Her fiancé doesn’t last more than a week on the boat. First he stops talking, then he stops eating, and, she tells the interviewer in the film, he loses his will to live. He is evacuated from the boat, and she – reporting that she is not one to give up – carries on with the trans-Atlantic row by herself, and completes it solo.
I can relate, not to her, but to him! I barely made it through the constant motion of the boats as shown on screen. When the competitors reach Barbados, after some fifty or one hundred days at sea (and less than ninety minutes of film time), I felt relief when they finally reached dry land and the horizon stopped its damned rocking.
I paraphrase another of the film’s subjects, who says, “Some people completely understand why somebody would want to row across the Atlantic. Others can’t begin to comprehend it.”
Obviously, I am in the latter group. Why, I kept wondering, is it so bad to hoist a sail? The refusal to do so makes this test of endurance seem awfully contrived! And I know myself well enough that I would never have set foot on that boat, even if it had a sail, like the hapless Brit who endured an entire week before he fully lost his will to live. The movie never reports whether the young couple got back together after she completed her long row to embark on the once-envisioned fifty-year marriage, but it seems doubtful. His ex deserves credit for having him rescued, rather than simply waiting for him to jump overboard.
Of course, I can’t picture myself doing most of the things that the subjects of movies shown at Mountainfilm do. But I appreciate the metaphor. These adventurers push themselves to the very edge of human endurance precisely in order to prove to themselves that they can transcend their limitations. It would be a meaningless exercise if failure weren’t a real possibility. That’s why people who test themselves in this way often perish trying, and why death on the mountain, in the river or at sea is always a Mountainfilm undercurrent. Every single year, at least one or two Mountainfilm stalwarts are memorialized.
Mountainfilm has always been about survival, the survival of the adventurers who make first ascents, first descents, and first contact; the survival of the natural world itself; the survival of the ethnic peoples whose way of life is so threatened; and the survival of their wisdom. But in recent years, and especially this year, this theme of survival has taken on a new urgency as we come to grips all-too-slowly with the threat of global warming, which threatens the survival of, literally, everything alive. The environmental movement long ago glimpsed the apocalypse. Now, as amply documented by a number of the presenters at this year’s Mountainfilm, it is drawing perilously near.
And so all of humanity finds itself like that solo rower in the middle of the Atlantic. But being evacuated is no option. There is no support yacht trailing us. We either row harder and make no excuses, or jump overboard. Those are our choices. And yet, rowing hard is absolutely no guarantee of success. While Mountainfilm teaches us that failure is never more than a rockfall or a giant ocean swell away, it also teaches that survival is possible.
It sounds so prosaic to define the challenge as “global warming” or as “climate change” or even as an “energy crisis.” It is actually far more challenging than rowing the Atlantic, even for someone who, like me, would become seasick sitting on the deck of a boat parked in a driveway, precisely because it takes political action and community resolve, and these are precisely the realms where humanity is often least inspiring.
Those of us who live here, who love Telluride, may now have the satisfaction of driving past the precious Valley Floor, or hiking on it or skiing there, knowing that the community saved it from development. But if we don’t dedicate ourselves to solar on every local rooftop, to hydro from our river, or to a wind farm on a suitable ridgeline, will it – in the end – make one bit of difference?
Surely we understand that next to this all other challenges shrink to insignificance. If we in Telluride and Mountain Village and San Miguel County can’t eliminate our carbon footprint, nobody can. We are surrounded by abundant renewable energy resources, and we have the wealth and the knowledge to start tapping it. We should get started today. Nothing less than our survival as a species is at stake.
Such was the message of Mountainfilm this year. Will we take it to heart?