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What's your next adventure?...

Saturday
Jun142014

£20 Sevylor packraft

First buy your el cheapo adult +child sevylor inflatable boat (marked as capable of carrying 120kg). Then cut off the outside tube.

Use cheap army groundsheet to cover.

Tougher, cheaper, about as light and no wetter than a $750 Alpacka.

 

Friday
Jun132014

The Third Law of Adventure

The third law of adventure is: adventures break new ground.

We know that every time we repeat something the neural network associated with that activity is strengthened. The circuit becomes stronger, more connected to the rest of our brain. It’s like a rut getting deeper and deeper as each cart wheel rolls along and cuts further into the mud. Eventually a road is built out of something that may have started life as a simple path. Once it is asphalted it can be used by cars and trucks. Maybe it then gets widened into a motorway.

Adventures aren’t like that. They don’t strengthen existing nerve paths, they make new ones, laying down new experiences as new memories. New connections are forged with other parts of the brain. What is strengthened are certain skills and attitudes associated with adventure. Perhaps we embark on a path to become some kind of master adventurer, nebulous though the concept might seem. What would adventure mastery look like? A bunch of psychological skills: not being too easily phased, a nose for novelty and interest, creativity when in a tight spot, persistence, a sense of humour, flexibility, resourcefulness, playfulness. The kind of skills you need if you want to make a habit of breaking new ground.

 

Breaking new ground in an inner sense.

We all have a series of preferences which becomes our comfort zone. It is all that we have grown habitually used to. Going outside our comfort zone can be either painful or pleasurable. It makes sense to get an idea of your own comfort zone first, before embarking on a new adventure. Better knowledge of your comfort zone in another sense can actually generate new adventures. What I mean is, the things you are comfortable with which other people are not. If you kind of like wet sleeping bags, battling leeches, bugs and spiders then the jungle is for you. I must admit I fall into this perverse minority. For me it is all part of the adventure, the strangeness of it all. I read yesterday about Ollie Hicks’ first successful attempt to kayak from Scotland to Norway. It took 62 hours. That’s 62 hours of sitting upright, getting very wet and cold and dodging north sea oil terminal traffic through the night and day. Pretty miserable if you ask me. But for some people that’s half the fun of it. So if you have a skewed comfort zone some adventures suggest themselves more than others.

I think you have to rely on an inner hunch about what kind of adventure will test your comfort zone to destruction and what kind will play to your strengths. I see one part of adventure as attention seeking- giving yourself attention as well as getting it from others- and if you can do something easily that others find uncomfortable or dangerous it makes that activity all the more appealing. Psychologist Michael Apter analysed adventure as making safe and controlling (to the individual concerned’s satisfaction) events and experiences that others find perilous or offputting. When you see someone climbing solo without a rope he’s doing something safe in his own mind, safer than driving without a seatbelt for some.

So adventure can spring from exploiting your own comfort zone anomalies. But the higher levels of adventure must come from confronting your own comfort zone and picking away at it. Many adventurers don’t do this. Respect, then, to Ranulph Fiennes, famously scared of heights, who, in his 60s, took up climbing. Though he wasn’t technically gifted, he still got up the Eiger and Everest. I consider the other factors (being guided etc) irrelevant to the argument I am making here, which is: the man left his comfort zone of polar expeditions to enter a zone he was frankly nervous about: heights.

Nibbling away at comfort zones rather than hacking off more than you can chew probably makes sense. But there is a subtle point here, though, which is- you may have a good reason to be nervous of a certain activity. When you read about bicycle stunt riders who have bad accidents, they often have an intuition, a ‘bad feeling’ before something happens. A few years ago I took up tall tree climbing. I used to be a rock climber and I’ve been climbing trees all my life. But this time, instead of following my instincts, which is to do things my way until I reach a roadblock, whereupon I ask others/search books/the net for answers I decided to relearn tree climbing the ‘official way’. This involved harnesses, special ropes and a lot of gear I rather enjoyed buying. But it got in the way. Climbing a very easy hundred foot sycamore with a friend I found myself less than twenty feet from the ground, unclipping to let him abseil down. So I was breaking the new rules I had imposed on myself, yet without the awareness I usually cultivated through doing things my own way. The boots I had on were stiff soled (the only ones that really work for climbing ropes). Without feeling the surface of the branch coming through the sole I made a false move and slipped- and fell headfast fifteen feet to the ground. I broke the fall with my wrist, which took on a nasty ‘S’ curve look. Driving to the hospital with my pal doing the gears for me I vowed to never abandon my own sense of intuition about the safe way FOR ME to undertake any adventure.

