the sailor is on the adventure voluntarily and understands that mistakes (and some catastrophes) happen. That’s what helps to make it an adventure and is central to the playful element of sailing (and to having fun).


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