The Love Of The Unknown

For a guy who’s content running the same route (or two or three) from home for months on end, I sure do love venturing into the unknown, whether that unknown is a new-to-me location or culture or an unfamiliar physical environment or situation. I’ll admit to loving the inherent novelty and the preparation it calls for. At the moment, two trips into the unknown lay before me, even if only one is a certainty as I type, but both draw me forward.

There’s an up-in-the-air adventure of the White Mountains 100 Mile outside of Fairbanks, Alaska in just a week in a half, should I get in off the waitlist. I’ve long dreamt of a running a winter race and done so much more concretely since visiting Alaska two autumns ago. For me, there’s no draw in the ‘toughness’ involved, but, rather, I love the learning it necessitates, the new sensations I’ll encounter, the new scenes I’ll surely see, and the awesome people I’ll assuredly meet. Starting at 55th on the race’s waitlist after last November’s lottery, I’d long ago written off running this year’s race, but a last-minute surge up the waitlist makes the race feel an even greater unknown. In recent days, I’ve chatted with friends about winter preparedness and gear choices. I’ve read race reports, pored over maps, and peered at photos. I’ve loaded up a pack to 12 or 13 pounds and slogged around. Even if I don’t get into the race itself, the focus on a particular unknown has perked me up.

Aurora borealis

The aurora borealis as seen while leaving Alaska for my first and only time. All photos: Bryon Powell

Late April holds a more concrete adventure into the unknown for me… despite my having been to the very spot just two years ago. I’m quite excited to head back to the Yading Skyrace, its accompanying camp, and an extra week in the area. Despite having no grand adventure planned and having already been to the region, the Tibetan Plateau remains a seemingly blank canvas in my mindscape. Here, the twin peaks of culture and high-altitude adventure loom large. Situated in western Sichuan province, the Yading area places amazing Sichuan food beside Tibetan peoples leading traditional lives. Individually and in dichotomy, these cultures are vastly and fascinatingly different from my own. The cultural and linguistic barriers also make for plenty of entertaining improvisation. Of course, when you can stay in a hotel at 13,000 feet, pop over 15,000-foot passes in short order, and take a quick diversion up to 5,000 meters from those passes just because you’ve never been that high, well, you sure get to some new experiences in high-altitude living that you won’t find in North America or Europe!

Yading Nature Reserve - cold pass

A cold and windy pass in the Yading Nature Reserve.

Looking in the rearview mirror, I recognize that while far-off lands and cultures can certainly enhance the unknown, the unknown can also be found much closer to home. Indeed, my favorite experience of 2017 was an adventure into the unknown from my front door: a nine-day solo trek to and through Bears Ears National Monument, all within San Juan County, Utah, where I live. For a few months ahead of time, the trip gave me reason to learn skills, investigate gear, build strength and confidence, and research the area. The pending trip pushed me out of my comfort zone to take a couple backcountry solo overnights for the first time. During the adventure itself, I was challenged by the need to be self-reliant and by self-doubts as to whether I could do so. That’s not to forget that each and every day was filled with physical exploration of the unknown on the scales from breathtakingly enormous landscapes to the hardscrabble flora and fauna that occupy them. Having immersed myself in this grand space, I came out a bigger and better man.

Bears Ears National Monument - autumn 2017

An awesome autumn day amongst the unknown in Bears Ears National Monument.

I don’t yet know the unknown unknowns that lay ahead of me, but I value them nonetheless. I look forward to learning and exploring, both outwardly and inwardly, because of them for decades to come.

Call for Comments

  • What calls you into the unknown?
  • Share one of your favorite trips into the unknown, whatever that means to you!
Yading Nature Reserve - onward

Onward and upward into the unknown (in Yading Nature Reserve)!

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