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The Fourth Law of Adventure


The Fourth Law of Adventure: An adventure takes you out of your comfort zone.

1.   head comfort, psychological comfort

The adventure starts in your head. It explodes into your brain, in the boredom of your everyday life, the life you have managed to get stuck with- how? You don’t know; it just happened but then this worm got into your brain the worm of adventure. I say explodes, that happens,..sometimes, more often than not the worm makes itself known bit by bit, bubbling around under the surface; you notice things, you see its action, and then kaboom! you decide to do this thing this great adventure.

Think of that worm sunk in the bottom of a bottle of Tequila. It makes no difference to the taste I am sure, but the sight of it, the fact of it, provides a reminder of worms in the brain, that the brain can be wormed into, altered, fixed, undermined.

Sometimes you know when the worm is introduced, but it makes no difference. The idea is simply an idea at that stage, a potential adventure, nothing more. Everyone has a few of these kicking around. But it has no life, it means nothing. It needs to be fed. It needs links, coincidences, people, miracles to makes it grow- this is the nutrition of the worm of adventure.

But this worm does one thing in particular: it gnaws through your psychological comfort zones, it ignores the barriers you’ve set up in your mind, it just munches right through them. I was too wary, too cautious to even consider making a long journey by plastic or aluminium canoe across Canada, but when I switched to the more adventurous plan of using a real birchbark canoe, one that I would have a hand in building, then the worm took hold, gnawing through all the potential objections.

Objections, perfectly reasonable objections – our minds are brilliant at inventing them. These objections solidify over time to form the walls and floors and ceiling of your comfort zone, your psychological comfort zone. I’ve found there isn’t that much point in butting up against psychological comfort zones, better to ride the worm, it’s more effortless. Instead of somewhat reluctantly surfing on a winter’s day, find a way to make winter surfing a BIG adventure.

The advantage is: you’ll be stretched without being strained. When we ‘force’ ourselves to do a thing, stretching can easily turn into strain. When we see something as an ‘adventure’ anything new or weird is good; instead of freaking us out and causing stress we laugh it off, and grow instead.


2.   physical comfort, pain

No pain, no gain. Sad but true. Get comfortable with pain, physical discomfort. Doesn’t have to be masochistic stubbing cigarettes out on your tongue pain, but it has to be painful without being damaging, in a long term way. Blisters, muscular aches and pains, lumpen sleeping sites, damp sleeping bags, nasty tasting food…from time to time. We live in comfortable times, it makes us soft, in a global historical sense, meaning, most of humankind’s history has been spent in more pain than we are now experiencing. I suggest that a certain level of pain is necessary to achieve most things worthwhile- including unadventurous seeming activities such as writing where sitting on your arse for hours on end produces so much accumulated un-ease. Somerset Maugham always enquired of would-be writers: “are you strong?” Because few things gnaw at your sense of physical wellbeing more than being indoors, craning for hours over a keyboard.

But, again, the worm of adventure will carry you through pain like nothing else.

3.   a difficult dangerous journey

What is difficult travel in your mind? Physically difficult, lots of geographical obstacles to surmount? Or politically difficult- a lot of red tape to overcome to visit the place? Adventures tend to coalesce around difficult journeys. The challenge is greater, it calls forth more from you. But dangerous? Well a bit. Life after all, is terminal- at least in this dimension- so anything you do is laced with potential danger. My question is- am I driving or is someone else? If you are driving across ice, through floods or down dunes that’s one kind of danger experienced. If however you are trusting another to do it that’s another kind.  Both provide adventure. But the kind you control is likely to have less costly consequences in the long run.

There is a paradox in danger. Some of the most risky activities are pursued by people who have an acute sense of what is and isn’t ‘really dangerous’. Launching a kayak off a waterfall to dive 20 metres into a not very deep pool is dangerous in a general sense, but not if you have visualised doing it and have a good feeling about it, and know how and when to trust such feelings. If you go ahead when you have a bad feeling then it is, by contrast, very dangerous indeed.


4.   a safe easy journey achieved by a shift of perspective

Ah, the Punnine Way. Yes, the relatively easy and well known hike along the Pennines becomes utterly transformed into a thing of strangeness and beauty when it becomes…the Punnine Way. The object being to walk the 180 odd miles making as many puns- good, bad and indifferent, along the way. All should be encouraged to join in. Puns should be recorded and maybe tweeted, who knows where it may end? The Punnine Way is a form of Experimental Adventure, where the object is to combine creativity with adventure in interesting, enlightening but also (for some) amusing ways.


5.   change perspective to make a new type of journey because of changing conditions

The first route is usually a single track path. Then horses come and carts and roads and cars…and the original and oldest and most traditional way across a place may be down the high street and along a main highway. So to preserve the sense of moving through the same landscape as the people of the past, do it by using a different mode of travel. Skateboard, in line skates, recumbent bike, stilts, all come to mind.


6.   copy an old journey, do it old style- travel back in time

I copied German desert explorer Gerhard Rohlf’s old way across the Sahara. It had been done before- in a car- but very very few had done it using camels, just as he did. You proceed at his pace, and see what he saw, using his notes and maps as a guide. You get into his head, and when you find a side comment you can investigate further, when he was in too much of a hurry to do so. Lots of discoveries are made this way.


7.   Get a uniform for wearing when you leave your comfort zone, your flash Gordon kit, Stanley’s explorer’s uniform…

The worm is helped by a uniform. The uniform of adventure. Today I bought some rather long olive and red socks. They just feel made for walking distances, longer than the plain red ones I have for instance. Uniforms have a positive effect, call it ritual clothing. H.M. Stanley was the first explorer to design his own uniform. We may laugh but it carried him far. He knew that on a day when everything looks grim, when turning back seems infinitely preferable to pressing on, when illness and despair have their nasty claws deep in your flesh, a uniform can cause that one bit of dissociation to enable you to carry on. You ‘become’ the uniform and your ‘self’ just has no choice but to tag along. I have hats that spur me on, trouser/gaiter combinations that literally gird my loins, belts that inspire confidence, pocket knives that spell ‘nothing will defeat me’. Foolish? Not a bit of it. Anything that makes the boat go faster is welcome.


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