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Like everybody, I occasionally wake up thinking that my life needs more adventure. I’ve had this thought even at camp 17,000 feet up Denali’s West Buttress and while hanging halfway up El Capitan’s 3000-foot face. To most people this sounds ridiculous. Hang on, I’ll elaborate.
I recently found myself complaining that my days were too predictable, knowing that they add up to the weeks, months, and years of my life. Having managed to eek out a career in the climbing industry, I get little sympathy from my desk-bound friends. But sadly the adventure equation is not that simple, that is:
Climbing Outside Every Day ≠ Life of Adventure
I am totally uninspired when I find myself with eight zillion of my closest friends at the local crag in some odd brand of pseudo-nature: just wild enough to feel authentic, and just safe enough to achieve the social ambiance of a 24-hour fitness facility. All I’m left with after waiting in lines to find a parking spot and an open route is to hashtag #theshitoutofit and post a video. I’m guilty of both.
These experiences miss the key ingredient for adventure: the unknown. The Norwegian polar explorer Roald Amundsen said it best, “Adventure is just bad planning.”
168 Hours was my attempt to become open, available, and susceptible to true spontaneous adventure. To make it happen I had to drop the Henry David Thoreau and start imagining a lowbrow disaster-style trip.
“Disaster style” is a term by coined by alpinist Kelly Cordes. He described it as, “our dark humor term for risky climbing…It meant we were embracing life in an increasingly sterile society, where risk is what you do in the stock market, fear is something to avoid rather than to embrace, and materialism seems to consume mainstream values. So, we figured then (as we do now) that there’s one way to life: spend the money on things you’ll actually remember. Things you do. Things you love. A life you’ll lead.”
Finding the unknown is a real challenge today. The road map to an ordinary day is just an LTE signal away. A quick swipe across the shiny face of your phone yields Mountain Project, 8a.nu, and Youtube, where you can stream move by move beta to your mega project on the hike in. You have to make a conscious effort to let go of all that.
168 Hours began with a definition to live by:
Adventure (noun): An exciting or unusual experience, which may be bold, is usually risky but is always of uncertain outcome.
After the dust settled, which took 168 Hours and 10 minutes (yeah, we kept a clock), we had hightailed it over 1,580 miles of America’s asphalt highways, careening across four state borders, scheming half-hatched plans one day at a time. We set up and rode a massive 60-meter bridge swing, cliff jumped into mountain lakes, and climbed alpine routes in Wyoming’s mega classic Teton range. We climbed rarely repeated trad lines in Freemont Canyon, explored the classics in City Of Rocks, Idaho (including one first ascent, which was oh so scary), and bouldered it out in Vedauwoo (fuck off-width climbing). We even got our upside-down knee bars on in Rifle. Even though none of us had any experience, we didn’t die rafting 20 miles of Wyoming’s Snake river on Tuesday, then on Wednesday we rappelled, swam, and slot canyoned our way through Utah’s very cool Zero Gravity Canyon. We even slept a little along the way.
The following simple steps helped us get into action and on the road.
1: Pick a goal. The more ridiculous the better.
We incited our arbitrary and vague agenda by giving ourselves a simple goal with time restraints: to visit and experience as many new (to us) outdoor places and activities as possible in a single week. Each day we would break new trail, climb new rock, and swim new rivers. We wanted to know just how much a few dudes might experience in 168 short hours of going as hard as possible. There would be no sleep for the wicked.
The time restraints are important not because they accommodate the realities of modern adulting (work, responsibilities), but because they keep a group motivated and moving forward. Think about a time when you were unemployed. How much did you get done? Exactly. The goal should include the unknown and the unknowable. Go somewhere that you don’t know anything about. Don’t look it up ahead of time. If you map the whole thing out you lose your chance for true adventure.
A few years back a buddy and I only had 24 hours between work shifts. We decided to see if we could get to Moab from Denver, climb a desert tower, and return in time to clock in the next day. We went for it, and it almost killed us. It was one of them most memorable trips I’ve ever been on.
2: Find accomplices. At least one yes-man (or woman) required.
Disaster style means disaster style; shit’s gonna get weird. Years ago a group of my friends decided to climb a high alpine rock route up in Utah’s Wasatch Range. We hatched the idea at 10 p.m., so by the time we reached the trailhead it was two in the morning and nuking snow. Total snowmageddon. Did we think about turning around and going home? Sure. I don’t think a single one of was psyched at that point. With no camping gear to speak of, we rolled ourselves up in blue tarps like giant burritos and slept under the car. You have a friend that would do that with you? That’s your guy. For 168 Hours I had two of them: Josh Perez and Dan Cornella. They’re the kind of dudes who answer 2 a.m. phone calls and don’t ask questions when I explain that it’s not as dangerous as it sounds.
3: Ignore obvious roadblocks. Engage blind commitment.
