What the heck is an adventure?

Road Rule 4: Never eat at a nationally franchised restaurant; there’s
no sense of adventure, no diversity, no risk involved in patronizing
them. They’re uniformly bland.

First Corollary: You can stop at nationally franchised restaurants to
use their restrooms; there’s no sense of adventure, no diversity, no
risk involved in using them. They’re uniformly clean.
–Dayton Duncan, OUT WEST

From a stroll on the High Plains. Wasn’t epic. Or an adventure. But it was beautiful.

Recently, Andrew Skurka posted some good thoughts on his blog about the latest “Adventurer of the Year” designation.

Namely, is it Scott Jurek or Heather Anderson? Scott Jurek was given this title for his Appalachian Trail FKT. Heather, of course, is the amazing athlete who holds the FKT for a traditional thru-hike on both the Pacific Crest Trail and the Appalachian Trail. 

But, as much as I can admire the athleticism of these FKTs, I don’t think it has to do much with adventure.

The Appalachian Trail and, to a somewhat lesser extent, the Pacific Crest Trail, are well-marked, have ample logistic support, well made smart phone apps and guidebooks, etc.  And in Scott Jurek’s case, he had a support team up and down the trail.

Is is an adventure when the parameters are so well know?

A sub-3 hr Boston Marathon is athletically impressive as well..but I don’t think I’d call it an adventure in the way it is generally understood. 🙂

Perhaps “Outdoor Athlete of the Year” may be a more appropriate title?  I say this with no sarcasm but with the utmost sincerity.

Because of Andrew’s article, and the recent hoopla over FKTs, I have been pondering “What is an adventure?”

I know of four people attempting the “Triple Crown in a Year” in the next year or so. One person even reached out to publicize their attempt on our silly little podcast.

Is that an adventure at this point?  All three  trails are well-marked (at least electronically with some impressive apps) and the hikers have experience on these trails as well. And it has been done previously.  Or are these more impressive athletic accomplishments as opposed to adventure?  That’s not to take away the sense of accomplishment, the beauty or the joy found in these  experiences. But I think the word “adventure” is bandied about too much.

So what is adventure?

Perhaps it is like good art..I can’t define it..but I know it when I see it!

Three images: How the fresco should look (left); how it looked before the "restoration" (center); and what it looked like after Cecilia Gimenez was done.

No longer good art perhaps… 🙂  From NPR.

For outdoor pursuits, there are two people, who aren’t well-known, that come to mind for me who went on adventures.

Buck Nelson did an amazing, and unassuming, trek he put together with maps, resources and planning on a nascent Desert Trail.  Wild, remote and largely unknown areas for most backpackers. He went out and hiked it border to border with little fanfare.  (Among the other cool things he’s done!)

Then there is Kirstin Gates  and her solo trek through the Brooks Range of Alaska. She researched the heck out of it and did it solo through some absolute wilderness. Amazing.

Both these treks seem to me to be more an adventure than a FKT or the Triple Crown in a Year…at least to me.

So why all this hype over adventure and “epicness”?

I think there are few reasons…

  • This epic crap sells. An enjoyable, if challenging, few weeks or months walking, canoeing, climbing and/or camping is not epic or an adventure. It is just time spent outdoors. In this day and age of reality TV, I think we like to see things that might go off the rails. It is exciting!

  • We can’t just relax and enjoy something.  “Go big or go home”…A phrase that is quintessentially American. To be the best, biggest, fastest, etc. at something is so ingrained in our culture. And if we are just merely enjoying something, the latent Puritan work ethic kicks in a bit.  An “adventure” sounds like work, an accomplishment, something with a purpose, a goal met.  A few months, or even a weekend, hiking and camping? Meh…you lazy good-for-nothing hippy!  You should be home..working on something!

Buncha damn hippies tiptoeing through the coppermallow…

  • Of course, the place has  to be a well-known check mark on a bucket list. Because of movies, books and many social media oriented sites, the Triple Crown is well known. That is a worthy goal to have as an adventure!  Brooks Range? Sounds like an appropriately androgynous name, from an affluent family, to have your children meet on a play date…

Apparently the title of a mediocre movie as well.  From IMDB.com

I doubt, as a whole, we’ll  stop using the word adventure to describe every walk to the grocery store, stroll on a local trail or an easy climb after work.

But sometimes it is merely good enough to enjoy the outdoors. The plains, mountains, canyons and forests are going to beautiful no matter what. You can merely enjoy them for what they are. No need to feel guilty about not having an epic. 😉

John Muir was would not describe himself as an adventure athlete or an epic seeker. Nor would Colin Fletcher.  Or Ed Abbey. Or Dick Pronneke.

There are real adventure and epics out there.

But be a simple outdoors person first. Enjoy it. Embrace it. The adventures and “epicness” are secondary to being an outdoors person.  The adventures and epics will happen on their own. Or maybe not…


Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
8 years ago

To my mind, adventure is going somewhere or doing something that no one has done before. To me, it’s going somewhere or doing something that I have never done before. I don’t see fastest known times as an adventure, although it was certainly an adventure to the person that did it. I think that Andrew Skurka’s hike around Alaska would qualify as an adventure. I also think that he would have a better claim to the title of “adventurer”, since he has tried or completed several new or combined routes. The idea of giving out a title of “Adventurer of… Read more »

8 years ago

I like what Alastair Humphreys does with his micro-adventures. I do something similar in regards to ‘local adventures’…getting out and exploring in our own area, especially now that I have a kid. Thru-hiking? Not happening again anytime soon. But there’s a hell of a lot of other, smaller adventures I can do…and they may not be epic or newsworthy but they will be fun and memory-worthy for my family!

Doug K
8 years ago

you can’t plan to have an adventure – adventures are what happen when the plans in your head don’t match what is on the ground.. I have more epics that way 😉

agree, a race over a mapped marked trail hardly seems to qualify as adventure, particularly with a support team. I admire Scott both as a runner and as a person, but that run isn’t an adventure..