I suppose what I am edging around is the best way you adopt for nibbling away at your comfort zone. Taking courses and going with friends both work but I think one must always try and find a way that suits you first. Safety procedures are no substitute for heightened awareness, which includes the awareness that you are tired, ill and prone to making foolish decisions under such conditions.

 

Breaking new ground in an outer sense

Most adventures break new ground in a geographical sense. Going someplace new, or going there in a novel way, or approaching from a new perspective. If you explore Oxford as T.E. Lawrence did, by kayaking through its sewers, you’ll get a different perspective than strolling down St. Giles.

I keep circling this subject in my homemade expedition posts, but we always end up butting up against the objection that the world is all explored. In a macro sense this may be true: aerial photos long ago revealed the earth’s surface geography, but in any other sense the world is an ever changing place where exploration is always a possibility. Places become isolated and forgotten, either because of politics or economics, then we return to them and explore them anew. People change, places change- bringing back news of this is exploration, and a guaranteed adventure. Colin Wilson, a writer I really enjoy reading, always puzzled me by his assertion that ‘travel bored me’. He boasted of spending an entire visit to Sweden holed up in a hotel reading science fiction. I know now that he was expecting too much of travel, that being in the hotel or the hotel coffee shop is sometimes all you need. The adventure is just being there, the slight edge of excitement on all you do. Seeing the conventional sights IS boring sometimes, unless you use them as an alibi to get out and about. My good friend Tarquin Hall taught me long ago that you can turn around as soon as you reach the tourist sight you’ve travelled to, no need for silly reverence or even a photo, however many hours you took. The journey there was the real meat.

 

Bandwidth and adventure

Modern industrial and large scale capitalism operates within a very narrow bandwidth. By this I mean, the kind of experiences it requires or recognises is very limited. It requires the ideal human to be a consumer of novelties, often ill, largely unsatisfied with life, scared, profligate but hard working, and above all a follower of trends and fashions.

I think that the thirst for adventure is partly driven by a desire to get beyond this narrow bandwidth. Adventure can test relationships in a way that not many aspects of normal life can. It can push you into places where you ‘see yourself’; reacting in a stilted or automatic way in a novel situation you realise you aren’t as cool as you thought. The most ‘normal’ people I know are those who have travelled and had various adventures- not necessarily dangerous ones. The people I have always thought as cleaving mostly closely to an ad writer’s stereotype of normality are those I see teetering on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

We simply aren’t designed to live in prison, and by this I mean the prison of narrow bandwidth. Indigenous people tend to accept this. For them, life is so much more than a job and a family, from joy to resignation the mysteries of the universe are claimed as being their birthright, and not the province of professors and theologians. Adventure breaks new ground in that it beings us out of this narrow bandwidth. It may start with a simple desire to experience a thrill such as climbing or rafting, but the places you go to do these things come with spectacular and welcome extra baggage- the people and the surroundings of the wilderness. I was drawn at first to the gymnastic aspects of climbing, now I’m only really interested in the exploratory, going to places very rarely visited before.

 

Solo adventures

Doing something alone can be another way of breaking new ground. Audrey Sutherland, one of my favourite adventurers, favoured using at first, a cheap Tahiti blow up canoe for her solo journeys around Hawaii and Alaska. She realised that a blow-up boat is a lot easier to get back into after a solo spill than a kayak. And since she was alone it didn’t matter that she travelled slowly. And when you are alone you can rest and wait out bad weather conditions – groups are notoriously less patient with such things. Her boat could also carry far more gear than a kayak. By taking her time and a lot of food she could get places long considered too distant and dangerous by others. By going alone she found a way to travel that hadn’t been used before.

