How Do You Define Adventure?


I’ve been thinking about what adventure means to me – particularly since I’ll be sharing adventure travel tips in a presentation in Edmonton in late March.

"Sea kayaking in the Broughtons - the day after the scariest kayaking day of my life"

Sea kayaking in the Broughton Archipelago - the day after the scariest kayaking day of my life

But first I’ll tell you how the Merriam Webster dictionary defines adventure.

  1. an undertaking usually involving danger and unknown risks
  2. the encountering of risks
  3. an exciting or remarkable experience
  4. an enterprise involving financial risk.

Mostly I interpret adventure as an exciting or remarkable experience – with occasional danger and risks thrown in.

I’ve had my share of stupid adventures where I’m lucky nothing untoward happened.

Once while hiking up one of Colorados’ fourteeners, my husband and I came close to being struck by lightning. We could see the dark clouds and hear the thunder, but we were only about five minutes from the summit. Instead of turning back, we continued. It wasn’t until we heard our ice axes buzzing (a sign of an imminent lightning strike), that we knew it was time to bolt. I don’t think either of us has raced off a mountain as quickly as we did that day. We were damn lucky and in hindsight we shouldn’t have gone for the summit – and in fact should have retreated much sooner.

"On the summit of 14,005 foot Mount of the Holy Cross"

On the summit of 14,005 foot Mount of the Holy Cross

I’ve had several unexpected adventures involving wild animals. 

Three incidents come to mind – none of which caused any injury, though my husband sees the events a tad differently.

  • Years ago we rafted the Tatshenshini River through the Yukon, BC and Alaska. Over the eight or nine days we never saw a bear except on a distant peak – plenty of grizzly tracks – but that was it. On our way home we stopped to camp in northern BC. We were doing a small hike in what looked like moose country. John told me to keep quiet – so we wouldn’t surprise one. At the top of a small knoll, no more than 20 feet away, there was a wild animal but it wasn’t a moose. It was a grizzly – and it was heading our way. I was speechless. So was the dog. You’re supposed to back away slowly, and let them know you’re there. I ran and left my husband to make the noise. Cowardly – yes. Stupid – yes. Lucky again – yes. With a loud shout from John, it turned and ran the other way. I am much wiser about bears now and in fact wrote a blog after much research about how to survive a bear attack.
"Grizzly bear track"

Grizzly bear track

  • Then there was the time in Colorado when we were out for an easy hike somewhere to the south of Denver – in dry, rocky country. We had been admiring the very interesting Baltimore oriole’s nests and were busy looking for birds when I spied a snake. I am deathly afraid of any type of snake! With no time to react, I jumped over the snake – and then screamed and swore a blue streak. It was a rattlesnake. My husband followed and it’s usually the second person who gets bitten. Fortunately nothing happened, though my husband did suggest to me that it would be nice if I warned him in the future. For an account of what happens to your body when you get bitten by a rattlesnake, you can read my interview with my friend Ken who wasn’t so lucky.
"Swimming with black tipped sharks"

Swimming with black tipped sharks

  • The only other close call with an animal was in the waters of Rangiroa in the south Pacific. A group of us were kayaking the lagoon over the course of a week. To make life more interesting our boat captain thought it would be fun to watch black tipped sharks go after freshly caught fish. We all jumped into the water with snorkels and masks and hung onto a rope waiting for the show to begin. Fish was thrown in and in seconds, not minutes, sharks started appearing. They were everywhere – coming up from below and from all sides. Once again my survival gene kicked in, and I pushed my husband out in front of me, lest the sharks – which aren’t supposed to be of the biting variety, actually bite. Not one of my prouder moments, though I’m happy to report it’s been a decade since I’ve put my husband in any danger.

Getting lost or separated has happened a few times too and that’s not the kind of adventure I like.

Chances are if you’re a serious outdoorsy person, there have been times you’ve been lost – maybe not for long, and perhaps not seriously lost – but enough to make you wonder how the situation is going to turn out.

One incident stands out in my mind.

Years ago a group of us took off back country skiing to the Polar Star Inn in Colorado. We’d had a particularly late start (mistake #1) and spent far too much time stopping to fix equipment, put on skins,take off skins, put on clothing, take off clothing… that by the time dusk … and a blizzard arrived we were unsure of exactly where we were. We knew we were close but the area near the hut was a confusing maze of tracks and the snow obliterated most of the view. We were down to the wire and with cold setting in we were going to have to make the decision to either ski back down to the cars in the dark or build a snow cave. At the last minute, someone spied a distant glow and with great relief we got to the hut. From that experience I now like to carry a snow shovel and leave early in the day.

Going Alone – A Gutsy Adventure

I admire people who can go solo on an adventure. I don’t have the guts to do long, wild, lonely adventures on my own – like the young female solo sailor who just finished circumnavigating the world at the age of 16 or my daughter who solo hiked the Camino de la Plata in Spain last year over five weeks. You have to have a great deal of confidence in your abilities – which I do – but I still have fears – some of which I guess I haven’t faced yet.

"Near the start of the Kerry Way, Ireland"

Near the start of the Kerry Way, Ireland

A few years ago I hiked the Kerry Way in Ireland by myself over about eight days. I’d see people in the evening but rarely ran into fellow hikers during the day. There were plenty of stretches through lonely, wild country that by the time I’d finished, I felt very pleased with myself. But that’s probably going to be my limit for solo type trips.

I hope my sense of adventure never leaves me. I want to be one of those old women you read about who is still out there hiking, backpacking, kayaking and exploring at 85.

But I don’t want any more adventures where I get a dry mouth and have a stomach that feels like lead – the physical symptoms of fear my body expresses when I’m in a dangerous situation. I want adventure – but nothing so hard core – that I feel my life is on the line. I do want to come back and write about it.

What about you? What kind of adventure do you like?

Leigh McAdam

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