A word on adventure travel

The term “Adventure Travel” is popular nowadays, but its ever-expanding use has radically diminished its meaning.

For example, hut to hut hiking in the tame, pastoral Alps may be fun, but isn’t really “adventure” in the truest sense. Same goes for van-supported bicycle trips on paved highways and for guided/outfitted river trips where the guide rows the raft and all the client has to do is hang on, drink beer and wait for the multi-course dinner bell. There’s also helicopter skiing, where one exudes not an ounce of sweat to stand atop 3,000 vertical feet of unblemished “cold smoke”. Other examples abound.

Sure, all of these activities entail some level of risk, but risk and adventure are two different things. A drive on any L.A. freeway is risky, as is playing in the NFL, but neither is adventure. Yes, a river guide may flip the raft, hurling Middle America into the jaws of an icy Class IV rock garden, but really, such events are anomalies. And let’s face it, you got wet because the guide, not you, screwed up; personal responsibility was almost nil.

Not that there’s anything wrong with activities that are simply fun, where risks and unknowns are minimal and/or tightly controlled by professionals. Nor must one emulate Ernest Shackelton in order to be adventuresome.

Still, “adventure” implies both effort and unknowns. So I suggest that “adventure travel” implies that you either walk, ski, row, paddle, climb, crawl, or slither on your own, using your own muscle power, and therefore to at least some extent your own wits. Natures unknowns are magnified when you depend upon your own muscle power. And that’s good. It makes us more alive. Being rowed, helicoptered, driven or having your gear hauled by others can be fun, but it isn’t adventure in the old-fashioned sense of the word. And true adventure usually begins at the end of the road, not in civilization with its trappings and safety nets.

Real adventure begins when you enter wild country, preferably where there are large carnivores to keep us humble, where Ma Nature does not give a rat’s ass about the fate of individual Hominids. If you go on a guided trip where everything isn’t done for you, well, that’s adventuresome. Like a trek with Big Wild, where yes, we plan the trip plus we organize and prepare the food, but you still do the walking and carry your essential survival items on your own back. In other words, take at least some responsibility for your own well-being. Maybe then, with a straight face you’ll stake your claim to the term “adventure”.

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