I came across the questions “what is an adventure” recently thanks to the guys at Outdoor Bloggers and it really got me thinking; because the word gets thrown about a lot these days – I think probably because having ‘an adventure holiday’ sounds way cooler than ‘a walking holiday’, which in most cases is probably the case…not all the time of course, for me I’d plump for definition 3 from the dictionary, it seems to be the most fitting:
“a bold, usually risky undertaking; hazardous action of uncertain outcome.”
My reason for this, is that it’s so subjective, and of course an adventure has to be subjective right? Like you can’t say to someone “Go do that thing because its an adventure.” Can you? maybe you can, but I mean in the way I see adventure, it’s a completely personal experience…this is why my 4 year old daughter can have an adventure in my local woods, while I’m just plodding along experiencing the exact same objective world, yet my heads probably wandering in 15 different directions, whens my car tax due, did I pay that bill yet, I wonder if I will finish that blog post today…etc – or probably ideally, just making sure my daughter doesn’t come to any great harm during her adventure in the woods!
So; point A: it’s a personal experience.
my immediate question…so what makes it so?
Well to answer that, I’m going to lay out what I think are the elements that add up to what we would categorise as an adventure, and not merely ‘a walk in the woods’; and then I’ll illustrate what my own personal ‘greatest adventure’ has been to date – I guess then we can see where we’re at.
A good start point, so I’ve been told, is the start, so we’ll go for that – so let’s determine the type of adventure…and in these circles we’re usually talking about a planned activity that we think will be a challenge, have some risks involved, that ideally won’t kill us, and that we can tell an interesting story about – that seems to sum up ‘adventure trips’ i.e to make a summit of a mountain, to swim the Channel Crossing, to run a marathon in the Sahara desert etc etc.
That description seemed to come very naturally, so let’s pick it apart to get to the bottom of what it truly means: so – why a challenge? why risk? why stories?
The challenge element I think is a key part, and with planned adventures, the handy thing is you can kinda guess at what the challenge is going to be – so you can prepare your best for it, because of course a surprise adventure would be a pretty terrifying ordeal.
So the yearning for a challenge is in there, why? So perhaps the element isn’t ‘challenge’ so much as it’s ‘to learn something about yourself.’
I can obviously only speak on my own experience, but to overcome a challenge, involves learning something new about yourself, or indeed, letting go of a part of yourself.
What does it mean to take a risk? Well it means that whatever you are doing has consequences. Do thing well = you’re all good. Do thing bad = you’re not so good. Again just like all of these experiences it’s a subjective feeling; coming down the icy ridge of Toubkal felt like a pretty damn big risk to me…fall that side…probably die right…so death was a loose footing away – and I’m not being over dramatic here, that’s just the obvious truth.
Luckily there’s a number of things to minimise that risk – having a guide, having decent kit (I did just make a typo there and type ket…let me confirm that having decent ket on the side of Toubkal would not minimise risks at all).
Again, if I go back to my 4 year old in the woods adventure…well woah I mean, there’s SO much risk in the woods for a 4 year old it’s untrue…from evil witches living in gingerbread houses, to foxes dressed up as an elderly relative…jeez that’s one risky place…that’s not the place I’M in when I’m in the woods, but for sure that’s where she is…
Meeting the unknown; is not too dissimilar to over coming the challenge – on a personal level – to be pushed to a place you’ve never been emotionally / physically can be an enlightening experience – for me, this parts easy, because I’m a complete wimp, I freeze if I’m exposed to sheer drops (or tackling scrambles etc), I’m not athletic at all, and I generally struggle about inside my awkward flabby body. For these reasons, I’m constantly pushing myself beyond my perceived limits, it’s happened on almost all the summits I’ve achieved.
Snowdon: froze due to vertigo on a scramble nearing the top.
Scafell Pike: we (hands up stupidly) descended down an un-routed gully, in thick fog, I was sure we would need the rescue team
Ben Nevis: by far the most emotionally depleting summit, so cold, so wet, and at that point we thought so high!
Mt. Toubkal: I’m still unsure how I made it, I’ve never been so physically pushed; to the point my sole concern was breathing to not pass out (contrast that to my jolly in the woods and you can see what I’m getting at).
So it can be the unknown, in terms of meeting unknown aspects of our character or capabilities, or it can be a literal unknown…situations, places etc. I guess the unknown element from Scafell Pike was the literal unknown of being down a scree gully in about 2M visibility.
It took me a while to process my story from Toubkal, to the point where if people asked me within the first week or so of returning home, my response was – “yeah, so hard, but it was awesome”…that was it! I just hadn’t figured how to articulate the whole experience – maybe that’s a common thing for adventurers? Let me know!
But why do people care, and why do we like, LOVE, the stories? Well it’s occured to me during writing this, that all of those elements that create what we call ‘Adventure’ occur not just on the mountain side, but in almost every day of every year.
It’s the story of our lives.
So…what’s my ‘Greatest Adventure? Well it’s the adventure that I’m still in, every day, and although at the top of the article I did say that ideally our adventures wouldn’t kill us, well, this one will inevitably end that way. So, yeah, my greatest adventure is the one where I’ve learned not just something new about myself, but the one where I even learned that I had a self, that I had a self, and that I would bring other little humans into the world, so they too can have adventures in the woods, and I’ll know to keep the witches and foxes at bay, because they’re the same adventures I had, that we all had, and forever will have.
Our trips to conquer mountains, swim rivers, and run marathons, well, that’s when we’re living out the very essence of life itself, and that my friends, is one hell of awesome adventure.