Microadventures in Great Lakes Region

When you were young, did you think of going on a grand adventure, an expedition to the ends of the world? If you did, what happened… Life happened… We did go to school, get our day jobs, houses, kids, etc. And dream of going on a great expedition slowly fizzled away. Some of us would still think from time to time: if I only had the money…, if I had time…, If I could take half a year from work… But the life is cruel that way, and it doesn’t cater to our wishes easily. However, a dream to live adventurous life is only limited by our imagination, as Alastair Humphreys proves in his book Microadventures.

The book was published in 2014. And it always was on my list of books to read, but I did not get to it till few months ago.

Microadventures in Great Lakes Region
Hiking in Grimes Glen in Naples, NY.

Microadventures Defined

Alastair proves that even if you have a day job, house and other normal obligations, you can find time for a little outdoor adventure in your life. Those small, sometimes only few hours long escapes from daily life he calls microadventures.

So, if you occasionally still dream about big expeditions, trips to the extreme parts of the world, and if you feel that you would like to live more adventurous life, Alastair’s book and this post are for you. But if you never had those dreams, if you never felt the need to explore ends of the world, go to the spots of the planet that only few have reached, travel around the world – neither the book, nor this post is for you. Stop reading here, go back to your normal life. Forget even those few lines of text that you read to this point.

Microadventures in Great Lakes Region
Downhill skiing in Detroit area.

But, let’s get back to microadventures, and let’s start with Alastair’s definition of what an adventure and microadventure are:

“Adventure is stretching yourself, mentally, physically or culturally. It is about doing something you do not normally do, pushing yourself hard and doing it to the best of your ability. You do not need to be an elite athlete, expertly trained, or rich to have an adventure.

So, a microadventure is an adventure that is close to home, cheap, simple, short, and yet very effective…”

So, there you have it. Microadventures, are small, tiny adventures that you can do after work, during a weekend, in your spare time. These are scaled down adventures for everybody. No excuses! Anybody can do it!

Microadventures in Great Lakes Region
Biking with friends on Little Miami River Scenic Trail in Ohio.

How to Start

I know, it is hard to get out of your comfort zone, out of your routine. So, as Alastair points out in his book, you need to start small. And this is definitely the right way to do it. Because if you start big, it might be too much, you might stop, get discouraged, or not even start at all. So, starting small, you have a bigger chance of doing it, of sticking to it, of success.

Alastair starts his Microadventures citing an excuse that he hears all the time: “I don’t have time/money/fitness/gear.” Therefore, his microadventures are simple. They do not require much gear, money or time. Some of them don’t require any gear. So, again, no excuses for not doing it.

As he points out: “… Waiting for your stars to align is a guaranteed way to ensure that the adventure you crave will never happen.”

Microadventures in Great Lakes Region
Biking local streets in Sterling Heights, MI.

Microadventures in Great Lakes Region

Then he gets into particular examples of microadventures. When you get to this point in the book, you quickly realize that many of them make a lot of sense for Brittan or even Europe, but would be hard to apply here in the U.S., and particularly in the Midwest.

We do not have the mass-communication system as developed as they do in London. You cannot hop on “the tube”, or train and get out of the city. We are more dependent on cars here.

However, some of them are pretty universal, and could be done almost anywhere in the world.

One of the simplest one, that anyone could do, would be to walk out of the house and go in certain direction, for example – north, for as long as you can – maybe whole day?… And when you get to the point when you had enough, you just order an Uber or Lyft, or even call your friend to give you a ride back home.

In most cities, in the Great Lakes region, it would probably require some planning, since the sidewalks are not along all the roads. And you would not want to walk on a shoulder of a busy street. If you live in the country, then walking along the road might be ok. It is a judgement call, depending on the amount of traffic, safety, etc. However, even if walking along the street is not possible, it doesn’t mean that this kind of microadventure is shut. If there is a rail-to-trail in your area, you could follow it for as long as you can. So, there are many different options for this simple microadventure.

