Tag Archives: Adventure Quotient

The Anxiety of the Lone Wolf

Milepost 2-26-16       -at a vacation rental in the Dominican Republic

“Introvert, Know Thyself”.   This is my most recent note-to-self.  I am experiencing a bit of emotional discomfort in my current setting, and I’m realizing that I over-estimated my ability to find solitude in a highly social culture.  For an introvert like me, solitude is essential to a balanced life and healthy emotional equilibrium.

Everybody is different, and it would be easy to assume that the majority of travelers and adventurers are extroverts, loving the excitement and the challenges of far-away places and exotic cultures.  I don’t know if that is the case, and I am not about to launch a study to find out.

What I do know is what an introvert like me needs when it comes to adventure – and life in general:

  • I can enjoy crowds and parties and parades and other highly social settings, but only for a short time, and those experiences need to be followed by a season of hibernation, of being alone so that I can refuel my emotional tank.
  • On the other hand, if I am inactive for very long, I will get restless and need to get outside and satisfy my adventure quotient.
  • The best balance of these two factors – of solitude and adventure – is to find adventures in sparsely populated locations.  Or to follow my crowded adventures with solo adventures in solitary places.
  • I don’t like cold weather for very long.  I can handle Michigan through Christmas every year with just the right allocation of snow and brisk clear air, but after that, the winter is far too long.  This is a third factor that complicates my search for the right balance.  There aren’t that many southern destinations that offer solitude.  RV parks are notorious for noise and overcrowding.  For the solitary soul, they are tolerable when and if there are quiet areas nearby.

Where I ran into trouble this winter was that I chose a tropical setting in the middle of a highly social open-air culture for too long a period of time.  10 weeks of noise, bustling streets, merengue music blasting until after midnight every night… well, I just can’t seem to get away from it long enough to refill my emotional tank.  Of course, even the beaches are crowded with bodies this time of year.

There are few sidewalks, so pedestrians and traffic share the streets.  It's dangerous, and can be irritating.
There are few sidewalks and no parking lots here, so pedestrians share the streets with parked vehicles and moving traffic. It’s dangerous, and can be irritating to a weary traveler.

I find myself avoiding the interaction with the locals that I love so much – for short periods.  I just want to stay home and be alone.

Fortunately, Kaye and I are very much alike in most of these ways, only she likes the northern winters and doesn’t need as much adventure as I do.

We solve this by scheduling what we call Bob-alone times.  I can head off on a solo adventure, thus satisfying my appetite for adventure, while both of us get to refresh by being alone for a while.

Most of my solo adventures are short, lasting only a few hours.  A bike ride down the nearest rail trail works just fine, and I don’t have to talk to anyone along the way, simply nodding to other cyclists that I meet on the trail.  I do this several times a week during the fair weather seasons.

Longer alone times usually involve a tent, a sleeping bag and a cooler full of goodies…  and my camera, of course.  Last summer, I celebrated my birthday by heading up north to the woods with my bike to pedal for miles on end at a beautiful paved bike trail through the woods and dunes of the national lakeshore in northern Michigan.  I camped at a state forest campground by a quiet stream where there was hardly anyone else around.  Ah, solitary bliss.

The Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail is a premiere cyclist's destination that winds along the shoreline for 27 miles.  It's a steep one with grades of up to 11%.
The Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail is a premiere cyclist’s destination that winds along the shoreline for 27 miles.

I always feel that when I am alone with myself… I am in good company.  If you are an introvert, you likely know what I am saying.

Anyway,  I am sharing this side of myself for the benefit of other would-be adventures who may not entirely understand what happens to them when they feel stressed while living in a foreign culture for an extended period of time.  Maybe you are an introvert.  Maybe you need to study yourself a bit more and find ways to hibernate from time to time for the sake of your own well-being… and the well-being of those who are traveling with you.

I really do write notes-to-myself that I refer to before scheduling the next outing.  It is good to know yourself.  The thing is, you can’t always know how you will feel or react in a given situation until you try it out.

And that is part of the adventure.

Know thyself.   And have fun!

The Perfect Home

Milepost 5-24-15   Clearwater Campground, Ortonville, Michigan

In our wanderings over 43 of the 50 states and several foreign countries, Kaye and I have not found the perfect place to live.  But we have happened upon some pretty wonderful settings.  In fact, after returning from our winter sojourn in the south, we have set up habitation at a remarkable campground in Ortonville, Michigan, where the nearly perfect balance exists between rural rest and city convenience.

Only 12 miles from our grandkids, we live in a park with a beautiful lake with a trail around it fringed by protected wetlands and mature forests of oak, maple, beech and pines and frequented by wild geese and whitetail deer.  McDonalds is right across the street and A&W – the old fashioned kind with the car hops – is a 15-minute walk up the street, and there are shopping malls a few miles away at the outer fringe of the Detroit metropolitan urban sprawl.

Our exercise regimen is nicely facilitated by a 1-mile trail around the lake.
Our exercise regimen is nicely facilitated by a 1-mile trail around the lake.
The marsh marigolds are in blossom in the neighboring wetlands.
The marsh marigolds are blossoming in the neighboring wetlands.

