A mighty case of the dumbs…

Ask yourself one simple question: Can you save your own hide?

If something bad happens – fire, flood, storm or just your own or a friend or loved one’s abject stupidity, can you physically get yourself out of trouble?

I started eating healthier, exercising and trying very hard to improve my overall level of fitness partially in response to this question. I read an article on another fitness website one day that was written following a major hurricane that had left lots of people stranded on their rooftops, and plenty more dead because they didn’t have the physical capacity to get themselves to higher ground as the waters rose around them. It scared the absolute crap out of me.

Young people think they’re invincible, and that leads to a lot of really stupid, ill-considered choices. As a dear friend has told his kids, “If you’re going to be stupid, you’d better be tough.” In my case I treated my body like it was immutable. At 27 my father died of a massive heart attack and that sobered me up a little, but not enough. Within ten more years I was fat, weak and had a left knee that had given out because it was tired of my shit.

One of the quests I put myself on when I realized that I could not, in fact, save my ass by pulling myself out of danger was to be able to do a few pull-ups. Last weekend I went to a fitness expo and got my wife a free t-shirt by knocking out 25 of them. I was pretty proud of that. I felt like the guy at the fair who swings the hammer and rings the bell on top of the pole.

That’s not a bad test, but today I got one that was a lot more real. We’re on vacation in Maui and decided to rent a paddle board. I took it out for a spin and was overly impressed with my balance and ability to scoot that sucker across the water pretty effectively. I saw some breakers out a ways from the shore and decided to go check them out. Apparently I missed the orientation at the rental desk where they emphasized that we should not go out beyond 50 yards from the beach. Oops.

A combination of currents and wind had me out far enough from the beach in no time that my family looked like little ants scurrying around after crumbs on a picnic blanket. I figured I should probably head back. Nature had other ideas.

I spent the next two hours battling against the wind and the waves trying to get to shore. After a half-hour I was no longer interested in getting back to the beach I’d started from and was willing to be satisfied with simply not being washed out to see. Any shore was fine by me. I spent the next hour and change paddling my lungs, arms, shoulders and back out against a sea that was determined to send me to Lanai. When I did finally reach a beach (over a mile from where I had launched myself) I almost kissed the sand.

The guy I was 10 years ago would have either washed out to sea or been rescued by an annoyed Coast Guard unit. My arms hurt. My back hurts. Lots of me hurts. But I am also feeling pretty satisfied right now. I did something really dumb, and the only price I had to pay was sore muscles, a popped blister on my right hand from the oar and a worried spouse. Like the man said, if you’re going to be stupid, you need to be tough.

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