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Saturday, September 28, 2019

More Idiom Than True: Overusing and Abusing The Term "Adventure"

“Every man’s life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another.”  Ernest Hemingway

I'm currently reading Travels With Willie, by long-distance, world-cycling enthusiast, Willie Weir (Click the link for a demonstrative and entertaining talk). Willie has traveled in far flung places around the world...for months on end...either sleeping in a pup tent or, when befriended by kindhearted "local strangers," everything from dirt floors, to barns, to grandiose houses. Willie's travel-list reads like back issues of National Geographic, places like India, Africa, Central America, Mexico, Bosnia, and Cuba. You name the country, he's either cycled there or it's on his bucket list. Never mind language barriers and if there happens to be a war going on. He is steadfastly undeterred and nonchalant by such minor inconveniences.   

In the video Wille explains that he's not so much an avid cyclist as he is an avid traveler. Cycling, he believes, is simply the very best way to experience travel, culture and native peoples. Whether traveling solo or tandem with his wife, Kat (they met at a bike festival), biking is a graduate coarse in "minimum essentials." There's something about the sight of a guy cross-country touring on a bike—loaded down with tools, spare parts, food, water, first aid kit, sleeping bag and tent—that cuts through barriers of cultural separation like a hot knife through butter.       

Willie believes, as I do, that the term "Adventure" is fast becoming one of the most overused, if not abused, words in the dictionary—which is a tad ironic given that writes for Adventure Cyclist Magazine. He recognizes the broad-brush spectrum of adventure painted these days, and a behemoth 4,000 pound all-wheel-drive air-conditioned/heated vehicle is not one of them. But live and let live. One person's "adventure" might be another person's death-wish. All but a "crazy' few have limits...you know, lines they refuse to cross...the exception being of teenagers, of course, caught up in the throws of surging hormones and double-dares. It's no small miracle that anyone survives their teens intact and with minimal brain damage due to alcohol-fueled "miscalculations" ...which, likely, explains said miscalculations. 
 So how does one distinguish adventure from ordinary?  How does one know if and when they're headed for or in the midst of adventure? I've always believed that the more dubious potential consequences become, the more I cross the line that separates ordinary from adventure. Willie says to ask yourself three questions:

  • Am I beyond my comfort zone?
  • Am I pushing my physical limits?
  • Am I taking a risk?

He goes on to suggest that if on every night of your "adventure" you are drinking cold craft beer, eating wonderful food, sleeping indoors on a comfy warm bed and are pretty sure you're having Eggs Benedict from the breakfast menu tomorrow morning, you are on a vacation, not an adventure. Using the term "adventure" to describe nearly every moment of a casual bike tour, hike or climb cheapens and devalues the term.  

"Most people," Willie says, "want adventure without risks, hazards and discomforts. In other words...adventure—without the adventure, soft adventure."  But we see otherwise all the time, people who, in spite of physical limitations and/or handicaps, overcoming fear and indulging true adventures. A blind man climbs Mount Everest, for crying out loud. Reckless? Well, certainly he exceeded Willie's three criterias for adventure. But it doesn't have to be "Everest." Almost anyone can meet Willie's criteria for adventure in their own backyard if they are willing to get off the couch and face their fears. Willie differentiates between caution and fear: "Caution keeps you aware. Fear keeps you away." 

In his video talk, Willie gives the example of Beth, an 86 year old woman he met out biking on the road. In her middle 60's Beth told him she grew restless and dissatisfied with living a predictable, adventure-less life. So she bought a bike and began cycling around the neighborhood. Long story short, Beth ended up biking coast to coast across middle America. That only whetted her appetite for more adventures, so she did it again, this time taking the northern route. Needing more adventure, she did it again, taking the southern route across America. As an fellow addict, I can tell you that adventure can be highly addictive, which explains why Beth followed up her three coast to coast adventures by biking the entire east coast...then the entire west coast. At 86, Beth still cycles, and has more stories than time left to tell. Bottom line: Use caution, but don't allow fear and/or age crush your dreams.


