Just for the hell of it

One adrenaline junkie’s search for the thrill

Image by: Blake Canning
Canning bungee jumping at the border the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe.

“You’re sure this is safe, right?!” I roar over the wind in my ears. “What’s wrong kid, you’re just jumping out of a perfectly good airplane!”

Honestly, I couldn’t tell you why I do it. There’s no secret death wish and I’m not trying to scare my mother into an early grave. 

Unlike so many things we do these days to make us smarter or stronger, there are so few that we do anymore simply for the hell of it. That’s one of the reasons why I love my life as an adrenaline junkie. 

The first thing to note about willingly subjecting yourself to what some would call acts of desperate insanity, is that it obviously isn’t for everyone. For example, earlier this summer I dragged my father to a shooting range as part of a country-wide road trip across the U.S. 

I thought there must be some cultural significance in learning how to fire a handgun in Houston, Texas, the heart of the south. Was it a thrill? Yes. Was it terrifying? You bet. Did I love it? Every minute. 

My dad on the other hand left the range red-faced, muttering something about the failed constitution and had his foot up my behind when we got home.

Adrenaline sports aren’t for everyone, but throughout all my travels, I’ve always thought that I didn’t want to live with any regrets. From skydiving over the flashing neon of the Las Vegas strip to bungee jumping off a bridge on the border of two East African countries into a crocodile-infested gorge, the classics have been mostly covered.

I don’t expect many people to believe me on this point, but for what it’s worth, stunts that seem the scariest often turn out to be the easiest. The difference between copping out and following through can come down to a single step or leap of faith. 

To quote one of my all-time favourite films We Bought A Zoo, “sometimes all you need is 20 seconds of insane courage.” 

I’ve jumped out of planes, off bridges and from helicopters, and I wouldn’t call any of those things overly courageous. Foolhardy maybe, but nothing that took serious thought to overcome. More than anything I just love trying my hand at new sports or activities that get my blood pumping. Odd, seeing as I was never that good at sports — which explains a lot. 

In my limited experience with the world of extreme sports I’ve kite surfed through herds of jellyfish, nearly snowboarded over cliffs, and surfed the waters that inspired the movie Jaws. 

I’ve been lucky enough not to lose any important limbs thus far, but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been close calls. One of the most important lessons I learned about pushing boundaries in extreme sports came not from anything scary or grueling, but from a sport that most people would deem pretty calm: fishing.

In 2013, I found myself working for an English magazine based in Tanzania. I’d been given the task of interviewing a local authority figure, who had already built a school for children and provided jobs for half of his small town along the coast. 

When I asked how he accomplished this task he said he’d rather show than tell, and told me  to to come back at sunset to see for myself. 

When I returned, I was piled into a rowboat no bigger than a couple Grizzly Grill pool tables with approximately nine other young men and little explanation. As I settled down between two happy-looking locals, speaking excitedly amongst themselves in Swahili, I began to realize what I’d gotten myself into.

What I quickly learned about the seemingly peaceful pastime of fishing is that in different parts of the world, things can change in the blink of an eye.

My interviewee explained with a huge smile that we would be out all night — when the fish were most active — and by 6 a.m the next morning we would have enough to feed the entire town for a week. 

Now, if being out in the pitch dark, on the open ocean, in a barely seaworthy dinghy with nine other men, swaying in time to the ever-growing waves, wasn’t enough to set my nerves on edge, the dynamite sure was. 

In this particular coastal town, there wasn’t enough time to set out nets for extended periods. Instead, explosives were tossed from the boat into the water, and nets collected the dead and stunned fish caught in the blast. 

This was done as promised from sundown to sun up, and while it was definitely an effective tactic, I felt like a dead carp as I flopped out of the boat the next morning. Clutching my arms, sore from hauling in fish and unsteadily wobbling my way up the beach, I vowed that I would never again go near a large body of water. 

This, of course, turned out to be a lie. The next night I was back and rearing for more. That’s the curse of an adrenaline junkie. We can never bear to be bored.

That being said, I don’t want to disillusion anyone. All the excitement is great, but it’s not the only way to really get your blood pumping. 

It may sound odd, but I’ve found it’s often the calmest moments that have given me the greatest rush. The calm after the storm, you might say. 

In 2012, I attempted a seven-day trek through the Himalayan mountains after I and half my group came down with a horrible stomach bug the night before we were meant to begin.

Three days later, though, on the morning we were meant to summit our highest peak of over 3,200 metres above sea level, only two members of my group had been forced to turn back. The rest of us left our camp in the pitch black at 4 a.m. 

With no ridgeline to guide me, no knowledge of how much farther I had to climb, no hope of finding my way back if I got lost or fell off the trail, and not a single ounce of strength left in my body, I summited Poon Hill with approximately five minutes to spare before the sun rose over the horizon. 

Exhausted, I collapsed onto the cold dirt of the hillside. I’d nearly fallen asleep when I felt a soft warmth through my yak wool hat, parka and 10 layers of long underwear. 

The sun had just crested over the snow-covered peaks and lit the mountain range on fire before me. The light reflected off every surface, shining brighter every second. It was then that I realized that day also just happened to be my 18th birthday. 

That may have been the first time I felt a real adrenaline rush. This wasn’t just any thrill either. It was the kind that makes people go back for more. It isn’t so much a feeling of terror or craziness, but simply one of accomplishment. The kind of feeling that makes you truly believe in doing bigger and better things in the future. That may be why I’m still an adrenaline junkie today. 

There have been many treks for me since 2012, and I’ve felt the same way every time. The Alps, the Himalayas and the Andes have all been equally challenging, and I have to admit: I’ve had a lot of difficult papers to write, but I’ve never felt better about completing an assignment.

I know for some people, coming to university feels like signing a death certificate on adventure. The routine gets tiring quickly, and an escape can be hard to find. 

But keep in mind that there are hundreds of different ways to combat that feeling of boredom without breaking the bank. Even something as simple as taking up a new sport or joining a club can give you a new perspective. 

My advice to all the downtrodden adrenaline junkies out there would be to remember this: just do something for the experience. Not to advance your knowledge or impress anyone else, but just for you. Do something just for the hell of it. You may find you’re braver than you think.


adrenaline, adventure, thrill, Travel, travel diaries, zimbabwe

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