adventure in the mountains

To be honest, I don’t consider myself much of an adventurer. Which seems strange, considering I run an adventure and travel blog.

I guess it’s all relative, though. As that benchmark year of 30 approaches, I’m finding myself wanting to revisit some of the coolest adventure I’ve had in the 8 years since graduating from college.

It’s a nice reminder of how far I’ve come in less than a decade – from a shy, sheltered college student who literally didn’t know how to ride a train and thought taking a bus to Vermont was a life-changing adventure, to…well, wherever I am now.

Anyway, here, in roughly chronological order, are the ten biggest adventures I’ve had before turning 30.

Teaching ESL Abroad

It wasn’t just living abroad that turned out to be an adventure; finding myself tossed in front of a classroom, facing 20 or so kids who spoke little to no English turned out to be just as big of an adventure. I grew so much as a person through learning how to manage a classroom, learning how to connect with my students, and learning to feel confident and comfortable in front of a classroom.

Backpacking Solo Around Asia

I remember my first jaunt outside of Taiwan, to Vietnam. I was absolutely terrified. I’d come to view Taiwan as a second home, and felt comfortable there, but Vietnam was a completely different world. After a few years, and trips to the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and China, I realized that I had grown and developed the resources, confidence, and communication skills to look at hopping on a plane to a foreign country as no big deal.

Studying Chinese on a Scholarship

My last 6 months or so in Taiwan, I backed off of my teaching schedule because I had gotten a scholarship to study Chinese at a local university. Not only did I have a lot more free time to explore Taiwan, I also had a chance to really delve into learning another language, full-time. I got to be absolutely fascinated and obsessed with Chinese characters, the way they flowed onto the paper; I got to experience the ways that a different culture’s thought patterns and language patterns are closely tied together. And I got to meet and get to know people from all around the world, many of whom spoke only Chinese as a common language.

Studying Kung Fu in Asia

I always wanted to be the young grasshopper, absorbing wisdom from an old kung fu master. And before leaving for Asia, I’d had this fantasy that I would find some Chinese kung fu master who spoke broken English or no English at all, and would hit me with a stick if I got a move wrong and would slowly reveal to me the secrets of the universe. Instead, I met a chain-smoking ex-smuggler English teacher from Mississippi by way of China, who could impart some bit of life-changing wisdom, say something so beautiful and so deeply true it could make me cry, and talk about getting blow jobs from Thai lady-boys all in the same sentence.

Participating in a Shamanic Ceremony

I was lucky enough, during my travels, to come across the opportunity to participate in an Ayahuasca ceremony with a Peruvian shaman. I plan to write a more detailed description of this in other posts, but for now suffice it to say that this experience was truly life-changing, magnificent, eye-opening, and liberating. It came as the culmination and as kind of the final breakthrough in my martial arts studies, opening doors that had been stuck shut, so to speak. This was the first time I felt like my adventure was taking me not just to another country, but that I was stepping into a totally different world, and it also marked the completion of my time in Asia.

Working as a Tour Guide

After moving back to the US from Taiwan, I got a job as a North American tour guide for an adventure travel company. The company catered to 18-30 year olds looking for an off-the-beaten-path travel experience.

I spent that summer living out of a van, camping almost every night, traveling back and forth from one side of this country to the other non-stop, and getting to know dozens of awesome people from all over the world. I went white water rafting, took multiple helicopter flights over Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon, spent my birthday in a limo on the Vegas strip, partied in New Orleans, camped with the Navajo in a hogan in Monument Valley…and so on. And got paid to do it all.

Was it all roses? Of course not. I was working on average 14-18 hour days, living out of a van, and the company I worked for eventually got sued for unfair labor practices…but it was still one hell of an adventure.

Working as a Wilderness Therapy Mentor

As far as rewarding and meaningful work goes, it’s hard to top being a wilderness mentor. It was incredibly challenging on a personal level when the at-risk teenagers we were working with would be confrontational, violent, rebellious, would attempt to run away off into the desert, or would do things like refuse to drink any water so they would get dehydrated enough to need hospitalized, where they would then attempt to run away.

But seeing the change in the kids over just a few weeks, the way they developed self-awareness, compassion, responsibility, and leadership, was deeply inspiring and made it all worth it. Getting to spend over a week at a time completely disconnecting from everything, camping in the desert, hiking, and learning and teaching wilderness survival skills made this the perfect adventure and the perfect way to get to know Utah’s desert.

Living on a Boat

So…I readily acknowledge that this was a time when my life started to go off the rails for a while. I also readily acknowledge that it was one of the most interesting, exhilarating, difficult, terrifying, inspiring, nerve-wracking, and altogether strange times of my life. I look back on it all fondly, but hope I never have to do anything quite like that again. At least, not in a 50 year old 21 ft swing keel sailboat, with a slight upgrade about halfway through to a 60 year old 25 foot sailboat.

There is, though, a certain romance that lingers still of the waves rocking me to sleep, of the group of hardened, mostly slightly insane old sailors that took me under their wing and took care of me as best they could, of the sunsets and storms and the clanging of the masts when the wind picked up. There is something about living out on the fringes of society that fascinates me, and I got to indulge in and live out that fascination for a little while during my tenure on my lovely sailboat.

Plus, at the time, since I owned the boat and lived on it, I could technically call myself a homeowner.

Climbing the Grand Teton

Climbing a big mountain had long been a life goal of mine. I’d wanted to climb something over 14,000 ft, but considering that the Teton poses a hell of a lot more technical difficulty than a lot of Colorado’s fourteeners, it was a fully satisfying adventure. We climbed the Upper Exum route, in mixed (rock, snow, and ice) conditions – which meant ice axes, crampons, and all the usual trad climbing gear. The fact that I wasn’t on a guided tour, but was with a group of friends with whom I had climbed frequently, trained with, and who trusted me as an equal member of the climbing party, made it all the more meaningful and exhilarating. The only word I can really use to describe it is epic.

Spending 10 Days In Silent Meditation

Lately, many of my adventures have been turning more internal. Not to say that I’m in any way finished with the grand global adventures and whatnot, but that more internal seeking and less external restlessness seems to be the direction my life is taking. It’s nice to settle in for a while and explore an altogether new landscape. At the tail end of last summer, I drove out west for a 10 day Vipassana meditation retreat among the redwoods of northern California.

It was a wonderful insight into my own mind, the illusions and misconceptions that it projects onto other people, the horrible tricks that it plays on itself, what presence and awareness really mean, and some of the fundamentals of human nature that we can’t escape even if we can’t communicate with each other. It is an experience I highly recommend to anyone who is willing to let their own mind drive them mad for a full 10 days.

In hindsight, I’m pretty proud of what I’ve accomplished and experienced so far. The restless 20s have been great years. I hear it only gets better in your 30s, so here’s to another decade of adventures, exploring, and living life to the fullest!