The Road Traveled, Neither Less Nor More

Feb 10th, 2020

How does one define an adventure? I could easily look it up in a dictionary or on Google and get a very broad and dry sounding definition that would tell me what I was asking, or I could think about what it means to me. What do I get out of the adventures I take, what drives me to go on them, and when it gets hard, why do I continue when I could just stop? None of those questions are answered easily, and the answers for me will likely be different than yours. But what matters is that you listen to the truth in yours and let it lead you onward.

When I began planning what would become my Pan American Highway trip, it started as a short bike ride across Canada west to east. But early on I realized that I probably shouldn’t stop there. A disproportionate number of my friends are Colombian, so after cycling Canada, I had the thought that I should just turn south and head to Colombia. And basically only moments after that thought fired across my neurons, the following one popped into my brain: If I’m already going to bike to Colombia, I might as well just do the whole Pan Am.

I couldn’t argue with that logic. So what could have been just a summer jaunt turned into a multi-year abrupt change to my lifestyle. 

Yucatan bike tour
My loaded bike and I somewhere in the Yucatan.
Natalie Corbett

Each section of my trip had its own unique flavor that was ever-evolving to match the region I was in, and my experiences along the way built on top of one another like a layer cake, each adding to the richness of the whole while being distinct in its own right. I remember looking out the plane window at the vast Alaskan wilderness, seemingly untouched by humans thinking, “What have I gotten myself into? Can I really do this? Well … I guess I’m really doing this.” 

Glacier near Monte Fitz Roy
Glacier near Monte Fitz Roy, a mountain in Patagonia, on the border between Argentina and Chile.
Natalie Corbett

Two and a half years later, I was flying home to Minneapolis from Ushuaia, looking out at the flat, snow-covered land that is southern Minnesota in January thinking those same thoughts but for different reasons. In between those instances, I had become someone different than I was before; how could I go back to a stationary life in a place bereft of mountains? To do that will take the same love, support, and advice that helped turn the daunting greatness of Alaska into something manageable. 

Early on in my trip, I would meet cyclists heading north on the Alaska Highway, marveling at the knowledge that they were nearing the end of their travels whereas I was only a fraction of the way in. The distance I had laid out ahead of me seemed insurmountable when looked at as a whole, and the only way to make sense of it was to break it down into smaller pieces that could be checked off in days or a week at most. 

Fast forward two years to when I was in Patagonia, now the old, grizzled veteran of the trail, still meeting people heading north, but now I was the one sharing stories from far off lands that these people could only dream about and look forward to. The awe I once felt was painted on their faces and bestowed in the reverence with which they treated me. 

Touring van fam in Baja Sur
Finding a van fam in Baja California Sur.
Natalie Corbett

So back to my original question: how does one define adventure? 

I would get asked by many people what the scariest/worst thing to happen on my trip was. Which is a question you should never ask anyone, let alone women as most of us have a similar answer. But what they were really asking for was an entertaining story or a story where something went wrong, where you had to fend for yourself to get out of it. So the clouds of mosquitoes on the Dalton Highway, or the time in Mexico I was trying to get up and over a mountain but ran out of water and had to drink my own pee, or any number of other things that happened along the way probably fit the dictionary definition of adventure. 

Flamingos in Salar de Uyuni
Flamingos in Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia, the world’s largest salt flat.
Natalie Corbett

For me, what defines adventure is not what we encounter along the way but how we grow and change as a person from what we experience. So while I love the mountains and glaciers and the remote forests I saw throughout my travels, those are not the first thoughts I have when looking back at my life for the past two and a half years. Before I started on the Pan American Highway, my answer would have been simply to see those things, but now my first thoughts are of the people I met along the way and what I learned from them and their life experiences, from their unique perspectives.

I dare you to find what really drives you to push on when faced with challenges, more than just the drive to succeed. Discover what fuels the passion to go out and find your limits and then break through them. What drives you today may not be the same as tomorrow, but what is important is that you know the why. 

bike touring Peru
Camped on top of the world at 4500 meters in Peru.
Natalie Corbett

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