As a young man, I was ambitious. I didn’t want to be rich or famous. But I wanted to go far. As far as I could go. So far, in fact, that when I climbed onto my bicycle one warm summer morning, I kept riding until I had pedalled right the way around the whole planet.
I cycled round the world for reasons that will be familiar to many people who yearned for adventure when they were young. I wanted to travel and to explore the world. I thought the place where I grew up was boring and stultifying. I wanted to see what was out there. I wanted to do something hard and stupid. I wanted to see if I could handle it. Above all, I wanted freedom, escape, and all the delicious, unknown possibilities of the open road.
I spent many years chasing the next adventure. I always wanted what lay beyond the horizon. I cycled across continents, rowed and sailed across oceans, walked across deserts and ice caps. But it was not just the age-old lure of the horizon that kept me moving on. I was also driven by another ambition. I wanted to write. I was originally sparked to travel by the red-hot exciting embers of great adventure books—Shackleton and Kerouac, Thesiger and Fiennes. I tried to rise to the elusive challenge of capturing my experiences in the wild on paper.
If adventure is addictive because you can always go further, always push yourself harder, then writing is far worse! You can always write more, always write better. What qualifies as “better” is hard to say, of course. How do you measure what is a “good book”? Rare is the writer who doesn’t crave a little praise and validation of his work. We’re a fragile, vain lot, really!
So although I have relished my chosen path of adventure and writing, I’ve always found an element of delicious torment and agony within it all.
Slowly, in the last couple of years, my yearning for adventure has begun to change. I’ve felt less need to “prove myself to myself” on a repeated masochistic basis. I still savour and value adventure in my life, of course. The lessons it teaches you, the glorious escape from routine, the perspective it gives you, the simplification of life, the wilderness and the opportunity to step out of your comfort zone and real life: these will be important to me for ever.
Adventure has done so much for me that I began trying to share it with other people. Everyone likes the concept of adventure, even those who have no desire to actually go and suffer on a cold mountain. There is often a perception that adventure is for “Adventurers” rather than “normal people.” Or that, at the very least, adventure is for your long summer holiday. I disagree with the first statement: I know better than anyone that “Adventurers” are not tough and brave and special. We are ordinary people who just make the choice to do things that are not so ordinary. And the second statement is a shame: you should not need to wait for all your stars to align to be able to head off on an adventure. You simply need to make a plan and make it happen. Today.
If you are a commuter, why not cycle or walk your commute one summer’s evening? Or head to the hills this weekend with the smallest pack you can manage. Camping wild on a hilltop, sleeping under the stars is a wonderful way to refresh the soul from the constraints and routines of the real world. These are small things to do, yes, but they are still adventures. And they are far greater than not doing anything at all.
My new attitude to adventure has given me a new view on my own country, too. If you want adventure and wilderness it helps if you live in Alaska, but it’s not essential. Wherever you live you can find pockets of wildness and beauty, even in small and crowded England. You can create adventures and challenges wherever you are. Adventure is an attitude more than anything else.
I kept coming across the same explanations and excuses about what stops people from getting out into the wild as often as we might like to. And so I set about trying to find ways round each of these obstacles:
– No Time?
Then head out for a night-time walk under the next full moon. It only takes a few hours but the world feels different and wild by night. It’s a good way of remembering that if you look at the ordinary with curiosity and a fresh perspective, then it too can feel extra-ordinary.
– No Fancy Gear?
Make yourself a camping stove from a soda can, then head to the woods to brew coffee one sunny weekend morning. Sunshine and birdsong trumps boring Starbucks music any day.
– No Money?
Take a journey around your home. Make your house the center of a circle a few miles across, then walk or cycle around it. I guarantee you will see things you have never seen before—one of the exact appeals of big adventures.
Tiny actions like this have been responsible for kick-starting hundreds of people to taking on bigger microadventures of their own. (See here to see what people have been getting up to.) Sleep on a hill after work, watch the sun rise, then get back to your desk in time for work again. Swim down a river and camp for a night on the riverbank. Cycle from the highest point in your county to the lowest, or from the home your Mum was born in to where your Dad was born. Go somewhere you have never been. Try something different. Get out into nature, even if you don’t live in the mountains of Montana. Especially if you don’t live in Montana! Stop being limited by your 9 to 5: it’s time to thrive in your 5 to 9 instead.
Do not worry about what people might think. Don’t plan too much or mull things over so much that you chicken out. This was my relaxed attitude when I sat down to write a book about these tiny little adventures I had been enjoying. I didn’t think that people would really be interested in this stuff, at least not in comparison to my books about cycling round the world or walking across India. But I did it anyway, because it felt right to me. I wrote this book for me. So I have been staggered and delighted to see Microadventures climb into the Top 20 Bestsellers Chart on Amazon in the UK, higher than I could have imagined in my wildest dreams. Do what you want to do, because it feels right. Let the rest take care of itself.
Seize the moment, make the most of these long summer evenings. Go on a microadventure, then share your story online to inspire other people to re-discover adventure in their lives…
Microadventures is available now, on Kindle, iPad and as a paperback book.
This blog first appeared on National Geographic.