The perfect home doesn’t exist anywhere.  But when we lived in the rural Michigan farm community where we raised our kids and owned a 30-acre Christmas tree farm, we often reveled in the changes of the seasons right outside the windows of our 10-room house in the woods.  We felt that we were enjoying the almost perfect location for our family at the time.

Our perfect house in the woods in rural Michigan.
Our perfect house in the woods in rural Michigan.

Except that I couldn’t keep the car clean because the gravel roads turned to mud with every rain storm.  I watched the rocker panels and the fenders rust out in slow motion right before my eyes.  And it was a half-hour drive to Walmart and more than an hour to the nearest shopping mall.

It seemed there was a trade-off in everything.  Being a school teacher, my kids would ride to and from school with me rather than riding the bus to our small town district of less than 800 students.  The students seemed more laid-back than their suburban counterparts and didn’t seem to have anything to prove.  Our kids thrived.  But they eventually grew up, went to college and then were too educated to find professional jobs in the country.  They left the area and pursued their own lives, leaving us alone on our mini-paradise.

Our Christmas Cabin was the headquarters for the Christmas tree farm.
Our Christmas Cabin was the headquarters for the Christmas tree farm.

And the mowing got tiring in the summer – and there was a lot of it.  And the firewood processing and snow removal, though good for the physique, became wearisome in the winter.  The elements were relentless.  Winter became life-threatening as we got older.  The place was no longer ideal for us in the mature stages of life.

We talked about where we would like to live as we started to downsize and list the property for sale.  It might be outside the edge of a city where we could live in the relaxed atmosphere of the country, while being within a few minutes of the conveniences of the metropolis.

And here we are.  At least for the summer.  We like it well enough to already be talking about returning here every summer for the next few years.  We love the beauty and comfortable climate of Michigan in the summer and fall, but not during the harsh winter.

I have concluded that the ideal home is a somewhat elusive concept that changes with the seasons of the year – and with the seasons of life.  What is perfect at one phase of life may become less than ideal later on.

Having sold our labor-intensive property last year after a four-year downsizing, we are now in discovery mode, exploring every part of the United States (and outside the borders if we want to) in search of adventure and new experiences.  An aside from our quest to see new places is the underlying search for the next perfect home.  That greener grass on the other side (except that I don’t own a lawnmower anymore).

Alaska was a great place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live in another place with harsh winters.
Alaska was a great place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live in another place with harsh winters.

And apparently, It is rather like aiming at a moving target for us at this point in our lives.  Michigan in the summer and fall, points farther south in the winter.  On the move right after Christmas with the rabid cold nipping at our heels as we leave the state and scurry south for warmer comforts.

Right now we are in a nearly ideal spot (except it’s a campground and there’s no privacy) and there is a swimming beach here and a playground for the grandkids.  And there are five pizza joints in this town – we have started sampling them.  Because part of finding the elusive perfect place to live in the world is also the important quest of locating the best pizza.

Our current campsite is blessed with grass, but somebody else does the mowing.  That's what I'm talking about!
Our current campsite is blessed with grass, but somebody else does the mowing. That’s what I’m talking about!

I am thinking that the perfect spot in life may be less about greener grass and more about perfect pizza.

Anyway, Kaye says that though there is no perfect home in all the world, there is a place that is just right for us for here and now.  And that is a truer quest, as the perfect place does not exist, we are in that place that is just right at this point in our lives.  And loving it.

I hope you are finding that sweet spot too.

Not owning a gas grill since the downsizing, I do my grilling right on the campfire now... in pursuit of the perfect steak.
Not owning a gas grill since the downsizing, I do my grilling right on the campfire now… in pursuit of the perfect steak.

(Featured photo at the top is log cabins that are for rent at Clearwater Campground.)

Too Much Adventure Can be Deadly

Milepost 3-18-14   Fillmore, California

“I can’t move my legs,” my friend whispered in the pitch black darkness as he slipped into unconsciousness.  We were teetering on the face of a steep mountain in the Sierra Madres of Mexico where Marc had just tumbled head over heels 90 feet down a rough slope, his balance thrown off by the overloaded backpack.  It didn’t help that there were only three flashlights for 15 hikers; because of delays, we had been caught on the mountain after dark, something that our guide hadn’t prepared us for.  Our efforts for the next hour proved to make the difference between life and death;  not to worry, Marc lived.   And he recovered quickly over the next few days, having no broken bones and no lasting injuries.

Hiking in the Sierra Madre Mountains in Mexico.
Hiking in the Sierra Madre Mountains, Mexico.

That was a bit more adventure than I had counted on when I organized this trek for a group of young summer missionaries.  Marc’s fall caused him no small amount of trauma and an equal amount of stress for me and the rest of the trekkers.

And that’s the risk one takes when he signs on for an adventure.

Most Americans never have such a scary experience, because most do not sign on for much adventure at all.  For many, their most risky experience is the morning commute to the job in the city.  Mind you, it can be stressful too, but is hardly ever an adventure.

