Cultivating Adventure in Your Daily Life

View of snow-covered Stevens Peak with spring foliage in the foreground

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Many people equate “adventure” with adrenaline-producing activities involving high risk and steep terrain. Or, they believe adventure can only be found through extended world travel and exposure to exotic locales. This is simply not true. It’s like saying that the cosmos is more expansive than the subatomic level of life. As above, so below … no?

So, in many peoples’ minds, taking a 30-minute walk through a local park seldom qualifies as being a full-blown adventure. However, when it comes to going on an adventure everything is relative. And it’s often just a matter of time that dictates the level of immersion and intensity you’ll experience on your adventure.

The point I’m trying to make is that you don’t have to go full dirtbag, hiker trash, or van life in order to cultivate adventure in your daily life. You don’t have to sell all of your worldly possessions and then hit the road to curb your “wanderlust” desires just to say you live an adventurous life.

In reality, most people don’t have the time to take a 6-month sabbatical from life, for example, to thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail or backpack across Southeast Asia.

Lodgepole Chipmunk on a granite boulder eating a seed
This Lodgepole Chipmunk was sitting on a granite boulder eating a late afternoon snack on June 6, 2019. It had one eye on me while it rested and ate. However, the buffer zone between me and it was approximately 20 meters away. The moment I took a step toward the Lodgepole Chipmunk in order to attempt to get a closer shot, it scrambled away. © Jared Manninen

Adventure Takes All Forms, Great and Small

It’s true that I did embark on larger-scale adventures in my younger days. Arguably my biggest adventure was a 1999 thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. I’ve also run marathons, bicycled across a couple of different states, thru-hiked the Tahoe Rim Trail, and spent a dozen years training in the Japanese martial art of Aikido earning a second degree black belt.

Completing each of those big adventures required different levels of commitment. And often I had to shoehorn their execution between life commitments, such as graduating from college and/or changing careers.

Without question, all of the aforementioned experiences were incredible and had profound impacts on my life. However, in many ways they just weren’t sustainable, and much of the time were downright exhausting. The sheer volume of hours per week required to prepare for and execute a large-scale adventure basically means that you won’t be doing much of anything else with your time.

More interesting, however, is that upon completion of your big adventure returning to “civilian” life will present significant challenges. You’ll have become a little more unrelatable to your friends and family. You’ll care less and less for buying and owning stuff. You’ll realize how soft society has become knowing that everyone has instant access to any modern day convenience their heart desires.

Essentially you’ll have taken the red pill, so you’re going to have to reconcile the two worlds (i.e. life on the trail/road and life in a developed area).

It’s not my intention to sound cynical or bitter or to discourage you from going on a big adventure. I’m simply emphasizing the point that after completing a large-scale adventure or two, for better or worse you won’t see life the same.

If that big adventure is your life’s mission or passion, so be it.

For the rest of us, though, what’s the alternative?

American Robin pauses in-between singing its song
I stood and watched this American Robin for many minutes on June 11, 2019. It didn’t seem to mind that I listened in while it sang its song. However, it did pause every once in awhile to make sure I wasn’t getting too close to it. Ambient sounds of the forest (including bird songs) are one thing, but actually watching the specific bird sing a song is a whole other experience. Not only is it fascinating to hear the sound so clearly, but it’s also incredible to watch the birds articulate their beaks and bodies in order to produce the sound. © Jared Manninen

Redefining what Constitutes an Adventure

I’ve always used the term “adventure” broadly, because I believe at its essence adventure simply equals exploration. And at the core of every exploration lies curiosity – the compulsion to seek out the answer(s) to a burning question.

I’m not just talking about performing a quick Google search on a smart phone or watching a YouTube video about the subject in question, however. Any armchair intellectual can do that. What I’m talking about is immersing one’s self in an experience, regardless of timeframe, in order to extract every possibly emotion, sensation, or bit of knowledge from the activity.

To know a thing firsthand is to truly know a thing.

So whether your adventure lasts for 30 minutes or 30 years, the key is to focus on being present and in the moment.

For the purpose of this article, I want to draw attention to smaller adventures in shorter durations of time at more frequent intervals.

For example, during the 2018/19 Snowpocalypse winter at Lake Tahoe I cross-country skied 136 days. During the course of that season I logged over 670 total miles and 80,000 feet of total elevation gain. If you crunch the numbers, that only equates to roughly 5 miles and 600 feet of elevation gain per ski session.

Those season totals sound big, but the daily averages are not extraordinary. However, this was the point of my approach to the season.

Frequency over duration.

Lifestyle versus that one time I did that one big thing.

Steller's Jay resting on a branch
As common as Steller’s Jays are to the Lake Tahoe region, I seldom capture any good photos of them. Steller’s Jays just seem to be so skittish, always moving, and hard to track with a camera. But on June 1, 2019, I captured a series of photos of this particular Steller’s Jay. I was near a lake and this one was poking around its shore (hence its wet and matted appearance). He basically hopped all around me en route to some other destination. © Jared Manninen

Micro-Adventures, Daily Adventures, and 24-Hour Adventures

There’s no question that my 2018/19 cross-country ski season was a huge commitment. However, it was primarily based on whether or not I had time to complete my work and, to a lesser degree, the snow conditions. You’d think it would be more based on the weather and snow conditions, but any day of cross-country skiing is a good day of skiing!

I intentionally didn’t have a routine skiing schedule so I could learn to adapt to any environment and, ultimately, become a well-rounded skier.

