Since I’m a huge advocate of going to the lesser-known places, I place great value on authentic adventures. This goes for all outdoor activities. Moreover, given the choice, I would choose a hundred local hikes over a once-in-lifetime trek. It’s just who I am.
Don’t take what I say the wrong way…I love a good romp through the well-trodden places as much as the next guy or gal. I love seeing the storied places, the magnificent places, and the well-documented places in-person. In spite of all the grandeur and wonder these places have with their “nature things,” there is a level of magic that they lack, and it has nothing to do with crowds or commercialization (okay, maybe a little).
Hang with me a bit and I’m sure you’ll find the simplicity of an authentic adventure just as enchanting as the world’s most majestic natural wonders.
Could you define authentic adventure?
Let’s breakdown authentic adventures, not just for the sake of definition, but for the sake of comprehension.
Authentic is a something that is genuine. You don’t need to question its source because it just is. It’s real, and it’s true.
Adventures are activities that are exciting and/or out of the ordinary. They usually involve risk and taking chances for some sort of discovery, whether it is outward or personal.
Put together, this doesn’t really form the image of a hike through your backyard, does it? By definition alone, authentic adventures are treks that are genuinely out of the ordinary. Taking a walk you’ve taken a hundred times doesn’t scream journey into the unknown. You could have authentic adventures anywhere, really, but what really makes them special (and why I keep using the term) are what they entail.
Okay, so what do you mean by authentic adventures?
To understand, we need to focus. Discovery doesn’t just happen in far-off lands, it takes place anywhere you take a good, clear look. You can discover worlds of wonder by focusing on a single flower just as easily as you can snorkeling through the Great Barrier Reef. Monks have been doing this for ages.
The focusing thing, that is…not snorkeling through the Great Barrier Reef (to the best of my knowledge).
To achieve this heightened sense, let go of expectations. You have to let go of the mindset that I know all there is to know of this thing. You also have to let go of the guidebook and reviews. For Gods’ sakes, don’t ignore them- you should have an idea where to go, and they’re useful to have if you get lost- but don’t rely on them alone to tell you where to go and what to do. You don’t have to see everything to have a good time, despite what you may be told.
Close exploration that isn’t fabricated or overly planned-out is what I call an authentic adventure.
For my parent friends out there: These are incredible life-lessons for children. The benefits of hiking for physical and mental health is well-documented. So too is the ability to focus and make little discoveries. It would behoove you to try it out.
Below are five reasons & benefits of authentic adventures. While you can certainly apply most these to big trips in far-off places (and you should!), the biggest payoff is when done locally and frequently. Who knows? Maybe you’ll discover something that you’ve missed a thousand times.
Get out your maps, grab a cup of coffee, and pencil in a time…we’re going for a hike!
1. Physical & Mental Boost
As previously noted, frequent hikes have huge benefits for your physical and mental health (they go hand-in-hand). When taken outdoors, the impact is intensified. So that I don’t have create an unnecessary list (and you probably already know most of them), consider this small helping of benefit lists:
- The National Parks Service – Benefits of Hiking
- American Hiking Society – Health Benefits of Hiking
- Greater Good Magazine – Five Ways Hiking is Good for You
- Active.com – The Many Benefits of Hiking
- Shape.com – These Benefits of Hiking Will Make You Want to hit the Trails
So we have a ton of reason as to why hiking is good for you. But what about the how?
I get it…we live busy lives, and it’s hard to squeeze in a nice, long hike every weekend. Nay…it’s unrealistic to think you can hike every weekend. You work the weekend. Grandparents need visiting. The kids have activities. Things happen. Sometimes your only chance at anything resembling a hike is a walk around the block before bed.
When you can squeeze in a longer hike, do it! It doesn’t have to be epic or one of your bucket list trails. Give some love to your local parks or do a section of a Rails-to-Trails trail. Even if it’s just a short morning or after work hike, you should still plan and carry appropriate gear.
When you can’t take a longer hike you need to compromise. Take a lot of little hikes throughout the week (or even once a week!). Taking a lot of little hikes close to home are easier to fit in and adjust if you have to turn back. Plus, being closer by allows you to be more spontaneous. Even then at least let someone know where you’re going.
Sometimes those sacred moments happen along the same old routes. There is nothing wrong with that. Even the most mundane tasks can be done with a mindfulness that makes them more. When it comes to that, consider the next reason/benefit of authentic adventures.
2. See the Trees
The phrase “see the forest for the trees” warns against getting so caught up in the details that you miss the bigger picture. It’s great advice, but don’t forget that you can’t see the forest for the trees if you can’t see the trees. It’s a whole ecosystem. Ecosystems thrive when they operate as a whole, and that requires the efforts of many organisms.
Too many of us live lives that revolve around the bigger picture- what’s happening next week, where your next vacation will be, what everyone thinks of you, and so forth. What many of us forget are the little things. These are the important details of life that fill us with joy, sadness, and hope. An authentic adventure considers the details as well as the bigger picture. They go hand-in-hand.
Slow down and focus: What’s happening right now? Where am I at this moment? What do I think of myself?
Apply these ideas to the world around you. Nature isn’t just the giant waterfalls, the vistas, and the crazy rock formations. Find the wonder in the veins and colors of a single leaf. Scrutinize the dew resting on the spider’s web. Watch the frenzied skittering of a chipmunk. Examine an acorn up close, and enjoy the plopping sound they make as they drop into a creek. The great thing about nature is that it’s all around us…you just have to look for it.
