“It’s OK for you, but microadventures are much harder for women” is something I hear surprisingly often in these enlightened, more-equal times. So I asked Anna McNuff (who is all woman, and all adventure) to share a few thoughts to try to reassure any women who are tempted by microadventure but feel anxious…
BECOME A WILD WOMAN
I write this from a tent nestled on the waters edge at Lake Tekapo, New Zealand. I took care to find a secluded spot. A patch of flat grass behind a bush, just big enough for a one person tent. I crouch down where I’d like to pitch up. I can’t see the road, which means anyone on it can’t see me – perfect. Not that I’d come to any harm, but I take comfort in being the only person who knows I’m here. I erect the pop-up-palace, boil up the usual noodle surprise and watch the sun slide gracefully from view over the lake. I feel safe. Completely at home and incredibly grateful for the opportunity to spend another night of my life so close to nature.
THE FIRST TIME
I remember my first few sleeps under the stars. They were in the UK, in a bivvy bag on the South Downs and then in a Surrey field. I say ‘sleep’, but I didn’t sleep especially well. I hadn’t yet worked out precisely how many clothes to stuff in my sleeping bag case to make a decent pillow, I’d forgotten the all important woolly hat and the moon was so full it was like laying directly in the beam of a headlight. And yet, there was something strangely addictive about a night in the open air that left me planning the next one as soon as I got home.
TENT VS BIVVY
I’ve got a friend who just doesn’t ‘do’ bivvy bags. It’s not her thing. If she goes microadventuring (has this become a verb yet? I think so…) she likes to take the tent. She even piles a duvet and a pillow onto the back of her bicycle for added luxury. Although this can limit our options for sleeping spots somewhat, outside is outside, and important to find a way to enjoy it that sets you at ease.
Personally, given half the chance, I’m a bivvy girl. There’s just something wonderful about drifting off to sleep with a cold breeze on your nose and that, should you wake, it’s to a blanket of stars rather than particles of your own condensed breath on the ceiling. On a practical level, everything is less of a fuss with a bivvy too. Friends and I have slept out several times in London’s Zone 1 and I’ve done the same around Amsterdam – you don’t need much space at all to find seclusion with a bivvy bag.
PHONE A FRIEND
Microadventures are generally more fun with a small gang, so don’t feel you need to face your first sleep out alone. Hook up with a local group to test the waters. Even better, convince a friend to join the group with you. Once out there, nestled among other sleeping bodies, you’ll find yourself quite at ease. Plus, there’s the added bonus that you’ll likely fall asleep mid-chat, meaning your imagination enters the land of nod at the same time as you do.
I’ll admit that one of the greatest things to get over with sleeping on a hilltop is the feeling that you might get disturbed. What will they say? Will I be alert enough to deal with it? Will I be bundled into a van by hoards of angry neighbourhood watch types? And then you realise. Most people are at home watching the Great British Bake Off. They’re dozing on the sofa, ginger-nut biscuit precariously poised over a now cold vat of PG Tips. The reality is that you will often set up camp as it gets dark and be gone at sunrise. In 25 solid weeks of microadventuring, I was only disturbed once by late night dog walkers. The conversation I’d been fearing all this time went as follows:
Person 1: “What’s that? Over there?”
Person 2: “Where? Oh, there – Just some people sleeping.”
And they left. Terrifying, I know.
TAKE ON THE BACK GARDEN
In December last year, when a meteorite shower lit up the UK skies, two other wild women and I dragged a big comfy mattress and duvet out into the back garden. Layered up like Michelin (wo)men, we settled in for the show. Until drifting off to sleep at 2am we counted 33 shooting stars. It didn’t really matter that we were only 10 metres from my house. What mattered is that we’d taken the time to marvel at a natural wonder. If a full blown hilltop microadventure is a step too far, get your mates round and give the garden a go first.
KEEPING IT CLEAN
Let’s be honest, it’s not ideal to smell of bush in the office. But don’t let the need for freshness put you off indulging in a midweek escape. Find out where the showers are at your workplace. With all the cycle to work schemes on the go these days I’ll bet there’s at least one somewhere in the building. Even if the plug hole is filled with your colleagues hair, it’s there somewhere. Befriend that fella who walks past your desk every morning in his high-viz jacket, clutching a cycle helmet. He’ll know where to go. Or ask ‘Kathy’ in the facilities department – Kathy knows everything (she may not always be called Kathy).
If your workplace really doesn’t have a shower, then suss out the nearest and most palatial disabled loo in the joint. It’s amazing what you can do with a few wet wipes, a travel towel and a sink. And if that really doesn’t float your boat, then try doing a sleep-out where you can nip home or to your local gym, briefly before returning to work. The moral here: where there’s a will, there’s a way.
Remember that it’s okay to be nervous. It’s what makes the experience ten times more magical once you’ve transformed yourself from back garden bird to full blown woman of the wild. It’s also okay to try something out and decide it’s not for you. What definitely is out of the question, however, is not trying something because you think you might be frightened. That just about rules out most fun things in life. Become a wild woman, just for one night and I guarantee you’ll never look back.