By Aaron Arnzen
What does adventure mean to you?
If we turn to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, it tells us adventure is “an exciting or remarkable experience,” “an undertaking usually involving danger and unknown risk.” Hopping on Instagram, our view of adventure quickly shifts towards one seen through the lens of the outdoor industry, be it from content of a large outdoor gear company, a guide service or even a more personable brand ambassador. Without hesitation, we can assign a monetary value to the experience that’s being shared, suggested or even advertised.
The conflicting issue between adventure and the outdoor industry is in the name itself: industry. Objectively or not, the outdoor industry over-hypes the entire idea of getting outside or finding an adventure. From their perspective, it’s about what you’re doing, what you’re wearing, where you’re doing it and how much you paid for your entry fee. Added up, each of these factors make outdoor recreation and the idea of adventure feel slightly out of reach, especially for those whose background isn’t one of great physical activity. It’s almost as if you need to be some kind of superwoman or superman to play outside the right way.
Quite frankly, that’s just not the case.
To me, the benefits of adventure within the realm of outdoor recreation are relatively the same for all people. It’s distance from the rat race of home life and work life — of normalcy. Wherever you come from, whatever your background is, the benefits of an adventure, great or small, can affect us all the same. The simple ingredients of doing what you can, where you are, with what you have, are all you need to have an adventure.
You can overthink adventure; it’s easy to do. You can save five years of added vacation time from work and take out five years worth of savings to finally go on that ski trip in the Swiss Alps or that guided alpine expedition up Mt. Denali. If the opportunity presents itself, by all means, you should go on that trip, because it’s likely going to be a great experience, and maybe even an adventure. If you don’t go, however, there simply cannot be an adventure. The gear, the mountain, the flight — there’s no adventure at all without you. You are the deciding factor in embracing adventure.
In looking back through my own journey and list of experiences while recreating outdoors, I have begun to connect risk and adventure through a much more intuitive lense. It’s instinctual to the point where I feel compelled to check out from the busy day-to-day tasks, to then check in with myself and my surroundings. I can certainly attest to some adventures assuming an inherent amount of physical risk; however, the biggest risk I see most people take in regards to adventure is never starting. Big or small, every adventure has to begin and end somewhere, and that’s hard to do when you don’t know where to start.
One of my favorite lines from natural historian and author David Attenborough reads, “Nobody will protect something that they don’t care for, and people won’t care for something that they haven’t experienced.” Many of us are looking for an adventure, we think, yet we might not know what that looks like because we haven’t experienced it yet. When we blindly turn to society for inspiration, advice or guidance, the core of an adventure is often lost in industry, especially in the digital age.
As a society, our focus on the 9 to 5 steals so much of our attention that we forget to also optimize our “5 to 9.” It’s in harnessing our intuition while applying some creativity, where we can begin to realize adventure lies within those parameters, or as I like to call them, microadventures! They’re typically cheap or even free, but can leave us feeling just as fulfilled and refreshed as an extended adventure in the mountains or on the beach. Here in Southeast Missouri, we’re blessed with an incredible amount of public land to recreate in, on both sides of the river.
For me and my [adventure] partner Monica, we’re constantly trying to make space for adventure in new ways, as our lives are constantly evolving. One day, we might load up our bikes with a bedroll, make a couple burritos and pedal over to Pine Hills Campground after work to watch the sun go down from across the Mississippi River Valley. Another favorite after-work overnight adventure of ours is driving west out of town on Highway 72 to Taum Sauk Mountain. From the trailhead, we’ll hike down the Ozark Trail a mile or so before laying out our bedrolls on top of Mina Sauk Falls. Waking to the sound of the falls in the morning, we’re able to catch the sunrise over the highest point in the state before driving back into town for the day ahead.
When time and our schedule are limited but we still feel that urge for adventure, we turn towards a hyper-local sense of adventure. A favorite of ours is meeting up on the Cape LaCriox Trail after work. We’ll pedal up to the northern terminus of the trail at the foot of the Cape County Conservation Center. After locking up our bikes at the trailhead, we’ll hike in dinner and a blanket up to any of the beautiful ridges that border the Conservation Center. This type of adventure, maybe an hour in full, is worth its weight in gold when looking to break up the monotony of day-to-day life.
Another great example might be substituting a portion of your in-town commutes with a bicycle. Going by bike is not only more fun, it is surprisingly practical, and, of course, incredibly efficient. There’s a value to human-powered travel that amplifies our creativity and directly connects us with the natural world and with a sense of adventure. Each of these adventures are relatively inexpensive and can be adjusted in a multitude of ways to meet your own needs. They require a little creativity and an ability to harness your intuition. This idea of viewing adventure through a more internal, feminine lens, rather than one of outward influence helps simplify our relationship between work and play — between adventure and normal. Adventure through the feminine lens to me is recognizing your internal urge to leave monotony behind and further channel that through the context of your current physical surroundings. Again, it’s doing what you can, where you are, with what you have.
Adventure can be big or small, expensive or entirely free, but getting yourself outside is the starting point. There is something about being outside where a lot of the pretension and hostility of life are rubbed away. It seemingly serves to set some kind of example of camaraderie and friendliness; if this could manifest itself in other parts of society, we could all greatly benefit from it. Immersing myself with what’s in my own backyard was the catalyst in realizing the endless opportunity for adventure that surrounds us here in this riverside town.
I’ve listed the shelters at Trail of Tears State Forest in Southern Illinois as a favorite winter camping destination. The three-sided log cabins equipped with stone fireplaces are a comforting sight during the cold winter months. With the road closed to cars four months out of the year, they serve as a perfect little getaway from day-to-day life and people in general.
With the entrance tarped off and the fire roaring, this east-facing shelter on the south side of the forest was the perfect homebase to write this story. It smells like our cast-iron scramble is about finished cooking, so I’d better get going! If you haven’t already scanned over my list of favorite places to find adventure locally, take a peek on page 23, do a little research, and go have yourself an adventure.
Get Out There
With these regional destinations, your next adventure awaits.
- Trail of Tears State Park (MO)
- The Ozark Trail (MO)
- The Ozark Highlands Trail (MO)
- The River to River Trail (IL)
- The Ozark National Scenic Riverways (MO)
- Shawnee National Forest (IL)
- Mark Twain National Forest (MO)
Local Camping Destinations
- Trail of Tears State Forest (IL)
- Garden of the Gods (IL)
- Horseshoe Lake Conservation Area (IL)
- Taum Sauk Mountain State Park (MO)
- Berryman Campground (MO)
- LaRue Pine Hills (IL)
- Fern Clyffe State Park (IL)
- Giant City State Park (IL)
- Trail of Tears State Park (MO)
- Johnson Shut-Ins State Park (MO)
- Cape LaCroix Trail
- Cape County Park North Trails
- Downtown Cape River Wall
- Klaus Park Trail
- Crossroads Church Trail
- Juden Creek Conservation Area