It’s an idea which seems to permeate western culture today. We see this sentiment - with some variation of the words “explore” and “adventure” - all around us, from ambiguous Instagram captions on photos of Icelandic fjords, to t-shirts, to the advertising campaigns of major recreational brands. At its most basic definition, to “seek adventure” means to try something new, something where the outcome is uncertain. This might entail great risk or small, a lot of uncertainty, or just a little. So whether you're going on a month-long road trip in a foreign country where you don’t speak the local language, or trying out a brand of art pens that you've never used before, you're seeking adventure.
Whenever we embark upon an adventure, there is always an element of risk, a possibility of failure or of something going wrong. In fact, there's even a saying that takes this thought to the next level, stating that "it's not an adventure until something goes wrong."
Val and I were firmly reminded of this truth on a recent trip to Joshua Tree National Park. Joshua Tree is a large national park, covering over 1,200 square miles (that’s larger than the state of Rhode Island) of Southern California desert. J-Tree is divided roughly in half between two distinct deserts: the high Mojave Desert in the east, and the low California Desert in the west. The park is named for the other-worldly Joshua tree - a unique type of yucca plant which grows up to 40 or more feet in height and branches out from a single stalk, making them look like funky trees than the usual spiked shrub.
Val and I had been planning our overnight trip for a few weeks, had our campsite reserved, and our hikes all mapped out for the Sunday-Monday excursion. We knew warm temperatures were expected for Sunday, and Monday was expected to be about 20 degrees cooler, with some wind. I figured this meant that we might need a jacket for hiking on Monday.
Boy, were we wrong! The wind had already settled in by the time we arrived at Joshua Tree, and it only grew in strength throughout our time there. This was not a pleasant breeze; this was a constant, but mostly manageable, wind, accented with far stronger gusts that would rip across the desert landscape, clawing at your face and hands, and threatening to pummel your eardrums into tiny pieces.
This wind left no part of our entire foray in the park untouched, starting with making our Sunday hike far more challenging than it should have been. The Black Rock campground we stayed at was booked solid for that night, yet as the sun set and the sky darkened, most of the spots around us remained empty as other campers bailed. We had a harder time cooking dinner and taming our campfire as the wind gusts grew heavier and heavier. We were well prepared for the cold of the desert night, but nothing could muffle the roar of the wind ripping at our tent all night. While hiking the next morning, relentless gusts nearly knocked us off our feet as we clung to a ridgetop trail.
We could have left. We could have given up and sought refuge that night in a hotel, or even driven home and planned to come back some time when the desert was feeling a bit more hospitable. But we didn't. We stayed and we fought the wind.
And it was even better that way.
Sure, our hiking was more exhausting than we anticipated, but since we had to work harder just to be in the desert landscape, to fight more for every step and each new view meant that we held a much greater appreciation for the amazing landscape surrounding us. We had to fight to cook our food and keep our campfire going, but the chilling wind made us all the more thankful for the warmth of the flickering flames. We may not have slept well with the wind buffeting our tent all night, but we returned home with renewed thankfulness for the quiet of our apartment and the comfort of our own bed.
As it turned out, the wild wind was just a messenger of a brewing rainstorm, which we learned was set to hit Joshua Tree National Park by mid-afternoon on Monday. We had planned to spend that afternoon in the more popular part of the park, hoping to take in the views along the HIdden Valley and Barker Dam trails, but the impending storm threatened to cut that time so short that we decided to save the rest of the park for a future trip when we could truly enjoy it without feeling rushed.
Instead, we took the afternoon to explore the desert towns along the northern border of J-Tree National Park before the rain hit. We ate at a quirky local café in the town of Joshua Tree, just outside the park, perused a few antique stores, and then hit the road for home not too long after a heavy rain prematurely darkened the sky and began pouring down on the desert landscape.
So yes, we did ultimately have to cut our time in J-Tree shorter than we really wanted to, but that has only left us hungering for more. Having tasted a just corner of this enchanting desert wilderness, we can’t help but look forward to another trip, hopefully somewhere in the near future.
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If the very definition of adventure means that there will be inherent risk, then perhaps it should be no surprise when our adventures don’t go as planned. Stuff happens. The stuff that goes wrong can be small and easily dealt with, or it might be huge and have a massive effect on your endeavor. Sometimes that can be human error, something you could have avoided (maybe you forgot to pack a vital piece of gear, or misread some information in your planning stage), and - perhaps even more often - the stuff that goes wrong is totally out of your control (such as a freak desert rainstorm or a flat tire).
Stuff happens, but what really matters is how you respond to that stuff. You could be bummed and let it ruin the whole experience (and sometimes you have no choice but to end the adventure, so in that case, it’s all about how you’ll look back on it and talk about it in the future), or you can choose to adapt your plans, and focus on the good parts and what you can learn from the whole experience.
Point is, seeking adventure means stepping out into the unknown, and that often doesn't work out like expected, but there's always something to be learned, and it's pretty much always worth it in the end.
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