It’s challenging to keep a camp stove lit at 11,742 feet between spindrifts of snow. I haven’t spent the night in a snow cave in 10 years. I wasn’t sure I’d remember how to build one. But an hour earlier, my three buddies and their teenage sons hand-carved a 2-foot snow shelf into the side of a windswept drift next to our iglooish accommodations for the night. But the stove resting there is losing the battle with the elements. My bare fingers are numbing with each attempt to thaw the frozen gas line.
Finally, we’re back in business melting snow for our water supply and heating dinner before we hibernate for the next 14 hours in our seven-man snow cave on top of Hoosier Pass.
We’ve come here on a microadventure. The boys will earn a polar badge, and within 24 hours, we’ll all infuse our lives with a story we’ll never forget.
I have a love affair with adventure. My soul has an insatiable curiosity about what’s around the next corner. At age 43, I’m beginning to understand that adventure is part of my DNA. It has compelled me to drive the Alaskan highway from Seattle to Anchorage and eat ptarmigan roadkill stew—secret recipe—on the hood of an SUV. It has driven me to climb frozen waterfalls squeezed into the cold veins of towering red rocks.
But most of my big adventures occurred before starting a family, getting a real job and buying a house. Business travel became my normal. I subscribed to Outside magazine and settled for living vicariously through other people’s quests. I started believing that our adult modern world doesn’t naturally afford us margin for exploration, and my pursuit of adventure was relegated to the category of “when I have more time, money or fitness.”
The problem was rooted in how I viewed adventure. My misunderstanding of the anatomy of adventure included a set of prerequisites: physical difficulty, long periods away from home, difficult to reach locations, gigantic and improbable goals, extensive planning and equipment.
Then I met Alastair Humphreys. The British explorer won a prestigious National Geographic Adventurer of the Year award in 2012, not for a polar expedition or for cycling around the world. Instead, he won the recognition of the adventure elite for his idea of microadventures: small bursts of new exploration accessible by anyone and everyone right outside their front door.
Humphreys agreed to be a guest on my blog and podcast, Work Life Play, to talk about the simple yet pioneering framework of his book Microadventures: Local Discoveries for Great Escapes. I asked, “What are the benefits of a microadventure?”
“It still captures the essence of big adventures: the challenge, the fun, the escapism, the learning experience and the excitement,” Humphreys replied.
Microadventures are the reinfusion of adventure into our busy lives. They produce all the same types of benefits of big adventure, and they have changed the way I live. Thanks to Humphreys, I regularly seek out obscure discoveries close to home that feed my curiosity and fuel my spirit. Upon returning to my work, life and relationships, I am enthusiastic, refreshed, recharged and proud of my ambitious burst.
That’s how adventure works—whether it’s big or small, near or far. Adventure disrupts our comfort-driven center of gravity. It gives us greater confidence to tackle life’s challenges and helps us gain perspective on life back at home.
The most important step in a microadventure is to get started. Pick something small, cheap and accessible; then go make it happen. Need some ideas? Our collective backyard is full of excellent options. Here are a few of my favorites.
1. The Mission: Pick something you’ve never done or somewhere you’ve never visited.
The Tool: Pikes Peak Atlas. This local map is the perfect excuse to pick a new trail you’ve never hiked and go! Each time I explore a new section of trail, I trace it on my map in Sharpie marker, number the micro-adventure and write the latitude and longitude coordinates. I use MotionX-GPS app for iPhone.
2. The Mission: Look outside your front door for close, easy access.
The Location: Painted Mines Interpretive Park. Only 30 miles outside Colorado Springs in Calhan, the park remained on my “someday soon” list for 10 years. I brought my running shoes and ran every marked trail within the park boundary. This is a great spot for photographers.
3. The Mission: Make the most of short bursts of time, from one hour to a few days.
The Beverage: Cup of coffee on Eagle Peak. I spotted a small subpeak I wanted to tag just below Eagle Peak on the Air Force Academy. I packed my PocketRocket stove, Starbucks Via packets and a mug. Within three hours, I explored a new summit and created an excuse for a cup of coffee with a killer view.
4. The Mission: Pick something easy that can be accomplished physically by any age or fitness level.
The Venue: Money Museum. I have driven past the Money Museum for 22 years and never gone inside. For a $5 admission over the lunch hour, I toured the phenomenal installment of Olympic Games Memorabilia.
5. The Mission: Act on an impulse.
The All-Nighter: Sleep on a hill. I crept in by headlamp to sleep in my bivy sack on top of Soldier Mountain in Rampart Range. I picked a spot I’d never hiked, threw some gear in the car and simply went. In the morning, I awoke to elk hunters in orange vests just 75 yards away. Good thing I didn’t have antlers. I left home after 8 p.m. and was back to regular life by 9 a.m.
6. The Mission: Your turn.
–by Aaron McHugh
Writer, blogger, podcaster and career liberator Aaron McHugh recently accomplished a life list dream of mountain biking the entire 500-mile Colorado Trail from Durango to Denver.