Embracing Microadventure

Lauren walking between Boulder and Lyons
Lauren walking between Boulder and Lyons

I’ve always searched for adventure on the grandest scale possible. I like days where I wake up from a tent on a remote ridge. Mornings halfway up an ice wall on the way to the summit. An afternoon traversing a canyon, getting lost between the cracks, and an evening sitting with a friend, watching the sun bathe the landscape in a wash of golden light. I’ve always believed I should be living as out loud as possible, dreaming the impossible and testing myself against the elements, that simplicity escaped me. I was living in a world of expensive gear, plane tickets, alpine starts, and hikes in the most spectacular places on Earth which took days just to get to.

Inspired by the idea of Microadventure, and the British traveler Alastair Humphreys, my friend Lauren pulled me into an excursion that was so simple in execution, yet so bold and ambitious that I couldn’t say no. Her plan was to launch a series of microadventures: human-powered sunrise to sunset trips promoting the idea that adventure should be cheap, ambitious, and accessible to everyone. Her plan was to hike from Boulder to Estes Park in a single day. 36-miles, 13 hours, and 3,600-feet of elevation gain. It was both a bonding experience, and a reversal in the way that I view adventure: Not just looking for beautiful places, but testing our mettle and our spirit.

Our plan was to walk the length of Highway 36 leading from Boulder to Lyons and onward to Estes Park. We had little more than a couple liters of water, a t-shirt for the hotter hours of the afternoon, and a few energy bars of various types. We would stop in Lyons for a quick-lunch and then continue through the canyon to Estes Park.

Lauren and I set off from Boulder at 7:00 AM and followed due north, following the singular road that led through the canyon and forest on a road that was near constantly rising. After officially leaving Boulder around 9:00 AM we found ourselves in the midst of the plains, amidst chirping prairie dogs scurrying across the bush, the illumination of the Flatirons far to the south, and miles of empty silence, broken only by the trucks that zoomed too close for comfort on the edge of the road. Our spirits were bright as we discussed life, adventure, and Boulder itself, making plans for the rest of the year, and reminiscing about every moment that brought us to this exact point in time.

Webster’s Dictionary defines adventure as “an exciting or dangerous activity.” It doesn’t give a length of time, a budget, or even what you should be wearing. Adventure is what opens the mind to a new idea or place, forcing the body to act in ways that it’s not typical of. No matter how comfortable you are or how well your gear is made, the idea of adventure is to come to the edge of discomfort and unfamiliarity in order to better understand what we’re capable of.

On our walk from Boulder to Estes Park, we weren’t doing anything exploratory or revolutionary. Hundreds of cars drive this 45-minute route every day, ignoring all the little details: tiny roadside communities, sprawling herds of curious elk, and at one point, an opening in the trees that stretches all the way to the Boulder Plains. It was however what I had previously discussed in my last post: to take on a challenge or a familiar place and see it in a brand new way.

The canyon after Lyons
The canyon after Lyons

The beauty of this project was in it’s simple presentation. This wasn’t a hike, or an expedition, it was just a walk. A very, very long walk. Terms aside, I felt that Lauren in particular had taken this simple idea, and turned it into something grand. In essence, this is the spirit of the microadventure. It’s anything that promotes constant movement in any form: not requiring expensive gear or tickets to an exotic location, but simply moving forward and seeing a place in a brand-new manner.

Just over 13 hours later, Lauren and I, joined now by our friend Tony, our ride home support companion, trudged robotically across open pastures in the last quarter into Estes Park, watched by horses and elk. What should have been a final gentle downhill was a brutal exercise on our knees. Darkness now falling, and stars cascading above a silhouetted forest, we saw a familiar carved block just to the right of the road.

All day Lauren and I had switched leads, and admittedly I’d run a little fast ahead at times, but I wanted to be sure that we finished this together. I locked arms with her and we marched clumsily towards the official line to town. “Welcome to Estes Park” had never appeared welcome, and we lunged forward, firmly placing both our hands on the granite stone. Out of breath, and knees to the point of collapse, we embraced for a long time, looking back on turning a common drive into an extraordinary adventure.

Exhausted finish in Estes Park.
Exhausted finish in Estes Park.

We want to promote the idea of accessibility to trails, to adventurous ideas, and to open landscapes. There’s so much of a backyard that has yet to be explored, so much of the familiar that has never been seen, and so much misdirection in how we define what an adventure should and shouldn’t be. I’m honored that I got to be a part of this idea, and it’s not done yet. Now that we’ve taken the first step, we want to see how far we can go.

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2 thoughts on “Embracing Microadventure

  1. This is a great story. If more people would think with this micro adventure mindset then more people would not have the thoughts of money, gear, or skill as a set back. More people would get outside and experience all of the wonderful details of the world!

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