I was talking to my friend Mark about mountain biking a while back when he mentioned linking together a bunch of shorter trails around the town of Golden: You start at my office, go up South Table Mountain, over to North Table Mountain, up Chimney Gulch and the Lookout Mountain trails, and then over to Apex and back to the office.
Here are two things I like about Mark: 1) he does this 25-mile ride ride over lunch and 2) he puts ideas like this together often.
Compared to Mark, I am a pretty vanilla mountain cyclist. I hear about a trail, or someone suggests one, I go ride it, and I’m done. But when he told me about his lunch ride, I had the feeling of “Why didn’t I think of [something like] that?” People say Ride X, Ride Y, and Ride Z are good, so I go do them, and that’s mountain biking. Where’s the adventure in that?
Mark and I have talked about plenty of his missions, failed and successful, all starting with a map, a friend or several, and the question “What if ________?” And every time I think of him, I think, I need to do more of what Mark does.
When we think about what to do with our weekends, we have a bajillion guidebooks, online resources, and magazine lists to give us ideas. What I lose track of in that sea of potential tick list items, and maybe you do too, is my own ideas. Which are sometimes very dumb, but are mine just the same. And all of them come from paper maps, and running a finger along a ridge, or eyeballing the distance over the top of a mountain range, or a succession of trails, and asking, “I wonder if I could _____?” and then brainstorming which of my friends might do it with me.
The era of exploration is largely over. The highest peaks have been climbed, the South Pole has been reached by almost every human-powered means possible, and all that’s really left for true exploring for the sake of exploration is caving, the ocean, and space. None of us are probably going to find the next deepest-ever cave or find a new species at the bottom of the ocean, but we can head out on a Saturday on a mission that has a low chance of success, or a high chance of getting us lost somewhere, instead of just following the metaphorical road more traveled.
I’ve tried to come up with a few original (to me) trip ideas in the past couple years, and have drawn inspiration from a couple people who are not climbing the hardest or riding the fastest, but are in my mind adventuring the best, because they’re following their noses and dreaming up human-powered fun in known regions.
- Forrest McCarthy is an Exum guide, and has been brainstorming adventures for two decades. He just posted a scan of an article he wrote for Jackson Hole Skier magazine in 1994, after completing a 200-mile, unsupported, solo ski traverse from Lander to Jackson, over the Wind River and Gros Ventre mountains, hauling his gear behind him on a sled.
- You may have heard of Alastair Humphreys, the author and National Geographic Adventurer of the year who bicycled 46,000 miles around the world over the span of four years, and walked across India, and most recently, coined the term “microadventure” to describe “an adventure that is close to home, cheap, simple, short, and yet very effective.” Which he explains in his new book, Microadventures.
- I first heard about Luc Mehl through my friend Jim after they flew to Mexico City, picked up crappy old mountain bikes, rode them to Pico de Orizaba, climbed to the summit in running shoes, rode the bikes 11,000 feet down to a river, and then packrafted it out to the ocean. His concept of “adventure as art” doesn’t seem to take into account anything other people might be doing—only what might be possible with a bunch of sturdy friends and gear.