What is Adventure?

Let me tell you a tale of two very different men on two very different adventures.

First, we have an 18 year old youngster about to embark on his first multi-day hike. Still wet behind the ears, this starry-eyed youth undergoes a 2 night, 44km traverse of the Border Trail in Lamington National Park. The trail is consistently marked and the campsites strategically placed, but it is the first time he has ever undertaken a solo, self-sufficient trip with nothing but the contents of his 60L pack.

Next, we have a 27 year old aspiring mountain guide embarking on his first gig as an assistant guide on the Patagonian Ice Cap. It is his second trip to the region, a locality famed for its hostile weather and remoteness. During the 5 week expedition, the group summits three peaks, battles fatigue in a 20 hour epic and performs a successful rescue when a member plunges 15 metres into the gaping maw of a hidden crevasse.

Now for the (thoroughly transparent) plot twist… Both of those men were me.

In much the same way as Anakin Skywalker and Darth Vader are not the same man, I am a vastly different individual than I was in 2004 (and probably significantly more “twisted and evil”, in keeping with my hopelessly nerdy metaphor). The crux of the matter is that both of these expeditions felt genuinely adventurous to me at the time of their occurrence. Adventure is an inherently subjective notion, hinging entirely upon our perspective and levels of skill and experience. So what exactly is adventure, and what does it mean to different people?

I personally define adventure as an undertaking which involves excitement and challenge, within which the outcome is unknown or uncertain. As you can see, this is a fairly broad definition and allows for a wide gamut of activities to fall under the banner of “adventure”. When we think of the word adventure, it typically brings to mind the exploits of famous explorers or daredevils at the cutting edge of extreme sports. My short wander through the Queensland scrub hardly fits the bill on either of those counts, yet still provided a giddy thrill for me at the time. Adventure means different things to different people, and indeed to the same person at different times of their life. The most important element of adventure is not the what, but rather the why. The outcome is often greater than the sum of its parts, though not in relation to a perceived goal or result but in the very act of their pursuit. Like many things on this Earth, the thrill is in the chase. It seems counter-intuitive, in an evolutionary sense, for us to take insane risks in the pursuit of activities that appear inherently pointless (see: rock climbing), but the will to explore, to expand and to break free of our comfort zone is one of humanities most unique and enduring characteristics.

It’s very easy to look down our noses at other’s adventures and this happens all the time. When viewed through our personal lens, the exploits of those with less experience can seem positively meek. This happens all the time in the climbing world and the result has been an unofficial hierarchy of climbers in relation to a perceived scale of awesome. In rock climbing alone, lowly boulderers play third fiddle to sport climbers, who in turn pale in comparison to trad climbers. And let’s not even set foot into the realm of the vitriolic skier vs snowboarder rivalry. Here’s another example from semi-rad.com offering a graphical representation of the hierarchy of campers (please note the “direction of scoff”, a great little addendum, I say).

Unfortunately, there’s a huge flaw in such an elitist mindset. If I may be permitted another Star Wars reference, “There’s always a bigger fish”. No matter how balls-to-the-wall rad you might think you are, there’s always someone out there who’s harder, stronger and more awesome than you’ll ever be. Fact. Even for members of the climbing royalty, there is someone practicing a competing discipline who just may pip them to the post in RQ (Radness Quotient, patent pending). For example, Adam Ondra may have sent La Dura Dura, but did he make the first winter ascent of Denali? Reinhold Messener may have been the first to ascent all fourteen of the Eight-Thousanders, but does that mean he’s as bad-arse as Shackelton with the Discovery, Nimrod and Endurance expeditions under his belt? Who’s to say?

The truth is that no adventure exists in isolation. Each and every expedition has built upon the exploits and knowledge of those who have gone before us. As Isaac Newton said, “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” To lend credence to this idea, Roald Amundsen, whose first successful traverse of Antarctica to the South Pole epitomised the Golden Age of Polar Exploration, lamented the fact that he was born in an age when there were very few blank spots left on the map and all the “real” exploration had already taken place. Each adventure builds on those that have already taken place and further advances that spirit of exploration and the scope of human endeavour.

So what is adventure? It can be many things to many people. The recent free ascent of the Dawn Wall was certainly an adventure, but to the average Yosemite visitor, such an attempt would be more akin to suicide. To them, camping in the wilderness, free of the shackles of technology and the constructs of society is an adventure. Who are we to say otherwise? Starting a small business. Moving to another city. Writing a novel. Falling in love. Each of these have an element of the unknown and inherent challenges to overcome.

Instead of belittling the exploits of others, no matter how far below our own personal thresholds of skill and risk they may be, we should be encouraging adventure in all its forms. Even if we don’t share the desire or vision of another, we all share that uniquely human capability to put ourselves out of our comfort zone for reasons that defy logic and sense. In that, we are all the same. Share the stoke with others, help build their dreams into reality and usher them into a world a little more like your own.

Ryan Siacci, Esq.
Originally published in April 2015

Thoughts? Opinions? Cries of dissent?