I went out when it was bluebird skies and blizzards. I skied in powder and across wind-scoured and icy snow. I skied at groomed resorts and broke my own trail in fresh snow. Sometimes I skied first thing in the morning, while other days I skied in the late afternoon or evening. It didn’t matter when I went skiing because it was all adventure.

A rewarding byproduct of lacking a structured schedule, was that I was required to be adaptable and willing to subject myself to adverse conditions. I can’t think of an experience more adventurous than that!

Since I opted to ski shorter distances more often, I actually had time to go to work, complete side projects, and participate in other extracurricular activities with friends and family.

Over the past few years I’ve also opted for short, overnight backpacking trips instead of full weekends or longer. Usually those quick trips revolved around having a friend drop me off at a trailhead within 20 miles of my home. Then, I would hike to a peak for the sunset, camp overnight, and walk home the following morning after the sun rose. All within 24 hours.

You could call these shorter adventures micro-adventures, daily adventures, and 24-hour adventures.

And, I realize most people don’t live so close to wildlands, but you understand my point … yeah?

Adventure doesn’t have to be a huge production.

You can work adventure into your daily routine and, in doing so, break that routine!

Two Douglas Squirrels "Kissing" in a Red Fir
Douglas Squirrels “kissing” in a Red Fir on September 9, 2018. Douglas Squirrels can be rascals and downright pests at times, but watching their interactions can be comical and rewarding. I watched these two Douglas Squirrels chase each other for no more than two minutes before I was able to capture this intimate shot between the two critters. Immediately following this moment, they ran away into the forest. © Jared Manninen

Chasing Butterflies

Often when I greet a person at either of my seasonal outdoor recreation jobs, my first question to them is “What kind of adventures have you been on lately?” This is usually met with a chuckle and then a long pause as the person tries to recall a recent memorable experience.

The reason I ask the question is to help redefine peoples’ interpretation of an adventure.

In my opinion, adventure should be an integrated part of your life, not something you do for two weeks out of the year. And you shouldn’t have to make a huge production out of it!

I’m sure some of my suggestions for cultivating adventure in your daily life are not new to you. But, sometimes just being reminded of what’s possible or being given “permission” by another person is enough to get you started on a life of adventure. I like to think of the following suggestions as ways of extending my experience on the trail to my everyday life. Hopefully you will, too!

  • Take a roundabout way when returning home in order to explore other areas and to break up your routine
  • Choose alternative modes of transportation to and from work or school
  • Leave the house early enough to catch the sunrise before your daily activities
  • Take your time when leaving from work or school to catch the sunset
  • Find on a map the most odd or uniquely named city, town, or location and travel to it
  • Treat adventure as a lifestyle by taking multiple shorter trips each year rather than one big vacation – although this is less immersive, it’s more affordable and easier to plan
  • Camp in your backyard, which is a great way to work on your basic backpacking skills (i.e. shelter building, camp stove cooking) and to test out new (or new to you) gear
  • Take some modified “picnics” by cooking your meal with a camp stove, which is another way to gain experience with your stove in a controlled environment — first determine, though, whether or not using an open flame such (i.e. camp stove) is permitted wherever you’re picnicking
  • Learn about the history of where you live by visiting historical societies, museums, and libraries
  • Engage in rural, suburban, or urban hiking (depending on where you live) rather than driving around to explore
  • Acquire new skills by attending classes, seminars, and other educational courses
  • Implement a framework or a set of rules for performing an activity or task to see where it takes you (i.e. focus on only looking for birds one hike and then bugs or wildflowers on the next one)
  • Document your experiences with photos, drawings, and journaling, but wait until you’ve returned home to edit and/or post your findings (i.e. don’t take yourself out of the moment while trying to post your images in “real-time”)
  • Become an active steward of the land by volunteering with outdoor organizations, trail crews, or simply picking up trash from the trail whenever you get out
  • Log less miles and more identifications (and then post your findings to iNaturalist.org, for example)
  • Treat the outdoors and the world around you as an interactive classroom
  • Capture imagery of the ordinary, but try to bring out its extraordinary aspects or features

Don’t actually try to catch it, and be mindful of not harassing it, but give yourself permission to chase that butterfly or bird or squirrel to see where it’s going and what it’s up to.

Remember that wildlife isn’t just wallpaper. Everything is out there actively engaging in life – you should be, too!

Mountain Chickadee with a flying insect in its beak
Mountain Chickadee having caught in its beak a large flying insect on June 7, 2019. I watched this Mountain Chickadee hop around the trail for a few seconds before it swooped up onto the snowbank (adjacent to the trail) to catch this big insect. Once the insect was secured in its beak, the Mountain Chickadee flew away. The whole interaction was over in less than 30 seconds. Had I dismissed the bird as “common” and uninteresting, I would’ve completely missed the moment. © Jared Manninen

I’m sure most of you have full-time jobs, more life commitments than I ever will, and live in more urbanized areas. Regardless, adventure is all around you.

The central theme of embracing small-scale adventure is to create a lifestyle filled with meaningful interactions and experiences whereby you begin to ask and answer those burning questions you have about life (i.e. adventure!).

Please note that all of the photos I used for this article feature some of the most common species of wildlife found in the Lake Tahoe region. My point is to show that just because these particular creatures might be “ordinary” doesn’t mean they’re any less extraordinary when given the proper treatment.

I’d love to hear about the ways in which you cultivate daily adventure in your life. Post your ideas in the comment section below.