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'The Opportunity for Amazing Adventure Is Everywhere'

You don't have to hike 30 miles a day, climb Everest or ride a double century to experience "real" outdoor adventure. With the right mindset, adventure is all around you.

Author David RyanSuch is the inviting philosophy of David Ryan, an Albuquerque, N.M., resident and author of a new book titled The Gentle Art of Wandering.

His solution to finding adventure? "You gotta dump the car and start walking."

Ryan has made many unexpected discoveries during his wandering walks. Some are tiny: potsherds and tools from a previously uncharted Native American site in New Mexico. Some large: long-forgotten stone walls built by pioneering farmers in New England, now hidden in the middle of a forest. Others are urban surprises: the network of public stairways in Los Angeles.

Longtime residents of Chicago, the 64-year-old software sales rep and his wife, Claudia, made a big life change 14 years ago. They both attempted an Appalachian Trail thru-hike (David completed it, while Claudia was forced to stop short due to a broken leg) that helped plant the seed for wandering. They moved to New Mexico where Ryan cut back a bit on his software career and became a part-time volunteer archaeological site locator for the Bureau of Land Management.
 
He spoke recently at the REI Arcadia, Calif., store about his walking and wanderings.

Native American potsherds in New MexicoWhat do you mean by the 'gentle art of wandering?'
It's the mindset of being "present and connected" in the outdoors. It's a kind of walking meditation that allows you to really see things. You can make some amazing discoveries when you live in the moment. You recognize patterns to the land and then you look for the breaks in those patterns. Just allow yourself to go at your own pace. It's not a station-to-station experience.

When did you have this epiphany?
A few years ago, my original thought was to a write a book about traveling in the backcountry. But I eventually realized it was this concept of wandering that was the key. And it can be done anywhere, not just the backcountry. Most of what I've seen has just been the process of one thing leading to another.

Public stairway in LAWhat have been your favorite wandering experiences?
Really, they're all my favorites. I've had many great experiences as a BLM volunteer who helps locates archaeological sites in New Mexico. But I recently discovered wandering in Los Angeles to be every bit as good as, say, backpacking in the High Sierras. I walked the streets of the Silver Lake and Echo Park neighborhoods and discovered hidden stairways and remnants of the long-gone Pacific Electric streetcar lines.

Do you wander by yourself or with others?
Wandering with a group is fine, but I often go solo, too. I almost always bring my 3 dogs though.

Is wandering applicable everywhere?
Yes, I believe so. I started doing this near my home where there's lots of open land nearby. But I've since wandered in Portland, Oregon, as well as New York City and Los Angeles. Urban areas typically have undeveloped creases and corridors that invite exploration. Suburban areas, too. I've also wandered along a section of the Appalachian Trail.

New England stone wallWhat knowledge and skills are needed to be a wanderer?
Curiosity is the number one thing. Being comfortable outside is another. So many people are not comfortable outdoors. I've talked to Forest Service personnel and they tell me that a surprising number of people are truly frightened of bears and rattlesnakes. Though these encounters can be dangerous, they are rare. In all of my miles of backcountry travel, I've seen only 2 bears—both of those were at a great distance. Snakes are also rare, but it makes sense to watch where you step. Good common sense is helpful.

What about the ability to recognize what you're looking at?
Really seeing things can be learned. Both the BLM and Forest Service have many volunteer opportunities where you can develop your skills. For example, I'm not a trained archaeologist but I've learned a lot about it by working as a volunteer.

What gear do you bring along?
I carry maps, a compass and a very basic GPS to mark my locations. I also carry a day pack with water bottles, a first-aid kit, that sort of thing. REI, of course, has a lot of the gear and clothing you need.

The Gentle Art of WanderingWhat are the obstacles?
I always respect posted signs that designate private lands. Sometimes it's hard to know if land is public or private. Many areas have checkerboard ownership of the land. I've never had a bad experience though. Nine out of 10 ranchers are OK if you are respectful with them and have good manners.

Any final thoughts?
Every time you go outside is an adventure. If you get out of your car, it's a wonderful experience.

David Ryan will speak at the REI Portland, Oregon, store on Wednesday, July 25, 2012, from 6 to 8pm; see the store's event page for more information. His book is available at selected REI stores or at his website: gentleartofwandering.com.

All photos courtesy of David Ryan.

Posted on at 5:01 PM

Tagged: David Ryan, Hiking, walking and wandering

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nhandberry

Looks like both a good philosophy and a good read. I tend to enjoy life a bit more when it is lived at a slower pace like while walking, hiking, or biking.

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Violingirlgonewild

I have a couple friends who go to college with me who enjoy wandering. Often, during our class breaks we set out on a nice walk through the undiscovered corners of campus and the neighborhoods behind it.

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NDVP

One glance at the photo, and I knew this was New Mexico. After growing up in NM, I married into the Air Force and have enjoyed a similar wandering philosophy everywhere we have lived. I'm doing my best to make my children wanderers, too. I look forward to reading the book.

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Ocoee Hiker

I look forward to reading! We live near the AT in SE Tennessee, and the Cherokee National Forest is great for wandering! We and our dogs love to wander, especially in the fall and winter when the tourist/rafting season is over, very peaceful!

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Ocoee Hiker

I look forward to reading! We live near the AT in SE Tennessee, and the Cherokee National Forest is great for wandering! We and our dogs love to wander, especially in the fall and winter when the tourist/rafting season is over, very peaceful!

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