Travelers often seek larger-than-life experiences on the road, but only some of these experiences are capable of penetrating the margins of that which we call “the sublime.” In this category, there is nothing more powerful than raw natural phenomena in movement to whirl up the rare and exalted sensations one undergoes when in contact with the sublime.
In the Critique of Judgement Immanuel Kant lays out the parameters of what he judges to be the sublime. Essentially he says that sublimity does not reside in the object that we perceive, but rather within the mind of the human who perceives the object. This is because the things that inspire sensations of sublimity – like the experience of a hurricane or volcano – have the power to crush us, but, at the same time, we derive aesthetic pleasure from the experience because as humans we have the ability to reason away the horror and appreciate the beauty of that which is capable of utterly destroying us.
Such experiences, according to Kant, “raise the forces of the soul above the height of vulgar commonplace, and discover within us a power of resistance of quite another kind, which gives us the courage to be able to measure ourselves against the seeming omnipotence of nature.”
Which is really basic terms means: we kind of like that feeling of realizing that Mother Nature can be a terrible beast and that we are powerless against her. And, even as we realize how dangerous she can be, we can’t help but appreciate her beauty.
With this in mind, the following list provides seven ways one can venture into the sublime, and how and where to do so.
Kant argued that the sublime allows us to understand certain truths about ourselves, namely that our rationality and free will make us superior to the sublime objects of nature. Witnessing a tornado, which has the power to easily obliterate us, is an excellent example of a sublime experience.
However, this experience is only possible if the fear is overcome and one is able to stand unshakingly before the phenomenon and resist the urge to flee. The result produces a fear accompanied by a sense of awe that borders on the religious.
The best way to encounter a tornado close up is to visit states in “Tornado Alley,” such as Oklahoma and Kansas, from late March to August. If you have an advanced knowledge of meteorology and a fast, reliable, sturdy vehicle, then you may be able to “storm chase” on your own. Otherwise stick to agencies like Storm Chasing Adventure Tours.
At over 1600 metres wide and some 100 metres high, Victoria Falls is the largest curtain of water in the world, but seeing it in photos doesn’t produce the same effect as experiencing it in person. The thundering violence of Victoria Falls arouses the feeling of sublimity because it reminds us how small and fragile we are and stirs the mind to think of what such an incredible force could do to anyone unlucky enough to tumble over the edge.
Perhaps this is what makes swimming in the Devil’s Pool so appealing. This natural pool near the edge of the falls has a rock wall just below the water’s surface. This allows people to swim safely in the pool at the edge without the danger of going over (so long as the water level is low enough). The quest of the sublime experience of a waterfall may also inspire those who attempt to go over falls like Niagara, a feat you’d not likely survive at Victoria.
>> Check out Victoria Falls adventure tours
On this earth there is nothing that so resembles the archetype of a furious god more than an erupting volcano, which explains why some cultures believed that gods resided within the volcanoes, and that en eruption was a sign of an angry god. Volcanoes have the power to obliterate entire civilizations, to vomit explosions of debris 32 kilometers into the sky and blanket the entire planet with a cloud of ash so thick as to block out the sun and cast most species on this planet into extinction.
Volcanoes are horrifying and watching one erupt leaves one speechless. It is impossible to feel anything but trifling when confronted with the juggernautic might of such a phenomenon. But if you are able to bear the experience, and provided that you are a secure distance away from its fury, the terror mention above becomes all the more attractive. Huge, active volcanoes one is able to visit – and even walk upon – include Mount Etna in Italy and Eyjafjallajokull in Iceland. In Hawaii, you can also watch the fiery orange show of hot lava plunging into the sea.
Witnessing an event of immense power creates the sublime by recognition of the potential injury that could be caused by such force, even if the threat never manages to materialize. The sheer, destructive force of the avalanche creates a a recognition of the potential for pain, even if the fear itself is not present.
Avalanches, however, are difficult to predict and being buried under 300 tons of snow is a real danger for those caught in one. Luckily for the seeker of sublimity, park rangers often set off controlled avalanches via dynamite in the vicinity of major ski resorts in order to release tension in the compiled snow before real avalanches occur and kill skiers. These usually occur early in the morning or late at night, but check with park authorities to find out when one will be set off, and where you can safely see it from afar.
>> Discover the best ski resorts in North America
Hurricanes leave entire countries of devastation in their wake. Although you might be a little mad to want to visit one, at least on the drive there you will likely encounter no traffic heading in the same direction.
Hurricanes overwhelm the senses with their frightening elemental force, but if you are able to swallow your fear and stand upright in the open as furious winds throw debris and water horizontally at you while simultaneously trying to heave you up and out into the sea, then a feeling of the sublime will settle over you (and your friends and family might think you a bit insane for such a dangerous stunt).
There is no shortage of locations to experience a hurricane, particularly from June to November during the Caribbean hurricane season. Or may we suggest simply using your imagination at the storm simulator at your local Science Center?
>> If you’re visiting a hurricane-prone area during storm season and would prefer not to experience a hurricane, travel insurance is a worthy investment
Storm at sea
Of all the things listed here, a storm at sea is probably the simplest, and potentially the most dangerous, to experience. You need three things: a seaworthy boat, a wise captain and a sea. Whether you’re on a Caribbean cruise or chartering a boat through the Thai islands, the storms will come, don’t worry.
It is important that the boat not be too small or the storm too big because if the real threat of drowning kicks in then sublimity is gone (which is probably not what you’ll be worried about when you’re drowning!). The sublime is linked to death, but only in as much as one can bask in the fury of that which could annihilate you, but won’t. Being adrift on a lone schooner among horizons of water and a black sky as the sea hurls you around like a toy is one of the best ways to experience this; being alone on a sinking schooner is not. The wise captain mentioned above? He’s key to this endeavor, so choose carefully.
>> Learn about another way to safely experience a stormy sea – crossing the Drake Passage on an Antarctic cruise
The open ocean, with its depths and dangers, is a common place to feel the power of nature and our helplessness against it. Closer to shore, another way to get that same feeling is to watch massive waves break at places such as Waimea Bay, Hawaii, where 30 to 50 ft. waves – as tall as four-storey buildings – are not uncommon.
Although you can still receive the sublime sensation by watching these huge roaring mouths of water breaking out at sea or against the shore, for the ultimate sublime experience you must be a little closer, inside the waves, on a surfboard, feeling it collapse all around you. Of course, it may take some time to work up to surfing such a giant wave; for the beginners something a little smaller may have to do.
>> Check out some unexpected places to learn to surf
Read more about dangerous experiences you may find worth the risk:
- 10 Dangerous Destinations
- Biking the Most Dangerous Road in the World
- The World’s Most Dangerous Animals, and Where to See Them in the Wild