The Real Point Of Adventure

Nobody's River

Does summiting a peak or paddling a first descent have value if it hasn’t changed us in the process? The adventure films we watch are packed with feats of bravery and uncertainty—would they be so compelling if the heroes didn’t meet their lofty goals? What if we focused instead on the depths of emotion and intuition that come into play on a truly adventurous expedition?

Yvon Chouinard famously said about $80,000 guided climbs on Mt. Everest, “The whole purpose of planning something like Everest is to effect some sort of spiritual and physical gain and if you compromise the process, you’re an asshole when you start out and you’re an asshole when you get back.”

So what happens when we don’t make it to the top of our mountain? When our trip doesn’t pan out the way we planned? The 2014 Spirit of Adventure winner at the 5Point Film Festival, Nobody’s River, is one of the few adventure films brave enough to ask that question. (Check out the trailer here.)

NOBODY’S RIVER – TRAILER from NRS Films on Vimeo.

The film follows four women who traveled to Mongolia and Russia to paddle one of the last great free-flowing rivers—the Amur. Their goal was to paddle from its headwaters to its Pacific Ocean delta, more than 3,100 miles. The goal seemed pretty straightforward, but the film showed a different expedition story than most adventure films.

Before the team even left U.S. soil, one woman’s longtime partner passed away in a tragic accident, ripping the group up emotionally and leaving them questioning whether they should even continue. Once on their way, glorious days of paddling the massive Mongolian wilderness and sweet connections with hospitable locals were mixed with threatening weather, unpredictably dangerous water and sketchy border-crossing bureaucracy.

The camera never flinched from the grief-pressed emotional breakdowns, and captured impromptu dance parties on the Mongolian steppe. Instead of dwelling on whether or not they’d make it to their goal, the film delved into the emotions of the journey and gave voice to the women’s instincts as they weighed risks and rewards along the way.

I saw the film at this year’s 5Point Film Festival in April, and it made me wonder, are we too caught up in reaching our goals to be quiet and tune into the subtle ways we’re growing throughout the journey? Instead of trying to shut off our emotions, can we experience them fully and appreciate them as part of what makes our lives rich?

We often talk about goals and failure, and learning from failure. But maybe things are more complicated than that sometimes. What are our ultimate goals when we go out into the wild? Is it really to simply summit a mountain? Or paddle a river? Or, like Yvon Chouinard says, to affect a more personal gain?

2 Responses to The Real Point Of Adventure

  1. Peggie Stinnette says:

    I frequently hike and backpack, for the most part, as an exercise in gratefulness and as spiritual and emotional therapy. But, on my last trip, I found myself behaving contrary to the reasons I hike. My method and pace altered completely in that I almost ran down the mountain to try to keep up with the lead hiker who seemed hell-bent on making it to the bottom of the mountain. Alas, never again. On focusing on only the destination, I missed the journey. When I take my time hiking, I look up and around and can appreciate the cathedral of green and serenity. Hiking becomes about discovery, spirituality, peace, thankfulness. When I flew down the path, all I saw was my boots and rocks. Break-neck speed to the bottom becomes about stress (trying not to trip over the rocks), pain (because I tripped over the rocks anyway), and disappointment (in myself for wasting time hiking like a sprinter). I liked the comment above that said (paraphrasing) you start one way and unless you take a path that helps you grow, then you start an asshole and end an asshole. But, despite my silly method of travel down that rocky path, at least a few lessons came out of the bruises and the grumblings on my deleterious descent: Next time, have the guts to stick with the slower pace even if that means eating the dust of others so hiking remains about the journey. And, no one can lead your own journey but you.

  2. Jay Long says:

    Great video and accompanying reading. I appreciated Peggie’s comment concerning staying true to your own journey. Very good, inspirational material.

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