Recently my wife and I hiked the six mile trail known as Cole Mountain Loop, in Amherst Virginia. For five miles the trail gently climbs 1400 feet to its summit. The trail bores its way through a winding wooded path, peeking out from time to time giving a glimpse of breathtaking views of Blue Mountains and pine filled valleys. As we approached the cleared meadow which makes up the summit, a sense of excitement rose in anticipation of the view ahead. With each step I could feel the sky open up as we exited the forest moving toward the prize. A few more steps and it all came into view. The sky was a deep blue with an occasional cloud scattered about, and the view of cascading mountains went on as far as the eye could see. The path ahead cut its way through tall sunburst-gold and green grass. There were scattered daisies on both sides swaying along with the gentle breeze. From somewhere in the distance the wind brought with it a sweet fragrance resembling that of baked apples.
For a few moments I stood still and took in as much of that picture as possible, as if I were saving it up for a later date when I really needed it. As I slowly made my way across the summit I was reminded of Julie Andrews in the Sound of Music, and I understood how the hills could fill her heart with music. I laughed to myself as I wondered how crazy I would look spinning around as she did, with arms wide open moving across the meadow.
Looking ahead I could see my hiking partner was about to exit the meadow, so I picked up my pace to catch up. Trekking down the last mile of the trail we discussed the summit and agreed it was one of the best we had seen. When we got back to the trail-head and made our way to the car, we were both visible tired as we removed our packs and secured our gear. Driving away from the trail-head I felt a sense of accomplishment, and knew I got what I came for, adventure.
What’s this thing called adventure, and why do we crave it so? For me, it can be found hiking a new trail, wadding an ice cold trout stream, exploring the river in my kayak, or any of the other adventures I undertake. Whether you’re propelling down the side of a mountain, or exploring a cave its name is the same, adventure.
I sought adventure from a young age. Like many others I wasn’t taught how to explore this deep rooted desire for adventure. I sought it at parties, in fast cars and living on the edge. I thought a rebellious attitude was adventurous and for a season I found excitement in a reckless lifestyle. This disillusioned life took me to some dark places and eventually resulted in a loss of my freedom, and a turning point in my life.
With the loss of freedom I learned, this cherished gift doesn’t come from being rebellious, it comes from doing what is right. When I set out on my next journey it was with a fresh, clear appreciation for one element my adventures had been missing, freedom. It was that freedom that drew me to the outdoors and it was that freedom I felt as I walked across the meadow on the Cole Mountain summit.
TS Elliot said, “Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go.” During my younger years I was out of control, and I put myself in dangerous situations which put me near the brink of death several times.
Twenty Five years have passed now and I may be one of the few who took life to a place it should never go and was blessed with the gift of coming back. Along with this gift came wisdom and gratitude.
Most don’t go to the extremes or take the insane road which I traveled, but many seek adventure for some of the same reasons. We challenge ourselves to learn who we are and what we are made of, we challenge ourselves to live life to the fullest and we seek to experience unbound freedom which is at the heart of adventure.