Defining Adventure and Scaling Down the Badassness: Mark and Brooke Stephens

What is your definition of an outdoor activity that is considered “adventurous?”

Entering a slot canyon in Navajo country, and they’ll go only as far as that one in pink cares to go. Which was much more than they anticipated. Photo: Mark Stephens.

Somehow early on in my interview with Mark and Brooke Stephens, I managed to stump Mark with a question I thought he’d have an answer for, ready to fire. He runs, after all, a “source for celebrating the amusing, yet frequently trying, lifestyle of being a parent… who’s doing what they can to raise some outdoors-loving kids.” It’s likely not the case that he had never defined what he considered to be adventurous. It’s just that we don’t often take the time or have the opportunity to articulate something that our lifestyles simply embody.

His knee-jerk answer?  “Just getting out the door” can be adventurous, he said with a chuckle. But after a bit more pensiveness, Mark and Brooke offered up something more concrete: adventure means getting off the beaten track. With that, we were satisfied to continue, but I could tell the questions was still lingering – for all of us.

Mark and Brooke of Photo Greg Stephens.

I stumbled upon one day as I was scouting the internet for subjects for The Adventures in Parenthood Project. Later, as I prepared for my interview with these adventurous parents, I came across something they wrote on the Cool Families page of their website:

“Becoming a parent can (and oh it will) happen to anyone – that goes for any whitewater lover, big wall climber, backpacker, ultra runner, damn good frisbee tosser, and, well, you. One day you’re hang-dogging a 5.10b or admiring those tan lines left by your Chacos on the tops of your feet and the next you’re hearing, “We’re pregnant.”  And you think, “My life is over. Goodbye kayaks, so long Chamonix summer adventure, hello minivan.”

Freaking them out a little with her cavalier speed on the steep steps at this Spanish mission in Baja. It’s a peek back in time, to 1801 when it was built, but also a little fun for the children. Photo Mark Stephens.

Right off the bat, I loved the humour and honesty of this text and knew I’d found a good match in Mark, who works in marketing and advertising for a woodworking company, and Brooke, a high school choir director. In just a few sentences, they captured a thought-process that many outdoor adventurers will find tracking through their minds. But as this Arizona pair has proven in their own choices as parents, and in the parents they’ve featured on their website, life isn’t over when you have a kid and it’s up to you whether or not you buy that minivan.

I “met” Mark and Brooke for the first time on Skype just shortly after they put their almost 5-year-old daughter, Chloe, down for the night. Despite the tricky question that managed to tongue-tie all of us, the conversation flowed freely from there. These adventurous parents (expecting another wee one in just a few months) have found that, at least until Chloe can walk a bit further on her own strength, adventure travel is the way to go: “Road trips to Baja where we’ll camp on a remote beach, find a place to rent kayaks and just kick back in the sand. Or heading into the National Parks for short hikes and pretty views and peek into native cultures of our area.” Mark and Brooke love exploring the outdoors with Chloe because it’s just plain fun (and a great teaching opportunity, says Brooke).

On the Sea of Cortez a local fisherman treated them to a boat ride through Conception Bay. Look for two snorkels on the left of the frame. Their Mexican captain is teaching Brooke how to dive for clams in these coral waters. Photo Mark Stephens.

We wrapped up the interview after just over an hour, my “what is adventurous” question still lingering in the air. But, a follow-up email from Mark said he was working on a blog post for to provide an answer (you can read that here). In the meantime, here’s what he came up with:

“While I told you getting out the door is adventurous, it’s a joke that has some truth to it. Still, I think that, oh, bicycle touring is adventurous. Backpacking is adventurous. I just don’t get to do those things very often, let alone with my family…. It’s about what we envision we can reasonably pull off as a family, and yes these are things that are several notches “down” the scale of badassness.”

Perhaps the reason why Mark had a hard time answering the question was because of the question itself. Activities aren’t necessarily adventurous or non-adventurous. It’s about what we bring to them and how our mindset and attitude elevates something from the status quo to an “adventure.”

To explore this term further, I’ll refrain from leaning on or quoting a dictionary here and leave it up to you. But first I’ll rephrase the question:

What does it mean to be  “adventurous?”

Your comments and ideas are welcome below.

Thanks Mark and Brooke! 

Author: Meghan J. Ward

Meghan J. Ward is an outdoor, travel and adventure writer based in Banff, Canada, and a Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. Meghan has written several books, as well as produced content for films, anthologies, blogs and some of North America’s top outdoor, fitness and adventure publications. She has a forthcoming travel memoir (Fall 2022), to published by Rocky Mountain Books.

3 thoughts

  1. For me, there are two types of adventure. The first is physical adventure, in which I take risks and push myself to the edge of my limits and a little beyond. This could be mountaineering, a scramble with exposure, or a “first” of some kind like a solo trip to South America with no real itinerary. The second is an adventure with my kids, in which we do something they find adventurous, and by extension I get to experience the adventure too, whether it’s hiking something they find extreme or going to Disneyland. By looking at the adventure through their eyes, I get to relive a “first”, re-feel the rush, and remember for an instant the wonder of being a kid.

    1. Thanks for commenting with your definition of adventure, Ken. I have found it so fascinating how it’s really up to each person to define it. It demonstrates that our relationship with adventure is deeply personal. Perhaps someday your two ‘types’ of adventure will collide when you start embarking on adventures that push you physically and that they are experiencing for the very first time.

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