You’re overthinking it. Adventure, I mean. You’re sitting there gazing longingly at images of gritty folks riding bikes in faraway places and thinking, “That’s impossible. I’ll never go anywhere like that.”
Take it from me—you are definitely overthinking it. I’ve done big adventures and flipped the script for some very tiny ones. Teeny-weeny, nano-adventures. So small they exist only as the memory of a sting in my quads as I attempt to climb stairs the next day.
Adventures aren’t measured on some arbitrary scale of EPIC, where the absolute top of the chart is forging a raging river with a bike on your back and leeches hanging from your armpits. Nope. Adventure scales perfectly to the scope of your imagination and it can snuggle quite serenely with your crazy schedule and life commitments—if you let it.
It’s an art getting your brain there, though. Difficult, sometimes, to pry it open to the “getting lost” possibilities available in your immediate world. I’m not talking getting lost in a "call the search and rescue" sense, either. It’s lost in the moment. The “right here, right now.” If you're thinking, "well, that’s some hippy dippy stuff right there," I hear you. Let’s formalize it to make it more palatable.
There is no time like the present to start honing your exploratory craft. It’s time you graduated from the University of Being Brave with a BA (Bachelor of Adventure) in Getting Lost.
Lesson 1: Pioneers! O Pioneers!
Curiosity is one of the most essential items to have stashed in your brain’s adventuring knapsack. Sure, you’re curious about the “far away,” but what about the “so close?” What’s around you right now? What’s up the street? What’s across that river? Where can you drive in a few hours after work on a Friday that’ll leave you open to explore somewhere new by bike on the weekend?
I’ll use myself as an example here in the lesson plan. I lived in New York City for nine years, and the bike helped me unlock my true capacity for "checking stuff out," particularly in my last few years there. I rode to Coney Island to check out the boardwalk; mapped a ride up into upstate New York to check out a lighthouse; and noodled around surrounding neighborhoods in downtown Brooklyn to get the lay of the land. The common element here? I almost always had a goal—something I wanted to get from the ride.
For the ride to Coney Island, I wanted to take photos of the boardwalk and make a little photo gallery to share. The lighthouse trip? That was my first century. The Brooklyn noodling? Part of my continuing search for hidden coffee shops where I could write and people watch. A reason to ride doesn’t always have to be grandiose. Just make it yours.
Lesson 2: Be Present
An adventure is not only where you’re going, it’s what you see along the way. As with the Coney Island ride mentioned above, I often document my little adventures with a camera. With Instagram, it’s even possible to share the journey as you go. By contemplating the subject and composition of things you might photograph while you ride, you’re actually taking the time to absorb the scene you’re riding through. You’re not training for anything, so why not look around? Imagine that at the end of your ride, you’re going to give a report to a friend. What 10 photos could you take that would tell the story of your day?
Photos don’t always have to be of stunning scenery, either. An adventure is comprised of EVERYTHING you see. The signs, the houses, and even the weird stuff found by side of the road. My friend Rita once found a machete while riding along. I rode past a fake breast lying in the shoulder of the Pacific Coast Highway, once. I’m not gonna' lie. I doubled back and took the photo, just to prove to myself I’d seen it.
I guess the point I’m trying to make is this: sometimes we move through our day like passengers, convincing ourselves that not much is happening. As cyclists, we ride to exercise or train, or to run errands or commute, and sometimes that can feel very mundane. If you focus on actually looking around and observing your world—being present, and a participant in our own story—then you’re more connected to the experience.
It takes practice, and you might need to learn how to look. Here are a few thoughts on how to kick-start your eyes.
- Go out for a ride and look for interesting textures/surfaces to photograph your bike against, snap it, then post to Instagram with the hashtag #BAAW (Bike Against A Wall). Get creative—this is a pretty active tag.
- Remember the Flat Stanley Project? In a similar vein, get your own easy-to-carry prop, take it on your rides, and document the adventure over a week or so. Props are like adventure catnip for ideas, e.g. I once took my work desk mate’s toy unicorn for an adventure while she was on a two-week holiday, and I ended up planning rides around it.
- Create a theme for a ride and document it. Give it an identity/name. We’ve had Tour de Taco—a tour of all the Super Taco establishments in the area—here at Specialized, although eating something at each location before continuing on has wounded many a rider. What about a music theme? You could hit multiple record stores and document your purchases in each store in a Tour de Vinyl. Or plot a route that hits multiple food marts and buy a lottery ticket in each—Tour de Lady Luck? Whatever, I’m just winging it here. You get the idea. Roll the dice.
Lesson 3: Adventure shared = enjoyment2
It’s not that people are lazy, it’s just sometimes they don’t know they want to do something until they’re doing it. Recruit an adventure buddy—someone you think just needs a little nudge to get out there and discover his or her capacity for exploration is the perfect candidate.
I tend to ride a lot by myself, but there’s definitely something special about sharing the experience. You get more than just someone to talk to; you get to share the fun and the struggle, the food and the photos, and the story you share with others.
Confession: my greatest joy—beyond the act of being out there—has most often come from people who’ve told me just how much they’ve enjoyed these shared experiences. Sometimes they thank me for showing them things they never would’ve found or sought out for themselves. I know I’m not the fastest or the best rider in the world, but knowing this is my power is my secret guilty pleasure. You too have this power—the power to organize and inspire others, and to pass on the knowledge of the ride.
You too, can be an adventure enabler.
Lesson 4: Plan, ride, do
'Nuff said. That’s your graduation party right there.
Written by Janeen McCrae
Photography by Janeen McCrae, Jon Takao
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