We are the Adventure Squad. It’s a silly name backed by a serious mission: to seek out new experiences that challenge our bodies, grow our confidence and strengthen our bonds of friendship.
My best friends and I met in college. Together, we bonded through a series of new and exciting, sometimes disappointing and debasing, life experiences.
Those bonds remain strong today, but life has managed to intervene with a deftness none of us could have predicted. Our opportunities for togetherness time have been condensed into tiny chunks—Sunday brunches, weeknight night happy hours, the occasional overnighter in a new city.
We try our best to make it work, but it’s not enough. We’re beginning to run out of stories to tell that don’t begin with, “Remember that time in college when…” Sensing the urgent need for new material, we decided to try a different approach to how we spend our time together.
It started with a camping trip.
My friend Amanda and I are both outdoor enthusiasts. She is an avid rock climber who is her best self when covered in chalk and clinging to the side of something tall. I am an avid hiker who uses the phrase “terrible fun” to describe most of my vacations.
Together, we Tetriced our gear into the back of my 4-Runner and drove from Minneapolis to Blue Mounds State Park located near the South Dakota border. This park had everything for the makings of a perfect weekend: a 100-foot Sioux quartzite cliff for Amanda to climb and 13 miles of technical hiking trails for me to roam.
Amanda took off to set her ropes and I headed for the trailhead, knowing our paths would later cross. From a distance, I could see lines of colorful rope attached to bodies slowly scaling up the side of a rock face rising high above the surrounding landscape.
I sat at the base watching Amanda expertly locate invisible hand and footholds in impossible places. She inspired me to want to do that, too.
I’ve looked into taking group lessons at my local REI, but I’ve always been too intimidated to go alone. And that’s when it dawned on me – why doesn’t Amanda just teach me?
The experiment begins.
Amanda happily agreed to take me to her climbing gym. She gave a buddy pass, discounting the cost of admission and gear rental. She showed me how to adjust my harness and when to use my chalk bag. She even told me what kind of pants to wear to minimize chaffing.
But she did not warn me about the shoes. Amanda took one look at my bare feet inside the rentals and said, “I would have worn socks.” A sentiment I later understood.
We walked over to the beginner routes and she showed me how to clip into the auto-belay device. I struggled my way up the intimidatingly tall wall as Amanda stood below, calling out pointers for improving my form and technique. It was scary being up so high, but she urged me to trust my gear and focus on being strategic, not expedient.
By the end of the night, we were climbing side by side. The wall became something entirely new to me. It transformed from an impossibly foreign concept to a challenge that could be feasibly conquered through practice.
I was feeling so good about this experience, I decided to try leading my own adventure.
A college friend was getting married in Vail, Colorado. Twenty of us rented a huge vacation home outside of town and spent our time relaxing and exploring as a group.
One afternoon, I suggested the women break away to do a day hike in nearby Piney Lake. I choose a moderate five-mile route with mountain views and a cascading waterfall marking the halfway point. I instantly got six takers.
We piled into two rental cars and bounced our way up minimal maintenance roads to the trailhead. We gathered for a group shot in front of a clear-blue lake with Mt. Powell framing us in nicely.
Then, six sets of eyes looked to me expectantly to lead the way. Being in charge made me a little nervous, but everyone was in good spirits, which eased the pressure.
The trail was flat and easy-going as we walked past the lake. About a mile in, we entered an aspen forest and navigated a series of log bridge water crossings. The trail then turned into switchbacks climbing up the side of the mountain. I tend to hike quickly, so when heavy breathing replaced conversation, I took it as a sign to slow down our pace.
Emily was my pain barometer since she lacks a filter between her thoughts and her facial expressions. Whenever she looked unhappy, I’d stop the group for a quick break and remind them to look at the scenery rather than their shoes.
Meanwhile, I kept a watchful eye on the storm clouds filling in our bluebird sky.
Just as we were about to reach the waterfall, the sky blackened, the wind whipped dirt into our eyes and the temperature dropped 15 degrees.
Against the wishes of a few friends who wanted to keep going, I made the call to turn back. I could sense their disappointment, but we were all grateful to get off the side of the cold mountain and into a warm car.
Later that night, we reminisced about the hike like it was an Indiana Jones-style crusade. Everyone had their own tale of triumph and failure, but seemed overwhelmingly proud of what they accomplished.
It was extremely satisfying to share my passion with others who can now better relate to the concept of “terrible fun” and why it’s addicting.
The Adventure Squad in everyday life.
We can’t always go on camping trips or do mountain hikes, but we can infuse a small sense of adventure into our regular girlfriend get-togethers.
Recently, a few of us were making plans to grab lunch at a fried fish shack next to Lake Calhoun. I suggested we rent paddleboards and work up an appetite beforehand.
“Never tried it, but I’m up for a new skill” said Erin.
As published on Midwest Living