The same kind of microadventure could be done on a bike. Just hop on and ride out for as long as you can, and then take an Uber ride back home. If you want to skip Uber, you could ride a closed loop, but that requires some thinking about the distance.

Another one on Alastair’s list is “walking home for Christmas”. If your family is somewhere close, within walking distance, that would be an option. However, again, you could make almost anything out of it. If you live in a big city, how about walking to REI store, when you plan on picking up some new gear…

As Alastair points out, we have a lot of free time during the year. 52 weekends – that’s already 104 days. Plus, vacations, and about 7 holidays. It could add up to around 130 days, or even more. Yes, they are fragmented. But still could be used to spend a lot of time outside.

Even, if you would spend every other weekend on some microadventure, you still would be for 52 days outside. This leaves you another 26 weekends for family functions, work around the house, etc.

When we are talking about overnight microadventures, it doesn’t mean that it has to be camping. If camping is not your thing, stay in the motel, b&b, etc.

Just take advantage of the time, and get out, even if the adventure is small. Again, as Alastair, points out – the big one will come later. Just get in a habit of getting out regularly.

Microadventures in Great Lakes Region
Kayaking with friends on Huron River in Detroit area.

Some Ideas

In Great Lakes region, you could:

The possibilities are endless…

Microadventures in Great Lakes Region
Day hiking on Manistee River Trail in northern Michigan.

Sometimes, you just don’t have whole day for an adventure. Then, maybe, as Alastair suggests, just have a breakfast outside with friends. In Michigan, and surrounding states, we have many local parks with charcoal grills. Why not meet there with friends in the morning, and have a coffee and some breakfast?

Microadventures in Great Lakes Region
Cross-country skiing in Hartwick Pines State Park in northern Michigan.

5 PM to 9 AM Microadventures

Next option for an adventure on Alastair’s list is a 5 – 9 microadventure. This one is more challenging, in my opinion. You take advantage of the hours after work, from 5 PM till the next day morning, when you need to be back at work. For some people – 9 AM. As far as what you do, there are many options. Maybe you drive out of the city and go camping. Maybe you bike out and camp overnight. You get up in the morning, take a shower, change and go straight to work.

Looking at his list and his pictures, it appears that in Brittan, you can camp almost anywhere outside the city. And even if you camp on private land, most of the time you don’t get in trouble.

It is not like that in the Great Lakes region. There is not much public land outside big cities, where you could camp. And private properties are definitely not a choice, unless you want to risk getting shot at, or arrested. Most private properties have “no trespassing” signs posted. Which really leaves only parks with campgrounds.

If you live somewhere in the country, the 5 – 9 adventure might be easier to accomplish.

Microadventures in Great Lakes Region
Exploring Detroit neighborhoods by bike.

Short Local Microadventures

One of the easier ones that Alastair takes is a journey around his home. This one is very dependent on where you live, but in some form can be done almost anywhere.

So, I thought about how I could accommodate it to my environment. I live in the Detroit suburbs, in a city with an area of 36 square miles. I like biking and bike often when allowed by weather. However,I do not feel too enthusiastic about biking in my city on sidewalks and residential streets. The major streets are out of the question. But sometimes I simply do not have time to drive to the trail.

So, after thinking about Alastair’s microadventure, I realized that even though I have lived in my area for over 20 years, I don’t know the city besides the major roads. As a result, I came up with my ride around your home microadventure. I printed maps of the whole city and I have been riding my bike trying to cover every single road and street. I estimate the total length of all of them is somewhere around 900 miles. Some of them I will have to ride more than once to get to others.

I get out there sometimes for only half hour. Then I ride the streets that are close to home. When I have more time, I try to cover those that are further away. So far, I probably have covered only about 20 percent. But it definitely keeps me going, and that is the goal.

Microadventures in Great Lakes Region
Kayaking Clinton River in Detroit suburbs.

