What’s Adventure Travel Anyway?

by Judith Fein.

Photography by Paul Ross

Not too long ago, I was sitting in the waiting area of a hair salon, indulging in a guilty pleasure—reading trashy magazines. I skipped over the plunging necklines of movie stars I’ve never heard of, bounced over an article or two about how to hook your man like a flounder, and my eyes settled on a pop quiz: how is your fitness level?

Treadmill? Yes, ma’am.

Do you go to the gym twice or more a week? Check.

Is walking part of your daily routine? You bet. I walk at least 75 minutes a day in the hills and arroyos (river beds) around my home.

Swim? Uh huh.

Hula hoop? Love it.

Tai chi? I’m there.

Yoga? Kundalini style.

Biking? Nope. Hurts my butt.

Hiking? Well, if I can go really slowly on ascent.

Mountain climbing? Next life.

White water rafting? Sure, if it’s class 2 or under.

Paragliding? I like to watch it. Does that count?

I stopped the quiz and scrolled down to the results, which informed me that I am probably fit, but not an adventurer.

So, I wondered, does that mean I’m unqualified for adventure travel? And then my always-active mind skipped to: what is adventure travel anyway?

Last week, I was in St. George, in Southern Utah, at Red Mountain Resort. As you’ve probably guessed from the name of the resort, it’s nestled in the crimson hills that make people gasp from beauty overload. It’s also friendly, low-key, has the sort of western feel that attracts folks who long to escape from city life, and it’s affordable. All good, right?

Now we get to the adventure travel part. In the dining room, to my left and right were jocks. One of them bounded up hills like a gazelle on steroids. Another had played competition tennis. A third was a committed hiker. A fourth was Mr. Canoe and mountain bike.

I decided to go on a hike with them. They were standing on top of a dramatic cliff, posing for photos, while I was strolling along, with a touch of asthma, fifteen minutes behind them. Luckily, they were affable and patient.

The next day, I decided to pursue my own kind of adventure. I signed up for a petroglyph hike. Boma, the leader, took us into the hills, stopping, mercifully, to talk about the geology and history of the area. And then, when we got to the mystifying petroglyphs and he talked about them in the most accessible mythopoetic language I had ever heard, we actually stood still. For decades, Boma worked with Native tribes, and slowly, slowly, they told him about their cosmology that was chiseled into rock. Slowly, slowly, we walked around the rocks, mesmerized by the images, and by Boma.

Then I went to a MELT class. The instructor gave us a set of small balls, and taught us how to lubricate, stretch, heal, relieve, and rehydrate constrictions and pain in our hands and feet. I didn’t have any pain until I stood on those little golf-ball-sized thingies, and then I was moaning “ouch” with the rest of the participants. At the end of the class, I felt as though my balance had changed. I did a little floaty number as I walked to the dining room for a meal.

The following day, I took a pottery class with instructor Joyce Whelan. She talked to us about pottery techniques of the ancient Puebloan people, and how clay was respected because it came from Mother Earth. We walked behind one of the buildings and picked yucca fibers, which we made into paintbrushes. Joyce gave us local clay and asked us to communicate with it—to feel it with our eyes closed, to hold it against our cheeks, to feel how cool it was. “Communicate with the clay to find the right shape,” Joyce told us. We rolled pieces of clay to create coils, which were the basis of our pots. And we used broken pieces of gourds to help us smooth and shape the clay into aesthetically-pleasing vessels.

That night, in the dining room, I was talking with the jocks, who waxed enthusiastic about jumping into natural pools, hiking, biking, and exploring the hills. I listened, looked at their photos, and thoroughly enjoyed being a vicarious adventurous traveler.

“And what have you been doing?” one of them asked. I told them about the petroglyph hike, Melt class, pottery workshop. “You’re having a great adventure here,” another one commented.

Adventure. Was I really having an adventure? When I travel to exotic climes and have breathtaking adventures with native people, that certainly qualifies as adventure. When I explore little known places and meet wild, unusual people, yes, that’s also an adventure. When I encounter wildlife, that is definitely adventure. And yes, my experiences at Red Mountain Resort were adventures because they were fresh, new, invigorating, and they totally engaged me.

I decided that I am an adventure traveler, even if I don’t jump out of planes and paddle canoes down vertical waterfalls. Travel is an adventure to me. It lifts me from the known and deposits me in the unknown. It is full of surprises and challenges. It keeps me alive, alert, learning, always learning.

Are you, perhaps, an adventure traveler as well?

Judith Fein is an award-winning travel journalist and author of the acclaimed book LIFE IS A TRIP: The Transformative Magic of Travel. She is the executive editor and co-founder of YourLifeisaTrip.com. Judith is currently finishing a book about the power of ancestral connections and taking a roots trip. All photos by Paul Ross. The duo’s website is www.GlobalAdventure.us

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