To me, there is a certain beauty and simplicity that comes from the hard work it takes to conquer mountains and/or trails in our backyard. The more difficult the trail or climb, the more you are focused on the here and now. It's a transcending experience...above the fray of work, politics, and endless wars waged against fellow humans. Transcendence is borne on the wings of endorphins, spawned from the mindless rigor and repetition that comes with putting one foot in front of the other for mile after mile after mile. 

On a good day we count ourselves lucky have engaged a modest mini-adventure. Most days we come home with only sore feet and sunburn to show for our effort. But even on our worst days, under the toll of frustration and toil in disapproving weather, there comes a subtle elation from having put in a hard days work. Sleep comes swift and soft, anointing you with the lovely feeling of having done something

Now for some new dots that we connected on an unintended early fall hike...    

Number one, we want "color" on our hike. Two, elevation gain...as in above timberline. Three, a good ole hard day's work. Of course it turns out to be more than we bargained for. But who are we to argue with Miss Sara N. Dipity?

We figure it's been two or three years since hiking Hayden's Stair-Master of a trail up from Crystal Lake. Aspen groves dominate the hillsides on both sides of Highway 550, so what better place to have a meet-n-greet with Ms Autumn. Welcome to the neighborhood, we've missed you so much.  

Though our legs felt up for Hayden's steep challenge, it took a while for our minds to join in. But this is everyone's favorite time of year. It never gets old ascending through Ms Autumn's fiery palate with aspens "quaking" gold overhead and underfoot. Just follow the yellow leaf road... 

Aspen groves thin as we approach timberline, leaving a vast undulation of richly hued tundra with unobstructed views. We are surrounded by mountains breaking out in Ms Autumn's splendor. 

Mount Abram left of center. Not as "pyramidal" from this viewpoint. 

Hayden is a grind, to say the least. I keep looking for volcanic clues that we are nearing the pass, our usual turn-around point. Funny how you forget details like steepness and length and degree of difficulty. But the smoldering tundra was enough to take my mind off the fire in quads and lungs. This is "big country," quick to swallow you up in a few steps.

Finally, I spy the volcanic rock. It means we are nearing the pass...and a lunch of much needed energy bars. The volcanic tuff is quite colorful, a subtle mix of umber, lavender, and blue-hued cliffs. Odd figurines stab cobalt skies. 

Tilted figurines decorate the Pass

On the way up, Bobbie and I discuss going beyond the pass to collect a few new dots as well as scope out a route we've been meaning to do for years. While we've hiked up from the Ouray side on Hayden Trail several times and from the Crystal Lake side as many or more times, we've yet to connect the two into one hike. 

I'm a hopelessly curious type, always wondering what's beyond the next turn or over the next rise. Though we hadn't planned it, I begin to mull the possibility of getting it done on this hike. But it's problematic: One, we don't have a second vehicle waiting for us at the Ouray side trailhead, and two, we don't know really know what we're in for to get there. Is it even marked?  

At the Pass Bobbie keeps going. YES! At least we can scope out the terrain and see if there's a trail before turning around. I really want to do this hike. Maybe not today, but before winter. "New dots," I exclaim with glee. My mind is fully engaged now and legs are a non-issue. 
"New dots," replies Bobbie. 

A seemingly endless expanse of lush tundran carpet rolls out in front of us. We are either in, or very near, Heaven, I think. The tug is magnetic. So we keep going. 

In places the trail is slight, barely visible. There are confusing off-shoot game-trails to sort through. But we are caught up in splendor and views and curiosity. Suddenly, we are beyond the halfway point between Crystal Lake and the Ouray-side Hayden Trailhead. I really want to go on...I mean, we might as well. Bobbie raises a good point, that we don't have a car waiting for us at the trailhead. "Call Tamara," I say. "She'll pick us up." Bobbie pulls out her phone: "No Service." 

"Okay," I say, "Worst case scenario, we walk all the way home. What's that add to the mileage?"
"Oh. But I'm pretty sure we'll have cell service once we cross over the saddle. We could call Tamara then." 
"I have a meeting at 5:30. You think we can make it with enough time for me to shower and get there?"
"I'm pretty sure. It's only noon."

