I was worried, eight years ago, when I first began sleeping on local hills and swimming in rivers to get my prescribed dose of adventure. I had just, barely, hardly, got to a point where I felt confident that enough school talks or magazine articles would come my way to pay the bills. This all depended, so it seemed to me, on a cycle of big adventures. Go do a big trip, come home with some ripping yarns, then milk those stories until I could afford to go away on another adventure.
But I noticed the vast discrepancy between the number of people who enjoyed the idea of adventures (buying books, coming to talks) and the number of people who were actually out there crossing oceans and continents. In some ways this is an obvious observation: of course thousands of people are not walking across deserts – they have real lives, idiot! The real world has husbands and wives to appease, jobs and commitments to attend to, kids and cats to feed. But I began to wonder about ways to combine this real world with the escapist thrills and joys of wilderness adventure. What could I do to demonstrate that a lack of time, living in a city, or a lack of money, kit and expertise need not rule out also living an adventurous life?
The solution, of course, has been clear for generations: get out of the city and go hiking, biking, running, swimming, camping. So I didn’t invent anything. But I did call these simple pleasures ‘microadventures’ and argue that they ticked many of the boxes so many people search for in ‘Adventure’ (capital A), as well as being hobbies for the traditionally outdoorsy types.
To my great fortune, ‘Adventure’ somehow became trendy and mainstream in recent years. And that’s how I found myself, a little after 5pm one evening, speaking to a coach-load of enthusiastic young Germans who had volunteered to join us in escaping the city of Munich for an overnight microadventure. It was organised by my sponsor Haglöfsas part of their decent, genuine work to inspire people to get out “there” and get closer to nature. I confess I had my misgivings: a coach trip to the wild felt odd, and wild-camping with fifty people isn’t really an option, so there would have to be toilets and infrastructure. Plus I felt embarrassed chatting to a load of strangers via the school-trip microphone at the front of the bus.
But the unheralded beauty of Bavaria soon won me over as we left the concrete and crowds behind. And I looked eagerly ahead towards the mountains that loomed now under a bright May sky. All fifty of us piled off the coach and began hiking up a gravel track into a green woodland, heady with wild garlic. As we stretched out into a long ant-line up the steep side of the mountain, I noticed everyone settling into pockets of quiet conversation or enjoying a time of silence and space by themselves. It felt strange sharing an evening like this with so many others, but I enjoyed it. I enjoyed watching their excitement, and their surprise that such beauty was so close to the city we had recently left.
The plan, after the hike, was to kayak out to sleep on an island in a lake. Always a fine plan, though made a little logistically complex with so many of us. It was the highlight of my day. The simple feeling of being close to water, on water, is such a calming thing. I have grown to love it very much. The sun had set by now (50 people faff quite a lot!), and the sky glowed as the rosy warmth of an unseasonably hot day seeped away.
After beaching the canoes I was delighted to discover four fellow idiots who agreed that a quick plunge in an alpine lake was exactly the right thing to do. Then, refreshed, we all settled down to enjoy an evening of stars and conversation round the fire. You cannot beat the tang of wood smoke, the scent that clings to your clothes and hair even as you return to the bright lights and noise of civilisation. I wear it like a badge of honour, especially when people wrinkle their noses and move away from me on the underground.
Close to midnight, I slung my hammock between trees, and slept to the unusual sounds of cuckoos and Bavarian cowbells. There is no denying that a 5 to 9 microadventure is not conducive to a long, deep night’s sleep. Too soon my alarm dragged me from rest. And I set to the difficult but important task of trying to recruit volunteers for an early morning swim.
“Ten minutes till swim time!” I shouted to the silent ranks of sleeping tents. No response.
“Jump in the lake, it’ll make you shake!”
Nothing. I sensed a 6am lack of enthusiasm…
“Get in the river, it’ll make you shiver!” I shouted.
“Jump in the pool, it’ll make you cool. Leap in the stream, it’ll make you scream…”
Three hardy souls joined me for a swim. We all agreed that it was warmer than we had anticipated, and absolutely worth the initial shock.
Then coffee for all, and back into the canoes to carve across the mirror-flat lake, a beautiful morning still holding its breath. And finally back onto the incongruous bus, back into Munich for a spectacularly-punctual German arrival time of 09:00.
I won’t pretend that I would like all my microadventures to involve a coach-load of companions. But as proof of concept — that it is possible to do interesting and memorable things between 5 and 9 — then it was a definite success. My hope is that each of those willing volunteers goes to their friends and says to them, “hey – what are you doing next Tuesday evening? I’ve got an idea…”
Well done to Haglöfs for putting on such an interesting event. Thank you for inviting me!