Wil Rickards was born in North Wales and steeped in its rich maritime, mountain and river folklore. In response to the request to “get a real job” he became first a teacher then professor of adventure education and emigrated to where the sun shines for 300 days and snow falls for 100 (Colorado). During more than 25 years as an outdoor educator he worked Scottish winter seasons, taught canoeing, climbing, kayaking and skiing throughout the States, Europe and Australia, and regenerated the University of Alaska Anchorage’s Outdoor Education program. If his outdoor qualification pins were the size of shields, he likes to think they might fill a castle. Check out his blog here.
As an outdoor professional, I am watching my son approach his teen years and reflecting on why I was so adamant to incorporate adventure in his life and how he has benefitted so far. Why is adventure so powerful? Why is adventure education such a good forum for so many? I define adventure as, “The feeling you gain from an uncertain outcome.” With this context you can have an adventure anytime the result of your actions is unpredictable. However, I do enjoy taking him to the environments that inspire me and seeing how he reacts. Behavior is a response to a stimulus. Adventure Behaviors are therefore the responses we use when faced with uncertainty. Here are seven Adventure Behaviors I believe my son Cai has gained from our experiences together.
Navigation is a mix of art and science, where you take a visual representation of the route you want to travel and match it to what is actually happening around you. It is a form of planning / prediction, watching to see if the intention becomes reality and reacting as necessary to stay on route. Teaching Cai to use a map is both a useful life skill and so much more. It is also a wonderful analogy for defining a proactive approach to journeying through life.
2. Working To Create A Sense Of BELONGING and Place In The World: Standing on top of a peak it is obvious how small you are. This is accompanied by a sense of accomplishment, you know you have worked hard, the view is the reward and also an indicator that you can do anything you set your mind to. By doing the work you deserve to be there. At this point there is an overwhelming sense of belonging. By the same token you belong with the people who escorted you. They are your tribe.
3. OPTIMISM: Of all the behaviors that serve you well in life, optimism is one of the most crucial. Adventure has a way of handing you lessons in optimism. It teaches you to approach obstacles with a warrior mentality: 1) be present, 2) be aware of the hazards, 3) channel all your resources into creating positive outcomes. We soon find out that letting any of these three parts slip leads to failure and potentially harm. It does not take long to figure out that this optimistic, yet realistic, approach is beneficial in life as well. Perhaps this is why I enjoy the company of those that indulge in adventure so much.
4. GRIT and Fortitude: Things go wrong, the question is, how do you respond? Outward Bound was started during the Battle of the Atlantic when Kurt Hahn was asked to solve the issue of young merchant sailors dying more quickly in the water than their older peers. He attributed the survival of the crusty, old sea dogs to grit. What is more he demonstrated that grit can be learned through adventure. Grit is the result of knowing that storm clouds can bring rainbows and developing a desire to hang out to see the rainbow however bad the storm is. I love watching Cai grind up a hill, pushing through pain because he knows the turns may be sweet.
5. JUDGMENT: Have you noticed that your adventuring friends can see a situation for what it is more quickly than others? Instinctively, they are spontaneously seeking a realistic, win-win solution. This is the result of having to exercise judgment systematically in a variety of situations on countless occasions. If 10,000 hours brings you mastery, then ten years of living adventures is going to set you up as an expert in judgment. If you enjoy adventure then you court the unpredictable. This dalliance with uncertainty provides a forum for developing judgment like no other.
6. TRUST and Trustworthiness: Do you remember the first time you tied into a rope and uttered the word, “climbing,” fastened the gasket of a sprayskirt, or clipped into the bindings of your skis at the top of a backcountry run? What did you believe about the people you were with? Did they exude trustworthiness? Did you feel safe with them? Now that you have been doing your activity for a while, do people feel that way about you? All relationships are built on trust, and where better to develop it than in a situation where you are unsure of the outcome? Most of my best friendships were developed from tying into a rope and pushing our limits in exciting environments. There is a real joy in knowing that my son trusts me implicitly and in seeing his friends trust him.
7. INDEPENDENCE and Interdependence: My initial adventure story started as one of healing through independence. To do more and feel the buzz of pushing my limits it became necessary to exercise interdependence. Being out in the wilderness where there is no one to tell you what to do allows experimentation with the concept of being or not being beholden.
Independence is a foundation of American culture and yet the concept is often interpreted in a rather adolescent manner where we want to do what we want to do regardless of the impact on others. This was certainly not the view of independence from the perspective of Thomas Jefferson and his cronies. True independence cannot come at the cost of interdependence and I believe this is best learned in adventure.
Paul Petzoldt talked of Expedition Behavior (EB). In it he laid out a framework for creating teams that can function well during adventurous endeavors. By exhibiting EB we can be truly independent. Again I will go so far as to say adventure is the best place to evolve these behaviors that are highly transferable to the rest of life. When your comfort, and potentially your life, depend on your responses to a situation, it is amazing how quickly you learn to be your best possible self.
What are some of the behaviors you have learned from adventure? Responses are really appreciated.