“One way to get the most out of life is to look upon it as an adventure” – William Feather
In 2017, I made the only New Years resolution I have ever kept, with a couple of caveats. To go on a microadventure at least once a month for the whole year. Originally the definition of micro-adventure started as camping without a tent and wild swimming, but like the Pirates code, this is more of a guideline than a rule, making this resolution available to everyone who’d like to live a little more adventurously.
As you may already know I’m a big fan of Alastair Humpherys, the man behind this whole idea. He challenges the belief that adventure has to be some gruelling absolutism; testing the laws of physics in the laboratory of your one precious body in some exotic hell-realm, probably infested with flesh-eating insects. If this is your life’s calling then, of course, go ahead. However, for the rest of us, we can have perfectly challenging and illuminating adventures without leaving the comfort of our own back gardens.
Start 2019 with your first microadventure!
Admittedly, January is not the most ideal time of year to start your new adventuring endeavours – but if not now, when? The darkness grants you a nice long sleep and the stars are often best in winter. All you need is a bivvy bag – a waterproof liner to keep your sleeping bag dry – lots of layers, ideally some firewood and a friend or two who are both silly and daring enough to indulge in your mini Bear Grylls fantasies.
Of course, you don’t have to sleep in a bivvy bag. If the forecast is looking abysmal or you’re feeling nervous about your first excursion then please tent away. However, in my humble experience, few things come close to the wild ecstasy of sleeping out in the open like our animal ancestors. With your face exposed to the elements through sunset, starlight and sunrise, you experience a connection to nature that is unparalleled in the artificial separateness of a tent or the four walls of your home. It feels silly, cheeky, rebellious and profoundly natural all at once. I believe it’s an experience everyone should try at some point in their lives.
As it happened, Al Humpherys was giving a talk in Keswick in the January of 2017. What better way to kick off the year of microadventure? A great excuse to get myself out of the city and sleeping on a hilltop, no doubt opposite the man himself and many other inspired followers, dotted around the lakes and peaks like the seeds of a pioneering dandelion. I am forever grateful to my legendary friend Daniel who entertained this plan with great enthusiasm. We arrived after dark and proceeded to trudge uphill, hoping to make camp at the first trig point. In the pitch-black, we lost the path and ended up climbing near-vertical lumps of heather, like marshmallows that might swallow you up into fairyland at any moment. After a couple of hours of sweating and panting into the biting air, we found a small ridge and decided to call it a night.
It was one of those spellbound winter nights: still, clear and silent. We awoke to a magical scene of a drawn-out sunrise rolling through a valley sprinkled white with crystalline frost. An astonishing sight savoured all the more for having been robbed by darkness the previous evening. We reheated leftovers that had frozen along with our boots, water bottles, and anything else left outside the warmth of our cosy cocoons. We crested the hilltop, feeling more than a little smug recounting the evening’s tale to our fellow day-hikers, who confirmed how hardcore we were. ‘Oh yeah, we just slept on the side of this hill, no big deal’. We had risen from the ranks of complete novice to experienced bivvyers in the small space of 24 hours.
Wild swimming is good for the soul
Admittedly I wimped out of wild swimming that January. After a year of microadventuring escapades though I had become well acquainted with the sheer joys of wild swimming. I have come to the belief that the difference between cold and extremely cold water is negligible (at least in the first instance). The body only registers shock and intense sensation, the rush of vitality to the soul. As long as you don’t outstay your welcome (and ideally have a cosy jumper and a flask awaiting you on the shore) winter swims can be all the more enjoyable. Thus, by January 2018 I was frolicking daily in the waters and waterfalls of Loch Voil whilst the snowflakes fell and icy meltwaters descended. Many sceptics were converted by my shining post-swim exuberance, none of whom regretted it in the slightest. If you take one thing from this blog, let it be to jump in a loch, river or waterfall at the next feasible opportunity!
The drawbacks of bivvy bags
I won’t pretend that sleeping in nothing but a waterproof bag doesn’t have its drawbacks, especially in Scotland. Midges are the Scottish explorer’s nemesis, and can readily ruin sunset dinners and starry skies. If you’re adventuring in Summer, choose an exposed, windy spot and take a few extra layers, or invest in a head-net. Hilariously uncool, but within minutes you will understand how drastically necessary they are, especially if you don’t want to wake up with a face full of chickenpox. I often camp within the proximity of a Bothy, so you can enjoy all the benefits of sleeping wild with a dry refuge to retreat to when the heavens open at 3 am. The only other option is to wriggle as far into your cocoon as possible, pull the cover over your head and wait it out. This happened to me more than once, but luckily the rain did eventually break long enough for me to strip off, jump in a loch, make porridge on the shore to warm up before jumping on a train and being back at your desk by the afternoon! Enter more smugness.
