Adventure – When is it Real?

"An adventure is, by its nature, a thing that comes to us. It is a thing that chooses us, not a thing that we choose."
- G.K. Chesterton
Mr. Chesterton was spot-on. Adventure does choose us. Oh sure, we make the effort to venture out and break the monotony of our day-to-day obligations. That's our decision. The destination of St. Thomas island, climbing Kilimanjaro, or rafting down the Colorado River is also our choice. However, when adventure chooses us, the options narrow dramatically. An unknown element is added, and usually not by choice. Hence the term ad-venture. (Don't quote me on that, it's just an observation). This added element can happen anywhere at any time. 

We can be smack-dab in the middle of our endeavor, dig'n the scenery, excited to be there, hearing new sounds, experiencing new foods, new faces, and all those moments of feeding our senses with the plans we've made. But then it happens. Something goes wrong or terribly right. Our mojo changes and the venture takes on a different dynamic. We start to feel more like passengers than drivers, and the experience is now full of variables that weren't there before. This is where the real deal starts to happen.

It's as if God says: “Hmm, you came here with a load of expectations strapped to your back. Up to now, it was all about you and your little story, but now that you’re here in the thick of it, committed and engaged at whatever level, you've crossed over into the larger story (Twilight Zone music please). Welcome to the other side of your expectations, the place where adventure breathes."

Wheather you're on an overcrowded bus in India or hanging out at basecamp below K2, when adventure picks you for the team, you enter the world of extremes. It could be tragic, or it could be fantastic. Either way, you're along for the ride. Emotions and decisions have more importance than they did at the start. Larger problems come out of hiding as you move into various stages of survival or "getting by." You make friends or enemies, some for the moment and some for life. But the bar is raised. The stakes are higher and those key moments come when the end of your rope is inches away, or you're standing on ground where few have, and it's utterly exhilarating. Your priorities change. You are in the "here and now" living it. You either embrace it like Alice in Wonderland and discover the depth of the rabbit hole you've fallen into, or you fight it and are forced into submission and frustration, missing out on the wonder it offers.

If you have gone on so-called adventures and never experienced the above, then that my friend was not an adventure. That was a vacation. The difference is gimongous.

Let's get some perspective

In 1804 when Lewis and Clark began their discovery expedition hoofing it across North America, that was an adventure. In 2010 when Laura Dekker at age 14 sailed around the world alone, that was an adventure. When your Uncle Jim went to Africa for six months as a missionary; yep you got it…adventure. Or when you and your pals spent three weeks last summer thumbing it across Mexico...Si! Adventure magnifico!

Taking the fam to Disneyland however, that’s a vacation. A bombardment of entertainment geared to provide you with a whopping placebo of pseudo adventure. A time for getting away, sightseeing and some R&R. Love it! It's not necessarily life-changing but a load of fun. Vacations are generally on your terms, but an adventure, on the other hand, has a life of its own.

Last summer we went on a river rafting trip with a whole mess of family & friends. Our raft was the only one that didn’t make it thru the category 4 rapids intact. We were capsized. Scattered into the  ice-cold white water,  gasping for air in between dunks. To make matters worse, we were less than 40 yards away from another huge rapid. Fortunately, the guides and crews in the other rafts pulled us in quickly and got us all to safety. We ended up in the drink 2 more times that day.
All of us went on the same rafting trip however not all of us had the same experience.  On the bus ride home everyone from the other rafts went on about how cool the trip was. How they got a nice rush through the big rapids and loved the lazy floats in between.

But those of us still dripping wet from being separated from our raft so often had different stories to tell. Instead, we relished the memory of being force-fed gallons of water in under 3 seconds along with the added sensation of a high-pressure nose enema, both at the same time (Ooo la la). Plus, now we know what it's like to be trapped in an air pocket under a capsized raft in the rapids while exercising the gag-reflex (what a hoot!). And who can forget those precious thoughts of terror like: “Oh CRAP…we're hosed. Keep your legs up. Which way is up? Swim Forest SWIM! I can't feel my arms. Where’s my family?, I NEED AIR...NOW!".

But we survived. We passed the test. And as we all know, a test on your own terms is no test at all.


When it's over, you return home a different person. Empowered and humbled at the same time. You have memories to tell anyone who'll listen. But don’t feel like you have to discover a new island inhabited by blue people or be the first person ever to skateboard across Alaska. My grandmother is 92 years old, and for her, adventure is merely going to Walmart. She never knows how that's going to turn out. Remember the words of Sir Edmund Hillary (the first person to reach the top of Mt Everest);

“I have discovered that even the mediocre can have adventures and even the fearful can achieve.” He’s referring to himself. So keep a vigilant eye because you never know when adventure will choose you.

“It’s not an adventure until something goes wrong.”
- Yvon Chouinard

TellTale Signs of Adventure

  • Got stories to tell
  • Danger present
  • Adrenalin increase
  • You may have peed your pants or at least the thought crossed your mind at some point.
  • Varied euphoria
  • You've changed somewhat
  • You learned something about life
  • You asked yourself "How the hell did I get here?"
  • You contemplated quitting at least 3 times
  • It wasn't all about you

Important Note

Being part of an adventure will impact you or others in some way. It's interactive and personal by its very nature.

Advice Tip

Be open and engaged to what's happening around you. When adventure chooses you, be prepared to go with it. It may be nothing, or it may be one of the best things that ever happens to you.

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