Every day, millions of people commute into cities by train and bus and car. For most people this is a tedious, expensive, time-wasting part of their day.
But the route of your commute route offers a great opportunity for a microadventure. I decided to give it a try.
Most people commute the same route, day in, day out, for year after year.
But how much do you know about this journey? How much do you even see? Next time you are on the train, pause for a few minutes and look up from your phone or book or laptop. Look out of the window at the world whizzing by. Between the towns and villages you race through are the places in between: the fields and woods and pockets of countryside that exist even in the most built-up regions of Britain. It is easy not to notice these.
But what would it be like out there? What would it be like to sit on that small hilltop and watch the trains racing past? Where does that small footpath beside the stream lead to? How would it feel to be in that copse of trees when the sun sets and the moon rises?
So here is my suggestion.
One evening after work why not walk or cycle or run the route of your commute? Try it. And find out for yourself how it actually feels to spend a night in that small copse, a night in the wild in the small pockets of countryside that lay beyond the fringes of the cities you work and live in.
In case you need convincing that this is an achievable challenge for “real” commuters with “real” jobs, here are a couple of comments from a blog post I wrote a while ago:
Martin: Everyday I sit on the train to work and watch the countryside go by and look oh so longingly at the woods, the woods, we gotta get into the woods!
Me: Why don’t you walk home from work one night. Try to follow the train line as close as you can cross-country. You will see things from such a different perspective. And whenever you are on the train to work in the future you will have great memories of the microadventure…
Martin: Am taking your idea a step further and will wild camp the night in the woods that I see from my train.
Martin kept to his word, writing on his blog, “I’m pleased to say the adventure went well and I spent a very enjoyable, and cosy, night.”
I work from home so I don’t have a commute. So for this microadventure I decided to pick the journey that commuters from St Albans into London take every day. They have the most expensive journey per mile in the country. I would travel there, not by train, from the heart of London. Somewhere close to St Albans I would find a spot to lay my head for the night. And in the morning I would join the commuters on their expensive train ride back into the city.
As well as comparing how different the journey felt in the train and out of the train, I was interested to test my theory that simply heading in a straight line out of any city will lead you, in a couple of hours, to a pleasant patch of countryside, thus making microadventures incredibly easy for anyone to get involved in.
As I don’t have an office I had to pretend that I did! So, at 5pm, I left “my” office by London Bridge, built 2000 years ago by the Romans whose road I would follow to St Albans.
In a city it is hard to imagine that somewhere out there are fields and rivers and peace.
Rather than taking the train out to that horizon I set out on my own.
Although I have done this sort of thing so often, I still found it hard to imagine that I could leave all these city things behind and make my own way out to the countryside. If you have never headed out of town in search of a field to sleep in then this is likely to be the most daunting part of the microadventure.
But resist the Tube, resist the bus, and keep going!
I turned north at the Queen’s house and set out to see where everybody else lives.
Soon it felt like I was in a different land.
It’s interesting how commuters’ homes change as you travel further. They gave me a pretty good indication of what stage of my journey I was on without needing to resort to a map. All I had to do was follow the Roman Road in a straight line.
I loved the simplicity of this trip – just following that old Roman Road until I made it to the countryside.
And then I made it! I reached the first proper field! I was out of London and into the countryside.
Only then did I cross the M25 (the scene of my favourite microadventure).
Now I was into proper countryside, tucked in small pockets amongst the bypasses and satellite towns and 24 hour McDonalds.
This was beyond all my expectations. I had envisaged a pretty rubbish, covert bivvy spot for the night. I certainly had not imagined a refreshing swim in a chalk stream and a hilltop all to myself for sunset.
So this was the end of my journey.
What did I do all evening out there by myself? Not much. In fact, probably exactly the same thing as countless other commuters that evening: just a takeaway and an early night…
In the morning I was only a mile or two from the station and a chance for me to experience “Britain’s most expensive commute”, whisking me back into London in time for another day at the office.
This trip was simpler and more enjoyable than I could have imagined. I highly recommend it. The worst that can happen is that you do not enjoy it and never need to try it again. There’s not a lot to lose.
But if you enjoy it, how will you feel on future journeys on that train when you zoom past “your” wood or “your” hill?
You may have to resist the urge to shout out to the carriage, “I slept up there and it was fantastic!”
Because, remember, it is unseemly to speak to anyone in commuter-land…
If you attempt this for yourself, please share your experience. Either post it on the Microadventures Facebook Page or post in on Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #microadventure and #ShakeUpYourCommute
If you like this post you might like this one too about a New York Microadventure.