If you were to believe much of what you read in newspapers, magazines and ads, or what you see and hear in electronic media today, you might conclude that adventure is mostly for those in their 20ss or younger. For example, in March 2009, CNN reported on a man who rowed across the Atlantic alone—and, yes, he was 25 years old. In January 2010, morning news programs were awash with features on Abby Sunderland, a 16-year-old, who set sail around the world solo.
In a quick perusal of the pages of several adventure magazines dated just last month, I found at least 15 stories on people aged 20 to 35 years of age. And all of the sports drink, vitamin, GPS, watch, and fitness and outdoor clothing ads in those publications depicted those most likely in the first quarter-century of their lives. What’s so shocking about that?, you might ask yourself. It stands to reason that the young have the stamina and energy for adventures.
The two extremes get all the attention
Of course, there is that other end of the spectrum. If you do see a report about someone embarking on an adventure who isn’t 25 or so, age is usually the hook. The story typically goes like this: an 80-year-old grandma wants to go skydiving on her birthday or a 75-year-old man says he’s going to climb Mount Everest. While daily hundreds of people may plan these same things, because of the age of these participants, you instantly have “news.” I’ll bet that even in the upcoming Olympics coverage, you’ll find stories on athletes—who probably wouldn’t otherwise garner any special attention—simply because of the fact that they fall into the upper end of the age range of the average Olympian.
There is one man who’s trying to change the way the media depicts adventure. Ad man Mike Shine is the creative director for Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners in Sausalito, California. Shine recently told National Geographic Adventure Magazine, “Folks are burnt out on the cliché of 25-year-olds with their mud-splattered SUVs and energy drinks.” His recent campaign for the sportswear company Columbia features real people using the outdoors in their own way, such as an off-road unicyclist and urban guerrilla gardeners. His philosophy is that with a bit of imagination (and a bit of scaled-down gear—he is creating ads, after all), anyone can make nature a playground.
All you need is attitude
I have to admit that I’ve fallen prey to ageism myself when it comes to adventure. On a recent story for Natural Habitat Adventure’s blog Good Nature, I wrote about my repeated visits to Churchill, Manitoba, Canada. An 82-year-old woman named Rose, whom I’ve never met, commented that she’s planning her own return to Churchill this fall. I was struck by her age and commented back that she was “inspirational.” But why should I feel that way? Ernest Shackleton was in his 40s when he embarked on his 1914 Antarctica adventure and eventually led all of the Endurance’s 28 men to safety. And in 2006, Jeff King won his fourth Iditarod, the world’s longest sled dog race, at age 50. Why should we expect our sense of adventure to unravel as the years pass? If these people are any example, I would say it certainly doesn’t.
Those of us in the real world should probably pay little attention to how “adventure” is sold to us in the media realm. Adventures aren’t just about being in your 20s—or unusual when they happen in your 80s. Adventure isn’t about age at all. It’s probably more of an attitude thing.
So, here’s to your adventures, in whatever corner of the world you find them,