What is the nature of adventure? I have spent over five years of my life away from home on expeditions, with most of the time being spent in Africa, Asia and Latin America. I’mm currently working towards an expedition to the South Pole and a camel journey into the sands of the Empty Quarter in Yemen and Oman. Whilst chasing the funding for Antarctica I need to have a couple of small adventures bubbling away at all times to keep the wanderlust under control. I am sure that is understandable.
And yet people look at me as though I have gone mad when I tell them that, in the search for micro-adventure, I walked a lap of the M25, the 118-mile motorway that encircles and ensnares London.
London’s monstrous ring road may seem an unlikely destination for adventure. The M25, “the world’s largest car park” or “the road to hell”, has achieved iconic status as representing all that is dull, depressing and hopeless about modern life. Whether its victims are stuck in a crawling traffic jam, driving numbly through the darkness or enduring tasteless, overpriced food in the anonymous sterility of a service station, few of the one million people who drive on the M25 every day see it as a source of excitement, adventure and invigoration.
And yet. And yet you do not need to fly to the other side of the planet to undertake an expedition. You do not need to be an elite athlete, expertly trained or rich to have an adventure. Adventure is a state of mind.
I believe that adventure is about stretching yourself: mentally, physically or culturally. It is about doing what you do not normally do, seeing things with fresh and open eyes, pushing yourself hard and doing it to the best of your ability. If this is true then adventure is accessible to everybody, everywhere, in short segments of time and without having to spend much money. If it is true then adventure is all around us, at all times. Even round the M25.
There are, of course, more aspects to adventure than getting out of your comfort zone. There is the whoop-inducing feeling of standing on a remote mountain top, of beautiful scenery that reboots your jaded, urbanised 21st century shell of a soul.
There is also the important sensation of having a truly miserable time. Of being so wet, cold, hungry, tired and lost that you begin to hallucinate about the wonderful luxury of your home, of the privilege of hot showers and dry beds and the exquisite joy of a hot cup of tea. It doesn’t have to be fun to be fun. It is about earning the right to loaf on your sofa.
The best adventures are those that ring true, that can be summarized in a sentence or two, and planned on the back of a receipt. Last year I took the night train to Mallaig, and walked from the west coast of Scotland to the river Spey. There we blew up our packrafts, hopped in, and paddled down to the sea.
I have worked very hard for more than eight years to get myself to a position whereby I can now begin to make a living from doing the things I love doing. Writing books, speaking to audiences to encourage them to light a bonfire in their own bellies and – of course – challenging myself mentally, physically and culturally out in the world’s wild places. I feel very fortunate to spend my days doing things I care about. But I also would consider myself a fool if I did not choose to do that. “Make your own choice, adventurous stranger. Strike the bell and bide the danger, or wonder, till it drives you mad, what would have followed if you had…”
This piece originally appeared in Wide World Mag.