Adventure is pretty pointless. Not pointless in the sense that we shouldn’t do it, not at all, but pointless in the sense that we have no real survival need to get to the top of mountains, climb hard projects, or ride bikes grueling distances. Most adventure these days falls distinctly into the camp of elected suffering. Mountaineers are “conquistadors of the useless” according to Lionel Terray, and I’d extend that to cyclists, backcountry skiers, whitewater kayakers, and pretty much every other adventure recreationalist.
So I’ve been asking myself… why do I do it? Why do I hike mountains or climb rocks? Is it the classic “because it’s there” rationale? Maybe that’s part of it, but I don’t think it’s the whole picture. For me, it’s much more to do with seeing what I’m made of. Seeing what it feels like to dig deep, grit my teeth, and push through something difficult. When all plans fall apart and I’m thrown into the uncomfortable unknown, what kind of person do I become? And is that the kind of person I’ve been all along?
I’m privileged enough not to have endured much hardship growing up. I’m incredibly thankful for that, but it also leaves me with a sense of terror that I’m woefully unprepared for catastrophe when it inevitably shows up on my doorstep. When I lose a loved one or am faced with a life altering disease, how will I react? Will I have enough strength, enough willpower to get through?
Adventure — especially when everything goes wrong — is that sacred space where I get a glimpse of what’s at the end of me. The place where I dive into a situation that makes me want to turn back just to see what it feels like to push on a little further. Adventure is as much about exploring physically as it is about exploring mentally. Actually… it’s probably mostly about exploring mentally. I’m never going to map a first ascent or pioneer a new backcountry route. There’s nowhere in the country I’ll ever go that hasn’t already been explored by someone else.
What I get from adventure is a deeper understanding of myself. I get a little more practice pushing through unexpected setbacks and discomfort so that, hopefully, I’ll have a deeper well to draw from when pushing hard really matters.