Rediscovering the Impact of Exploration: An Argument for Revisiting Your Past Adventures

It's like Vaneigem said: "Our task is not to rediscover nature but to remake it."

In the summer of 2014, I made the spur-of-the-moment decision to pack a few bags and head to Algonquin Park for four months. The purpose of this trip was to live on an island in the middle of Canoe Lake where I worked for a canoe-tripping camp and spent 120 days camping, hiking, canoeing, fishing and being an all-around outdoor adventure junkie. Upon returning home and unpacking lots of dirty laundry, socks filled with pine needles and boots caked with dirt, I realized that my experience of living in a Provincial Park greatly influenced by resolution to discover as much of my home city's natural beauty as possible. So in 2015, I vowed to hike, bike, walk, run, ride and traverse just about every trail, conservation area and natural habitat preserve within 100km of my own home. 

This meant spending nearly a year and a half getting lost on the way to unmarked trails (thank you, iPhone GPS), bushwhacking through downtrodden hiking paths, lugging my bike up hills, lugging it back down hills, canoeing on nearby lakes, portaging in ridiculous heat, doing a trail run or two, and maybe walking miles in the rain just to spot a few deer. I chose to get messy, cake my boots in mud, carry canoes around, get lost on trails at sunset, drive several kilometers out of town, break a toe, sweat a lot, climb hills, mountains and rocky boardwalks, just to see what my home city had to offer. And as I discovered, often after sweating my butt off and drinking all of my water far too quickly, my home city had quite a bit to offer, and then some. In fact, there was so much to see and discover that I spent the better part of 2015 and early 2016 outdoors and typically on trails that were unmarked, unmade and labeled "unfit" for hiking. 

I viewed these adventures as being life-changing, rejuvenating and renewing. I thought that if I could only discover more places, find hidden gems or take in nature in the raw, the wild, and the untamed, I'd be a better person for it. I had grown up reading and being influenced by classics like Walden, The Call of the Wild and Robinson Crusoe, and believed that through nature, I could rediscover something about myself. I distinctly remember reading a quote written in the back of a book at a local book shop by the Belgian writer, Raoul Vaneigem, that said: "Our task is not to rediscover nature but to remake it." I found the quote oddly enlightening; I had just finished a hike through a nearby conservation area and had seen a family of five deer peacefully tucking into a small pile of foliage. I had stopped at this book shop to pick up a guide on plants and herbs when the quote jumped out at me. Someone had written it in black ink on the very last page of a novel I was thumbing through pertaining to hiking. It never occurred to me that I could remake nature, because I had spent so many months simply trying to discover it. 

I spent those months discovering these new, natural places with my then-boyfriend, and it took a recent trip back to one of my favorite hiking spots to realize that I had only discovered all of these places within a limited context; not on my own or for myself but, rather, with and for someone else. Those adventures and discoveries were not my own, and the subsequent memories which grew from them were shared. I had a small revelation that I could both rediscover and remake nature by going back to those very places that once defined so many memories and experiences. But this time, I would be rediscovering those places on my own and remaking nature for myself. And I have to tell you, it felt really good to revisit some of those places. I saw nature through my own eyes, my own view, and it was awesome. It was as though I was seeing for the first time something I had only previously seen in a dream, a book somewhere, a travel guide. 

See, you can hike a trail a hundred times, climb a mountain once, traverse the open plains of a valley; whatever adventure you've had, whatever nature you've discovered, it always feels new to do it again. Everything is different, even if it often feels the same. The wonderful thing about nature and the exploration of it is that it always offers something new to be seen, to be felt, to be discovered. I believe what Vaneigem meant when he said that we must "remake" nature was not that we shouldn't or can't rediscover it, but that we can remake it for ourselves in a way that teaches us something new, shows us something never before seen, reveals a previously unknown truth to us. Not to be overly philosophical, but nothing about nature ever truly stays the same. And that's why rediscovering your past adventures is so important. 

You may have spent years in between one adventure and another, or simply only visited a place once. Maybe you saw something in nature you thought you'd never see again, or hoped for an experience that never really came. In rediscovering the places we've explored in the past, we are both comforted by familiarity and awed by the new. We see things differently because, even if some aspects have remained the same, there is always a subtle change; in the way we feel, in the way the natural world around us feels, or in the way we perceive these places. You've likely grown as a person, as an adventurer, an explorer, and what an adventure once offered you will be seen in a whole new light. Personally, what stepping back into these adventures and places has shown me is how much I've changed, and how much more beautiful these places have become as I see them through new eyes, via new perspectives. If you can rehike an already beaten path, revisit your favorite National Park, camp out in a once-beloved spot or climb that beautiful mountain again, why wouldn't you? What's stopping you?

I think there's also something inherently comforting about making new memories in old places; like visiting your childhood home for the holidays and having new laughs, telling new stories or meeting new people in the same place where you once told old stories and laughed. I'm sure Vaneigem wanted us to remake nature for ourselves, but in doing so, we also rediscover it, because nothing ever remains the same, and is always free to change and alter. We have no control over nature or how it changes us, but we can rediscover past adventures and those natural areas that gave us memories and good times to learn more about ourselves and the passion that gets us outdoors in the first place. I doubt you'll ever view your past adventures the same when revisiting them, but maybe that's a good thing. Maybe it's the best part about rediscovering those places we once thought we'd already discovered. 


Cover photo: Mason Boring

Published: December 29, 2016

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Jacalyn BealesExplorer

Toronto

Toronto-based freelance writer, outdoors enthusiast and wildlife conservationist.