Why do we go away? This is the question that every adventurer wrestles with at one point or another. Why can’t we be happy with a settled life, a quiet town, a loving partner, a stable job? What pushes us out the door again and again, away from home and into the punishing reality of a life “out there”? Makes us draw taught the sails, and point the bow towards the irresistible siren song of a distant horizon? What are we hoping to find?
For me the answer, in a word, is clarity.
Clarity of mind, and of purpose. For I am never so clear as in those days just before the beginning of some new and uncertain enterprise.
There is a certain noise to civilized life — a clashing and clanging of the grand machine; of politics, and bills, and appointments, and grocery lists, a ruckus of obligation which grows louder with time. Death alone brings escape from the noise.
Each big adventure is like a very small death. Unlike a vacation, an adventure is filled with risk and contains within it at least a small possibility that you may never return. It’s this possibility that allows you to step outside the life you’re currently building, and examine it as though you were about to leave it behind forever. As a trip draws near, the volume on life’s noise goes down each day until soon you’re left with the pleasant hum of nothing but the essentials; the stuff you really care about, the people you want to spend time with, the things you want to say to them.
And then you go out to the edges of the map, the places unknown. There you live a different sort of life. It’s difficult, but not in the same way as life back home. You eat less, and sleep less. You’re colder than you want to be, hotter than you think you can bear. You come face to face with your own smallness, and realize that the world truly doesn’t care whether you live or die. And somehow, in the face of that, your own will to live is rekindled and fanned.
The world you left behind no longer seems chaotic and full of noise, but colorful and set to music. Life, you realize, is full of possibilities. It’s there for the taking, and there are no rules except that you must be willing to reap whatever it is that you sow. Your eyes turn once more towards civilized life and the sweet promises of building a place for yourself, falling in love, shredding endless piles of junk mail, and watching TV talent shows.
And so in this way adventure is partly about escaping civilized life so that you can learn to love it once again. It is the winter that strips away all the excess, so that spring can usher in a new bloom. We go, not just because adventure is out there. We go so that we can come back.