At some point in my life, people started referring to me as ‘the adventurous one’. They started saying things like ‘I wish I could do what you do’ and ‘I could never do something like that’. If you have uttered these words before, then I ask you to suspend judgement and think again.
How did I get into adventure?
I wasn’t always like this, this ‘crazy’ person. When I was a kid we went on a lot of camping holidays, so a love of nature and the outdoors was ingrained from a young age. But I didn’t like walking. In fact, I despised walking. I would always be the one at the back, plodding and winging until eventually, I could take it no more. I would sit down and refuse to move a single step further. My dad got really enthusiastic once about getting bikes and going on family bike rides. What a stupid idea! I am NOT getting a bike for Christmas. No way. Absolutely not. Please, can I have a karaoke machine instead so I can work on my Britney impression? I even lived in the UK’s top cycling city for 3 years and still did not see the need to circumnavigate my life on two wheels.
That said, I did start to enjoy the endorphin kick from exercise, and started running and swimming regularly. When I moved to Glasgow and realised my commute would cost in excess of £1,000 a year I thought maybe I would buy a bike and try cycling to work. Save on train tickets, save on gym membership – double win right? I had only ridden a bike once in over 10 years, but how hard could it be?
My first bicycle
So, after some preliminary research (mostly, I like the look of that green one) I bought my first bike off gumtree. I arranged to meet the seller in Hairmyres car park after work one day. There he was with my trusty steed to be. He must have thought I was a bit strange because I bought the bike without riding it, without even sitting on it. I know they say ‘it’s just like riding a bike’, but I wasn’t willing to risk it in front of the line of colleagues and commuters heading to the train station. I had no idea what to assess when one purchases a bike. My bike knowledge went as far as ‘yes… this is a bike’. And for now, that was good enough.
I took my new shiny aquamarine bicycle home on the train and walked it to the park-like a new pet – so I could take it for a test ride. I was shaky at first, but luckily the saying held true and soon we were whirling around Pollok Park like a giddy couple on their first date. I had to practice signalling because cycling one-handed was (and sometimes still is!) a slightly terrifying endeavour.
I had to learn lots of new things. I had to learn what a pannier and a derailleur was. I had to learn how to change a tyre. I had to learn not to get charged £25 for a squint wheel that I could, in fact, fix with 5 minutes and a bit of common sense. I had to learn to pay attention to the cars that refuted my existence. I had to learn how to cycle and somehow not get all that black, grimy bike grease all over my legs at the same time.
Suffice to say that just 2 years before I set out on a bike tour around the Scottish Hebrides, I was categorically NOT a cyclist.
My inspiration came when I was bedridden from a nasty chest infection. It was sunny outside, and I wished I was on a mountain somewhere. But I didn’t have the energy to walk the 5 minutes to the park, so instead I lost myself in adventure films. I’d been reading Alastair Humphreys’ account of cycling around the world and I felt inspired and terrified in equal measure. I dreamed of cycling between countries under the power of my own legs. Al assured me that if he could do it, anyone could. But he was a guy; it was easier for him to travel alone, right? He said he wasn’t that fit but he trained in the army so clearly that wasn’t true. He said he wasn’t that sociable, but he clearly had the gift of natural rapport. He said he was just like me, but he wasn’t. I couldn’t do something like that.
Then I watched Wild – a story about a woman hiking alone for 3 months across the mountains and deserts of the Pacific Coast Trail – and Tracks – a similar account of a lone female crossing the Australian outback with nothing but her camels (both great films by the way). I was captivated. Here were these women, these relatable women, neither of them adventurers and yet venturing out into the wilderness none the less. They defied the entrapments of society’s expectations. They ventured beyond the limits of their own existence into the wildlands of awe, wonder and insect bites.
Was it possible that I too, could in fact, become an adventurer?
My first bicycle tour
Over the next 2 days, I feverishly mapped out an itinerary. I was meeting friends on the Isle of Skye in June – what if I just… cycled there? I had a trip to the Isle of Arran planned the week after – what if I cycled between the two? And if I was going that far north, it would be an awful shame not to tag on a little foray in the Western Isles, wouldn’t it? I made a spreadsheet. I had a plan.
Of course, I had all the pre-trip anxieties. I had no idea how I compared to the average cycler of google maps. Would I make it up the hills? Would my bags be too heavy? Would I go crazy in my own company? Would my bike spontaneously combust? Would I meet my end in a cataclysmic car collision? Worst of all, would I fail? Surely there is only one thing worse than a smug adventurer in overly tight lycra shorts; an almost adventurer pushing their bike up a not-even-that-steep hill before taking the train home, still sporting their lycra shorts in piteous defeat.
But this was my adventure, and therefore I got to make the rules. It didn’t matter what anyone else was doing or could do. I wasn’t cycling around the world, but this endeavour was unusual, daring and exciting for me, and therefore met all the requirements of being an adventure. Not a grand adventure perhaps, more of a humble everyday adventure. If I needed to take the train, fine. If I needed to push, fine. If I needed to serenade my bike with Alicia Keys’ ‘If I Ain’t Got You’ at full volume to keep myself company then that was absolutely, resolutely FINE.
As Kent Nerburn once wisely said, ‘If we don’t offer ourselves to the unknown our senses dull. Our world becomes smaller and we lose all sense of wonder’. I wanted to be awed and wondered out of my sleepy existence, to see what I was really capable of beyond my limited idea of self.
So off I went, alone, into that magnificence of unknown. Of course I made mistakes: I missed my ferry on day 1 and the whole plan was scrapped, I lost my jumper and over trousers and had to do a highland jig to keep myself warm whilst eating lunch, I cried when mile 5 felt like mile 50, I cursed at the headwind, and I fell off my bike. Whilst stationary. Twice.
But something shifted in the 2 weeks I was away. Somewhere in all those brutal climbs and breezy descents, the endless miles with nothing but my own thoughts for entertainment, the crippling uncertainty of not knowing how the day would pan out or where I would sleep that night – I found a sort of peace. Towards the end of the trip, I wrote in my journal: ‘I feel comfortable in myself and in my own presence. I know who I am, even if I don’t know what I want or where I’m going.’
The spirit of adventure
This is what adventure is really about. Not your daily distance, average speed or the size of your oh-so-sculpted calf muscles. You needn’t go long distances to find it; it sight there, in your day to day living.
Our family friend, who is the most enthusiastic cyclist I know, was baffled by these developments. Could it really be the same girl who refused to walk more than 3 miles? The woman who was afraid of riding a bike in public? But one day after another I got up and went for a bike ride. Before I knew it, the miles stacked up and I had crossed the threshold. I had dared greatly. I had become an everyday adventurer.
Now, you might not want to cycle around the world, or 450 miles, or even just to the corner shop. That might not be your thing. That’s cool; luckily that’s not a prerequisite for reading this blog. However, we are all capable of opening our senses to the unknown. Of doing something that is unusual and daring to no one but our lovely, splendid selves.
Top tips on how to become an everyday adventurer:
1) Buy a second-hand bicycle
2) Find the distance you can comfortably ride in a day
3) Keep riding that distance until your bum gets really sore!!!
It really is that simple.