When people ask me why I’m always moving about, I usually respond with some excuse I cook up on the spot. “Oh, well I’m trying to figure out where I want to settle down.” or “I just enjoy the change in scenery.” Both true, but not the ultimate cause responsible for my nomadic tendencies. That would be the itch. Also known as wanderlust, though I prefer the term ‘itch’ to ‘wanderlust’ as it captures the peculiar tingling or irritating feeling wanderlust induces.
In my last update, I mentioned that the itch that began growing in Ecuador expected something more than a change from now familiar surroundings. In addition to the tingling sense telling me to move on, another tingling required adventure. It is difficult to describe, but I knew simply jumping across borders would not satisfy this compulsion.
“This is going to be awesome!”, I thought to myself, “I am going to do something legendary,and have great stories when it’s over.”
And so I set out preparing an adventure. It was more impulse than careful consideration that ended in me choosing bicycle touring–long distance cycling–through South America as a great adventure. What could be more adventurous than powering myself, with my own two legs, through foreign lands, my ‘saddlebags’ packed full of my worldly possessions, prepared to handle whatever nature throws my way? I envisioned myself the next Amelia Earhart, Captain James Cook, or Lewis and Clark.
In the midst of my preparations (gear lists, spreadsheet budgets, route maps, etc.), that annoying side of my brain–you know, the one that pestered me into a Philosophy major–suddenly perked up with a perturbing question that stopped my planning cold:
“But Casey, what is adventure?”
Such a question might sound silly, but those of you who know the overly-analytical-me know right well that I have to answer these types of questions. After all, if I’m planning an adventure, I better have some inkling of what an adventure looks like.
The dictionary is always a good place to start when you want to know what something is.
adventure: [...] 3. a bold, usually risky undertaking; hazardous action of uncertain outcome.
Seems to be pretty intuitive, no? An adventure isn’t just a risky undertaking, it is a bold risky undertaking, otherwise we wouldn’t admire it as an adventure, but, rather, disdain it as a foolish or reckless undertaking. The second part of the definition also has a certain semantic charm, for who would describe a hazardous action of known outcome as adventurous? Walking in front of a bus is by most accounts hazardous, but hardly an adventure.
So, we have a simple rubric to determine if an activity can be considered an adventure or not:
- Is it bold?
- Is it risky?
- Is it of uncertain outcome?
Huzzah! My bicycle touring plans surely satisfied these three criteria, which should have satisfied that pesky brain. I should have been able to return to the fun questions, such as, “how much water should I carry?” or “should I pack instant coffee or a portable coffee maker?” Unfortunately, that was not the end of my ruminations over adventure.
There I was surrounded on one metaphorical side by route maps, budget spreadsheets, guidebooks, and bicycle touring blogs, while on the other side loomed the image of adventure placed upon a pedestal, casting its disapproving shadow over the whole lot. How could I possibly claim to be planning an adventure, when every minutiae is carefully considered?
Every centimeter of our little blue-green ball has been scanned and photographed by metal marvels in space. That footage has been analyzed and dumped into your cellphone. Your universally accepted plastic card is a key usable in one of those magic street-side contraptions that spits out money wherever you are (unless it is Discover). Pervasive global communication has annihilated the concept of distance. Using Skype you can wish your dear mum in Boston happy birthday no matter if you’re in Buffalo, Bangalore, or Beijing.
Not to mention those packaged guidebooks detailing every conceivable tourist destination, with precise street maps, and convenient accommodation reviews in 3 lines or less. Gone are the days of loading out your dog sled train with salt pork, a bushel of apples, and a cask of ale, then heading out into the great white unknown. Between books, e-books, blogs, travel websites, travel magazines, podcasts, and Internet forums, nearly everything you could want to do has not only been done, but been documented in detail online.
All these sources remove the boldness and uncertainty from the equation. You can learn everything there is to know about a trip or destination by reading what others have done without even leaving your home. Moreover, the mere fact that countless people before you have trekked that trail, seen those ruins, or ridden through that country and then blogged about it, makes that undertaking decidedly less bold.
You’re left, then, with just a risky undertaking, but even the risk is tempered by the torrent of information available on the Internet and in books. Every potential mishap can be identified and countered. All that remains is an undertaking, and there’s nothing particularly meaningful or exciting about undertakings. Popping down the street to buy some milk is an undertaking. Hopping onto a plane to the Pyramids is an undertaking. In this light, how is independent travel all that different from mainstream packaged tours? Is travel ever really an adventure in this modern era?
Where does that leave us wanna-be adventurers? Compared to the famous explorers and adventurers, we’re hardly doing anything more exciting than visiting a neighboring town that is more or less the same as ours. Thank you globalization!
Just how much good ol’ adventure is left in the world? If there is any, where and what is it?
This sort of thought isn’t healthy, and I don’t buy into these conclusions. I need to stop these romantic comparisons to famous explorers; it is unfair to ourselves and even disrespectful to their legacy. Adventure still abounds. Achieving it just might take a bit more effort, particularly when it comes to ignoring those modern conveniences that can spoil our adventure with foreknowledge.
There is also something to be said for personal adventure, that is adventure framed in your own personal experience. If you’ve never left your home country, then taking a packaged tour or cruise is definitely an adventure. Hell, for me, navigating the mall during the holiday season can be as much an adventure as climbing volcanoes in the Andes.
Adventure is everywhere, but recognizing it requires a shift in perspective. The English writer G.K. Chesterton eloquently puts this sentiment into words:
An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.
Take that pesky brain! Adventure is that which puts me outside my comfort zone. It doesn’t matter if I’ve got a cellphone in my pocket, a guidebook in my pack, and a credit card in my wallet, if I’m pumping 60lbs of bike and gear up an Andean slope, or through a Peruvian desert, by golly, I’m having an adventure.
I encourage you to find your adventure wherever it may be.
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