Have you ever wished you could squeeze in a few turns before work? Climb a couple pitches in the afternoon? Wake up and look out your window at rocky peaks and thick pines?
For a few, this is a part of our everyday lives, living the dream in an outdoor mecca. For many, the closest “adventure” is a trail/gravel run at the park on the other side of town. Adventure in these places takes a little something extra.
In this edition of Therm-a-Rest Explore, contributor Jason Thienel shows us that you don’t have to live in Colorado to satisfy your appetite for adventure.
My alarm goes off at 2:00am. I’m excited to get up, not even tempted to hit the snooze button. I walk to my kitchen and start making coffee. The gear that I packed the night before is sitting patiently by the door. As I sip my coffee, I mentally review all the minor details of the objective ahead.
By now, you’re probably thinking this is another blog about an early morning start to some grand adventure. However, there is one small difference between this adventure and what you are used to reading.
All of the adventure takes place within 30 minutes of my house, and I live in Nashville, Tennessee. Not really a city that’s known for getting after it in the outdoors. I’ll bet some of you live in a similar city or town.
Nashville has a 40 ft tall riverside crag 45 minutes away and 11 miles of single track right in town. The Cumberland River flows through the middle of the city, but not many paddle the dirty waters. The closest “mountains” are about 5 hours away and for snow you have to drive even further.
My wife and I have traveled all over the world to rock climb and trail run, but we call Nashville home. My talents are picking out perfect avocados and choosing extremely difficult trail ultra-marathons in remote places. Sharing my passion for rock climbing started with my certification as an AMGA single pitch instructor and allowed me to instruct both beginners and first timers for many years. When I’m not outside, I help manage the local outdoor store.
I planned big trips to incredible outdoor meccas like Chamonix, Iceland, and Kalymnos. When I return home, I find that the surrounding Tennessee landscape is not nearly as inspiring as the mountains I left behind. Between my “big trips”, I have to keep the psych alive. To satisfy my wanderlust, I turn to the micro-adventure.
To have an adventure close to home you have to get creative.
The term microadventure was made common by British adventurer and author Alastair Humphreys and is defined as an overnight outdoor adventure that is “small and achievable, for normal people with real lives”.
A micro-adventure falls somewhere between your afternoon trail run and planning a trip to the Grand Canyon to run Rim to Rim to Rim in one push. Some of the microadventures even include some sort of eating challenge. I heard about one that included running a 50k to all of the Taco Bells in an area and eating a different item off the menu at each one or a mountain bike race where doughnut consumption helps your final score.
The Dirty Davidson is a microadventure that my friend Ethan came up with. Ethan and his girlfriend M.E. were training to hike the CDT and one afternoon he came to me and said, What if we hike/run all the dirt trails in Davidson County (Nashville is in Davidson Co.) in one day?! “Yes,” was most certainly the answer. We immediately started planning.
I absolutely love maps, and planning the Dirty Davidson was like dessert before dinner. We listed out all of the parks we could think of and then consulted the map to see if they fell within Davidson County. We decided to leave out paved trails, “Mountain Bike Only” trails, and any trail that didn’t have a name (hobo trails). When we added it all up, we came up with 8 different parks and about 50 miles of trail. The three of us were fit and thought 50 miles in a day would be doable. I’ve run 50 miles in a day, and Ethan had hiked almost that much in a day. Both M.E. and Ethan have both paddled a stand up paddleboard 50k, a feat which I will never accomplish. The real crux would be all the driving in between. We plugged all of the destinations into Google Maps and came up with about 3.5 hours of drive time.
We met at 2:30am and we were on the trail at 10 minutes to 3:00. The cold kept us quiet and we knocked out the early miles quickly. By the time we were finishing the second park we got to enjoy an incredible sunrise. Once the sun was completely up, the three of us got to a place where we were feeling great and having so much fun that we almost forgot that we weren’t in the mountains. In almost every ultra-marathon that I’ve run, you get to a place where you are feeling great and you say to yourself, “I’m feeling great! I am going to be finished way before I thought.” That feeling almost always goes away, and you never finish before you thought. We had this same feeling and even thought maybe we should have made this adventure harder.
We continued to grind out the miles all day and then there were just three parks left, but still around 20 miles of trail to go. At Long Hunter State Park we had an out back to complete and those always seem to be extra hard on you mentally. This is the park where everything started to change, the feelings we were having earlier in the day seemed like a different day completely. We were tired and stiff and the sun was going down quickly. As hard as we tried, we couldn’t change the fact that the final 11 miles would be in the dark.
Each car ride to another trail head was just enough to let our bodies stiffen up and remind us that we had woken up at 2:00am. As we traded our short running shorts for tights in the parking lot of our last trail, no one said it, but I know everyone was thinking, “We don’t have to do this last one, we could just go home.” The cold was setting in, but luckily our buddy Vince showed up to pace us on some final miles and lift our spirits a bit. We crammed more food in our mouths and knocked out the final miles, returning back to the trailhead at 9:30pm.
Although we were wrecked physically and mentally, we had that deep sense of accomplishment that only adventure provides. We had spent the entire day in the woods and pushed ourselves to a place just beyond where we were comfortable. The best part? We were only 10 minutes from our own bed and a mere 5 minutes from our Taco Bell dinner.
Perhaps you are reading this and you live in the mountains or an outdoor mecca. If that’s the case, cherish what you have. Come up with microadventures or full size adventures that are “grander” than the Dirty Davidson.
If you don’t live in the mountains, embrace the microadventure. Get creative and think of things that are close to your house. We go to the mountains to learn, to push ourselves, and to have fun. If I can invent a 50 mile trail run in Davidson county, you can come up with a fun challenge in your backyard. Get your friends involved and brainstorm something that fits the hobbies you enjoy and the landscape around you. A microadventure can be any distance or any activity, just make sure that is pushes you, and most importantly that you have fun.
Viva la micro-adventure!