Essay: Micro Adventures

Nov 25, 2015

Today is the day before Thanksgiving. Friday is the day after, known in the retail world as Black Friday. Where will you be on that day? Just as significantly, Lake Effect essayist Cari Taylor Carlson knows where she won’t be:

In my opinion, REI, a purveyor of outdoor equipment and clothing, got it right when they announced they would close all one-hundred-forty-three stores and pay twelve thousand employees to take Black Friday off. They call it #OPTOUTSIDE. I say, instead of shopping, go find a micro adventure.

A micro adventure is, simply put, a mini outdoor vacations that can refocus your brain while you indulge in an unfiltered sensory experience. They don’t take much time, more or less an hour, or perhaps a morning hacked from a busy day. I keep a numerical record, where I traveled, what I saw, smelled, heard, touched, and occasionally tasted. I include a photo and a few words about the adventure.

I have rules for mine. They must be within an hour of my downtown home. They must be cheap, or preferably free, simple, solo, and short. I can sit by the Milwaukee River in Estabrook Park for an hour and leave refreshed. Of course, more time is better, but not always possible.

Here’s adventure number five from May 23rd when I took an early morning walk at the Lion’s Den, a natural area just south of Port Washington. The photo caption reads, “A fine start to a weekend. A perfect spring morning watching the breeze dance on Lake Michigan.”

I had to get off the living room couch at 7:00 a.m., leave the New York Times behind, and drive thirty minutes to get to the place where I immersed myself in the present moment. I cracked open my morning ritual, stepped outside my comfort zone, and found a pocket of beauty. I returned home, refreshed, full of energy, ready to jump on a soapbox and proclaim the benefits of getting outside.

Like most people I’ve enjoyed glorious vacations that eventually reduce to memories recalled in photos and stories. But how can we keep those special times alive and bring them into our lives more than once or twice a year?

Alastair Humphreys has some answers in his book Micro Adventures, Local Discoveries for Great Escapes. He writes, “So what’s a micro adventure? It’s close to home, cheap, and 100% guaranteed to refresh our life.” My adventures, like Humphrey’s take place in the fresh air under the open sky. But that doesn’t mean everyone needs to put on comfortable shoes and run to the closest park. It could be a visit to a museum, an art gallery, a bookstore, or Milwaukee’s Urban Ecology Center.

It helps to have a curious mind. When I wondered what it would be like to sit in my camp chair close to Lake Michigan in a secluded corner of Bradford Beach on a late winter afternoon, I picked a time and did it. Here’s what I wrote on March 17th accompanied by a photo of an ice bridge. “Micro Adventure #1 From a front row seat I watched ice breaking up, gulls soaring , a line of geese heading north, a pod of coots, two racing mallards in perfect formation, and felt a warm spring breeze collide with today’s chill.” That surely beat the view across the street from the couch.

It’s not easy to set aside time to de-stress. There might be guilt involved in carving out a chunk of personal time when work or family responsibilities call, but I believe the payback justifies the effort.

My list for future micro adventures keeps growing. I like to anticipate, make a plan, set a date and time, and know when I wake up at dawn I’m on my way. No excuses.

Here’s my to-do list: sunrise on Lake Michigan while seated on the beach with a cup of coffee, a hike in the Kettle Moraine, a stroll around Quarry Lake at Harrington Beach, and a walk on the boardwalk at Kohler-Andrea State Park.

You won’t find me near a mall on Black Friday. Like those twelve thousand REI employees, I’ll join the #optoutside crowd, somewhere outdoors, feeling thankful and refreshed.