How to incorporate adventure into your day to day life
So, you know when you get invited to a big event and it has a ‘how to get here’ section? By air, rail, car, etc. I really think people should start systematically expanding this section to include by bicycle to show how easy it really is to incorporate microadventures into your everyday commitments, whilst also doing your bit to help the environment! My friend’s wedding happened to be along the River Rhine in Germany, so I could get there without even having to deviate from a designated cycle path. Well, it would be rude not to, wouldn’t it? So I packed my wedding gown into my panniers and off I went on my first cross-country bike tour
This is where the first caveat comes in. I decided to bend the rules and not wild camp for this microadventure. But as long as your endeavour captures the spirit adventure – that is to be outside of your comfort zone exploring something new – I think it still very much counts. Instead of camping, I used warm showers, a place where friendly, stationary bicycle enthusiasts offer their couch (or if you’re lucky a spare room and a hot meal!) to other more nomadic bicycle enthusiasts in exchange for nothing more than a smile and stories from the road. Turning up at a total strangers house for the night was definitely an adventure! On the whole, a very rewarding one. My favourite hosts were a couple living in an eco-village who shared with my their extraordinary lifestyle, their favourite Dutch delicacies and loaded my panniers with enough Dutch waffles to see me across the border and beyond.
Not only did I over-estimate my distances on this trip, attempting to sail into the wedding celebrations on my first centurion (100 miles in a day), so did Cicerone. My planned 160km somehow turned into 240km, and I had to take the train for the final leg. I rocked up totally exhausted with a swollen knee and tendinitis, with just enough time for a quick turnaround before the stag do. Still, I was running on an endorphin high well into the early hours. Microadventures are a great antidote to awkward wedding small-talk; ‘so, how was your journey here?’ Well…
Going it alone
I didn’t brave sleeping in a bivvy bag alone until the summer months arrived. My family were visiting and we rented an Airbnb right on the beach on the Isle of Arran, just a couple of hours from Glasgow. One night, when the weather was looking clear, I decided to leave the comfort of my bed and fall asleep to the sounds of the ocean. The night, as it can barely be called that close to the solstice, was an endless sunset merging into sunrise, a smudgy artists pallet of splendour. I was torn between sleep and watching this light show make manifest on the canvas sky. In the morning, after a quick dip in the sea, there was a hot shower and breakfast waiting for me. Microadventuring can’t get better or easier than this! You really needn’t go far at all to touch that magic nature is offering up to us 24/7, totally free of charge. All we need to do is turn off the T.V, get off the sofa and leave the front door.
Part of the adventure is knowing when to go home
Now here comes the second caveat. Nature can be a great healer, but as I learnt one sunny October afternoon, it can also be the opposite of what we need. I was having a bad day, and reminiscing about that deep sense of calm that develops after a week or two of being in the wild. Clinging to this fantasy, I packed a bag and took a bus into the hills. I stomped up the first hill of the horseshoe; my shoulders tensed, my brow furrowed, caught in a foul spiral of negative thoughts. I got to the top and burst into tears at the spectacular view that I could in no way appreciate.
I realised I needed to be at home in a hot bath, not cold and alone in the middle of nowhere. It was difficult to admit this, but once I let go, it brought the same heart-opening experience that an endless horizon can offer. The adventure lies not just in pushing the boundaries of your comfort zone, but also in realising when you have pushed too far. Even more adventurous, is to be kind and humble with yourself when this happens.
Lessons from one year of microadventures
I still believe that going out into the wild, sleeping in a bivvy bag and jumping in a river is one of the best things you can do with your time. It’s exercise that doesn’t feel like exercise, a way of connecting with friends old and new, and with any luck will realign you with the values you hold dear. But equally, adventure is not an escape. You cannot use it as a means to prop up a sense of inner lack. As psychologists say: wherever you go, there you are. To this end, I also learnt that our internal valleys and mountains provide fertile grounds for adventure.
What does living more adventurously mean to you?
So, as you embark upon the mystery that is 2019 you might ask yourself this question. What can I do that will test my comfort zones, once a month, for a whole year? And how can I offer myself the most kindness in this endeavour? Whether it’s sleeping on a hill, learning to knit, or having more hot baths; the best part of this wild and wonderful journey is that it’s yours, and you get to make the rules.
Here’s to an adventurous 2019!
After all, life begins at the edge of your comfort zone.