I was a client at Legacy from February to June of 2016. My seventeen weeks of adventure in the wilderness brought me out of the isolation of active alcoholism and into the world of rock and space and sky in an invigorating way. We climbed up mountains in the snow and up cracks in sandstone rock; we fished in the cold and went mountain biking; we were humbled as we walked under towering canyon walls. And we began to embark on other adventures in addition to the physical—emotional and spiritual adventures—as we felt, for perhaps the first time, at home in the world with other people, a new and profound experience for most alcoholics and addicts.
I live now in Virginia, where the opportunity to adventure in wild areas is not quite as available as it is in Utah. Not to say there are no wild places here. There are. I worked for six months on a trail crew in the forests of Shenandoah National Park. I’d take the desert and mountains over the woods any day, but I enjoyed being back in the wilderness nonetheless. It was my first time since Legacy spending weeks at a time in the backcountry. I came into close contact with bears and rattlesnakes; I worked hard in rain and wind and snow; I struggled mightily to deal with monotonous tasks such as lopping plants to widen a trail corridor and raking dirt with a McLeod. It was not always fun, by any stretch. I slept terribly most nights and felt exhausted most days. But I kept at it. I continued to go out for the nine-day hitches, despite my deep fatigue with the work, because being out in the wilderness was too good an opportunity to pass up. I loved the fifteen minutes after the work day when I took an ice-cold bath in the creek, loved hearing the rain on my tent even as I failed to fall back asleep, and the wind in my hair as we sweated up a steep trail out of our base camp with tools and packs.
Before Legacy, in active addiction, rather than struggling with tedious tasks and suffering from poor sleep on the ground, I would have quit the job when it became a drag, when I didn’t feel like doing it anymore. But the adventure of recovery means emerging from the comfortable caves of my typical behavior and going deeper into uncomfortable caves, sticking it out, experiencing what Life provides even if I don’t like it. Living with the mystery, the absurdity even of being a body that will expire, as well as the ecstasy of feeling that body come alive, and with it something else stir awake, deeper than the body. Call it the soul, the true self. Or just say it’s something else, something bigger. Not me, but in the more-than-world around me, in the sea, the mountains, the desert, the woods. Not me, but in the sea inside me. The adventure is in living with and going deeper into the developing, terrifying idea that there just might be something more than me out there, or in here.
I’ve found a number of activities that help me experience in real time the truth of that idea, help me feel that Life itself is the adventure. A few of these are: writing, meditation, running, cycling, and dancing.
Writing and meditation are inner adventures. Each of them takes focus, discipline, patience, persistence, humility, receptivity, a capacity to sit with silence and the unpleasant emotions birthed in that silence, and an unflagging commitment to confront the truth of one’s experience, however painful. Like all adventures, there’s no end in sight, at least until the adventure of Life ends. I can always express my heart more truthfully through writing, and I can always have a deeper experience in meditation.
Running and cycling are physical adventures. I started running as a phase 2 client at Legacy, and on the last weekend of October, on my twenty-seventh birthday, I ran the Marine Corps Marathon in under three hours. I trained hard and am proud both of the work I put into it and the result. One of the definitions for adventure is a bold undertaking; signing up for a marathon is certainly that. It’s a risk. What if I don’t finish? What if I get injured? I did get injured. I dealt with an Achilles injury in the last couple weeks leading up to the race. Instead of running on the injured tendon, I rested, even though that meant losing fitness. Sometimes in the adventure of life you have to take a rest day. The upside was that I didn’t feel any Achilles pain on race day.
Before training for the marathon and working on the trail crew, I biked across the country from Palo Alto, California to St. Augustine, Florida, a trip I wrote about in another article. The bike trip fit another definition of adventure—an exciting or very unusual experience. Adventure does not always need to be out of the ordinary. It can seamlessly integrate into day-to-day life, as it did when I was training for the marathon. But the bike trip was an exciting journey out of my ordinary life that made me want to live an extraordinary life. However, even when traveling on my bike, free of most obligations and burdens, there were many mornings when rather than feeling free I felt a sense of dread and nausea at the prospect of riding 70 or 90 miles for the following ten hours. Monotony found me on the road too. But there were plenty of special moments—a sunrise on a dirt road forty miles east of Phoenix; countless sunsets on the California coast in San Diego, Carmel-by-the-sea, Big Sur; eating pig nuts (yes, you read that right) with a cast of colorful characters in Rabalais Seafood in Simmesport, Louisiana—to name a few, when I reveled in the extraordinary opportunity Life had provided for me to see the country and meet its people by bike.
And then there’s dancing, a whole-bodied, soulful adventure of creative expression. For me it is the most pure of the art forms, especially when it is not artful at all but spontaneous. Indeed, all movement is a kind of adventure. How did Thoreau put it in his essay “Walking?”:
We should go forth on the shortest walk, perchance, in the spirit of undying adventure, never to return.
What a line. That’s how I feel about walking too, why sitting at a desk trying to think of a word can be maddening, but after I take a few steps outside the word can come easily. It’s hard to write about the way I feel when dancing. Perhaps one day I’ll write an essay, “Dancing,” with Thoreau’s “Walking” as inspiration. One reason I love to dance, though, is that I can express the soul without words. When I dance, I don’t need to speak; I don’t need to explain; I don’t need to defend.
I don’t need to try and move to the rhythm; the rhythm itself moves me. Because I allow myself to be possessed, I give myself a chance to be set free. The music enters me through the opening the sound itself creates, and an invisible cord connects the beat of the song to the beat of my heart. I dance from within the song, my heart in tune with what it hears, and my body moving at the same speed my heart beats. And my heart beats fast, for the tune I hear is an exhilarating one: intense, closer than my own self, and wild.
That’s lot of words for a wordless art. Sometimes it’s best to forget the pen and page and leave the house without a word, head out the door and go forth on a walk in a spirit of undying adventure, never to return. I hope that my thirst for adventure never leaves me. I hope I stay hungry to explore life with body and mind and soul, with a heart full to the brim.
I am recovering now from the marathon, which I trained for from the beginning of August. My body is tired, as it was throughout the training cycle. This tiredness is not the same as a lack of passion, though it sometimes feels that way to me, as if the passion is asleep, and I need to rest for it to wake up. In the past few months the adventure in my life was running, and after I’d finished my run for the day, I didn’t have much energy left for anything else. But now that the race is over, I plan to take a break from vigorous training and find other ways to live adventurously.
Tomorrow, before dawn, I think I’ll start by heading out on a walk.