Choosing Adventure

Growing up in Milwaukee I learned to love the outdoors. Mother McMahon knew all of the great hiking spots: the ravines of Estabrook & Lake Park, Doctors park, Big Bay and many others. Although these were all small regional or city parks, to me, it was the Big Outdoors (pun fully intended)! On weekends my mom would gather up all of my friends and take us to the woods to go on adventures. She taught us how to make it down the muddy hills, using the natural indents, rocks, roots and trees to slow our decent. We learned fast; soon we were off, exploring, on our own.

File_000 (1).png

When I graduated high school, this engrained sense of adventure inspired me to find a University that would bring me closer to the wilderness areas that had always provoked my excitement for exploration. I ultimately decided on Northern Michigan University, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and it was here that I discovered a true diversity of new outdoor activities. The town thrived on mountain biking, rock climbing, cliff jumping, hiking and the outdoors, and I quickly realized how much I had not experienced. While my Mom did an amazing job with the surroundings she had, the UP offered a much more dynamic outdoor playground. 

For those who went to Northern Michigan University I can all but guarantee they went for the adventure, not the schooling.  Northern ignited the flames of adventure for almost everyone who attended, many of which have moved throughout the country in search of an even bigger thrill.

After graduation, my wife (girlfriend at the time) and I move to the Twin Cities. Outdoor Magazine and others have rated Minneapolis as one of the best outdoor cities in the country. With their extensive multi-use trail system, chain of lakes, Lake Minnetonka, Three-Rivers Park system, and the Mississippi River going right through town - we were excited!  

Soon we discovered this “outdoors city” was not what we expected. We both had incredible childhoods in cities, but now we found ourselves questioning what we used to do for fun. We began to question our decision to move. Did we make a mistake? Will we be happy? Will we get used to it? 

Don’t get me wrong, the Twin Cities has a lot to offer. However, it is not what we were used too. The past 4+ years we spent in the woods with our friends. In Marquette we hiked, biked, climbed and explored almost every day. Within a month, in Minneapolis, we hiked everything within 30 minutes of our apartment. Sure, there are cool trails and parks in town, but after the 10th time it starts to get old. We had to adapt.

So, we bought road bikes, kayaks, Nordic skis, and ice skates. Our activities began to change, less focused on the woods, just trying to stay active. Exercise began to trump adventure. We became weekend warriors, trying to get our fill of climbing, camping and exploration on the weekends. For a time, we had fun, but we were itching for more. Not unhappy, but far from satisfied. Something had to change. And it did. (Exercise vs. Adventure could be an article in an of itself!)

Ultimately we decided to move to Duluth, Minnesota. An outdoorsman’s paradise just 2 hours north of the Twin Cities on the shores of Lake Superior, it is also ranked high on Outside Magazines top “outdoors cities”. Duluth boasts 70+ miles of single-track, a multitude of parks, Nordic ski trails, climbing areas, hiking trails and many rivers within the city limits. As we once again began to seamlessly intertwine our daily lives with natural spaces, our sense of adventure returned. We began going outside not because we were bored, but because we wanted to explore.

At some point you may need to choose between where you live and where you work. Sometimes it’s necessary, but often we have a choice. For me, experiencing the outdoors is more important than a high paying salary or working for a prestigious company. I admit, there needs to be a balance, often the job in the city will make a great stepping stone for future growth. But be wary, don’t get trapped, remember what makes you happy. If you don’t, you may regret it!


Written by: Kelly McMahon

Born and raised in Milwaukee Wisconsin, Kelly is the renaissance man of the Northwoods! He is a climber, paddler, skier, sailor, and generally ridiculously wonderful human. Kelly enjoys cheese as his food of choice, and can currently be found in Duluth Minnesota hanging out on Lake Superior. 

Instagram: @iwannaplayoutside