Solo travel such as rail or bus travel is more adventurous than travelling in a group (unless you travel with an outgoing type who keeps meeting new people along the way. Somerset Maugham always travelled with an extrovert friend who created adventures in this way.) Alone, but always with a book or kindle (this is THE secret of solo travel, making any restaurant or train a place of pleasure not pain) you are free to join up or leave with anyone you run into on your journey.

Solo travel such as sailing alone around the world without touching land or otherwise meeting anyone (the purity of this now a bit spoilt by satphones) is not for many. The adventure of such an intense self-reliance is the chance to become one with your environment; and also to show you have bigger balls than anyone who has to go with others. And it may just suit you- it may be a quirk of your comfort zone that being alone all day and every day really is no problem at all.

 

Risk and adventure

Breaking new ground involves risk.

What is risky to some is utterly safe to others. In the above section, leaving your comfort zone, we touched on the way that heightened awareness is the best protection you have- it has been serving humans for many millennia longer than safety rules and procedures. I have learnt the hard way, fracturing vertebrae my back in a climbing accident when I was 19. Anytime my emotions are engaged- anger, competitiveness, or when I am switched off- say when descending a mountain- that is when I NOW know I am most vulnerable.

Practising visualisation, being much more aware of emotional states, seeing how those states interfere with your own judgement. Relying on your inner voice- trusting it in simple things- easy route finding for example- and then getting to trust it more and more in dangerous situations; these are a few ways you can do things without getting hurt along the way. As the saying goes: a wise man learns from the mistakes of others, only a fool learns from his own mistakes. Or make that an average person, a fool, presumably never learning anything at all.

 

 

Thursday
Jun122014

Ken Ilgunas on adventure

Nice guy and leading US writer and adventurer, Ken Ilgunas, author of the superb Walden on Wheels, (and with whom I went on an adventure down a tunnel in Scotland) was kind enough to send me his thoughts on adventure.

-Adventure evolves. What was once adventurous may – with repetition – become mundane. The professional skydiver who daily tumbles into the air is as much an adventurer as the secretary who daily reorders her filing cabinet. Inversely, the agoraphobic’s walk across the street could be just as intrepid as the astronaut’s first leap across a lonely planet.

-Adventure is in the eye of the beholder. It doesn’t matter what it means to other people; just what it means to you. What may seem like a sorry adventure to some (some simple road trip), may, for someone else, bring about a flurry of wild, pre-adventure ecstasies, perhaps as intensely as those felt in the breasts of explorers before their most daring expeditions.

-We know a journey will be a proper adventure when we not only feel frightened by it, but recognize its potential to spur personal growth. That which merely frightens us (i.e. bungee jumping, skydiving) is more a cheap thrill than an adventure. An adventure, or a true adventure, rather, also represents some chasm within us that must be bridged. It must confront the very beasts that haunt our dreams, block our paths, and muffle the voice of the wild man howling within all of us. It’s an opportunity for a psychic breakthrough. This adventure will not necessarily transform us into someone else; rather, it can show us who we’ve been all along.

-Adventure is the exploration of the unknown. The experienced hiker/climber/traveler may very well experience adventurous moments, but he is no adventurer. The naïf, rather, must relentlessly conjure courage and conquer fears. The climbing guide or common seafarer function as machines, reading the manual of routine that repetition has imprinted in their heads. The naïf explores his self as much as he does the land around him. It is he who, in bounding over unexplored terrain, reshapes the contours of his mind.

-The true adventurer is a paradox. He is self-centered, yet sacrificial. Living for others is eclipsed by his need to live for himself. Yet, his very life comes secondary to the fulfillment of his dream: his mind is so fixed on his prize that he is willing to forfeit his life to attain it. That’s because his dream is more precious than his life. Could it be that it is this hellbent resolve that has populated the distant islands of the Pacific, put men atop previously-unclimbed, cloud-covered peaks, and sent the European explorer sailing along an arc of an endless ocean? His self-centered dream could be everyone’s salvation.

-No matter how mapped the world becomes and how much wildness gets paved over, adventure will forever exist because we’ll always have the boundless and one-of-a-kind wildlands within ourselves to explore. -To some degree, naiveté, though a shortcoming in most any other situation, is a prerequisite to adventure. (Stupidity can be an outright asset.)

