Essay - Tim Adams

Tim Adams smashed into hurdles like Mark Foehr, Jason Chinn and Jason Kintzel, a kind of epic clash with fate in a fairly rugged event. Only Gareth Engler sailed over them with grace. (Foehr, Chinn, Kintzel and Engler were of Arete '87, '89, '91 and '87, respectively). Tim tells us that he did "his Arete philosophizing" on the 1999 trip. He split his education between Santa Cruz and Berkeley after Drake, designing a major documentary film series. Tim is currently living in San Francisco and has pursued film work and completed "several short documentary pieces while assisting on larger productions." He adds in his usual charming way that "Arete continues to influence his outlook on love, life and work." Hopefully we will be able to enjoy his cartoons at other times, as well as on this occasion.

Bill Taylor

“Association with other people corrupts our character, especially when one has no character.” - Friedrich Nietzsche

We all hiked up the gradual trail, surrounded by perfectly trimmed meadows and a crisp Swiss air. It was one of those rare days when you wake up both excited and relaxed, it was also the day of the long awaited “Nietzsche hike”. For most of our stroll through the trails of St. Moritz, I had been enjoying the fresh air and immaculate scenery. Then came my turn to discuss the quote above. Reading the words aloud seemed to untangle a lingering tension left in my body, one that followed me from the airport in San Francisco. A wave of clarity had come over me and, for the first time during our 5 + week trip, something was happening: I was relaxing.

For the majority of our traveling I had been holding on to the familiar: the buddies at home, the shyness, and the reluctance to say anything too ‘touchy-feely’. All familiar things for a 17 year old teenager to hold on to in an unfamiliar land, discussing unfamiliar things.

This isn’t to say that I hadn’t taken the time to enjoy myself on the trip so far. Running around those Roman ruins and Syrian castles while quietly pretending to be Indiana Jones was quite satisfying. I also got to use a slick new camera and drink the occasional glass of red wine at dinner; knowing fully that it would earn me some mileage back home with friends. While this was all good and fun, the fact of the matter was that I wasn’t at ease. Being that age in itself can feel very uneven at times, and when we were traveling around the Mediterranean, things got downright disorienting.

That’s where Nietzche struck a chord for me. It was in this state of movement, change, and displacement that I discovered something (which bears to mind another Nietzsche quote, at bottom.*) What I found was a part of myself that had always been very internal, being externalized. As a teenager, I had always thought of myself as burdened by a tendency to “be in my head”. But I suppose that all of my usual thinking, even over-thinking, had found a fertile ground: smack-dab in the middle of the Mediterranean. In boats, bizarres, deserts, piazzas, and a cramped Eurovan I found a wealth of both time and space to let my thinking buzz at high power.

But it wasn’t just the settings that emboldened my reflective nature; it was also my association with a new group and a new culture. For 24 hours a day, I was surrounded by an amazing group of people. The nine of us all shared a common disposition: we would embrace everything that came at us. We would discuss it, try to digest it, and even if a topic didn’t quite sit right (the Mauthausen concentration camp, Gallipoli, the Munich Olympic Village) we all grabbed our backpacks, hopped in the Eurovan, and looked towards the next stop. I had found a culture that I didn’t mind being a part of. It came with a unique balance. The way everybody calmly tucked into lengthy discussions, pulling out the nuances inherent in any idea or experience. And then, suddenly, everybody sprinted to see more, absorb more, and make more connections.

Which brings me back to my moment with Mr. Nietzsche: this was the point during the trip when I made my big connection. I quickly realized much of what the whole Arete experience meant to me – the importance of associations. I had a heightened awareness of how the people/culture you surround yourself with affects how you know yourself. At times, this can become a great danger because it gradually shapes and colors one’s character – and the expansiveness of our human potential can be limited. Nietzsche seems to focus on the dark side of this concept, but I truly believe I found the light side in Arete.

Arete sent me back to Rome years later, where I spent a sunrise in the Forum with friends (don’t tell the Poliza!). It sent me to the island of Crete after college, when I hiked to the southern most tip of Europe. It will push me to find and test my character through travel for years to come. I included a drawing, which I did after returning from the trip my senior year. I think it’s a good illustration of how important my surroundings, both social and geographical, had become.

Tim Adams
May 2007