A couple weeks ago I was looking for an interesting film to watch on the long flight to Utah for the Zion Half Marathon. I found a documentary called “The Five Elements of Adventure.” Given that my goal is to have more adventure in my life, I was curious to learn what Matt Walker, a mountaineer and the film’s creator, thought the five elements of adventure are. For all I know, I could be missing a key element of adventure.
The first element Matt said is getting out of your normal environment. This makes total sense to me. The way I look at it is you can represent your environment in a Venn diagram. Your normal environment is a circle within a MUCH larger circle. Things get boring and monotonous if all you do is stay inside your little circle. You have to break through into the bigger circle to see more of what is out there in the world. If you live in the mountains, go see a desert. I can guarantee that life is a lot different there. As Matt puts it, getting out of your ordinary routine results in a shift in your perspective on life and living.
Next, Matt says there needs to be uncertainty about the outcome of what you are doing. Predictable by definition means “able to be foretold or declared in advance.” Sounds like another word for routine to me, just the thing adventure is suppose to take you away from. You need to go for the unpredictable. This element reminded me of Mike Hall, the cyclist in the TransAm Bike Race and his view of adventure. The cyclists in the race couldn’t predict what was going to happen every day. Everything was up to chance, fate, or whatever you want to call it. They controlled nothing but how they handled each challenge thrown at them. If everything was predictable, it would be the same as any other long bike ride that they take.
The third element, according to Matt, is passion. Matt feels that to have adventure, you have to do something that gives you tremendous joy. As he sees it, people are getting lost in the monotony of their daily lives. They need to get lost instead in something that they love to do. I understand that one. When I worked, there was no time in my days to do anything that gave me joy or personal satisfaction. I guarantee you – there was no adventure in my life. I often felt like I was just existing.
Matt’s fourth element is mindfulness. For something to be an adventure, Matt says you have to be in a mental state where you are fully present in the moment. When you are mindful of what you are doing, you aren’t distracted by other thoughts. In today’s world, that is a tough one. Most people are busy multi-tasking, only partially paying attention to what is going on around them.
Finally, Matt’s last element is companionship. Matt believes that you have to share an experience with others in order to get the most joy from it.
After I finished watching the film, I sat back and evaluated my running “adventures”. I certainly had the first one down. I am traveling to races in places as varied as Tokyo, Berlin, Montana, South Carolina, and Utah. In the process I have gotten exposure to different parts of the world. I have seen things like snow monkeys in Japan and a ghost town in Utah, eaten foods like wild Maine blueberries and Montana huckleberries. I never would have enjoyed these things if I had stayed in my little circle. As a result, my little circle got a bit bigger.
My races may all seem predictable but they really aren’t. I never expected the extreme weather we had for the Rock ’n’ Roll Half in Savannah that ultimately caused the race to be halted. I had never run in a mud race but in Utah I got a little taste of what a mud race might be like. When I ran the Rocky Mountain Half, I had never run a race at high altitude. It was a very different experience running at over 7,500 feet, one that required me to adjust my racing strategy.
Yes, I am passionate about my running. I have tremendous gratitude and joy that I am still able to keep moving. Many people with Transverse Myelitis don’t have that gift. It is something that I can’t stop doing.
I am a little light on the mindfulness part. The only place where I experienced what Matt described as mindfulness was when I ran outside Zion National Park. Without any course entertainment or other distractions along the way, I got caught up in the beauty of the scenery. I found myself focusing on each breath, each footfall, the wind on my back, and the rain on my face. My mind became very calm and I felt an overwhelming sense of peace. It was a spiritual experience.
For companionship, I always have the other runners, some I know beforehand and others I meet along the way. My running companions (including my “running spouse”) and I have shared many running adventures (and a couple misadventures) over the years. Through those adventures we have created shared memories and forged friendships that I cherish. I will never forget the “buddy” I made during the Rock ’n’ Roll Half in Savannah. It was a difficult race and we helped each other get across the finish line that day. My fellow 50 State Half Marathon Club members have also added companionship to my racing. We come from varied backgrounds and areas of the country but we share a passion for running.
The comedian Chris Rock once remarked some people say life is short but life is long and you have to live with the choices you make. I think it is too long to stay confined in a little circle. Adventure starts when you make the decision to step outside your circle and into the unknown that lies beyond it. By taking that first step outside my circle and into the big one, I know that I am putting myself on the road to adventure.
Matt Walker has a website and a blog. Check it out. Here is a teaser for Matt’s film “The Five Elements of Adventure” but I encourage you to watch the whole film (available on iTunes). In addition to his message about adventure, you will enjoy the beautiful scenery of Nepal while you plan your next adventure.