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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.



chopping trees causes testosterone to surge

Latest from New Scientist: playing soccer and chopping trees can cause 30% surges in testosterone. It seems the baseline quantity of testosterone is less important than the activity that brings it forth. Also it seems that once you remove depressed and obese men from the smple testosterone drops a negligible amount over one's life. 80 year old men show the same surges - if they are fit- as men in their 30s.


The Open Source Walking Project and the TAZ

The internet enables large numbers of people to contribute to a project without top down management. We have seen it with computing, mainly, but the idea can be applied to many things. In conversations with various friends including Rich Lisney, of Bimbler fame, the following has emerged.

I have long been intrigued with the idea of long distance walks. I’ve done, or half done, a few official ones: Cleveland Way, Ridgeway, Mackenzie Way, GR10, GR65. However, despite the fun of doing an established walk, it is more challenging to design your own long distance walk. And then name it and pepper the stiles/trees/fence posts with little circular walking arrow signs, produce a guide book/web site and encourage others to walk your walk. 

Ideally people who live near to each section of the walk will get the directions from the web site and walk their section. They will add signs and wear down paths to indicate the way. (The way should probably follow existing paths or rights of way). The more people who walk your route the better it will become as people will make improvements and label them with signs they have downloaded or bought from the website.

In the past, creating a long distance walk was a huge project requiring a lot of top down administration. Now it can happen almost instantly, and painlessly. Once the idea is out there anyone can start walking sections straight away.

No doubt some people will object- that always happens- but the people on the ground for that section will deal with these objections not the website operators whose role is simply to inspire and inform a thousand walkers to take up their bedrolls and boots and head out there, criss-crossing the planet with myriad new trails.

I think it is time to update the concept of the temporary autonomous zone -TAZ- which has seen its greatest recent development in the festival field. The TAZ, briefly, is an idea by anarchistic thinker Hakim Bey, that states that true and authentic interactions are only possible in situations that are not monitored and weighed down by government interference, red tape, officiousness, pettiness, routine. Parties, raves and festivals are obvious examples of TAZs. But with the internet, which makes a TAZ so easy to organise, comes the burden of unofficialdom, which occurs more and more at festivals these days. Burning Man was cool when it was a few hundred, but 25,000 people off their heads? Too successful for their own boots? Maybe; or it could be the bandwagon effect, now the routinemeisters and dull badgers have leapt aboard the festival bus, using the internet to plan and monitor their events I’ve seen a creeping sense of boredom/ ‘they’ world bullshit/officiousness seep into festivals of all colour and stripe.

As always a wake-up call to move on, the real bus never halts forever. The new and viable option for a TAZ, which uses the internet effectively without being strangled by it, is the creation of instant long distance walks, the MORE the BETTER. Out walking with your friends, doing something bigger than just a ramble but still something with some vitality and genuine lifeforce about it, the open source walking project suggests a new direction for sustained grass roots activity immune from the vampiric attentions of those who seek to control...




living in the future


1.   Telling the future reminds me of something from aikido. If you extend your arm and ask someone to pull down on your wrist it is not hard for them to manage. But then imagine and visualise as best you can your arm as over thirty feet long and resting at the end on a wall. Now when they pull down on your wrist their pull is well before your imagined centre of weakness. In fact it is as if someone was pulling on your bicep, right close to the near end of your arm. And imagining the other end as resting on a wall also changes what you accept- you don’t accept they can pull it down- and to counter this you change the way you stand. You MAKE the visualisation come true.

Whilst it is true that you cannot make ANYTHING come true, one thing is certain- when you have an engraved image in your mind’s eye you a) tend to see it everywhere and b) attempt to make reality conform to this image. Therein lies the success of such programs as ‘The Secret’- which offer the tantalising prospect of a world that conforms to subjective desire- as long as you believe hard enough. It reminds me of when, aged 8, I left a stocking out pinned to my bed, in the summer to ‘test’ whether Jesus answered prayers…sadly, I reproved myself for not believing hard enough... But the 'belief' is merely a tool for making the visualisation clearer- just repeating your desire regularly like a mantra is enough- you will begin to adjust things in your life to make that desire come true...of course it may not be what you need even if it is what you want.

If we visualise the future strongly enough we make countless small moves to make such a belief congruent with our daily lives. As in the aikido move we adjust our posture. It becomes a posture that not only anticipates the future we have visualised but encourages it, and sure enough it becomes the future.

Art and fiction are one form of imagining. We have grown used to science fiction anticipating future products. Facial recognition software is straight out of big brother. Even our cars look like those in Total Recall and Robocop now. 

The Burj Khalifa building in Dubai astonishes because it doesn’t just look sci-fi (1930s New York skyscrapers did that) it looks ALIEN- like something off a Klingon planet or the bad guys in Enders Game. But the future is always changing, or, rather, our view of it which in turns becomes the future. We’re not at the centre anymore, we’ve lost the controls, it’s all up for grabs- so why not make it alien? Alien seems more likely. People queue to have tea in the café near the top of the Burj. Very definitely living in the future.



podcast about RED NILE

If you have an urgent or even rather casual interest in my book Red Nile there is podcast at Scottish Book Trust- an interview I did in the stacks of Glasgow library. Click here


Chalke Valley festival

I am appearing at Chalke Valley literary festival the evening of Friday 27th June.

I am also at Edinbrugh Literary festival 13th August.

Get tickets now before they run out.


excellent article by Olive Burkeman

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