Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Chapters 1-3: The Early Years

For the next several weeks (or months), we're going to be reading and discussing the book, "Crossing the Ditch" by James Castrission. This is the story of how the author and his friend, Justin Jones, successfully paddled across the Tasman Sea from Australia to New Zealand in a custom built kayak. This adventure caused some controversy as it occurred shortly after the unsuccessful attempt by Andrew McAuley who died while making his crossing. I will move through the book chronologically by chapters, although I want to address larger questions that this story brings up, rather than rigidly adhering to the recounting of the trip.

In the first three chapters of his book, "Crossing the Ditch", the author talks about his childhood and early adult life as well as that of his paddling partner, Justin. Castrission seems to be trying to help us understand the answer to the question of "why". Why do some people seem drawn to take on these very difficult and dangerous challenges? What was driving him and his friend?

I think it is significant that James talks about the influence that his family vacations camping in Australia had on him. I used to work as a naturalist teaching environmental education programs to children. There is a strong indication that early experiences in the outdoors are important to the healthy development of a child physically, cognitively, and emotionally. Although some people might argue that kayaking across an ocean is not evidence of mental health, I think being outdoors in natural settings is something that we all need for our mental well-being. It concerns me that too many kids today are spending all their time indoors interacting in artificial environments on TV and computer screens. Would you agree or disagree?

How important do you think their early experiences were in pushing James and Justin towards attempting this crossing? Technology does play a large part in this story, and I will discuss that in future blogs, but does it concern you that we don't seem to see a lot of kids participating in paddle sports or really any human-powered outdoor pursuits? (ie. hiking, cross-country skiing, catching frogs at the pond?) What were your experiences in the outdoors as a child?

What other questions do these chapters bring up in your mind? I'm hoping we can get some good discussions started with other people giving their opinions rather than me being the only voice.



  1. I think probably the key passage may be "..on the mountains..played a role in...quelling the self-doubt about our place in the world...also gave me the opportunity to take time out from my family."

    Part of the passage into adulthood is defining for ourselves who we are which requires a level of self-confidence and awareness. James found that in his adventures and challanges those brought. As to why he continues to take those to such exremes is an interesting question and perhaps one only he can eventually provide the answer.

  2. Good observations, Daniel. Outdoor educators believe that these wilderness experiences do help young people develop self-confidence and improves self-image. Unfortunately, actual verifiable proof and studies are hard to come by. Most evidence is anecdotal. If this is true, do these early experiences suffice for life, or do we need to keep getting "booster shots" of the outdoors to maintain that self-confidence and self-image?

  3. Let's not forget the later experiences that pushed Cas and Jonesy back to the outdoors - long hours spent in office towers as the first steps to a life of corporatedom. Their childhood fun outdoors definitely gave them the passion for adventure, but the emptiness of modern living was a big factor in their decision to Cross the Ditch.

  4. Would the "emptiness of modern living" have pushed them into this particular adventure had they not had the early experiences in the outdoors?