Everytime I unlock my phone and click that little, pinkish-purple, camera shaped app, I’m bombarded by stoke. Pictures of The North Face expedition team climbing vertical walls in Antarctica, Renan Ozturk and Chris Burkard flying on ultralight trikes over Bears Ears, and Zion canyoneer guides putting first descents into “superslots” in the remote backcountry all roll down my Instagram feed as my fingers vigorously like images. Soon, my mental bucket list overflows with ideas.
Initially, this is motivation. It pushes me to make the most of every weekend, staying up late finishing assignments ahead of time and driving far too late at night to get to my weekend destination. However, the pressure mounts. For every one check I get on my list, another five boxes appear. I’m pushing harder to do more, go bigger, and become as objectively rad as the people I’m trying to imitate on Instagram. What started out as fun motivation turns into a competition, and I find myself living less in the moment and more for the checkmark.
The epitome of this came last July when my Colorado peak-bagging/backpacking trip was outvoted by my friend’s California beach trip. I was bummed, climbing a 14er had been on my list for months, but I clambered into the car packed with my five friends, flip flops, and sunscreen all the same. I figured California was just as cool, and I could still make the trip worthwhile. As it ended up, nothing extraordinarily adrenaline-pumping or groundbreaking happened. We took short day hikes on small, beautiful trails, slept on friends’ floors, and sat on many beaches. I didn’t even get a clear picture for Instagram, but it was the best trip of my summer.
For once, I was relaxed. I didn’t worry about whether or not what I was doing would make me a better canyoneer, gain me points on the radness scale, or check a box on my arbitrarily decided list. I was living for myself and made the decision that brought me the most happiness. The freedom we had during those five days brought a joy greater than any I had felt after checking any box before.
That trip forged a model for my friends and me that summer. Instead of choosing what we were going to do, we would decide where we wanted to go and go with the flow from there. We’d purposely avoid all pictures so we could be surprised by what we saw, we brought plenty of gear so our options wouldn’t be limited once we got there, and most importantly, we always did what sounded the most fun. We didn’t have goals for our outings, because goals are inherently structured and require planning. We just went.
We discovered a way to truly adventure. We headed into our trips blindly, but full of enthusiasm and ended up creating memories we all cherish deeply to this day. No firsts were made, no feats of adventure completed, and nothing we did would get us sponsored by some cool company. At the end of the day, we would all sit down together and watch the sun set, the fire burn, and the stars slowly creep out. My bucket list didn’t see many checkmarks over those months, but nothing could have made me happier.