The American dream is a comfortable one and not very adventurous.  Most of us spend our summer weekends on the backyard patio with a steak on the grill and a cold drink in hand.  We don’t paddle any whitewater or jump off any cliffs.   And that’s how we like it.   No adventure, no risk, and no worries.  Mind you, for some, that is the best thing.

Here I'm rappelling into the 30-foot pit entrance of Coon's Cave.
Here I’m rappelling into the 30-foot pit entrance of Coon’s Cave.

But there are others who become restless if they haven’t had the crap scared out of them a time or two within the last six months.  They get cabin fever when the winter is too long, and they start dreaming of tents, sleeping bags and the latest climbing gear.

Dad took us to the narrows at Zion Canyon Nat'l Park when we were kids.
Dad took us to the narrows at Zion Canyon Nat’l Park in Utah when we were kids.

I’m not sure if it is personality that makes the difference, or if family history is a more profound ingredient in the adventure quotient.  My dad was a camper and loved to take the family on an adventure every summer.  Some of his kids are the same way, but not all  of us.

On the other hand, my three kids are all adventurers and world travelers.  I give partial credit to an extended adventure that I took the family on in the middle of my small-town teaching career.  Taking a one-year leave-of-absence, we moved to an underdeveloped country in the Caribbean where Kaye and I taught in an international school.  We lived in an indigenous neighborhood where we were isolated from other Americans.  This experience changed our family forever.  The adventure factor has run strong in all of us ever since.

Our girls posed with the neighbors in Santiago, Dominican Republic.
Our girls posed with the neighbors in Santiago, Dominican Republic.
Kaye visits with neighbors in Santiago.
Kaye visits with neighbors in Santiago.

Are you a restless adventurer?  Do you get frustrated when you spend more time punching a time clock than kicking through the gears on a motorcycle?  Do you live for the weekends?   Have you applied the risk-reward ratio to your financial portfolio but never to the balance of comfort and adventure in your life?

Maybe it’s time for a change –  If you feel that you need more excitement in your life.  If you are young, you might want to take this into consideration when you are choosing your career.  At 17 years old, I chose teaching partly because of the long summer vacations.  I knew myself well enough to know that I would not be happy with only the two weeks off every year that my friends who went to the auto assembly plant would get.  They made a lot more money – I had a lot more fun.

Our three girls explored the ghost town of Red Mountain, Colorado.
Our three girls explored the ghost town of Red Mountain, Colorado.

And it was a wise decision, because I eventually became the adventure trips planner for our local church youth group and found myself in all kinds of exciting locations over the next 35 years.

Kids climbed and jumped off the shipwreck at South Manitou Island, Michigan.
Kids climbed and jumped off the shipwreck at South Manitou Island, Michigan.

 I had teams of 13-year-olds squeezing through wild caves in southern Indiana, groups of boys lost at night on the sand dunes by Lake Michigan (just because their group leader was an Eagle scout didn’t mean he had earned the badge for orienteering).

Hikers at the Pictured Rocks, Michigan.
Hikers at the Pictured Rocks, Michigan.

 I have been skinny-dipping with friends in the middle of the nighttime bioluminescence of the Indian Ocean – green sparks exploding in the water with every movement.  I’ve crashed a motorcycle on the most winding two-lane road in Michigan (my only broken bone ever), and rafted the whitewater of the Ocoee River in the mountains of Tennessee – the same river used for the kayak races in the 1996 summer olympics.

And now I’m living on the road in an RV with my life-long companion as we explore the backroads of America.  And Kaye and I are gearing up for the ultimate road trip this summer, the Alaska Highway, with a pickup and a fifth-wheel.

Life on the open road takes us... just about wherever we want!
Life on the open road takes us…  well,  just about anywhere we want!

When our appetite for risk and adventure is satisfied, we pull into an RV park or a friend’s backyard, and we stay a while.  We fuel up our comfort-and-safety quotient for a while until we start to get restless again and long for the open road.  A couple of months is just about the perfect duration for us to stay in one place.

Bob's ven burst bckgrnd _0001
Too much comfort may result in boredom – and too much risk may bring on stress.  You need to know yourself and discover what level of adventure you require to keep a satisfying balance.

The adventure appetite runs pretty strong with us right now.  Age and failing health will park us someday, but for now we plan to git while the gittin’s good.

How about you?  Do you have your summer planned full of adventures yet?  What about the rest of your life?  Are you assigning enough risk to satisfy your adventure quotient?

Don’t get me wrong, adventure is not for everybody.  It depends on your appetite for risk.  If you don’t have it, you are fine to enjoy the security of a comfortable and stress-free life in America.

But, if you are increasingly restless and keep gazing out the window of your office or your kitchen, it’s possible that the adrenaline runs stronger in your veins than you thought.  And maybe you should do something about it.  Increase the risk factor.  Dive into the next adventure.Tony dives in

Okay, so maybe too much adventure can be deadly, but a more common tragedy is the slow death of dreams and bucket lists while we safely watch the grass grow in our comfortable back yards, the regretful long-term product of too much comfort and security.

For your own well-being, maybe you should get some adrenaline going on this summer.  Have fun.  And be safe.