A Summer of Microadventures
COVID-19 has taken over 100,000 lives in the United States alone. The pandemic has destroyed businesses and caused the loss of millions of jobs. There is little doubt that physical, psychological, and financial impacts will persist indefinitely.
My family has been blessed to have our health and finances mostly intact. Still, we’ve struggled as our lives have been upended. This past week was particularly difficult.
I’m writing this post on the day I was supposed to begin a once in a lifetime adventure. The plan was for Kim and me to recreate the first backpacking trip we did together, hiking and camping in the Grand Canyon.
The twist was that this time was going to be a multi-generational trip. We were going to be doing it with my 71 year-old father and our 7 year-old daughter.
My dad and I had hoped to do this trip together a couple times when we were both still working. We tried to obtain permits, but couldn’t get them in the tight time windows we had available. I recently realized when he celebrated his 70th birthday that if we didn’t make this happen soon, the opportunity would be lost.*
Having to cancel this trip along with the rest of our summer travel plans had me in a funk. So I recently revisited Darrow’s post from a few years ago that introduced me to the concept of microadventures.**
My depression was partially replaced by excitement as I began to consider all of the possibilities. Rather than accepting defeat, how could we use the challenges before us to create a summer we’ll remember forever?
The Importance of Travel
Some of my earliest and best memories were traveling to new and exciting places with my family. One that stands out was a trip to northern California. I was no more than five or six years old, but nearly four decades later I still remember the awe of seeing the massive trees of Redwood Forest and vibrant blue of Oregon’s Crater Lake.
A few years after that trip, my dad started a small photography business. It was a good move for our family’s day to day lifestyle and finances. But our summer vacations were a casualty of the fact that much of his annual income came in the busy summer months when school was out.
When Kim and I finished college, we celebrated with a trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. That trip ignited her love of travel and reignited mine. Our wanderlust led us on trips to all corners of the U.S., throughout the Caribbean and Mexico, Australia, Africa, South America, and Europe exploring beautiful places and different cultures while pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones.
When our daughter was born, we committed to continue a lifestyle of travel and adventure. We wanted to hold onto a key element that made our marriage special and give our daughter more of the experiences we wished we could have had as children. Our goal is to expose her to different cultures and ways of thinking while stretching her perceptions of what is possible.
New Plans/ New Goals
Our attempts to make new plans for this summer have been shrouded in uncertainty. Would places we want to go be open? Even if they are, is it safe for us to be traveling to them? Is it responsible to travel unnecessarily if it puts others’ health at risk?***
Trying to plan anything has been mentally draining, adding more stress than any anticipated benefit. So we decided to change our expectations and focus on things we could control to have our best possible season under the circumstances.
We have only lived in Utah for two years. What can we see and do that we have been putting off? Can we recreate favorite adventures we’ve done with a different twist? What areas have we liked, but not taken time to fully explore?
My dream is to spend a summer doing a cross country RV trip when our daughter is old enough to enjoy it, but not too old to want to spend a summer with mom and dad.
How can we lay the foundation for that trip? What fundamental outdoor skills can we teach her. How can we do it in a way that grows her love for adventure? In what ways can we get her excited about helping plan our family adventures?
Those are the concepts guiding our summer. Refocusing on having small microadventures returned a sense of excitement and fun. We’ve been creating a checklist of interesting things to see and do this summer and fall.
One upside of our travel plans being cancelled for the foreseeable future is that it frees up money we would have otherwise spent. With more time and emphasis for local adventures, we decided to spend some money for gear that we’ll be using more than anticipated.
The first big purchase was a new mountain bike for me. Since moving to Utah, I’ve quickly fallen in love with mountain biking on the fabulous trails that conveniently surround us.
I’d been getting by on an old bike that was given to me. Upgrading has been on my to-do list.
Knowing I’d be here and riding more than usual, I decided to get out and find a new bike. The purchase taught me to be careful upgrading your gear, because there’s no going back.
I’ve had a blast learning to ride on the old bike with 26” wheels and beat up shocks. Now that I have the new bike, I can’t imagine how I ever rode the old one!
The next big purchase is inflatable paddle boards. Since she was born, my daughter has loved being around water.
