I had the privilege of asking Gunnar Widowski a few questions about how he prefers to have fun. He takes some serious initiative in planning and executing some cool escapades (see his Instagram account: @gunnarwidowski). Here's what he had to say about his hobby of adventuring:
Evan: It's obvious we all want to get out there. What are some top spots we should aspire to visit?
Gunnar: I came up with three...
1. Big Sur, California
The dramatic meeting between the ocean and cliff faces is something unique that I personally had never seen before. You can be camping in the middle of the woods, walk twenty feet, and bam: there's the Pacific 50 ft below. (If you ever find yourself in Big Sur, do yourself a favor and eat at Nepenthe: a restaurant built on the side of the cliff overlooking the ocean. Order the glazed duck. You'll thank me later.)
2. Palo Duro Canyon, Texas
Palo Duro Canyon is home for me. It is my go-to spot for adventures on nearly a weekly basis. There is so much more to PDC than most people even know about, it being the longest canyon the continental U.S. and all. I have been in the park more times than I can count, and I've had a different experience every time. There is so much variety in the landscape and geographical features that can facilitate all kinds of people, no matter their feelings about "The Great Outdoors".
3. Yosemite National Park, California (Vernal Falls, specifically)
When you're in Yosemite, there's just something kind of magical about it. A touch hokey, yes, but those are the best words that I can think of because it's true. The enormous granite walls on either side of the valley stand like guardians of what's below. Vernal Falls is my personal favorite feature in the park. The beginning of the trail is cluttered with tourists, sporting their selfie sticks and brand new sneakers. But if you can get past the flocks of them and go off trail, past what the park has "developed" and hike up to the base of the falls, you will be in for a treat. The water slips over the edge of the granite wall above you, enters into a 240 foot free-fall, and then slams into the ground, literally at your feet. You can't help but feel something in your soul when you're standing there.
E: How should we spend the money we have going toward adventuring?
G: I'm probably not the best person to ask about budgeting for adventures, because when traveling I spend money fairly frivolously. But here goes...
- Gasoline is always my largest expense, largely because of my geographic location and my vehicles of choice. Living in the panhandle of Texas, I end up traveling a minimum of 6 or 7 hours just about any time I want to go out. Most of the time I'm driving in my 1986 Volkswagen Vanagon, Penelope, which doesn't get the best gas mileage. It's priority one.
- Next on the budget list is food. Food is something that I am very passionate about, so I end up spending large amounts of money on it. I like to eat well and local: two things that don't coincide with budgets.
- Coffee should probably have a higher spot on the list than third, but alas, here we are. I like coffee a whole lot. You'll need it, and I needn't say more.
- This contradicts with something that I'll say later, but having the proper gear is of utmost importance regardless of what you're doing. Spend some money here.
- If you're going somewhere with a campsite or within a park, plan ahead for this as well. Both national and state parks have fees. Do some research.
E: What keeps you going back?
G: High expectations of the unexpected. Every time I go into the outdoors I experience something new. Whether it be something I've never seen in nature, a conversation that I have with someone along the way, or the things that go wrong at any given moment, it's always something new and exciting. When I go out expecting something good to happen, I'm more aware of what is happening and generally notice more of what's going on around me; I actually tend to enjoy it more. That's the key to having good experiences on adventures: going out with great expectations.
Henry David Thoreau puts it plainly: "Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after." This theory applies in most adventuring.
E: I think we have a general idea of things we'll need or want. What do you recommend?
G: These are things that I never leave home without:
- Flashlight. Particularly a Maglite XL50. It's the jam. And it only cost $30.
- Some kind of multitool that has pliers and a knife.
- Nature Valley Oats and Honey granola bar.
- Hammock. Duh.
- At least half a gallon of water.
Those are the essentials. Here are some of the impractical things.
- I always bring my camera with me. It's big and heavy and cumbersome, but I'm always glad that I brought it. Being able to capture a few moments and go back through them is priceless.
- Something that I get asked about pretty regularly is about the way that I dress on hikes/trips/etc. It's not the typical "adventure wear." You'll hardly ever find me wearing the newest North Face jacket on an outing. I try to dress as nicely as I can, as often as I can. So, this results in me wearing impractical clothing into the outdoors, like a new button up shirt and nice pants. Aesthetic is very important to me in all regards.
- I have this little bluetooth speaker that I bring everywhere. Music is something that drives me, and can almost always contribute to the atmosphere. It's not always going, because sometimes I need to just be in nature without any distractions; but when I feel it's appropriate, you better believe that there's gonna be a soundtrack to whatever we're doing.
- You need the right vehicle. On nearly every one of my trips I drive my 1986 Volkswagen Vanagon, which is DEFINITELY not practical. She breaks down regularly, gets iffy gas mileage, and can't drive faster than 65 mph. There's just something about being in a VW Van that kind of sets the mood. No one gets into a Vanagon and doesn't expect something out of the ordinary. This gets back to expectations. That's what it's all about.
E: Solo or group?
G: This is something that I get asked a lot, because I don't generally go on adventures alone. I believe almost wholeheartedly in something that Christopher McCandless wrote as, really, his last words. After spending 113 days alone living in a deserted bus in the Alaskan tundra, Chris wrote, "Happiness is only real when shared." Now the word "only" in that statement is pretty strong, but, for me, that statement rings true.
The wilderness is always out there, waiting to be explored, and has valuable lessons to teach. When I need to think through something, or need some time to myself, then I will venture out alone. Otherwise, I'm bringing everyone that's willing along for the ride. Some of my favorite conversations that I've ever had have been on hikes or sitting in a canoe floating down a river. When you don't have the option to be distracted by everything on your iPhone that's constantly begging for you undivided attention, you truly give undivided attention to the people that you are with, and you're truly living in that moment. I guess that's what the "end all be all" is for me: my intentions of inviting people to come along with me. Getting to that place of intimacy with people is so valuable to me, and it cultivates true relationship.