Walden on Wheels at Amazon here 

Thursday
Jun122014

Liars get work

According to a new national survey in the UK, British citizens lie up to three times a week...my guess is that the figure is more like three times a day, or even per hour in some situations. Facebook updates and job applications are where the most memorable lies take place it seems. My favourite factoid, though, is that unemployed people are more likely to be honest and tell the truth than those with jobs....

Wednesday
Jun112014

The Second Law of Adventure

The second law of adventure is:  the right kit can help create an adventure.

There is an early Simpsons episode where Bart, banned from seeing the new Itchy and Scratchy movie, tries to use his imagination instead. He imagines the characters alright but they stand there dumbly in a thought bubble with a questioning look on their faces. I sometimes think that is what it is like when you ‘ban’ yourself from using equipment in an attempt to get back to basics; sometimes you so starve your imagination nothing happens.

When I was a student I was interested in film making but did nothing about it. I could have borrowed a camera anytime but I never did. Then I used my grant to buy a Super 8 camera and started making films. Once I owned that camera I was ready to go. It taught me a simple lesson- kit can get you in the right zone. Naturally this is exploited by every manufacturer out there. The cumulative effect of all their advertising can be to paralyse you or to pervert every adventure into a shopping trip.

Kit can provide a uniform. If it is a uniform that gets you moving and doing things, then all well and good. But if it is a uniform you cannot afford, so you end up doing nothing then that is not so good.

The right piece of kit can open a window into a different world. A climbing rope. Crampons. A canoe. A tent. But then you can always use a tarp instead of a tent, or make a shelter of leaves instead of using a tarp. The urge to use less kit seems to promise even more adventure…

 

What about no kit at all?

There is something intoxicating about someone facing the wilderness with no kit at all. I have written about Bedouin who believe that the more tools a man carries the weaker he is- a real expert can make do with very little in the harsh environment of the desert. Survival experts test themselves by carrying a knife and a cooking pot and that’s it (sometimes, a la Rambo, it’s just a knife- and without the cute little button compass at the end…)

So the fantasy of no-kit is strong. And for a day hike it’s a good idea, if you are able or allowed to start a fire en route. An adventure without a fire or a brew is just not really quite as good in my view.

But try a multi-day hike without kit, as I did once, and be prepared to suffer. It was many years ago when I attempted to walk the benign Ridgeway of southern England armed with just a box of matches, a mess tin, a cycling poncho, food, and a lightweight sleeping bag. From the first hour it started raining. The cycling poncho worked well until the wind got up and blew rain underneath it. In retrospect I would tie a belt around the outside but then my brain was already a little sodden. By nightfall I had found a damp wood. Much creative foraging revealed some tinder trapped in still dry tree trunks. More fossicking and a lot of palaver with building a wooden rain cover, followed by splitting to get at dry wood and some carving and I had a little fire of curled fire sticks going. The mess tin bubbled with a welcome cup of tea- it had taken about an hour to prepare it. As all survival types know- it’s not the skills that count, it’s the time it takes to make those skills count that counts; and I had taken an awful long time. I then had to make some kind of shelter for the night, which was already upon me. The rain thrummed down as I artfully arranged the poncho- which would keep the water off my head and upper body but not my feet. Hmm, talk about optimism but I had simply not believed it would rain for so long. In the morning my feet were drenched and cold. I knew this because I had only slept about ten minutes all night (or so it seemed).

I skipped breakfast, drank a cup of cold water and headed off. The following night was a little dryer, but then the downpour began at 5am. Rain before 7, fine before 11 or so the adage goes. Not always…

And so I gave up. Left the ridgeway. Bought a meal in a pub and phoned my Dad to pick me up…

Too little kit can stymie a good adventure. So knowing this we often go to the other extreme…

 

The delusion of getting all the kit first

I see them on the internet, cramming the threads and forums with their endless chat about the kit they have and the kit they want. Do they ever use it? Or are they, like the Cairo bikers and off-roaders I used to know, keener on just gathering in the wilderness for a few hours to simply…examine each others kit?

