How To Have Epic Outdoor Adventures (Even When You Work A Desk Job)
What do you think of when you imagine an outdoor adventure? Maybe you're envisioning thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, summiting Denali, or traveling the country in a converted van—something big, bold, and ambitious.
Well, as someone who has chased these scenes for most of my life, I can confidently say that microadventures—concentrated efforts to get out and explore with whatever limited time you have—can be just as fulfilling. And they're way more doable: All you really need is the desire to try something new, an accountability system, and some healthy fuel to carry you through.
Hold up. What even is a microadventure?
My partner and I first started going on microadventures back in 2013 when we were living in Los Angeles, working nine-to-five desk jobs, and feeling stifled by our daily routine and desperate to start something new. We lived vicariously through people on Instagram who seemed to be living lives full of adventure, but we couldn't figure out a way to get there ourselves.
So whenever the weekends would roll around, we started to take a little break from it all. We'd backpack in the Sierras or go out in search of desert hot springs. On weekdays, we'd wake up early and hike in Griffith Park. In the evenings, we'd go on late-night bike rides after the traffic died down. Whatever we could do to feel like we were out there, we did it. At the time, it felt like a temporary fix, but it got the ball rolling. It got us away from wishful thinking and into the active planning mindset. And as we've come to realize, the hardest part of doing anything is just starting.
So, in 2015, after two years of microadventures and growing a sense of confidence, we decided to pack up and hit the road for a year. Now, finally, we thought, we would be able to do the really cool stuff. We would finally have our "epic" adventure. But while life on the road was exciting and fresh at first, we soon found it wasn't all that different from our lives before.
We didn't start magically living our life in montage. Amazing outdoor experiences weren't just happening to us every day. However, each day was still an opportunity for a new microadventure. In fact, our whole trip was just a series of small microadventures: a walk around the campground with our morning coffee, a hastily planned overnight backpacking trip, a spur-of-the-moment float down a river with $5 inner tubes. Some of our favorite outdoor moments came from impromptu decisions to shake up our day's plans. One time in particular occurred in Badlands National Park.
We had finished dinner at our campsite and were starting our evening wind-down routine. But as the sun began to set, we could just tell the sky was going to do something amazing. So we quickly packed up the car and went out for a scenic drive. As the sun went down, the gradient colors of the sky started to play against the stratified colors of the badland hills. We got to see this incredible dramatic landscape in this super-saturated color like some sort of surreal dream. It was one of the most memorable experiences of the trip, and we could have missed it entirely if we hadn't tried to squeeze one more microadventure into the day.
The whole trip was made up of moments like this. Small efforts that cumulated into a larger-than-life-feeling trip. It's only when we look back on them in aggregate that we can call it our Big Road Trip. But at the time, it was just one small adventure after another.
In the end, we found that a big, grandiose road trip wasn't sustainable for us long term—but the microadventures we took along the way were.
How to make your life a series of microadventures.
Finding creative ways to integrate new experiences into your routine is perhaps one of the most balanced and sustainable approaches to having an outdoor lifestyle. They don't need to be huge commitments—maybe it's a weekend, maybe a half day, or maybe it's just a few hours in the morning before work. Here are some tips for getting the ball rolling:
1. Pack snacks!
Oftentimes microadventures will conflict with normal meal times, so if you want to avoid hunger-induced meltdowns, you'll want to pack some snacks to carry you through. We've tried dozens of different bars over the years and have found EPIC Bison Bacon Cranberry Bars to have great energy staying power. They're packed with grass-fed, pasture-raised bison and clean ingredients to give you protein that keeps hunger at bay.
2. Make a plan and look forward to it.
A sunrise hike always sounds great, but when the alarm goes off at 6 a.m., it can be hard to stay motivated. If you're looking forward to something, it makes following through so much easier! Pick something you want to do, commit to it the day before, and wake up excited.
3. Be realistic with your time.
Want to head out on a 20-mile bike ride? Awesome idea—but maybe not during your half-hour lunch break. Match the right type of activity with the right time slot. It's a lot easier to extend an activity than it is to condense it. By being realistic from the start, you'll avoid feeling disappointed or discouraged when something doesn't work out.
4. Keep a positive attitude.
If the surf is calm, the trail is closed, or the weather is just not cooperating with you, having a positive attitude helps make the pivot to something else a lot easier. It's not an adventure unless something goes wrong!
5. Don't discount urban microadventures.
An extended morning stroll, an evening bike ride through a new neighborhood, or even just a picnic in the park—there are so many ways to get out and explore outside in a city. And while some cities have more green spaces than others, most of them have at least a few. Jump on Google Maps and start discovering the parks, walkways, and bike paths closest to you.
Megan McDuffie and Michael van Vliet are the co-founders of the camp cooking website Fresh Off the Grid. In 2015, the couple was preparing to embark on a year-long road trip but found themselves struggling to reconcile their love for cooking with a life outdoors. They started documenting their attempts to make healthy, nutritious meals under the constraints of a camping environment. Today, Fresh Off the Grid hosts dozens of easy-to-prepare recipes, helpful how-to guides, and an abundance of outdoor inspiration.