For my grandmother, adventure wasn’t something to be revered or praised, or even sought after. It was simply a day-to-day inevitability. It also happened to include killing fish with a club, paddling her canoe during flood season, and skinny dipping in the frigid waters of Nitinat Lake.
In her hometown of Bamfield—a small fishing village on the rugged west coast of Vancouver Island—daily life came bundled with adventure, and she charged into such shenanigans with almost reckless abandon. When she said yes to her first date with my grandfather, she could not have suspected that she would be resuscitating a raccoon along a trap line before they even held hands. From raiding shipwrecks and winning soapbox derbies, to going toe-to-toe with a bear and fixing her own flat tires, she was naturally drawn to the thrill of new experience, and her environment ensured such situations were never far.
As the granddaughter of such an unintentional adventurer, it was almost a genetic certainty that I’d become a “Yes Girl.” And while I no longer live in a remote fishing village, I am drawn to that same complicated mix of emotions that inspired my grandmother, the nervous excitement at experiencing something new. It is the sensation I felt when I waded into the waves last winter, surfboard in hand and determined to conquer my fear of the ocean. It’s the same sensation I felt as I boarded a plane to Ulan Bator, Mongolia’s capital and the start of the Mongolia Bike Challenge. I had absolutely no idea what to expect or how to prepare beyond the advice to pack my own toilet paper. And that was the point.
In the action sports world—and life in general—we tend to hold the ideal of “adventure” to an impossible standard, requiring death-defying-world-record-breaking-magazine-cover-making-first-ascents. It’s so overwhelming it’s often easier to snuggle back into the warmth and familiarity of our daily routines than to pursue a long-held dream.
"She taught me it is not the outcome of our actions, nor the vehicle of our pursuit. It lies simply in choosing the unknown, and what “unknown” means is unique to each of us."
This standard, however, is a fallacy: my grandmother never made any first ascents or set any death-defying records, and yet she is as bold an adventurer as any world-famous athlete I’ve ever known. She taught me it is not the outcome of our actions, nor the vehicle of our pursuit. It lies simply in choosing the unknown, and what “unknown” means is unique to each of us. It is tethered to our life experience, and is as personal as our fingerprint.
It was this influence, from the woman who snuck me my first cider, that taught me choosing the unknown every day is healthy. It doesn’t matter the magnitude: taking a different path home from school or saying yes to a trip to rural Asia are very much the same thing. Getting carsick in the back of a Mongolian kombi van is no more glamorous than getting sick in the back of your family car, but either way it means you are going somewhere.
Now at age 85, paralyzed by a stroke, it is not the routine or comfort of her nursing home that my grandma craves, but the impromptu picnics, surprise visits and the thrill of a simple change of scenery to break up her days. While she may not be travelling to Mongolia or monitoring trap lines anymore, she still enjoys the thrill of doing something different and new, no matter how inconsequential it may seem. She continues to reinforce for me that adventure, at its most meaningful, isn’t really that big of a deal. It’s not necessarily climbing Everest—it is as small (and enlightening) as expanding your own life experiences, whether that’s visiting a new Thai restaurant or a new continent. It is making the “other,” unknown choice every day, for as long as it is yours to make.