Mount Abram again, right of center
So we commit, eventually breaking over a rise into a small drainage, A huge pile of bear scat covers the trail. Looking up from the scat we recognize Little Hayden and it's connecting ridge, soaring above. A summit would be nice, but would be out-of-the-way and time consuming. We follow the trail's aim for a familiar saddle. We've been there several times on previous climbs of Little Hayden.

Breaking over the saddle into the Camp Bird Road drainage

This is so cool...to finally connect a blank spot in our collection of dots. But we know the price for doing so is coming...the dreaded one mile of Hellacious marbles-on-hardpack that we both swore an oath to "Never again" set foot on (see a previous post). It is literally a booty-scouch, worse than inclined ice. It takes us over an hour to complete this miserable unmaintained section. Finally at the trailhead, we notice our core muscles are sore from trying to stay upright. Our toes feel like they might be bleeding from the over 4,000 feet of downhill. 
Oh goody. We still have four more downhill miles to get home, and it's 3:30 pm already.  

Little Hayden from the Ouray side...

Lovely Ouray, way down there.  You can see the green expanse of park grass right next to the  Hot Springs  Pool. 

I quit taking photos and put my camera away. Bobbie doesn't want to bother Tamara so we hike the last 4 miles home, arriving a little after 4:30. Bobbie showers for her meeting, I grab a beer, turn on the TV and fall fast asleep soon after trying to stomach the Evening News. 
Night-night Norah O'Donnell. 
Goodbye World.
New dots and a mini-adventure in the books. What's next?

Title:Hike Hayden Trail from Crystal Lake to Home in Lovely Ouray
Date:9/24/19, 9:45:27 AM MDT
Distance:10.0 miles
Average Speed:1.4 mph
Max Speed:3.1 mph
Ascent from Cry-
stal Lake:
Decent to Ouray:

2,357.3 ft
4,235.5 ft
Min/Max Altitude:7,691.8 ft, 11,982.7 ft
Started:9/24/19, 9:45:28 AM MDT - 
Ended:9/24/19, 4:23:09 PM MDT - 

“Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.”  Jack Kerouac

Peace out,
mark and bobbie...looking for more "new dots."


  1. Lovely! I hiked from Crystal Lake to the pass in late July. Your photos look so different; interesting to see the change of seasons.

    1. Next time you can hike all the way to Ouray :). Bring your crampons or Yak-Tracks for the "other side of Hell" section. It will make a big difference. We need some rain. That would help...

  2. That looks like a monster of a hike. I like those ideas about what constitutes adventure. It’s a term that gets used a lot, and that reduces it somehow. These days I’m settling more and more for “soft adventure”. Chris

    1. Do not go gently into the night... :) Bobbie will have you back in shape in a couple weeks :)
      We had a few legitimate "adventures'" last winter, for sure. Snow permitting, we need to try again to bag the Madera to Santa Rita hike. I won't chicken out this time :)
      mark and bobbie

  3. Well Mark Im afraid I can't agree with that last statement," Because in the End".......because Al remembers all too well the "hell" he went thru during his last 15 working years :)......and now with my new medical diagnosis I was almost beyond my comfort zone today,2nd i was definitely
    pushing my limits this day and 3rd I was indeed taking a serious risk :(
    I will spare your readers the details and we will talk about it when we get together but not dwell on it......it's amazing how your life can change over night........but no regrets here, we have both been very fortunate and for pete sake we are both 75, been there and done just about everything on our bucket lists. :)
    Calling you this evening

    1. Doug and Al,
      We are so regretful and anxious to hear about this new medical diagnosis, and hope it does not hinder your explorations...both at home around the beautiful areas that you wander and here in Lovely Ouray every fall. We look forward to setting up a get-together soon, maybe here...when Caleb and Kellie are settled in.

      I am fully cognizant that, eventually, life's "harsh realities" will bend and reshape my/our recreational choices. In the back of my mind, I wonder "if this will be the day" every time I set boot to trail, sneaker to pedal, running shoe to backroad/trails. Bobbie and I both have a list of sundry "realities" that could rear their ugly head and change our lives in and instant, as you said...or worse. Jack was a much younger man when he wrote that...I think after he climbed Mount Whitney.
      Let's get together soon, this week if possible.
      mark and bobbie


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