If only I could have X then I would do Y is a simple equation for doing nothing, a persuasive opiate, a nice opportunity to peruse Amazon looking for bargains and upgrades. In fact, why buy now when the new upgrade will be out in a couple of months? I’ve gone years not getting a decent camera because the next upgrade promises to be so much better…

In the end you have to take the first step. You have to go out the front door and have your adventure. Almost any kit will do as long as you can keep warm and dry and can eat and drink. I speak as someone who has just spent two hours looking for the perfect drysuit for sea kayaking…when I know almost any suit will do. Which leads us to…

 

Get the BEST kit

I once read a book on backpacking by an author who claimed to hate all camping until they discovered modern backpacking gear. He revelled in super-lightweight tents, hi-capacity rucksacks, thermarest, jet-boil stove and toasty warm RAB quantum down bag. Not to mention the LED headlight, the Parimo jacket and trousers, the pump filter and all the other gadgets he loved. One may scoff- but it got him outside and doing things.

In an earlier post I wrote about how mountain bikes injected some much needed pizzazz into cycling. Now ultra lightweight gear makes backpacking fun again. You will have to pay for the privilege unless you become adept at making things.

 

Make kit or make do.

Pack rafts are nifty very durable very light blow up rafts. They are also very expensive. I’ve made a much cheaper alternative by removing the outer ring on a cheap sevylor seahawk and using a tarp or bivvy bag to protect the more fragile pvc outer. This cost about one twentieth the price of the Alpacka pack raft. For my purposes it’s just as good.

Instead of a sil-nylon tarp I’ve used an old army one. Instead of top end down bags I’ve used a silk liner inside an artificial down bag in temperatures well below zero. Making do isn’t so hard, especially when you have steeled yourself for a few days away whatever happens.

 

How to use kit to create an adventure

Kit can suggest an adventure. I wanted to travel in a birchbark canoe. I started reading about them. I found that the longest birchbark canoe journey in history had been the first crossing of Canada by Alexander Mackenzie in 1793. No one had replicated his exact journey so I decided to do it. I would never have even thought of this adventure without first getting interested in birchbark canoes. Plastic boats may suggest different possibilities. Sometimes a new development- like the ultra-portable pack raft- suggests a whole slew of new adventures.

 

The things you carry

Kit I always carry: my leatherman classic- the well named supertool version with saw. Despite breaking the lock on one side this tool has been used to fix cars, saw off moose antlers, extricate someone from a locked Macdonalds’ loo, file down nail heads into fish hooks and countless other tasks. Though I like a Victorinox hunter penknife for lightweight camping you can’t beat the supertool for sheer toughness and utility. No other leatherman or gerber comes close.

But does it inspire me to have the idea for a new adventure? Maybe not. For that I think you need a piece of transport related kit. After building the desert trolley all sorts of desert expeditions suggested themselves. Having an inflatable kayak meant solo sea canoeing was less risky than solo sea kayaking in a regular kayak. A mountain bike with a sideways extendable handlebar (making it easier to push without getting hit by the peddles) allowed the transport of loads more gear, suggesting longer trips, again in the desert.

I think kit is one of those things you probably want to have experienced before you give it up. You need to have used a tent, maybe, before you try a bivvy bag or sleep out under the stars. Kit is the way we transport ourselves psychologically out of our comfort zone. Think of those people who travel everywhere in a mobile home, taking their comfort zone with them like a tortoise or hermit crab. Gradually you get used to less. For years I only liked new kit. Now I always go to ebay first. There is nothing like getting a hardly used piece of kit for almost no money because of a wrong listing or because the owner didn’t know what they were selling. Some people go the other way, demanding more comfort, which is a little different from demanding more of a comfort zone. As Baden Powell was fond of remarking, ‘any fool can rough it’.

 

Tuesday
Jun102014

The First Law of Adventure...

The first law of adventure is: adventure is a decision

We all decide for ourselves what does and does not constitute an 'adventure'. Often the difference between two people's lives- one seemingly dull and the other chock full of adventure is simply the decision each made on what counted as an adventure.

If we don’t make a decision in advance, we will react with our default setting.

Your default setting depends on whether you’ve been given any warning or not that an adventure is on the offing. There is one setting for absolutely no warning and another for when you have some chance to get your head together. Imagine you are driving along the road and suddenly you hit an enormous flood across both lanes, something you have had no warning about. You have to drive through it carefully to avoid stalling. You’ll discover what your default setting is by running this as a thought experiment. Do you think you’ll be grinning to yourself about the challenge or grimly worrying about the car conking out? And if you are in a hurry this will probably NOT be an adventure. But if you have been given a little warning then successfully negotiating the flooded road could be a nice little adventure.

