Does Adventure Allow Us to Take Back Control?

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I’ve been reading Tim Cahill’s book “Pass the Butterworms: remote journeys oddly rendered”. As a writer he is adventurous, traveling the world and getting into sometimes difficult situations. One of his stories fascinated me. “Search and Rescue” has him joining a group setting out to rescue a lost hunter in the backcountry of Montana. It’s the middle of the night. It’s November. There’s lots of snow. It’s -30C out. There’s not much hope.  So why did this guy set out on his own in the first place?

Cahill summarized it brilliantly. “Wilderness is a way of taking back control of our lives.”

Now, that made me think.

Living in a big city I get the sense that many point the finger of responsibility at others. Slip and get injured on the leaves that have fallen in front of a corporate office or house? Sue them, right? You become a victim of circumstances.

There has been an obvious surge in so-called adventure motorcycling in the past ten years. I’ve been part of that movement. Part of the appeal for me is getting out of the city, out into the backcountry. Taking back control of my life.

I listen to my urban motorcycling friends, those who rarely get out beyond the Lower Mainland, complain incessantly about what drivers around them are doing, pointing the finger at them, making them the problem. These stories revolve around playing the blame game.

But when I’m out on my own in the backcountry there’s no one else to point the finger at. If I make a mistake, it’s my problem.  I forgot my camp stove? I blame me! And, despite what anxiety that could potentially cause, I wouldn’t want it any other way. There is risk.

That lost hunter in Cahill’s story was testing himself. Call it the classic conflict of man versus nature if you will. And I think that is the draw for me: taking back a certain amount of control.

George Bernard Shaw said: “Liberty means responsibility. That’s why most men dread it.” There’s nothing but freedom when you get out into the wilderness. At the same time, it’s not safe. You can get hurt. Things can go wrong. But the payoff for such a venture is breathtaking scenery, soul-feeding solitude, connection with nature, the satisfaction of testing our wits and coming back home to tell the tale.

I find as the weather turns south and I start looking over maps and dreaming that it’s this pull to a place where I can take back control of my own life that inevitably draws me in. There’s a simplicity in knowing that I’m responsible for my own actions…in the act of being free.

If adventure travel is truly about freedom then maybe there’s a certain number of us who long to take back control of our lives. What brings you out in your search for adventure?

So what happened to the hunter in Cahill’s story? In the wee hours of the morning he himself found the remote cabin that was the HQ for the search party. It would seem he passed his own test. And lived to tell the tale. It would seem he found a freedom many would dread, but some would envy.

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North From Zero Avenue: riding across British Columbia

Connecting with British Columbia via my motorcycle is what I like to do. And to share that with you, I’ve started making YouTube segments on my own Trevor Marc Hughes channel. “North From Zero Avenue” will take you to remote places around British Columbia, perhaps some you’ve never even heard of. I think the motorcycle is the ideal form of transportation to connect with places, especially, if like me, you’d like to get a sense of why they’re there and why they have roads leading to them. Below are links to the first two episodes…and I know I’ll be making more. Enjoy.

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The Elephant In The Room

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It wasn’t as though anyone came up to me and said they didn’t think it was relevant. But when I told people I was doing a presentation on the subject of anxiety and adventure and another on riding across historic British Columbia, they usually said they’d come to the latter.

Horizons Unlimited CanWest 2014 in beautiful Nakusp, British Columbia was truly an inspiring gathering of overland motorcyclists and average guys who like to ride from all over British Columbia, Washington State and Alberta. The presentations that I enjoyed featured life-changing journeys such as that experienced by fellow writer Liz Jansen, filmmaking extraordinare by the likes of Alex Chacon and challenging motorcycle adventures such as the month Alexander Conrad spent riding across Russia.

But the one I presented first thing on Day 1 was sparsely attended. Maybe 30 were in the audience. When I wrapped up at the end there were no questions. I thanked everybody politely. And then I was approached.

Several people would come up to me afterwards to speak about their experience with motorcycle travel and anxiety…about their fears of wildlife, travel in remote places, fear of really big bikes and having to pick them up again. It was then, I realized, I might have struck a nerve here.

I had made it clear during the presentation that I’m not a counselor or psychologist, but that I hoped to breach the subject, tell of a few strategies I’d developed and talk a little about what anxiety is (we all have it, some have more of a tendency towards being anxious than others). I also wanted to discuss the strategies of motorcyclists with much more experience than I, such as Dom Giles and Sam Manicom who helped me with their experience, before opening up the floor to how anxiety and adventure do connect in (surprisingly, perhaps) many ways.

The very nature of adventure is doing something that is unsafe, risky. Risk involves getting out of our comfort zones. Would there be any point in going on a motorcycle journey if we could find out, in some clairvoyant way, that we would get home unchanged and unscathed on the other side of it?

The bottom line is: we all need anxiety. Anxiety is a survival mechanism. Without it we’d be riding motorcycles over cliffs just to see what it was like. But a problem arises when anxiety keeps us from doing the things we want to do…

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