Guest Blog: Adventure As Medicine

When you’re 16 years old, you think that life goes on forever and that hospitals are just for visiting elderly relatives. The concept of mortality simply doesn’t exist in reality—until you’re struck down with a random autoimmune attack. Suddenly, you’re waking up in ICU with no memory of the last three days or why you’re strung up with tubes and shunts sticking out of your arms. Your friends are getting their driver’s licenses, and you just got type 1 diabetes. Welcome to the rest of your life with a chronic illness that no one can see you struggle with and that most people don’t really understand.

Leaving the hospital, I wasn’t happy about what the rest of my life would look like. I didn’t know any better at 16, but I decided to tell myself a different story. Everything down the road seemed like it was only a fabrication of what we created and believed, so I just changed the direction.

Courtesy: Stephen Richert
Courtesy: Stephen Richert

Adventure Literally is my Medicine

I got this notion in my head that I was destined to be a climber. I wanted to do the opposite of what the doctors and nurses told me I could do. Independence seemed like a fine thing, and where better to find that than in the mountains? It took years, seven to be exact, before I internalized this narrative that adventure was truly accessible to me. Many close calls and defeats occurred along the way, but I took comfort in the idea that this wasn’t a disease limiting me—it was simply part of my climbing and that made the frustration seem worthwhile.

That mantra has been my guiding principle over the last 17 and a half years. I’ve climbed in the Bugaboos of British Columbia, the big walls of Zion National Park and Yosemite, crags in Idaho, and boulders in Bishop, California. I’ve also climbed in Kansas, Oklahoma, and other obscure areas I’ve come across in my travels. Adventure is the bigger picture into which everything else fits—or doesn’t. Having that established has made life decisions simpler. Adventure literally is my medicine.

Adventure is often romanticized as an escape from the turmoil of life, bills, and the ugliness that feeds the 24-hour news cycle. As an adult with a wife and child to support, I decided a year ago to buy a tiny trailer and make the move to become a full-time road-dweller. I’d spent years traveling in four-to-six-month cycles, but never fully committed to making it a permanent lifestyle.

I had just put in my notice at a cubicle job that had promised me the world, but delivered mostly boundaries and limitations. I barely qualified for the loan that made the tiny, egg-shaped Scamp trailer officially our new home. My only thought at that time was getting out of the suburbs where I could never see the sky and out onto the road, where I would never have to read another HR memo.

Before we knew it, we were out there—skies for days. But, with freedom comes responsibility.

Courtesy: Stephen Richert
Courtesy: Stephen Richert

It’s remarkably like life anywhere else. Ups, downs, sacrifices, and choices. Beauty and ugliness. Adventure isn’t “out there”—it’s in here.

This is the part they always leave out in those Tumblr memes. Someone smashes your car up and your insurance takes months to decide that it can’t be fixed, and you’re scrambling to find a couch to crash on and a ride to the grocery store. You’re on an austerity budget, because your new freelance career hinges on being able to babysit your 2-year-old while editing video or writing proposals. Climbing? Oh, that would be nice, but weekends aren’t a thing anymore, because now you’ve got to hustle in your free time to pay the bills.

To be fair, it hasn’t been all frayed nerves and hateful scrambling to survive. There have been long days of climbing in the alpine. There have been magnificent nights painted by the Milky Way. There have been really wonderful and casual mornings spent enjoying coffee, watching the little one play in the dirt—evenings of rock scrambling as a family after dinner.

It’s not all bad.

It’s remarkably like life anywhere else. Ups, downs, sacrifices, and choices. Beauty and ugliness. Adventure isn’t “out there”—it’s in here. These days, I just want to climb more and make better films and photographs to empower people to find adventure as medicine for their own challenges. Full-timing probably isn’t the best way for me to accomplish those things. Sometimes, the adventure gets in the way of the adventure.

Courtesy: Stephen Richert
Courtesy: Stephen Richert

I still believe that adventure is medicine—bitter medicine at times. Character building. Not because it’s all fun and scenic. Those moments are sprinkled throughout, sure, but you’ll work for them. It’s not a vacation—but it is worth it.

Courtesy: Stephen Richert
Courtesy: Stephen Richert

Things I’ve learned that I’d like to pass onto others:

  • Budget carefully. Save up.
  • Adventure is not an escape from anything.
  • Get out of debt before trying to full time.
  • Have a means of providing for yourself proven and nailed down.
  • Avoid the combination of new variables (for instance, self employment and full timing).
  • Have a plan for what constitutes “time to bail.”
  • Know what you’re sacrificing for the lifestyle.
  • Have fun. It’s not a default out on the road. It’s a choice and probably the most important one you’ll have to make over and over again.