The connection between time and adventure is interesting. The more of a rush we get ourselves into the less we see the adventurous options that surround us. And often they don’t even take up anymore time than the non-adventurous option. It’s yet another insidious effect of the ‘time poor’ lifestyle we shoehorn ourselves into- often for no better reason than everyone else is similarly afflicted. (To feel less stressed about time you might care to look at the timeshifting material on this website). For an instant quick solution: reduce the time spent watching TV and using social media. I also recently started learning a new skill- ceramics. Learning is the best way to slow the sensation of time rushing by.

Your capacity for adventure also depends on your situation, the space that you occupy. In a different location your sense of adventure could be higher than at home.

But if you want to reset your default setting, then you need to decide that taking the adventure option is the right thing to do. You have to decide in advance that the ‘way of adventure’ is for you. And though I believe that almost all of us need more adventure in our lives, I think that it shouldn’t feel like a forced or contrived decision.

After all, sometimes you don’t want an adventure.

However you may brainwash yourself that you are a real adventurer, or adventurous type, there comes a time when you simply don’t want an adventure. Everyone has a Took side and a Baggins side (Bilbo Baggins was half Took, half Baggins- the Tooks were adventurous, the Bagginses weren’t). Sometimes the Baggins side in all of us triumphs.

Just don't let it happen too often, after all, even Bilbo left home eventually. As one French yachtsman told me: "if you want to be really safe, stay in all the time and watch television." Though even that isn't as safe as you might think: several people have been killed by exploding TVs and one unfortunate woman was wiped out when a truck left the road and crashed through her living room wall, killing her, as she watched television...

 

Adventure is the mindset that says YES to a challenge

An adventurous mindset is one that is looking for potential adventures everywhere. It is a state of mind geared to seeking out challenges on all levels, challenges that bring you into situations where you break new ground.

What stops us from saying yes? Default settings, as we have seen, but also our mood, influence by our perceived state of health, wealth and happiness. If you are feeling ill the last thing you want to do is go and shoot some rapids or even meet someone new. 

When you’re feeling hard-up your mind will be pulling you towards the more boring option. We assume money is more plentiful where boredom proliferates...I wonder why? It may be that the bigger the adventure the more profitable it is.

One of the odd things about human beings is that we tend to opt for things that prolong the state we happen to be in. When you’re unhappy you’ll opt for doing things that prolong unhappiness. It takes a while to learn that we need to flick a mental switch and do something different.

Flicking a mental switch sounds easy, but it takes effort, or at least it requires you assign some signifcance to the task. To switch into a more adventurous mindset, to say YES, we need to change the way we perceive the adventurous option. By changing what we contrast the adventure to, we change our perspective. And if there is one KEY to taking control of your life and your moods it is the ability to switch perspective at will.  

Health, wealth and happiness affect our inclination to be adventurous, but they are all also subjective states. Athletes are always nursing an injury. They’re never 100% healthy. If you’re not starving then you have ‘enough’ money from one perspective. And there is no better way to short circuit an unhappy frame of mind than to plan or have an adventure. You might need to drag yourself kicking and screaming to the wilderness, or let yourself be dragged (I’ve done that), but once there you won’t regret it.

 

An adventure brings you BANG into the present

When it appeared, ‘Flow’ by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced I am told Mi-haley-chick-sent-mi-haley), was a groundbreaking book. He highlighted the need to really get ‘into’ what you are doing, to enter a ‘flow state’ when past and future cease to matter and you experience an expanded sense of the present.

A few years after ‘Flow’ appeared there was an upsurge of people seeking ‘to be in the now’.

More recently we have seen how ‘mindfulness’ training has brought meditation practices of self-observation to bear on ordinary life in the modern West, shifting people into a more ‘present centred’ frame of mind.

Why do we need to be more in the present? Why is ‘being in the ‘now’’ a good thing? If you have spent any time worrying about the future or regretting the past you won’t need a long answer to the above. For those with less traumatic experience, being in the present supplies, or re-supplies, us with a more durable energy than the past or future do.