Take to the trail with the wide-eyed wonder of a child, as if you’re experiencing it all for the first time. And, like the child, you’ll discover you know a lot more than you thought you did.
Challenges aren’t only found in mountaineering and spelunking. While these grand-scale challenges are certainly something to write home about (and take TONS of pictures of), they often take major skills to accomplish, not to mention resources and time. Those time and resources are often better served tackling the micro-scale challenges as they provide the most consistent growth.
“Okay, what in the blue blazes are you talking about?”
Authentic adventures should be challenging, and that level of challenge depends on the person. Challenges help you grow as a person. When you dive into something with reckless abandon you might learn valuable lessons, but it’s also a surefire way to get hurt (or even killed). Like learning to ride a bike, you get better at something by practicing it over and over, not hopping on for the first time and going straight down a mountain.
Your micro-scale challenges are perfect for learning and practicing the skills to use on grand-scale challenges.
So what are micro-scale challenges? You could tackle a challenging spur (or any climb) that will wind you, make you tired, and strengthen your body. Doing things that scare you (like hiking in the dark), when done properly, lead to solid introspection, accomplishment, and confidence. Hiking in the rain causes you to re-examine how you do things, challenges your attention, and has a way of washing away worries. Even the most fearless explorers and travelers need to come to grips with weak spots in their character (like being able to slow down and focus).
If you’ve strove to see the trees (see above), you should have a pretty good idea of what your challenges are. After that, it’s just a matter of facing them.
When you travel to far-off lands, you have what you take with you. That’s it…unless you go out and buy, rent, or (for some reason) convince someone else to show up later. It is exciting and relaxing to get away, but it can also be a bit terrifying or frustrating, depending on how your trip goes. I do enjoy these things. Sharing how we feel isn’t the purpose of this point, however.
This point of authentic adventure is focused on others.
“But I take pictures and show them off online!”
Yes, and that’s great, but not the whole point. Hell, I take and share pictures, get compliments, and have conversations about said pictures. I enjoy doing it, and it challenges me (see above) to take better pictures, improve my health and hiking speed, and face some deep-seated fears. But it brightens people’s day for a reason you may not expect:
Most of the time I’m not more than an hour from my home and I’m back by lunch.
Why is this important? Sharing your far-off travels, wherever they take you, is great…but limited. When you share nearby things with people closest to you (in distance or in life), more of them will identify with those images or stories on a deeper level. They are able to recall times they hiked that trail, crossed that bridge, or saw those brilliant colors. It means more to them. You’re not just enriching your life, you’re enriching their life by awakening memories, even if they don’t realize it.
You can take this a step further. When you take little treks nearby- and aren’t out for solitude- there is a greater chance that the above people in your life will be able to go along and share the experience with you. If you’re seasoned, you could try putting the choice in their hands. Even if they can’t go with you, the closeness of the adventure may give them the drive to see that place for themselves.
In the grand scheme of things, those are all pretty damn important!
Finally, there is the most obvious point of authentic adventures (or any other venture, for that matter): what does it cost?
Once-in-a-lifetime trips are expensive. Even those who have mastered the art of living on the cheap watch the costs of their adventures. The pictures are nice to look at, and great to dream about and add to bucket lists, but the reality is that not everyone is retired or a travel writer. We all have different passions, goals, and desires, and we’re all enriched by vacations and diversions, but we can’t all base our lives on far-off adventures. For health and stability, we need more than cashing-out on one exotic trip after another.
Besides, a society where everyone was a travel-writer- as funny as it sounds- would collapse.
If money is no object, you’re in the minority. Most people don’t have that kind of free time or resources. Even the exceptions would do well to heed this advice.
Small, authentic adventures are cheap. They help you save up for bigger adventures while you get better at the finer skills (see Challenges, above). You may not be able to travel every day, but you may be able to someday hike the Pacific Crest Trail, the Appalachian Trail, the Great Himalaya Trail, the Wales Coast Path, or wherever else your heart takes you…and be skilled enough to complete it. When you focus on the little things in order to one day do big things, they become integral parts of your story. Those adventures have more meaning.
“But life is short, and you may never get the chance.”
That’s true. It’s tragic and true, but chasing after adventures shouldn’t be your whole reason for existing. You’ll never truly feel fulfilled that way.
A Final Point
If you’re able to go on a grand adventure- you’re at a turning point in your life, you don’t have other responsibilities, or you’re offered the chance- take it. I’m not saying you should put your dreams on hold in favor of stability (get a haircut and a job, ya dirty hippie!), it’s about me telling you it’s okay to enjoy the little things.
Focus on where you are and let those little things work in your favor. The payout in the long-run is incredible.
Having an authentic adventure should be the goal of any of your hikes, no matter the size. It’s what separates a trip where you did something from a trip where you learned something. Authentic adventures aren’t about great photos, bragging rights, or objects you bring home with you when you’re done. When you can say that you accomplished something on a personal level- learned more about yourself and your place in the universe- you’re on your way to being fulfilled.
That’s what it’s all about.
Thanks for reading. If you have any comments, drop me a line. I’m interesting in hearing about your authentic adventures!