Kim and I aren’t big water people, but we follow our daughter’s lead whenever she wants to be outside and active. So we’ve spent a lot of time on hot summer days at our community pools.
Public pools in our area are closed now because of COVID-19, so we decided to break down and make this purchase we’d been considering. The boards will open up a different way for us to explore new places for years to come.
We also made a few smaller purchases. The one that will likely bring the most value is spending $75 for a Utah State Park annual pass. We try to get as much value as possible out of a purchase, so having spent the money up front will push us out of old routines to seek out new places to explore.
Microadventures: Go From Home/ Mixed Transport
We decided to start with day adventures until we have more clarity on whether we can or should travel. We planned a week-long staycation for the week of our canceled Grand Canyon trip.
The weather was unseasonably cold and rainy, adding an element of challenge. Water activities we were planning to emphasize were out. We didn’t let this derail us.
Monday we went to Snowbasin resort to continue introducing our daughter to mountain biking. We used the microadventuring concept of mixed transport to maximize the fun to suck ratio for the kiddo to keep her on board.
I dropped her and Kim at the highest point on the trail that we could drive to. I then drove to the trailhead at the low-point and peddled back up to meet them where they would push their bikes a little further uphill.
From there, we traversed about a mile before riding 2.5 miles of glorious downhill back to the car. We finished our microadventure the same way most of our family activities end…with ice cream!
It got colder and wetter on Tuesday and Wednesday. We didn’t let that stop us.
On Tuesday, we did one of our favorite shorter local hikes up Waterfall Canyon that we hadn’t done yet this spring. We spiced it up with a challenge: ice cream if the kiddo could navigate the trail on her own and get us back to the car before it started raining again.
On Wednesday, we decided to drive about 90 minutes to the Golden Spike National Historic Site. We learned about it last year when the 150th anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad was celebrated.
The visitor center is closed and we were disappointed to find there was little to see outside. However, we were pleasantly surprised by Spiral Jetty, a unique piece of artwork located nearby in the Great Salt Lake.
On Thursday we hiked to Frary Peak in Antelope Island State Park. The unusually cool mid-June weather provided an absolutely perfect day for this sun exposed hike with stunning 360 degree views of the Great Salt Lake.
We rounded out our first week of microadventures on Friday rock climbing at a neighborhood crag. The cool weather was again perfect for this sunbaked location with easy beginner climbs to get our daughter comfortable on rock while Kim and I refreshed our eroded climbing skills.
Microadventures: Car Camping and Short Backpacks
As summer progresses, we continue to have guarded optimism that we’ll be able to venture further from home. We’re still not optimistic enough to spend a lot of time planning, obtaining permits, and making reservations that typically go with it.
This goes perfectly with the theme of microadventures. We live in an area with abundant National Forests and other public lands.
Our schedules provide a lot of flexibility for midweek getaways when crowds are smaller. I’ve begun researching spots in a two to three hour radius that give us access to a number of interesting options in all directions.
This means we can focus on shorter trips where we can car camp or backpack for a night or two without major commitment or planning. These short trips with limited travel should enable us to stay mostly self contained.
Microadventures: Thematic Journeys
Our outdoor interests center around mountains. You can insert any cliche you like about enjoying the process, but there is something about the accomplishment of reaching the summit of a mountain that we’ve found addicting.
We did our first family road trip when our daughter was only six months old, hiking and camping throughout the southeast. When we returned home, we realized two of the hikes we did were to the high points of North Carolina and Virginia.
My reading introduced me to the concept of state highpointing, trying to get to the highest point of all 50 states. Because we’re borderline insane, the next logical step in our minds was that since we already did two states, we should do all 50 as a family.
To our pleasant surprise, as we talked to our daughter about this as she got older she got excited about it. We did 15 states up and down the east coast before moving west.
Last summer, we attempted Mt. Elbert, Colorado’s state highpoint. We were amazed by our then 6 year-old’s determination, reaching 13,900 ft before running out of gas about 500 vertical feet below the summit.
This summer we made a list of challenging hikes in our area including Ben Lomond Peak. This is the Paramount Studios movie emblem that we look at out our kitchen window. Kim and I hiked it once, but we’ve never done it as a family.
