It was 11pm on the last day of September, cold black sky flecked with stars overhead. The fire crackled and snapped, sending smoke dancing through camp as Sarah, Stef, and I made dinner. It had been a long day of hiking and exploring Tahquamenon Falls and Pictured Rocks, and we were all exhausted, but happy. We had driven for hours, covering nearly half the peninsula, seeing much more than a day’s worth of sites.
Reflecting on how awesome the day had been, I bit into the hot dog I had just roasted over the coals and smiled. It was a Koegel of course–this is Michigan, after all–but on top of its usual deliciousness, it had that unique flavor that only comes from cooking while camping.
“Why do these hot dogs taste so good?” I said, gazing up at the constellations. They were brighter than I had ever seen, the band of the Milky Way visible as a pale smudge, like someone pulled their finger through the paint before it dried.
Stef thought for a moment, flipping her roasting stick. “It’s the fire,” she said contemplatively.
I could tell from the way she said it that she didn’t mean the flames themselves. There are flames in the gas grill back home, but that isn’t the same. She meant the act–the doing of carrying wood and building the fire and leveraging it for our meal.
“Yes,” I said, catching the corners of some enigmatic thing she had touched. “And friends. And the stars.” The togetherness was tangible. The heavens themselves seemed closer than usual.
Sarah added her own piece to our definition, voice soft in the dark. “It’s the adventure.”
The three of us sat silent for a minute while the logs sputtered and popped, sending out sprays of orange sparks. That was it; all of these things together created adventure, and the adventure somehow made life taste better.
How is that even possible?
In a 2011 Psychology Today article, psychologist, author, and adventurer Matt Walker explains what he calls the five elements of adventure: high endeavor, total commitment, uncertain outcome, tolerance for adversity, and companionship. Without these aspects of one’s mental focus, Walker argues, even extraordinary activities–such as scaling a high mountain peak–seem empty and mundane.
The converse seems true for me as well; when the spirit of adventure is present, even ordinary events can become poignant and memorable. Like cooking hot dogs.
And s’mores, of course.
What does all this campfire stuff this have to do with writing?
Well, I’m currently writing a fantasy adventure novel, and many of my other in-progress novels draw strongly on adventure as a subgenre. In Season 11, Episode 14 of their program, the Writing Excuses podcasters discuss what defines the element of adventure in a literary sense, arriving at the insight that the element of adventure is invoking in your readership the desire to “DO that” (i.e. the awesome thing your character is doing). Agency is key–adventure is not just action but meaningful action, the kind that inspires us and evokes a longing for similar experiences.
This whole trip, I have been telling Sarah and Stef, “I wish everyday life could be more like this.” More endeavoring, more uncertainty, more togetherness–all the things Matt Walker speaks about in his article and all the things a road trip with friends is supposed to be. I plan to carry that longing into my writing, to build worlds worth experiencing. I want my characters to discover that life tastes better with adventure, so that ultimately my readers will too.
Photo credits: All photos in this post were taken by me.
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