I recently wrote the foreword for Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Adventures. It’s a pretty impressive book, with 1000 suggestions for adventures round the world.
Perhaps because the book is so full my foreword got trimmed. I thought then I’d share the original piece, as well as recommending the book as a great gift book.
I sweat in the silence. All around me the lone and level sands stretch far away. Nothing moves. There is no sound. The air has no smell. The crisp curves and shadows of the dunes cut up into the cloudless blue of the sky. There is no sign of life, no sign that anyone has ever been here before.
Despite the heat, despite the struggle, I smile.
Or perhaps I smile because of those things? Because adventures are not supposed to be easy, are they?
I am aware that the feeling of isolation is something of an illusion. I am in the Empty Quarter desert – the Rub’ al Khali – and the responsibility for my progress and safety is very much in my own hands. It is an exhilarating feeling, missing from too much of my everyday life. But I am not the first person out here. Just a few miles back I passed the billowing black smoke and orange burn-off flames of an oil field. And my whole reason for being here, the inspiration behind my journey, is to retrace fragments of the great journeys Wilfred Thesiger made here seventy years ago.
As a nod to the very different worlds that Thesiger and I pursue our adventures in, the end of my trek will be the summit of Dubai’s Burj Khalifa – the tallest building on the planet. Thesiger would have been horrified. But there’s no point pretending to live in the past. The world, its people and its wild places, have changed an extraordinary amount since Thesiger and his camels lolled across these obsidian plains. But the thrill of discovering new places remains. It just becomes a more personal experience.
I love doing things I have never done before, going to places I’ve never been, and seeing glorious sights with my own eyes that I first read about and daydreamed about in books such as this one.
We live in fortunate times. Airlines and the internet have made the world more accessible than at any time in history. More of us than ever before have the opportunity not only to be armchair adventurers, dipping into the delicious photographs and ideas in this book, but to actually commit to an adventure of our own. It is a privilege to have the chance to go somewhere new, to attempt an adventure bold and difficult, and to surprise ourselves at being capable of more than we had realised. This book is a brilliant stepping stone to adventures of our own.
I first began plotting my adventures through stories of the great explorers. They inspired me to dream big; to be bolder. So I particularly enjoyed this book’s section on Famous Footsteps: I’ve been to the beach where Captain Cook was killed and I’ve followed Marco Polo across the Taklamakan desert. But Burke and Wills’ pioneering trek reminds me of a glaring omission on my own travelling CV: I have not yet been on an adventure in Australia. The world is so big and varied that I will never reach the bottom of my “Adventuring Wish List.” There’s so much to do, as this book makes deliciously plain. All the more reason to get dreaming and planning, and get out there!
I was flattered to be mentioned in the list of modern adventurers amongst guys and girls who are doing fabulous things. But here is a little secret about us: we are just normal people. We’re not super-strong nor unusually daring. We were not born rich. So don’t make the mistake of reading this book without also considering making the adventure of your choice actually happen. My first big adventure was cycling the Karakoram Highway, the stunning high-altitude ride from Pakistan to China. I’d been planning on a cycling holiday in Tuscany when a friend cajoled me into thinking a bit bigger. Not only was the ride considerably cheaper and more epic than Italy, it also acted as an epiphany and a catalyst. I was addicted. I haven’t looked back. I have been fortunate to cycle to some of the genuine world highlights in this book such as the wonderful Carretera Austral, Slovenia and the Salar de Uyuni. If I did it, you can too.
There are also a tasty dollop of adventures that I know I’ll never do. It’s good for some things to remain as dreams. I’ll never surf Jaws in Hawaii, nor will I tackle all the 8000 metre mountains (a genuinely hardcore inclusion in a book such as this!), but I love to read about them and gawp at the photography. I’m pleased too to see a section devoted to adventures in the Middle East. My experiences of that part of the world have been laced with good-humoured, generous encounters so at odds with the image often depicted on the TV news. Jordan, Oman and Iran are beautiful, fascinating countries that should entice any curious adventurers.
Whilst working on this foreword I have jotted down several adventures that really grabbed my imagination – Mountain Biking the San Juan huts and paddling the Queen Charlotte Islands being just two. I’m sure you will do the same. There’s a wonderful world waiting out there and this book is a fantastic, enticing resource.
You can buy Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Adventures now.