We’re also considering a mixed transport option to hike Mt. Ogden if Snowbasin resort opens summer operations. It would be an epic nearly 5,000 foot ascent from our home. We’d then ride the Gondola down to the base of the resort on the opposite side where I could stash a car. If you’re a betting person, put money on us getting ice cream after that one!
If she continues to enjoy these challenging hikes and some others in our local Wasatch mountains, we’ll attempt Kings Peak in August. This is Utah’s state high point and would require a 1-2 night backpack.
Create Your Own Microadventures
These are challenging times for everyone. My hope in writing this post is to share the excitement we’ve found in making the best of these challenges to inspire you to create your own microadventures.
It’s cliche to say “it’s the little things that matter.” But a little adventure can go a long way.
“You’re off to great places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting so…Get on your way!” -Dr. Suess, Oh The Places You’ll Go!
*Too often we think of retirement as a time when we’ll do all the things that we didn’t have time for when working. Unfortunately time waits for no one. Jessica and Corey who write the blog The Fioneers frequently write about the idea of slowing down and enjoying the journey to financial independence more, even if it takes a little longer to get there. Jessica and I discuss that topic among others in an interview on their blog today.
**Alastair Humphreys wrote a book on the topic of microadventures. He more recently created the podcast Living Adventurously. I recommend checking either or both of them out if you’re looking for inspiration and practical ideas for living a more adventurous lifestyle.
***For those struggling with how to venture out responsibly during the pandemic, check out this episode of the Blister podcast which features a thoughtful conversation on the topic.
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[Chris Mamula used principles of traditional retirement planning, combined with creative lifestyle design, to retire from a career as a physical therapist at age 41. After poor experiences with the financial industry early in his professional life, he educated himself on investing and tax planning. Now he draws on his experience to write about wealth building, DIY investing, financial planning, early retirement, and lifestyle design at Can I Retire Yet? Chris has been featured on MarketWatch, Morningstar, U.S. News & World Report, and Business Insider. He is also the primary author of the book Choose FI: Your Blueprint to Financial Independence. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.]
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Duuude.. you and I should start a blog doing only posts like this 🙂 This pandemic sucks for me too obviously, I can’t say I had huge plans as I tend to wing things but from March – May I basically didn’t go out of the DC metro area.
Last week I forced myself to go on a micro-adventure, I did a nice bikepacking overnighter. Now that you have a new mountain bike (whatd’ya get BTW? 29er or 27.5″?) you should look into bikepacking. I’ve been doing it for years and love it. I still love backpacking too but doing it on a bike let’s you cover so much more ground and the bike holds most of the weight of the gear.
And you bought inflatable SUPs too… I’ve only been out on my SUPs twice this year since Maryland stupidly made it illegal to do during lockdown. They lifted it a few weeks back thankfully.
Lastly, I’ve done maybe 20 – 25 of the state high peak and would maybe like to finish someday. I have not done Kings and you’ll be the first I contact if I try. I’m toying with Gannett this August but still debating if I wanna fly or not.
Anyhoo, glad to hear you’re making the best of a bad situation as we’re all trying to do. Keep micro-adventuring
“Wing things???” I’m 7+ years into fatherhood. You’ll have to remind me what that means. 🙂
I went with a 27.5″ full suspension bike. Never tried bike packing. We lived near the other end of the Rail to Trail system from you near Pittsburgh and saw lots of people doing it there. Always thought it looked fun, but was never a bike person until moving out here.
We’ll have to swap high pointing notes some time. We’ve found it a fun, if totally bizarre, way to see the country.
Nice work re-framing this – there’s so much pent up demand for travel and it’s hard. We were trying to see if we could get to Mexico for some surfing near Ixtapa – apparently surfing is not allowed right now…
So looking for new adventures!
Thanks Steve. One thing I’m torn on is things like surfing, mt. biking, etc where there is a significant chance of injury. We’re trying hard to not put ourselves in high risk situations.
Like us, you have the good fortune of living in a beautiful area with lots of adventures available w/o needing to travel. Have a great summer!