It’s a rather subtle thing, but being in the present is the champagne of energies, whereas living in the future or revelling in the past is like guzzling the kind of wine they sell at French service stations out of a nozzle, not dissimilar to the one that delivers your petrol. Not that being in the present is intoxicating- it just looks and feels like it compared to being stuck in the past or locked onto the future.

 

Make adventure plans all the time

When you go for a walk in your neighborhood, check the map for someplace that looks interesting- ruins, woods, even as I did the other day, an interesting stone. The key thing is that it should be somewhere you haven’t been to before. Along the way you are bound to have lots of side adventures too. It’s a result of having the mindset that says YES to a challenge. But it can be planned for. You can prime your own mind to be more alert, looking out for potential adventures.

The initial plan is just a springboard to get you into a more adventurous zone. You must be able to depart the plan when something better comes up.

Since life is always more interesting and varied than our own plan can be, be ready and able to depart the plan when required. Except when you shouldn't...


Know when to stick to the plan

Most failed expeditions result from two things: failure to plan correctly or a decision to depart the plan whilst on the expedition. If the plan is good, and nothing solid contradicts it (ie. if you plan to walk over a volcanic mountain and it erupts then you may change your plan. But if you plan to walk over the mountain then on the day someone points to a more interesting looking mountain then stick to the plan.)

This is a direct contradiction to the earlier comment about being ready to depart the plan when something more interesting crops up. When I was walking across the Great Sand Sea the group I was leading discussed the idea of achieving a confluence point (a whole number intersection of latitude and longitude, check DCP.com for more information). The problem was, this confluence point meant walking 30km into very severe dunes, 200 metres high over which none of the camels could pass. That meant we’d be splitting the group. We were already a little behind time so I didn’t want extra pressure forcing a bad decision. So we didn’t do it. Less adventurous? Maybe in the short term. But if we’d had to give up our attempt at crossing the Sand Sea because of a lack of time then we’d have missed out on the bigger overall adventure. As a general rule- stick to the big plans, feel free to amend the minor plans.

 

Make something out of nothing

Can you pull something from a trash bin and make something out of it? Can you sit round a campfire and spin a yarn or a fantastical conversation? Can you make a sculpture out of a pile of driftwood; in other words can you make something out of nothing?

To make a habit of making something out of nothing is a way to see the adventurous possibilities that surround us.

 

The energy of an adventure= fun/treasure/story

In the quest for adventure the poles we seek are usually fun, some kind of hidden treasure and a good story. ‘Treasure’ can be interesting people, experiences, places. The fun of it relies on keeping the ‘bullshit’ aspects of adventuring to a minimum. Bullshit includes too much kit, too high a financial cost, too ‘serious’ a goal.

An odd aspect of adventure seeking is that often the less serious the goal the more adventures it generates. Tony Hawke’s famously travelled round Ireland with a fridge; it created a lot more adventures than if he had travelled with a stout pair of walking boots and sensible rucksack. When Roger Mear completed the first manhaul to the South Pole since Scott, he remarked that an earlier visit he had made to New Guinea, a far less ‘serious’ undertaking, had been more adventurous.

Despite this remark, one way of balancing seriousness with adventure is to follow in the footsteps of another explorer (as long as not many other people have). You have a respectable goal but also lots of opportunity to improvise along the way, and investigate things the original explorer may have been in too much of a hurry to have paid proper attention to.

 

Monday
Jun092014

The melted cup

Some nalgene-type drinking bottles resist heat well...

Others don't....

This happened on a walk between two stones marked on the map as interesting. Both turned out to be modern engraved things left by conservation societies at pleasant viewpoints. Then we came across this stone embedded in a wall.

Maybe an old Sarsen stone, or perhaps a slab made for an early enclosure. Thomas Hardy built his house within a stone circle, and somewhat implausibly didn't know this. Richard Burton's first long poem was entitled 'stone talk'. Richard Long the artist famously carries small stones from place to place. In Robert Graves's masterful short story 'The Shout' a man searches endlessly on the beach for the stone that is his soul...then the stone is broken into four pieces.

Walking between big Sarsen stones, or looking out for them, makes for an interesting expedition, even if they turn out to be not what you imagined.

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