When confronted with genuine opportunity most of us turn and run. We do it in a way that seems so wonderfully reasonable.
“Dude, I’d love to go…but I have to work…I’m all booked up…I have to drink coffee and eat muffins this weekend,” they say, bewildered.
The problem with adults is that being busy is the prerequisite for being one. Saying you’re busy is like saying you’re breathing or worried about the future. It’s a lame excuse.
Sometimes opportunity knocks and we reason our way out of it. You get an invite to join a friend on a 20-day trip through the Yukon leaving tomorrow. You want to go but you have to work.
“Sorry, I’d love to, but I’d rather sit here and dream about having fun.”
Does cleaning your fridge qualify as all booked up? Stop wondering if the trip is a good idea. It is. If you feel the ache to feel more, to be more alert and enlivened, then pack the car, get in, and start driving. 168 Hours left at 10 p.m. with no earthly idea where we would rest our heads next.
4: Don’t sweat the small stuff.
Things are not going to go perfectly. Nothing goes perfectly, unless you’re one of those “everyone is just perfect the way they are” kind of people. I am not one of those people. With these trips chaos is kind of the point. Accept this. Love it. Move on.
Last year some friends and I loaded up and drove to the land of maple syrup, Justin Bieber, and frosty winters: Canada. We drove 30-hours straight to the border only to be turned around because one of our crew members had a record for punching someone once (he totally deserved it). The folks at the Canadian border informed us that Canadians don’t look kindly on violence. I immediately thought of hockey, but never mind that. They shut us down hard.
We considered driving home. We considered shooting our friend and stuffing him into a trophy mount. Calmer minds prevailed, and we went with the flow. Wow officially on the Not Canada trip, we found ourselves exploring rarely visited climbing areas in Northern Montana, adventuring in the wild Sawtooth range of Idaho, and discovering alpine routes in Utah. We had a blast driving a 4,000-mile loop. We had the wrong gear and no plan. We slept at trailheads and parking lots. We ran out of gas. We got lost. It was fucking awesome.
For 168 Hours a lot of chaos arose from our commitment to keep going. We pushed through rain, forest fires, and that extreme exhaustion that makes you feel nauseous. We climbed, canyoneered, hiked, and rafted. When life gave us lemons, we drank red bull and ate the lemons because we had run out of food.
5: Stop being reasonable.
Pick goals that are out of your league. I don’t necessarily mean performance goals. I mean pushing your boundaries in any way you can imagine. I’m a rock climber, so on 168 Hours we included non-climbing escapades like rafting the Snake River in Wyoming and technical canyoneering in Utah’s Robber’s Roost wilderness (which is some of the most-remote terrain in the United States and also the last place in the lower 48 to be mapped). I didn’t know anything about either activity, so for me they were the fast track to the unknown (a.k.a adventure), including possibly drowning. Getting in over your head is priceless. You learn a lot about yourself and about life. It’s easy to do things you’re experienced in, but you grow the most when you get out of our comfort zone.
When I was young I once made a rash and last minute decision to climb a route in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison with my equally impulsive friend Josh Leinenger. Our skill level at the time was nowhere close to what the Black requires. Back then we were better suited to foam-floored climbing gyms and video games. The Black’s dark walls soar 2000-feet and pose objective danger with unpredictably scattered loose rock, dangerous runouts, and approaches so encased in poison ivy they could stop a velociraptor. To make matters worse, we were in the wrong season and promptly ran out of water in the 100-degree summer sun. We suffered. We took falls and got off route. After an epic day we topped out. It was everything I wanted it to be. My point is: be a little bold. You can usually back down or bail, so stop being conservative.
6: Make adventures out of the mundane.
This is big one. Like most of you, I am not independently wealthy or financially backed by some super sponsor like Nike or The North Face. Weekend trips to Alaska or Patagonia are not in the cards. Instead I have to find adventure with what’s in front of me. We had one week of time and the American West, so that’s what we used. Do this. For example, if you don’t have a tent you might use that as an excuse to not go backpacking. But what if you went without and called it ultralight travel? Now that’s adventure.
If you too feel the ache for more, or if maybe you’re just bored, go for it. I’m not saying this is the only way to wake up into the beauty and awesomeness that life can be. It’s just what I’ve figured out in my 33 years. And remember: adventure is not my life, it’s not an expedition to Everest (although it could be), and it’s certainly not some lame-ass hashtag. Adventure is not even having an exciting experience, although that’s often an added benefit. The good news is it’s right there in front of you, all of you, and almost always within reach. It doesn’t require a plane ticket or planning. All you have to do is go find your own personal Unknown.
Denver-based pro climber, writer, and gym owner (Mountain Strong Denver) Matt Lloyd has been climbing for 15 years. Even though he loves the run-outs in Eldo and swinging his ice tools in RMNP, he still prefers a good ol’ adventure over just about anything else.