Longer Microadventures

Alastair’s microadventures progressively get more difficult, more elaborate, longer in time. He varies them from fishing, to racing, like running, or triathlon, to overnight trips with people from the office, to traversing Scotland.

Microadventures in Great Lakes Region
Riding in one of many organized rides in Michigan.

When you think about it, it is not too difficult to adopt those to our Great Lakes environment.

You could:

  • do a camping trip around one of the Great Lakes,
  • go on one of the week-long organized bike rides (2018 Michigander Bicycle Tour),
  • go backpacking for few days on Isle Royale (Backpacking Isle Royale),
  • kayak or canoe lakes in Boundary Waters or Algonquin Provincial Park.

The possibilities are endless. And once you begin thinking about it, you will start coming up with more and more ideas.

Microadventures in Great Lakes Region
Backpacking in days of rain on Isle Royale.

The Challenge

The challenge is to start, however small.

One of the key concepts that Alastair tries to convey is that you simply need to get out of your comfort zone and try different things. So, if you are a backpacker, don’t just go on various hiking and backpacking trips to different locations. Try other things, like kayaking, biking, swimming, fishing… Think of something that will challenge you in some way, and also sometimes, thinks of adventures that will take you out of your comfort zone.

Microadventures in Great Lakes Region
Weekend bike touring on the west side of Michigan.

So, it depends on what you have done in the past. If you have never gone camping, then maybe a camping trip will be an adventure for you and will challenge you in some ways.

If you have done a lot of organized bike rides, maybe you could do one on your own, and that will be challenging for you.

And then maybe, if you have not done much, and few miles’ walk outside of you house, around your neighborhood will be a challenge for you.

The most important point that Alastair is trying to make, is that it doesn’t matter how small your adventure is, the important part is to make sure you get out and you actually do it. And then get out again and do another one and another. Soon, it will become a habit, and you will start doing more challenging, longer and more exciting adventures.

Microadventures in Great Lakes Region
Camping during Michigander bike tour.

More Ideas to Inspire You

Below are some of the ideas of some additional microadventures, that can be done in our region:

