“Adventure? The word had always irritated him. It was so cheaply used, a cheap, romantic word on the lips of those who had never experienced anything like it. Being adrift in an open boat at sea was an ‘adventure,’ but who wanted it?”
—Louis L’Amour, The Haunted Mesa
As per the Merriam-Webster dictionary the word “adventure” derives most recently from the Middle English term aventure, which means “chance” or “risk.”
The dictionary lists the first definition of the word as follows:
1 a : an undertaking usually involving danger and unknown risksb : the encountering of risks.
The Random House dictionary, on the other hand, reflects the evolution of the word into its current quotidian usage as meaning nothing more than a synonym for anything that excites the senses:
1. an exciting or very unusual experience..
The same dictionary notes as its last definition for the noun a meaning, that while it states is no longer in general use, is more closely associated with the word’s origins:
5. Obsolete. a. peril; danger; risk. b. chance; fortune; luck.
“This is the trade-off that I have acknowledged and accepted for my life,” Kira Salak writes in The Cruelest Journey: Six Hundred Miles to Timbuktu, her story of paddling 600 miles alone down West Africa’s Niger River.
“I am willing to sacrifice some of my security for the excitement of raw adventure. Which means, of course, that I must be prepared to accept all consequences. And which also means, generally, that my trips have large helpings of the unpleasant side of things.”
That is adventure.
Or as related by B. Traven in Treasure of the Sierra Madre:
“Scores of men have gone nuts trying to locate that mine. Fact is, the mine has never been left alone. That is to say, there have always been adventurers during all these hundred and how many years who have sacrificed their money, their health, and their lives to find the spot again.”
The closest to real adventure I have ever experienced is spending a long, freezing cold winter night in an old line cabin deep in the the backcountry of northeastern Oregon.
My dad and I had skied in to the cabin on cross country skies and set up shop before retiring for the night. The sleeping bag I had was borrowed and had been stored in its stuff sack for who knows how long. It was flat and all but worthless.
With the mountains blanketed in snow, and the cabin walls being riddled with holes I could see through to the forest outside, I shivered my huevos off through a long miserable night on a rickety stiff cot with what felt like little more than a thick bed sheet. The fire burning in the pot bellied stove could not beat back the frigid chill.
I hope to never have a real tale of adventure to share on this blog.
If I do it will have meant I made some poor choices that landed me in trouble, for I do not intentionally seek out danger and insecurity.
For the purpose of this blog I use the word “adventure” in a figurative manner to denote my experiences in life as a person born in Santa Barbara, California.
In doing so I must admit to furthering the cheap and romantic common usage of the word which has rendered it all but meaningless.
“Adventure is just a romantic name for trouble. It sounds swell when you write about it, but it’s hell when you meet it face to face in a dark and lonely place.”
“Of course, you can’t make adventure safe, for then it’s not adventure.”
—Laurence Gonzales, Deep Survival: who lives, who dies, and why
Who was it who said that and adventure is just a disaster remembered later, in safety? Maybe so, but worth the trouble!
Completely guilty in furthering the poor usage of the word myself. Never thought about adventure in the light of brutality and loneliness. I associate risk and maybe even death with it, but always in a glorious way.
What a great read.