“An idea popped into my head that I can honestly say changed my life… I decided to go on a journey.”
I enjoyed Simon Reeve’s book for all the reasons you would expect: a decent bloke and cracking stories from his travels. But I’m sharing it here because of a story he shares early in the book. He had spiralled into a wild childhood, left school with virtually no qualifications, and had no idea what to do with his life. He was sad, drifting, depressed, and suicidal.
The idea of going on a journey popped into his head amongst all the self-doubt and low self-esteem as he moped about on the dole. He took a train to Scotland and made his way, without really thinking, to Glencoe. There he was amongst mountains for the first time in his life. Wearing “jeans, a pair of trainers and an old Adidas cagoule” he began ambling up a mountain. He writes,
“When I started my journey I was an insecure teenager. But the climb changed me. I wasn’t conscious of anything as significant as that at the time, but I know it now.” This was an opportunity for him to prove something to himself for the first time, to set himself a hard task and make sure he achieved it.
He bimbled his way up the mountain as night approached. A descending hiker warned him of the danger of heading up into the dark without proper equipment. But Simon kept going.
“I was on a mission. Every step gave me an increased sense of self-worth and purpose… I reached the ridge in darkness, and I stood there feeling euphoric and a tiny bit brave, aware I had really accomplished something… This wasn’t how the government wanted me to spend my benefits, but it was a complete tonic. I’d completed a journey, the very first one I had taken alone and the furthest I had ever been.”
He luckily made his way back down the mountain “unscathed and spent a freezing night alone in the car. I didn’t care. I was elated.”
He finishes with these thoughts:
“When you’re a youngster struggling to come to terms with life, it’s easy to slip into a trough of despair. But if you can pick yourself up just enough to take a few initial steps, sometimes, just maybe, you can start to climb out of your situation. Life advice often consists of people saying you should ‘aim for the stars’ and plan where you want to be in a year or even five years, but for me that was completely unrealistic. I could hardly see beyond the end of each day. So I set much smaller goals. It worked for me. I had climbed a mountain and my life began to improve.”
This is precisely why I love the important work of The Youth Adventure Trust.