As I’ve begun to join this online community of people who write about their activities and adventures in the outdoors, it seems that the epic is constantly on display. After all, social media is meant in many ways to inspire, and what’s more inspirational than a big adventure?
Thru-hiking a major trail!
Living in a van and exploring the west full-time!
Training for an expedition or a major athletic endeavor!
If I’m not careful, I begin to feel like a pretender.
I love the outdoors. I live in a beautiful place where accessibility is high — I’m only an hour and change from one of America’s most amazing national parks, and surrounded by lakes and forests and campsites galore. It’s an embarrassment of outdoor riches, and it’s one of the reasons why we moved back here.
But as I start to put my pen to paper, to write about my own experiences in the back corners and trails of this wilderness, I start to question the enoughness of my activities.
Does my overnight car-camping trip merit an instagram post or a blog article?
Is my two-night backpacking trip worth writing about?
After all, our culture sends us conflicting messages. We admire the big doers, the dreamers, the adventurers sponsored by National Geographic and big-name gear companies. Just as we should; these are incredible people working hard to pursue dreams at the very outside edge of our collective experience. They are the modern-day descendants of Marco Polo, Eric the Red, Zheng He, Roald Amundsen. These stories inspire us to throw it all to the wind, to bear down 110% on the big adventure. Go Big, or Go Home.
But from the other side, we hear the encouraging voice of the everyday adventurer. Just Show Up. Take it slow; move at your own pace. Just doing the thing is enough.
And every time I listen to this smaller, humbler voice, I’m reminded how true it is.
Every time I go to the mountains, I learn something.
Sometimes it’s a practical skill; how to hunt mushrooms. To confidently identify those safe to eat, then haul back my bounty and cook amazing fresh mushroom risotto for dinner the next day. I learn to confidently set up my new tent, and how to prepare backpacking food that doesn’t come in a freeze-dried space bag.
Sometimes it’s more subtle. The mountains teach me about my own strength, my inner will, and my fears.
I learn that sleeping in a tent in grizzly country doesn’t automatically mean I’m going to be eaten.
I learn that I can deal with torrential rains and walking to set up camp through an impromptu river, happier than ever to have the right rain gear.
I remember that mosquitoes are a small price to pay for a campsite next to a flowing river and wind in the trees.
I recall the incredibly clarity of the sky riddled with stars, and the satisfying sleep that comes with fresh mountain air.
I begin to understand the empowerment and inner fire that comes from standing atop a mountain, seeing peaks and valleys, lakes and streams, in each and every direction. But I also come to feel the sense of smallness, to grapple with the recognition of my one tiny speck of humanity in the midst of this massive, beautiful world.
So as I set forth, I try to set aside the questions and the insecurities. I turn my attention from the future story in order to dive more deeply into the experience. I build my skills by doing, by watching, by talking with people more experienced than I am. And after it’s all done, I write about my adventures, in whatever size or shape they take.
I’ve come to learn that there is value here, both to me, and perhaps to others who find themselves in this same place. After all, just like so much in life, adventure is relative. We are all standing on the shoulders of others who have come before, and in stepping away from our comfort zones, even just the smallest distance, we may be going to a place that would astound and inspire others in our lives.
Ultimately, my love for the outdoors and passion for the mountains will keep me hiking and backpacking and exploring, whether or not I ever reach the ranks of extreme adventure. I know that the wilderness will always have another lesson to teach me. And I’m an eager student.