I love the idea of “micro-adventures”. After canceling a long-planned trip to Europe, my family and I decided to attemp our first backpacking trip a few weekends ago to Dolly Sods, WV. It was a lot of fun and we felt like we truly got away from it all…if only for a weekend. It’s a great experience to carry all your stuff on your back–our kids quickly learned the difference between needs and wants…at least as far as camping goes. We are all looking forward to the next adventure!
That’s awesome Tim. Agree fully that backpacking teaches you want v. need when you literally feel the weight of all the things you choose to carry on your back.
I love the Dolly Sods. If you liked that, you should definitely go back in the fall. Also, hope you at least stopped and checked out Seneca Rocks while in the neighborhood. If not, that’s another reason to go back. That is an absolutely beautiful area.
At some point in April, I made reservations for 2 nights each month of the summer at campgrounds in our state (NC) and VA. Our first weekend was canceled as the park still wasn’t open, but we did a June weekend in Grayson Highlands State Park and hiked on the AT in Mt Rogers area. We’ve got July plans at Lake James SP, August at Mt Pisgah, October at Bear Island (Hammocks Beach SP). We knew we needed something to look forward too that we’d actually feel safe doing. The reservations range from $30-$60 so with a tank of gas and equipment we already own, we can get away.
We did purchase an inflatable kayak from REI (during a big sale) and have dropped that into nearby lakes.
We’re fortunate that our neighborhood pool has opened (with precautions) so we’re in pretty good shape for now. Guess we’ll take it 1 season at a time.
Thanks for sharing Eileen and kudos for finding ways to experience and beauty that surrounds all of us.
Thanks Chris. Do you have any suggestions for locations in Utah for lake paddling with comfortable summer temperatures? Need to escape the Tucson heat! Currently traveling and yes all of the Covid closures makes it much more challenging.
I don’t have any great recommendations for you. We’re pretty far north and about 4k ft elevation and it’s still pretty hot here (highs in 90’s most days in the summer). Maybe Bear Lake, but that’s about as far north as you can go in Utah (the lake is actually half in ID).
Thanks Chris for your reply. We have great cycling in the Tucson area, both paved and dirt for all skill levels, if you will be coming this way anytime and are looking for riding recommendations, let me know. Obviously the Fall and Spring shoulder seasons are ideal.
Fellow Utah person here. The Uinta Mountains are close by and can provide many adventures both big and small, especially if you are willing to hike. I feel your pain on missing out on the Grand Canyon. I’m going to try and get a permit for early November, if Covid permits.
Anyway, I enjoyed your post today.
Thanks Bill. The Uinta are on already on our radar for a bigger adventure in August.
May not have been the worst thing in the world that our trip got canceled. Just saw this yesterday. https://www.lonelyplanet.com/articles/grand-canyon-shoes-melting
Where are you in the state?
I’m in South Jordan.
Yes, the heat in the Grand Canyon is no joke. Someone died there just this week. That’s why I want to go later in the year. There’s less daylight to work with but the temperatures at Phantom are very comfortable.
Here’s a couple Utah micro-adventures you might enjoy:
Natural Bridges NM
I find it best to get away from the Wasatch anymore. I was just up Big Cottonwood a few hours ago and it was crazy busy.
Thanks for the recommendations Bill. I’ve never been farther south in that part of the state than Moab. Those are definitely on the list now.
Chris, awesome adventure! Like how you pivoted and made things happen! Hope you and the family are doing well. We are doing well here in SC.
Thanks Dave and glad all is well on your end. Hopefully we can catch up soon!
That’s a lot of fun adventures so far! I’ll have to look into Frary Peak sometime – I’ve heard great things about that hike.
We’re eying Kings Peak in August too! I’m hoping to get a group together to do the entire Highline trail too if you’re at all interested. 😉
Antelope Island was one of those places that we took people when they would visit and wanted to see the Salt Lake, but hadn’t really spent much time there. Frary Peak is awesome. That is the photo at the top of the post. Highly recommend, but probably spring/fall. No shade and we lucked out to have an unseasonably cool June day.
I’ll shoot you an email about Kings and Highline. Talk soon.
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