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Alex Honnold solos a 5”11+ climb in the Waku Kungo region of Angola; Photograph by Ted Hesser

Make Adventure, Not War: Promoting Goodwill and Contributing to Peace

I believe that adventure can save the world. I get there are a number of really huge problems out there that we need to solve: ensuring women’s rights, access to education, access to clean water, ending hunger, stopping malaria, dealing with climate change, eliminating HIV, stopping species and habitat loss, minimizing extractive industries, etc. I also get that at a visceral level, it may seem ridiculous to many to think that adventure can save the world; but it can.

It can because it expands our minds, it shows us the world as it is beyond our own homes, whether our homes are comfortable or not. It shows us how far we can push ourselves, and it introduces us to people who, as we get to know them, are more than like us—they are us, they are the same men and women that would have made up our hometowns and communities if we were only born in their neighborhood. Adventure can save the world because it ends the “othering” that is at the heart I think of so much pain and suffering in the world.

It ends the othering and it often leaves us laughing with glee or smiling as we see a sunset go down behind a horizon line we could never have imagined in our minds—but there it is, and we want better for the people we meet, here or overseas—and we’re often willing to work for it once we see what can be done, what should be done.

I grew up in the shadow of the Cold War and always assumed I’d go fight the Soviets in Siberia, but never did. Instead, from 2003 to 2007, I spent my life in four different conflict zones. In 2008 got orders to go to one more, but that ticket never came. First, I headed to Bosnia as the team chief for a counter terrorism intelligence team. Next, I headed to Angola and later Abkhazia in the former Soviet State of Georgia as an explosive ordnance disposal technician and finally on to Baghdad to lead a Civil Affairs team before and during the surge in troops as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Later I would get orders to prepare to go to Afghanistan, but the orders sending me to Afghanistan never came.

Several years ago, struggling with integrating back to the United States after all that war, it was rock climbing that first gave me a glimpse of a sustainably happy life and a ticket to get back to adventure. A few years after that first climb, I began to imagine what it would be like to go back to all those places I fought, cleaned up after war, or was supposed to go to war, and see those same landscapes from the lens of adventure, not war.

This past September, Alex Honnold and a couple of our friends joined us for the first leg, Angola, of what I’m calling the Make Adventure Not War tour. It was an incredible experience to go back to a place and in some ways rewrite the ending of my time there and to see not just the potential, but the realization that this was a country ready for tourism and ready for adventure.

Next up on the adventure list is the starting of my own family as my wife and are expecting in January. I’ll likely take a year off from international travel, but the mission seems more important than ever. Now that there will be a little person looking up to me for at least a few years of how to live life, I’ve got to be the change I want to see in the world—and that change is that adventure can save the world—so hopefully it won’t be too long before you’ll see photos of skiing in Kurdistan, fly fishing in Afghanistan, and laughter deep in the backcountry of Bosnia and Abkhazia.

Go save the world, go on an adventure in your neighborhood or farther afield and tell us what you saw.