  • Work commute by bike – if you live within maybe 20 miles from your work place, you could commute by bike. Let me say here, that in Michigan, it is not completely safe. Drivers are not used to see cyclists on the road. The roads don’t typically have bike lanes. Even if you ride on sidewalk, you have to cross streets, and there is again the danger there, that you might not get noticed. I have been riding to work for a while, and with experience, you can do it relatively safe. However, if you are new to it, I would begin by doing some test-rides on Saturday or Sunday, or any other low-traffic day. And never assume, that the driver has seen you, till he actually stops. Now, if you live further than 20 miles, let’s say 50 miles away, there is still no excuse to NOT do it. You could drive part of the way, park your car, and then hop on the bike and ride the rest of the distance to work.
  • Walk to work – Now, this one can be done in the similar way as biking. If you live close, let’s say up to 5 miles away, just walk. If you live further away, then drive part of the distance and walk the rest.
  • Discover new hiking, biking trail – Many of us, who are somehow active, tend to go on the same trails over and over. Because they are close, because they are familiar. Get out of your comfort zone, try new trails.
  • Go backpacking without a tent, instead build a shelter (lean-to) – This one is self-explanatory. Maybe not for everybody. I know many people who go backpacking and camping, but would not sleep outside of a tent.
  • Build a raft and float across a lake, or on a river – This one you will read about int Alastair’s book. However, it could be done on many rivers around Great Lakes. I have never seen anybody try it. Therefore, it’s a microadventure, that I would like to try. A little disclaimer here: if you do decide to build a raft, use only downed trees, never cut live ones!
  • Go on an overnight paddle – How many canoers and kayakers there are in our region! How many do you know, that ever went on an overnight paddle? So, if have been kayaking for a while, expand your horizon, and go for a longer one, with some overnight camping.
  • Try winter camping – How many people are active during the warm season, only to become bears, and hibernate indoors during winter. Winter camping is not as bad as you imagine. Yes, it might require some extra gear. But if you go during some mild temperatures, when it doesn’t drop much below freezing, you could be ok, with the gear that you use in the fall, or early spring. Winter camping has some great advantages to it – there are no bugs, and very few people, so you can have some solitude. Often, the winter landscape is very scenic. If you want to try, don’t go far. Find a park that’s open whole year, and has open campground. If you get too cold, you don’t like it, just pack you gear and go home, even in the middle of the night.
  • Ride a century – Simple, if have been riding for many years, try a century. It could be a challenge, but if you pace yourself through the day, you can do it!
  • Ride in an organized mass ride – So, if have done casual bike riding for a while, try something new, like participating in and organize mass ride. If you research, you will find one in your area.
  • Go for a night hike – If you are a hiker, have you ever been on a night hike?… This is totally different experience. If you live in a big metropolitan area, this might be a little challenging, as most parks are closed after dusk. So, it might require some research to find a place where you can do it.
  • Do the moonlight paddle – Go on night time paddle on a local river or lake. This is really great during full moon. Again, completely different experience, then paddling during the day. Make sure, that you know what you are doing, and also have some company, in case you get in trouble. It can be dark on the water, and even if you are familiar with it and comfortable during the day, it can be confusing at night.
  • Float a river – in Detroit area, float along Huron Rive all the way to the lake, some portages might be required – can be done on many other rivers in the region.
  • Hike sections of Iron-Belle Trail, North Country Trail, Ice Age Trail, etc. – Hiking any of these long trails would count as a big adventure. So, for a microadventure hike a section, or maybe different sections – one at a time.
  • Go orienteering, geocaching. Do something different, that you have not done before. If you research it, you will find events or groups in your area.
  • Visit your friends on foot (instead of driving) – So, if your friends live only few miles away – visit them on foot, instead of driving. Very simple microadventure, but how many of us have done it. I bet not many. So, go ahead and try it!
  • Go bike tour an island – Beaver Island, Washington Island – Go for a bike ride on an island! Simple! Not on a trail, but overnight biking micro-tour on an island. I’ve done it on Beaver Island. It is a different experience. No other cyclists. Very few cars. When you do it – focus on discovery of the area – the attractions, the landscape, the culture, people – and not just on miles on your bike computer. (Weekend Bike Touring in Michigan – Beaver Island)

I could go on and on. But you get the idea. When you start thinking about it, soon you will come up with enough ideas to fill your calendar for next few years. So, go ahead, and do that, to find suitable microadventures for you. But challenge yourself, get out of your comfort zone, expand your horizons and soon you will notice, that life just got more exciting and interesting!

Microadventures in Great Lakes region
Hiking in Hocking Hills State Park in Ohio.


One point here, that you need to seriously consider. Some of activities listed above are inherently dangerous, or could be, in certain conditions, dangerous and lead to injury or even loss of life. Therefore, you need to do your own assessment of the dangers involved before you proceed to do it. Then you can decide if you want to take the risk. Many risks involved can be mitigated with experience, knowledge and equipment. This is why it is important to start small and easy, and only after gaining some experience proceed with riskier stuff.

Microadventures in Great Lakes region
Camping on North Manitou Island in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan.


If you found the idea of microadventure interesting, do read Alastair Humphreys Microadventures: Local Discoveries for Great Escapes. It is a book that will get you more excited and motivated than my post here.

And when you begin going on your own microadventures, add a comment below and share you experience with the rest of us.

Microadventures in Great Lakes region

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Rich S.
Rich S.http://www.greatlakesexplorer.com
Rich S. is a lifetime photographer and traveler based in Metro Detroit area. He has been traveling the Great Lakes area for over 30 years. Follow his blog about his trips, interesting activities and destinations in the Great Lakes region.

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