The Eternal Question – What is Adventure for?
By Laura Maisey in EtchRock
What is the point of adventure? Why does anyone choose the extremities and uncertainties when we could choose the sofa, the cup of tea, the safety of knowledge and security? And why, when we choose adventures do we choose difficult things? We could go by bus, take the train, grab a lift. Instead we cycle into wind so strong it blows us over. We swim rivers that are cold and unforgiving. We run up hills gasping for breath when walking would be easier. What is it all for?
Is it to see if we can? There is definitely a strong argument for this and I myself know that if I can complete the adventure I have set for myself in September, to run from Rome to London, I will be as amazed as anyone else. For there is much more to running for 1200 miles than just putting one’s feet down. That I can do. The feet bit, I’ve got that sorted. There are a lot of other things that need to be considered though and those things I have little idea about. I’m as intrigued as anyone about whether I’ll actually get any sleep whilst camping my way across Europe. My two bivying experiments had the following results.
Campout in back garden – not sure if I slept, condensation that I got very confused about and thought my bivy bag was ‘sweating’, came back inside at 4.40am.
Campout in a forest – couldn’t come back inside so stuck it out, pretty sure I slept some of the time, less ‘sweat’ in bivy bag.
Another thing that needs to be considered is the weight I’ll be carrying on my back. I swing wildly between “I’ll just use the gear I have, adventure doesn’t have to be about expensive kit!” and “I NEED THE MOST HIGH-TECH LIGHTEST TENT AND SLEEPING BAG THAT EXISTS!” This conversation in my head leads back to my thinking on what adventure is for.
Is roughing it with insufficient gear, having not showered in a week or seen fellow humans for three days part of the adventure? Is that what we do it for? To experience something so unlike our normal lives that we really discover who we are in these situations? Do we become Ms Moany Groany and cry into another meal of instant noodles, wishing we were home? Or do we pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and trust that tomorrow will bring something new?
Is there any other option apart from the bootstraps option? If there really is nothing to be done about the situation, we must by necessity and for our sanity, talk ourselves back around and trust that the following day will bring something new. Perhaps, then, this is why we go on adventures? To reach those depths, to visit those places deep down in our minds, where despair and desperation live. Adventures by their nature will bring days when we feel horrible, we want to stop, we wish our friends and family were around us. We who are inclined to go on adventures know this. The fact that we voluntarily put ourselves into these situations makes me think that there is an element of desire for those moments. We want to force ourselves into uncomfortable places to see what we are made of.
The physical element is not really the challenge. Humans are so amazingly capable of far more than we expect. The Sean Conways, Elise Downings, Ben Smiths, Rob Youngs and Anna McNuffs of this world have told us that having expectations about what is possible is ridiculous. Every day some new ‘impossible’ physical feat is achieved.
What really presents the challenge in an adventure is the mental aspect, the seemingly insurmountable idea of what we are about to attempt. While we can train for hours preparing beforehand, we can never know where our thoughts will lead us when we get on the road. Adventure is a way of exploring ourselves as well as the world.
The financial aspect of an adventure is another unavoidable element and the thing adventurers get asked most about. Financial insecurity is one of the most unsettling feelings we know and yet adventurers accept that feeling willingly in order to go on their adventures.
Is it because adventure is also a form of escape? No matter how much we embrace nature or do work that we find rewarding, we still by default live within a routine in our everyday lives. We go to the same place to earn money, we run or cycle on the same streets, we make the same kind of thing for dinner. This is good, it creates physical and mental security in our lives. Yet we look forward to holidays with great excitement, we count down to the weekend, we read books about far off lands and imagine being there. Humans are naturally inquisitive. No matter how satisfied we are with our lives (or not, as the case may be), we are still intrigued by what would happen if we threw everything we knew up in the air and did something different.
“What would happen if, for three months, all I had to do when I got up every day, was run?” Tell me that (or your version of it, cycling or whatever) doesn’t sound like an interesting prospect.
It was F. Scott Fitzgerald who said, “It’s never too late… to be whoever you want to be. Start whenever you want. You can change or stay the same. There are no rules to this thing.”
Does adventure present us with the chance to escape what we know and see what we find? Does it potentially offer us the chance to take our lives in a new direction? I challenge you to find anyone who has undertaken some form of adventure whose life hasn’t then been profoundly changed.
I ask these questions because I am intrigued, not because I know the answers. I ruminate on these things in order to discover my own thoughts about it. I still do not know why we go on adventures. I only know that while I am in a position to be able, I am too inquisitive not to go.
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