Four days in the wilderness. The freedom of taking a long walk.
Last October I took a four day walk with a man who was looking for a hard reset in his life. Time to step away from the burdens and demands of his everyday and take stock of where he was headed, realign his priorities, and clarify what was a ‘no’ in his life and what was a ‘yes’.
It worked. He circumnavigated Mt. St. Helens. He gained significant and actionable clarity. And he found his footing again working hard each day, sleeping under the stars, and experiencing the peace that can only be found by unplugging from the noise, demands, and overwhelm of the everyday and shifting into mountain time and mountain living.
There is freedom in taking a long walk. There is freedom in the minimalism of it all – carrying only the select few items you need to balance: survival, health, and comfort. And there is freedom in letting the mind roam with each step and each contour of the land – landing on clarity and something deep and profound and just as frequently landing on the absurd, humorous, and awe of beauty and nature.
It’s both and each of these things.
It’s no secret that being in nature supports our health and well-being: mental and physical. But are all experiences created equal? Does a walk in an urban park create the same experience as a massive expedition to points unknown? Yes. And no.
Adventure offers us an opportunity to focus our attention on a singular objective for a fixed amount of time. The combination of these two variables, the singular objective and the defined duration, along with an experience of novelty and challenge just beyond our comfort zone, creates the perfect Venn diagram for a flow state experience.
The sense of adventure is really just a gift of time: time slowed down without distraction that allow’s us to focus on a single goal.
Flow state opens us and creates a sense of peace and purpose – our presence is unwavering and has meaning in that moment. This is a mental boost all its own. However, it isn’t the only medicine we receive from adventuring.
Adventure is unapologetic and direct in its feedback. Beauty is awe-inspiring. Challenge is painful and requires persistence and grit.
There is no hiding from the experience which means there is no hiding from YOU—adventure mirrors us, our attitude, our perspective on the world, how we handle uncertainty, our ability to shift perspective and to dig deep into the reserves of perseverance.
And this awareness of the power and of adventure is as old as time. Our modern living has shifted so dramatically from the offering that we must seek and intentionally create adventure – it’s not accessible without effort.
The modern iteration of intentional adventure dates back to 1941, when Kurt Hahn founded a program called Outward Bound in Wales. Hahn proposed Outward Bound as a way to combat perceived social ills resulting from industrialization, and the correlation between survival on the battlefield, such as the decline of fitness, initiative, the spirit of enterprise, and self-discipline. Outward Bound, began a movement that continues today – create an environment of challenge, resilience, and skill development that serves the individual and community to rise above preconceived notions of what is possible, emotional resilience and healing through personal leadership development, and technical skills to support an individuals ability to operate in the world with personal sovereignty.
This is no small task. At all.
And it is at the heart of what adventure offers when framed and presented with integrity and intention.
Adventure is not an amusement park ride for the marketing purposes of Red Bull, National Geographic, or The North Face – adventure is not a commodity.
Adventure offers an opportunity for significant positive impact in our lives, mine included:
Deeper Awareness of Emotions
Because this is an experiential undertaking, adventuring is immersive—you will experience thoughts and emotions that you might never have faced. It can help you process these emotions, give you better control over them, and help you understand yourself better.
Strengthening of Relationships
Adventuring involves others, whether it’s you and a guide or you and a group of ten, it requires teamwork, communication, and cooperation—all requirements for healthy relating in all areas of life.
Creating (or Repairing) a Sense of Responsibility
Responsibility to ourselves, our own health, well-being, safety, and security. And responsibility for supporting the health and wellness of our teammates – the wilderness is the ultimate equalizer and we are in it together.
Adventure offers a direct and immediate correlation between now and the direct result of our behaviors and actions. This dynamic dramatically, and in real time, shifts our relationship with our sense of self, creating an ever deepening depth of confidence and capability that transfers to all arenas of our lives. As you meet the inner experience of challenge, self-doubt, and overwhelm, you also meet direct input and feedback from the outer experience, your self-esteem and personal and group awareness is heightened, strengthened and the result is immediate increased capacity for adversity and challenge – the direct result is earned and sincere personal confidence.
A negative problem-saturated perspective maybe a familiar state when you are overwhelmed and hit the wall, but it won’t get you any closer to camp or to the summit. The key to expedition success lay in the balance between acceptance (weather, fitness, health, mountain conditions, partnership well-being) and making consistent and continuous adjustment based on new information and input. Negative feedback loops are broken when your awareness and presence allows for a moment to take stock of facts and honest assessment without judgement and fear. We aren’t talking about creating an experience of cotton candy positivity – we are talking about creating a state of sincere and honest assessment and aligning our purpose and drive with action.
Improved Mental Health and Physical Fitness
This is probably the most obvious benefit but it is a significant benefit nonetheless, and one that creates a positive cascading effect of compounding benefit. Expeditions and adventure demand your physical presence and time in nature, tuning in and operating on a naturally occurring and supporting timeline (shifting your lifestyle to that of the planet’s) while limiting access to electronics and external input pays dividends – your entire sense of self (physical and emotional) shifts and creates the opportunity for deep rest, recovery, physical and emotional challenge and output, and realigns your emotional state and values towards what truly matters for you individually.
My own definition and experience of adventure has shifted throughout my life. As I have grown and taken on different roles and responsibilities—father, entrepreneur, and partner—my relationship with adventure has changed as well. Sometimes it is big and expansive, other times it’s micro and disciplined. I create intentional space for both possibilities. For example, an adventure can look like a three-day weekend without an agenda, opening me to possibilities and the unknown. Or it is a massive goal, like climbing Manaslu, the 8th highest mountain in the world, solo in 2022. When my life is full of work and family, adventure is a little more prescribed and scripted like scheduling time to go on a quick hike or bike ride in between meetings and coaching little league baseball.
What I can say is that the times in my life that have felt the most disjointed and disconnected have been the times when I have strived to have a specific type of adventure experience that is at odds with my present life demands. As a father with young children, taking copious amounts of time off and traveling without agenda, without responsibility, and rolling the dice is not in the best interest of my family or myself. In this way, adventure requires us to get real about who and where we are. I am not in the season of a carefree, 20-something vagabond, and trying to have that experience will result in an unsurprising outcome: unhappiness.
My life today is different and my choices have created real and significant responsibility. As a result of my current reality, my adventure experiences reflect that choice. Peace, freedom, and the ability to be present and soak in the experience all come easily when this is acknowledged and celebrated. Meet the moment, acknowledge the responsibilities and demands, and create adventure from right where you are. From who you are, in this moment.”