What makes for a memorable adventure? Is it the views, the camaraderie? Or is it the “oh my god, how am I going to get through this?”
While I wouldn’t classify myself as a “gear junky,” the description isn’t too far off and possibly only false due to limited funds. While I don’t have the latest and greatest, my gear closet contains a healthy quiver of backpacks, bikes, and skis perfectly suited for any adventure. I’m also a steadfast advocate of the Boy Scouts’ mantra of “Always be Prepared.” The Ten Essentials were only the starting point, even for minor hikes. A first aid kit worthy of an EMT, water to hydrate a platoon, and clothing for any weather change. To be fair, there were many times where my excessive precaution came in handy - spare clothing and water for my chronically less prepared friends, and mole-skin aplenty for the group’s blister needs allowed adventures to continue unabated.
Recently, I’ve had to challenge this OCD level of preparedness and I’ve found it has created a welcome perspective on adventure. During last year’s training for the Leadville 100 mountain bike race, a poorly timed family vacation to Seattle three weeks prior to the race threw a curve ball in my training. I needed to ride, but didn’t want to pay the cost to ship a bike nor rent one. So, I borrowed my brother-in-law’s slightly too small commuter bike, took the semi-clipless pedals off my sister’s bike, negated the must-have emergency items (pump, patches, tools, even a water bottle!), and went for wonderful 3 hr rides around Seattle. I am fortunate that I didn’t flat, but I knew the odds were unlikely and I could likely flag down a patch and pump from a fellow cyclist. Was I thirsty? Absolutely! And my cotton t-shirt was drenched in sweat.
I think we’ve become too comfortable in our outdoor adventures. We wear jackets and backpacks or ride bikes and skis that have as much R&D behind them as the Apollo space program. We carry GPS receivers that display our location on a map with pinpoint accuracy. The level of technical performance is stunning. But, have these advancements sanitized the adventure-ness of our experiences?
Learning to ski as a child in the Pacific Northwest was synonymous with embracing misery. My memories of those years include skiing in near zero visibility mist, at night, with a jacket and gloves becoming saturated with water. Straight skis, rental boots, and impossible snow conditions. It wasn’t fun and there were plenty of tears, but it was memorable!
It begs the question, what makes for a memorable adventure? I would argue that it’s some combination of physical discomfort in incredible natural environments that yields unforgettable memories. Yes, we can go further, longer, and faster with state-of-the-art equipment, but based on that formula, the jean skier, or the backpacker outfitted at the army surplus store, or even the backcountry skier embarking on snowshoes with skis strapped on the back, is having a grander adventure simply due to his increased discomfort and sense of uncertainty. Worse, this relentless advancement of technology has created an elitist mentality pervasive at some ski areas and trailheads. Rather than celebrating the guy or gal mustering the courage to tackle the very same trails on inferior gear, we silently snicker while riding off on our own plush comfortability enabled by the latest gear.
If we answer honestly to what our personal idea of adventure is, then it’s time to toss the latest ski magazine’s Buyers Guide straight to the recycle bin. Your gear is just fine. So, reintroduce some of the adventure by leaving the GPS watch at home and hone your map and compass skills. Wanting to try a new sport? Rather than drop several thousand dollars, borrow your friends’ gear, or check Craigslist for used gear.
Loving the outdoors and travel shouldn’t require a six-figure income. The only thing that matters is getting out there and creating memories, even if that includes being woken up to rain dripping through your dad’s decades old hand-me-down tent. Those are the memories that last.
Now go make some memories today!
— David, Root Ops Guy