There’s a thin blue line a dozen miles from my house on satellite photos. It is insignificant enough it doesn’t even have a name on Google Maps. In these stay-close-to-home days, even the most insignificant lines on the map take on significance. I’ve passed by this little stream countless times over the years with only idle curiosity about where it goes. It was not until it finally occurred to me to investigate the stream’s fly fishing potential did I realize it as a beautiful little spring whitewater creek.
Twenty years with this insignificant stream in my backyard, and this was the spring I was going to run it.
The only real difference between an adventure and an activity is knowledge of the outcome. An activity is predictable—enjoyable on all levels, but it usually goes by a script with little variation. A mountain bike ride on the trails down my road is a repeat of the hundreds of other times I’ve ridden the same routes. My local kayak run is an activity. I know each rapid, eddyline and the push to expect from the current at every water level. The river itself has become a script of sorts, with little variation.
Fun? Absolutely. An adventure? Not any more.
Staying close to home for so long has me hungry for something unknown. Or, at least, an unknown I can explore and overcome on my own, rather than the macro unknowns of the coming months.
Most formal definitions of the word adventure sound like this: To engage in a daring or risky activity. Every definition includes something about risk. But risk can refer to the uncertainty of the outcome, not necessarily danger to life or limb. I’ve lost interest in the latter. For me, adventure is any time I push off with the perspective, “well, we’ll see how this goes.”
So it was with my solo spring creek run this year. The creek is tiny—20 feet across—a flow of perhaps 16 cubic feet per second. It drops away from the road in a beautiful 15-foot cascading waterfall and then easy pool-drop rapids, meandering deeper into nowhere. I brought a topo map and tried to follow along, but quickly gave up hope with the countless bends and new beaver ponds and dams not on the map.
I was a couple of hours in before I looked at my watch and started to wonder how much farther it was to the only other access point, where I’d left my truck. I didn’t know where I was, but at least I knew where I was going.
I passed some unexpected sights, including a stretch of swifts pinched between vertical rock walls—a mini canyon a half-kilometer long. Another section of flat oxbow bends dumped into a rock amphitheater with smooth sloping walls in a perfect bowl, where the river exited in a perfect little four-foot drop.
In the end, it was a long day of more than seven hours. Way more than I expected. But almost all runnable, easy rapids and lots of beaver dams and flatwater.
By the end, I was getting anxious to find the take-out. The last hour was tension-filled, each rapid more worrisome rather than enjoyable. I was tired and doubting whether I’d somehow missed my stop. Of course, the backroad bridge finally came into view. Micro adventure concluded.
Would I do it again? Unlikely. But that’s not the point, is it?
A little backyard creek had provided a brief foray into something unknown. Big or small, new or little-explored, opportunity for adventure is everywhere.
This article was first published in Paddling Magazine Issue 64. Subscribe to Paddling Magazine’s print and digital editions here, or download the Paddling Magazine app and browse the digital archives here.
Jeff Jackson is a professor of outdoor education at Algonquin College near the banks of the Ottawa River and some unnamed spring creek.
“Adventure is a state of mind, a spirit of trying something new and leaving your comfort zone. If this is true, then adventure can be can found everywhere, every day, and it is up to us to seek it out.” —Alastair Humphreys. Nick Troutman on Homestake Creek, Colorado. | Photo: Dane Jackson