WELL, THAT HAPPENED: The Swashbuckler

By on April 26, 2016

The awkward geek transforms into a courageous adventurer.

A midnight sun bleeds through the Icelandic flag on a whale watching boat in Iceland. (Photo: Andrew Munz)

A midnight sun bleeds through the Icelandic flag on a whale watching boat in Iceland. (Photo: Andrew Munz)

JACKSON HOLE, WY – For the past four years, I’ve been calling myself an “Aspiring Viking.” I’ve even somehow managed to bypass Facebook’s strict display-name policy, and have had the nickname appear in parentheses, as if it were my maiden name. While I certainly don’t aspire to do any raping or pillaging, the idea of embracing adventure and becoming a seafaring wanderer has appealed to me greatly. And I attribute my penchant for exploration to my much younger self—the awkward kid who loved climbing trees, using sticks as swords, and playing with action figures in the forest. I was a swashbuckling book nerd with few friends and a proclivity for trouble.

Now that I’m stationed in Iceland, that sense of adventure is fully alive and surging. But even though I’m learning the language and eating lamb in every form (eyeballs and all), I’ve questioned whether or not I could ever actually “achieve” Viking status. What does being a Viking mean, and what exactly am I striving for?

For every maturing young person, identity is a key word. Not only does identity define who you are to others, but it’s also an important trait for self-reflection. It’s human nature to yearn to know who we are, and where we place in the grand scheme of things. My adventures to Iceland have awoken a part of me I didn’t know I possessed: a courageous, adventurous side that throws caution to the wind and asks questions later. I’ve come a long way from swinging a stick.

Being so far away from Jackson—a land of adventurers—has also made me reflect on what I wanted out of life that my hometown couldn’t provide. So many people hone in on Jackson as the ultimate adventurer’s getaway. I get the draw. Not only is the scenery beautiful and accessible but the townsfolk are open, curious and caring. Outsiders are welcomed with open arms (unless, of course, you want housing; good fucking luck), and there is a strong sense of community. It’s the perfect place for a twenty-something looking for a comfy, paved backroad detour from the pressures of career, family, and growing up.

I realize that I could have become more of an adventurer in Jackson; maybe gone to the climbing school, applied for wildlife guiding jobs, done some gnarly heli-skiing, etc. But I think because those paths were so close to home, they didn’t have the appeal that, say, becoming an Icelandic whale-watching guide had. While so many people see the multiple opportunities Jackson offers as “good enough,” my mind was always wandering elsewhere: higher mountains, rockier coasts, colder lakes. And now that I’ve tasted Iceland, my insatiable attitude wants even more.

“The Adventures of Tintin” books by Hergé will always reign supreme as my favorite adventurer stories. Tintin was just a simple, baby-faced journalist with a curious dog who traveled to every corner of the world. He’s faced off against Al Capone’s gang, infiltrated opium dens in the Orient, and even outlived the infamous Curse of the Pharaohs, all the while sailing to distant lands and crossing paths with the world’s worst villains. Tintin is everything I’ve ever wanted to be, and that influence has carried on into my fiction writings.

I’ve been asked repeatedly by Jacksonian friends, “How long will you be in Iceland?”

And my answer has always been, “Until I’m not.”

Freeing yourself up for adventure is crucial to a happy life. And I don’t just mean putting some time aside for a vacation here and there. True adventure can only be attained if you stay malleable and jump at opportunities when they’re placed in your path. Eat the sheep eyeballs when they’re served to you. Take a trip across the ocean by boat. Scare yourself. That’s achieving Viking.

As kids, we possessed the ability to look at a simple stick and have it transform into a rapier or a lightsaber the moment we gripped it. That sense of imagination and wonder doesn’t have to fade. It’s still a part of your identity as much as it’s a part of mine. We just have to remember to embrace it. PJH

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