Ali Makoutz won a Next Challenge Grant in 2022 to walk her kids to school, and then keep on going through the foothills of the Sierras.
As a nurse and mother of four girls she doesn’t have a lot of time to nurture her own adventurous spirit, but has been dreaming about microadventures you can fit in between drop-off and pick-time from school. This proposal caught our eye because it demonstrates that you can still have plenty of fun, crammed in around the rest of your everyday commitments.
Ali circumnavigated her home town of Reno NV at the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, roller skating, biking and running.
The Next Challenge Grant is a crowd-funded adventure grant which has supported over 70 adventures since it was founded in 2015. Applications for 2023 are now closed, but you can read about past winners and donate here.
Walking the kids to school…and keeping going
by Ali Makoutz
I am so excited to be the recipient of a grant for my latest adventure! The Next Challenge expedition grants are awarded to encourage ordinary people such as myself to head out on adventures regardless of background, expertise, money or time.
The adventure I chose was the first in a series of what I am calling my “gate to gate microadventures”, which are short adventures that a parent can fit in between dropping-off and picking-up kids from the school gate. The adventure was to circumnavigate my home town of Reno, powered by roller skate, mountain bike and my trusty little running legs.
The morning rush was as usual: packing kids lunches, throwing together breakfast, doing a quick Wordle, brushing and braiding hair, but then I was off! After goodbye hugs at the schoolgate I set off on my bike, loaded with energy snacks and water in my hydration pack (courtesy of The Next Challenge grant!) and zoomed east across the 7 mile suburban southern section of town towards the beautiful new paved connector trail which skirts the east edge of the city.
Dropping my bike and donning my roller skates, I took off on this 6 mile stretch with the city on one side of me and the wild mustangs and rocky hills of cowboy stories on the other. Oh the joy of having an empty paved trail ahead when there are only a few tiny wheels beneath you! At this point I was starting to feel the size of the city that you don’t have a sense of when you go everywhere by car. I love this feeling. I imagine it feels a bit like this when a person sails across an ocean. It’s a physical connection with space which allows you to notice the natural world that you would otherwise ignore behind the confines of a car or a plane.
After inhaling a PB and J and hopping back on a bike, I headed west along the Truckee River, a stretch which surprised me at how beautiful it was. Massive trees and gorgeous rapids to the left side of me, and once again in a juxtaposition of worlds, factories and industry to the right. Before long, signs of the city appeared and I rode past walls decorated with graffiti and under the freeways which sheltered Renos’ homeless community. So far I had experienced more of Reno in half a day than I had in the many years I have lived there, just by nature of leaving the car at home. There is so much more to my town than I ever knew. Sculptures and wall murals are everywhere, and more beautiful trees with their peak fall colors spanned the length of the Truckee, which after following for ten miles I turned away from and headed
It was a bit of a mystery how the next section of the journey was going to go. I had to head up into the foothills of the Sierra which follow the west edge of the city, but trails are unofficial and unmarked and not very well mapped. I had to piece together 13 miles of dirt roads and technical single track to make it through, but hey, it’s not an adventure if it’s easy right? So I headed up and up and up into a landscape reminiscent of a Lord of the Rings movie and just kept pedalling until I just couldn’t wait to stop pedalling and get on my feet again. At this point the sky was overcast, the late October day was closing in and all the colours around me were taking on that intensity which they get when the sun sinks low. Gorgeous. The kind of gorgeous that you savour a little bit longer because you are so damn tired, and you can pause for the first time all day because the end is in sight. The running section felt amazing and liberating and reminded me that of all sports running was indeed my first love as I felt nimble and free on my feet among the glorious aspen trees.
After greeting the kids at the end of the journey, all I wanted to do was snuggle up on the couch and watch Molly of Denali and eat pizza, but as it happened it was Halloween night and there was still trick or treating to be done, so off I set once again with a unicorn and Smokey the bear into a wilderness of witches and inflatable frankensteins. Lo and behold, trick or treating turns out to be the ultimate cool down activity.
I felt exhausted, but it had been a feast for the mind, body and senses. At the end of the day, the beginning felt a very long time ago and I felt as if I had been away on a trip. All in the length of a school day! It was a perfect microadventure to shake up the routine and the limitations we so often feel as parents, and I am so grateful to thenextchallenge.org for the kick in the butt to get me out there.