Scanning the road ahead-- Oregon Big Country Loop

Scanning the road ahead--Oregon Big Country Loop

The following is a repost of an article I wrote a couple of years ago for Salsa Cycles regarding forging strong adventure partnerships.  Many readers have mentioned that the words below are valuable beyond adventure trips and are important considerations in all personal or professional relationships.  Enjoy! --BD   


As the riding season begins here in Colorado and I begin thinking about the upcoming adventures I have planned for the next eight months, my thoughts turn to finding capable and willing partners for what lies ahead.  Through all of my travels and adventures whether by foot, kayak, ski or bike, I have forged many different partnerships…some great and some challenging.  Consequently, I have developed a list of considerations when choosing a partner(s) for any committing endeavor…

Mountaineering requires intricate teamwork-- Mount Sneffels, Colorado

Mountaineering requires intricate teamwork--Mount Sneffels, Colorado

Know Your Adventure

The scope and size of your adventure will help determine who you want as a partner.  Not all adventures are created equal and are for everybody.  Is your goal as simple as a weekend bike packing trip to a known area or is it much more involved such as riding the Great Divide or venturing into the wilds of Alaska or other remote locations?  The differences are obvious, and thus the partners you choose for any of them may be different.  I have many friends that I get along with great on short weekend or week long trips, but they aren’t necessarily the same people I would choose as partners for a committing and strenuous trip.  Such trips involve increased levels of teamwork, competence, and trust.  These elements are not always found in your weekly after work riding buddies. 



Goals and Objectives

Studying the line-- A Day in the Backcountry

Studying the line--A Day in the Backcountry

Do you and your partner have the same respective goals?  Yes, you both plan on riding the divide.  But, do you share the same time frame?  If you are up for a leisurely two month tour with plenty of sightseeing along the way and your potential partner wants to average a blitzing 120 miles a day, you will soon have unneeded tension in your relationship.  Similarly, is your goal to do a credit card tour eating in restaurants along the way and sleeping in hotels while your partner is strapped financially and is planning on cooking his own meals and sleeping under the stars?  As in marriage, different approaches to money can cause strife among travel partners.  Before jumping in and leaving on a potential adventure of a lifetime it is important to take the time to think about your personal goals for the trip and then clarify them with you partner.  Doing so will help establish the foundation of what the adventure will look like and will go a long way towards beginning the adventure on the right pedal stroke.



Do you and your partner have similar fitness levels?  An attitude for suffering can only carry a person so far when there are vast differences in the fitness levels between partners.  No matter how close of friends you are, having to continually wait or be waited upon can add an element of unnecessary stress and frustration to the trip.  It can also be a determining factor of whether or not the goals of the trip are realized.

Skill Level

In addition to fitness, another key consideration in a partnership is the skill level of potential partners.  Of course if participating in a cycling adventure, the technical riding abilities of partners should be similar, but what about other skills required for the adventure?  If your adventure involves pack rafting or climbing, does your perspective partner have paddling or technical climbing experience?  The absence of such skills isn’t necessarily a deal breaker, but in order to avoid a significant gap where one team member is thrust into the role of the guide, I believe it is important that the skills of team mate’s compliment each other.  Maybe you are great at off trail navigation while your partner is a first rate bike mechanic.  Again, understanding the skills and capabilities of your partner can determine the success of your adventure.  


A high five for a job well done-- Backcountry Skiing in the San Juan Mountains

A high five for a job well done--Backcountry Skiing in the San Juan Mountains

When undertaking any lengthy adventure that tests one’s mental and physical abilities it is inevitable that people will become stressed and that tension among team mates will arise.  How do you handle discomfort or behave in times of crisis?  How does your partner act under stress?  These are important questions to ask ahead of time.  I learned this lesson through experience where a partner on a cross-country ride retreated into himself when he was at his limits.  He became non-communicative and his mood was less than positive.   This in turn began to affect my experience and attitude towards him and the trip.  It totally changed the tone of the trip along with each other’s experience.  As I have learned the hard way, you can be pursuing a lifelong dream or be in one of the most beautiful places on our planet, but ultimately, the people you are with will determine whether or not your lasting impression of the experience will be positive or negative. 

It is often quoted that our attitudes determine the outcome of our lives—and so it is true for any epic adventure.  For me, I try to tackle adversity with positivity and a sense of humor.  Hence, I seek those qualities in perspective partners.  When the trip is seemingly falling apart or my mood is spiraling downhill, the importance and value of having others who can laugh and find light amidst the grimness cannot be underestimated.  A true adventure will push those involved outside of their comfort zones.  When pushed to a new level, knowing how my partner will react is one of the most essential considerations of whom I will choose to share an adventure.          


Who do you trust?  The element of trust can be a difference maker.-- Canyon Country, Utah

Who do you trust?  The element of trust can be a difference maker.--Canyon Country, Utah

Perhaps, the most important consideration when choosing a partner is the level of trust between each other.  Do I trust that they will have my back when needed?  Again through experience, I have learned that there are those who look only after themselves when presented with stressful situations.  Most often, two or more working together is better than one.  If I am hurt, does my partner have the skills and experience to help me?  Do they make good decisions when under pressure?  When the situation demands it, will we rely on each other to overcome obstacles together or will we look out only for ourselves?  To me the answers to these questions are critical before deciding to embark on a committing endeavor with others.  It has always been a rule of mine that if I don’t have complete trust in a willing partner than I must find a person that I do trust to join the team.  It may mean having three on a trip, but the value of having someone in your corner cannot be underestimated.  If finding that person is not possible, then I will consider a solo attempt of the adventure. 


Final Thoughts

Though these are a few of my thoughts when considering partners for various adventures, the keys to forging a strong partnership all come down to my ability to be honest with myself and others, and then the ability of all those involved to communicate.  Undoubtedly, issues will arise when on the trail, river, or rock wall, but communicating about any of the above before embarking upon the trip will lessen the number of surprises encountered along the way.   Any true adventure will be challenging enough without complicating it with the inevitable dysfunctions created by a poor partnership.  A solid and true partnership has the potential to be life changing—creating an experience that is transformative and way beyond what can be imagined.      

Strong partnerships usually lead to great results-- White Clouds Wilderness, Idaho

Strong partnerships usually lead to great results--White Clouds Wilderness, Idaho

Brett Davis