Culture

Essay: Why I Need Adventure

Trail runner Lisa Jhung on how running in the woods gives her peace, especially these days.

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I need adventure.

I sort of always have. As a kid in North County San Diego, I’d explore the canyons around our house, cracking open rocks to look for fossils and building dams in gutters after a rain. As a young adult, I found adventure racing, and spent a number of years traipsing about on foot, bike, kayak, etc., often through the night and for days on end, with a map and compass to guide the way.

And now, as a working mother of two in my 40s, adventure most often takes the form of trail runs in the mountains. When I’m by myself or with a friend or friends in the woods, the feeling of exploration offers a sense of peace like no other. Focusing on my foot placement over rocks, roots, and ruts forces me to be present. Setting out to discover mountain lakes I haven’t been to, or revisiting ones that have brought me calm in the past, keeps me grounded. Sometimes heading off-trail to find something—a new lake, a route to an overlook—or even running a trail in foul weather creates adventurous excitement that feeds my soul.

I feel as though I desperately need these mini-adventures, particularly these days.

Last February, I lost my father. Three months prior, I’d lost my mother. They had both been suffering for a number of years, so there is some peace in knowing that they’re now free and resting. And there’s relief in knowing that they didn’t have to experience the world in a pandemic. Still, there is grief, and grief is complicated.

The pandemic has sort of allowed me to grieve on my own, in whatever form that looks like. I didn’t need to put on a happy face at one-too-many social gatherings last spring. I’ve hunkered down with my family and watch a lot of movies. As an (occasionally extroverted) introvert, I think the months have suited me all right, all things considered.

Still, my mini-adventures on trails mix up my homebody, home-learning (my kids), everyone-at-home-all-the-time world. Getting out on dirt routes near and far makes me feel alive, grateful, connected to the natural world. I sometimes think of my mom whose voice sounds in my head, saying, “Be careful, honey.” (And I am, but I also think she’d prefer not to know about some of my outings.)

I channel my dad, whose fierce competitive nature, paired with the fact that he fled the Korean War as a boy to come to the U.S., made him a true survivor, strategizing his way through life.

I read an article in the New York Times a couple years ago about epigenetics, how something a parent went through and the emotions and even character traits learned from their experience can be passed on through our genes. It’s an intriguing idea, and I do wonder if the wartime trauma my father experienced in his youth now lingers in my DNA. I have recurring dreams of needing to escape situations, like it’s all on me to strategize the best way out. (These dreams aren’t fun, and they’re not trail running–related, but they do create a sort of adventurous excitement.)

I’m not sure if my need for adventure, and the solace it gives me, is truly passed on from my dad or not. I’m not sure if my mom would be happy that I sometimes roam around in the woods singing songs aloud to alert bears and lions of my presence. But I do know they’d both be happy that I’m finding ways to fill my soul and find balance, solace, and life in the woods.