Every adventurer experiences that moment. It’s that brief moment of an exhale atop a worldly view; it’s the moment when a bead of sweat drizzles on your face but you’re too exhausted and in too much ecstasy to bother with it. It’s the moment, like a light-switch turning on, where you suddenly change, and start to need that feeling again.
Something about you has changed because of the environment you’ve chosen to endure. It could be a new idea, a new way of looking at things, and always, a fresh look at who you are. For a quick second, the clouds part, and in that brief sliver of time, you realize your full potential.
More commonly known as “a‑ha!” moments, these are the moments when the synapses connect on trail and everything suddenly becomes perfectly in place. These moments are rare and experienced only by few. They can best be described by Maslow’s Hierarchy of Adventure Needs.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Adventure Needs
Certain human requirements must be met within every adventure or it’s no longer an adventure — it becomes survival. Some of these requirements include water and oxygen as well as other resources that take forethought like food, clothing, and shelter. Every environment has different physiological constraints on a person — clothing needs for the desert vary from alpine terrains while a one-man tent does half the job for two people. Understand and meet these basic needs, and you can start to concentrate on more important things: like enjoying your time (self actualization — we will get to that).
Are you being chased by a pack of hungry wolves? Are you huddled in a shallow cave during a thunderstorm? Is that wild rice and native mushroom goulash not sitting well? If you answered no to these three questions, then you’re on a track to meet your safety needs. Safety on a backcountry adventure can best be described by that moment you crawl into your sleeping bag warm and dry, your belongings organized neatly under the tent flap, with no clouds in the sky. Now that your basic survival and safety is taken care of, you can start to focus on the enjoyment of the trip.
Love & Belonging Needs
This fragile dynamic that can be disturbed by even the most slightest of gestures. You’re snowboarding and everyone wants to hit the side country but you don’t have the gear so you’re “welcomed” or even encouraged to sit it out (rightfully so — take a class before hitting the sidecountry — but bogus on your friends for ditching you). You want to climb at a crowded crag, but as a newb with no belay, you sit on the sidelines hoping for a route like a runt hopes for a teet.
Your “fellow recreators” can determine whether you feel welcome or if you feel ostracized. No one wants to be where they don’t belong — and that might be the point. Afterall, who wants to share a limited number of swells to an ever growing population of kooks.
But what about those who adventure by themselves? Meeting the love and belonging need while on a solo adventure seems like a paradox but when alone, hostility of the surroundings takes a back seat — for this person can force himself/herself to fit in. Perhaps that’s the beauty of venturing alone.
Whether it’s for the solo explorer or the whole team, esteem is that sense of accomplishment. On an adventure, it can be best described as the confidence x‑factor that encourages you to push your boundaries. It’s the dynamic that helps you block out the onlookers. At this point, you’re very close to enjoying your outing, and once you’ve done so, you’ve hit…
Many people never self-actualize while outside. This is why so many prefer to slowly die in front of a TV than to live life outside. Self Actualizations are the moments that bring you back out. It’s the moments — the stoke — that makes you crave that experience again. It’s that “damn that miserable (lightbulb ding) DAMN THAT WAS AWESOME” moment. Scrambling up rocks to stand under a waterfall — grueling waist deep up a hill so you can turn around to a hard earned powder field — summitting a (however small) mountain to stand on the peak, lift your arms, and yell at the top of your lungs.
Just like how Maslow says that Self Actualization can only happen when the first four needs are met, it’s the same outside. You’ll never be drawn back to the outdoors if your only experiences with it were danger, hostility and dehydration.
And while some people require more or less of each need, a primal root of each must be fulfilled to reach that final goal of self actualization while outside.
With contributions from Yoon Kim