Writing and Photography by Jesse Weber
This is my new favorite game. My friends introduced it on our recent road trip from Tennessee to Idaho. One person in the group thinks of a task for someone else to complete, and challenges that person by asking “what are the odds” that he/she will do it. If they are up to the challenge, that person names their odds, one out of whatever. On the count of three, both people say a number out loud between 1 and the range stated. If the numbers match, the challenger wins and the person who named odds must complete the task. Obviously, the game is most fun when people get bold and set very low lines for odds.
Challenger: “What are the odds that you will eat this entire jalapeño pepper for breakfast?”
Me: “Hmm… One out of five”
Challenger: “Ok. One, Two, Three…
That pepper went down even less smoothly than I thought it would.
This was really one of the more mild dares that happened over the course of the trip. I won’t go into detail about all the ridiculousness that was imposed, but you can imagine how heinously uncomfortable/embarrassing some of it was.
It was this game and other such shenanigans in the company of good friends that made my summer trip Out West so memorable, but of course, the amazing whitewater, mountains, and rocks were pretty influential as well.
What are the odds that I would end up road tripping for three and a half weeks across the country? A few months ago, when I was traveling Europe, I would have said the odds were low. At that time, I was spending my savings to visit old friends and see new countries. I was satisfying my travel bug and looking forward to a long, relaxing summer in East Tennessee—or so I thought.
After enjoying a full month back home, I was restless again and ready for more adventure. Friends of mine had a private permit for a trip down the Middle Fork of the Salmon, a 100-mile section of class III-IV whitewater that rolls through the Idaho wilderness.
A separate group of friends had planned a climbing trip to Colorado for the week after the river trip was to end. If I was going all the way out to Idaho to kayak, why not take an opportunity to climb in Colorado as well?
I still had a little money left over, and I figured if I spent it wisely and played my cards right, I could link the two trips and make the most of my remaining time off school.
Was going on this trip an impulsive and irresponsible decision? Maybe. Could my time be better spent working in Knoxville, saving money, and preparing for the future? Perhaps. In a way, I was playing the odds that my savings would hold out; that I would find a place to live for graduate school after putting off my housing search to hit the road; that I would have enough time to pack for the big move after I returned home. To some degree, I was playing the odds that I would complete the trip healthy and unhurt, and physically able to move and start school at all.
I didn’t know for sure whether the odds would work out in my favor, but I knew that I wanted to seize this chance while I had it. I knew that graduate school would make spontaneous adventures to new places much harder to realize.
So I went for it. I hopped in with friends from Tennessee and we trucked out to Idaho. We saw new cities and met new people along the way. We floated the river with old friends and a few new ones. We experienced nature in a way that most people never get to, from the bottom of a rugged river gorge, inaccessible by any road. Entirely self supported, we lived in our own isolated world of wonder for seven days. I didn’t regret one second of it.
Afterward, I hopped in a different car and rode to Colorado, seeking mountains and tall rock faces, playing the odds even further that everything would work out. It was there that I was reminded of the true weight of this game I was participating in.
They say lightning never strikes the same place twice, so what are the odds that lightning strikes would kill two people, in two days, within the same area?
On July 11, and again on July 12, hikers were struck by lightning within a radius of only a few miles in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. Each strike killed one person and left others injured.
I was spending that weekend in the town just outside the park. My friends and I were watching the weather carefully, knowing the dangers full well and bailing from climbs when prudent to do so.
The victims were not climbers; they were simply tourists on a short walk away from their cars, but news of the deaths spread quickly among the climbing community, because climbers pay close attention to the dangers of lightning. On a tall face or a high peak, storms can roll in suddenly, and often from the backside of the feature so climbers may never see it coming before it is upon them.
However, hearing of the lightning strikes on hikers did not convince me that I was on the losing end of a game of chance. In fact, it did quite the opposite. The sudden deaths reminded me that life is fragile and short, and that every day we play ‘what are the odds’ that we will live to see another.
Those people did not have the odds on their side that weekend. But it could just as easily have been me that lost the game of odds—driving my car, crossing the street, playing sports, or even going to school. The reality is that any mundane activity could be my last, so although kayaking and rock climbing may put me in marginally more danger than sitting behind a desk, I am willing to accept those odds because I would rather use my breath for something exhilarating than something boring.
The tragedies of the lightning struck so close to home because as a climber, I have long accepted such risks inherent to the activity. I know how to minimize the risk, but ultimately, I can be killed by lightning just as easily as unfortunate tourists can, so why would I not spend my valuable time doing something I truly enjoy?
I can name my own odds that I will eat a whole jalapeño, but I am constantly at the mercy of certain odds that I just can’t control. When I see these odds come into play in such jarring proximity to my own life, the other odds games I play seem so insignificant.
What are the odds I’ll eat that pepper? What are the odds I’ll spend too much money before graduate school? What are the odds I’ll find a place to live?
All of a sudden these things don’t matter so much. Why not just eat the pepper anyway? Just go kayaking anyway? Go climbing anyway? I should take my chances while I still have them, because there’s no telling how many more chances I will get.