Have a mini adventure today!
You don’t need to be the first to reach the top of a mountain, or to travel the globe or zoom into space to be adventurous – there’s an entire world of excitement waiting to be explored right outside your front door, says Mike Peake
By the time Captain Robert Falcon Scott set out on his ill-fated 1910 expedition to the South Pole, he had already been planning the mission for more than four years. When he wasn’t poring over charts or selecting muscular comrades for the journey, he was travelling the world and pressing the flesh in pursuit of financial backers.
In many ways it was the start of the modern adventurer’s template: plot your course, bank your funds and then disappear on a life-changing excursion – and Scott was a master of the game. But it isn’t the only way to have an adventure. Most of today’s professional explorers will tell you that when it comes to world firsts, there is literally nothing left to do.
All of the important wildernesses/ mountain ranges/oceans have long since been traversed. But as each was removed from the explorer’s to-do list, the adventure community didn’t wither and die. Far from it – a quick look at Mount Everest’s everincreasing list of annual summit attempts shows that our appetite for the extreme is as buoyant as ever.
If the prize when it comes to expeditions is no longer to be the first – and for most of us it isn’t to be the fastest – might it be possible that to have tried at all is the main thing? A new school of thought argues exactly that – and that in order to test yourself in a deep and meaningful
way, bottomless pockets and an army of personal guides need no longer be part of the deal.
“Going on an adventure can be as easy as walking out your front door,” says explorer Jason Lewis, who was the first person to circumnavigate the globe using human power – a combination of cycling, roller blading, hiking and pedalling a wooden boat. “Just keep going for a day, a week or a month. If fortune favours the bold, then destiny smiles on the impulsive.”
Jason’s epic 13-year journey that started in Greenwich, London, in 1994 and ended back there in 2007, clearly didn’t happen on the spur of the moment, but the spirit that carried him around the world and into the record books is one that lurks within many of us.
By dispensing with what you think you should be doing today, Lewis says, you can embark on an adventure tomorrow. “Why wait?” he implores. “Even that may be too late.” While Jason and his fellow explorers’ adventures typically involve months away from home and some exoticsounding, far-flung destinations – primarily because of the need for something to write and lecture about when they get back – these are just the icing on the cake. A short adventure that you do at the drop of a hat can be similarly inspiring – just as owning a Ferrari isn’t the only way to get a buzz out of driving.
As Lewis explains, “The potential for adventure is all around us: we just have to change our mindset to recognise and embrace it.”
A popular Twitter hashtag to have emerged over the past 12 months is #microadventure, a term first coined two years ago by British-based adventurer Alastair Humphreys. Like Lewis, Humphreys is no stranger to globe-trotting exploits – he has cycled the world, rowed the Atlantic and walked across India – but when he started to question how audiences at his post-expedition talks related to what he’d done, he found himself wondering if he could make ‘adventure’ more accessible.
“I got the sense that everyone likes adventure even if they don’t do anything adventurous, so I tried to think of a way that everyone could try it,” he says. Settling on the term ‘micro adventure’ to sum up a series of new, mini-expeditions he planned to undertake, he set off with a friend on a 240km walk on London’s unloved M25 motorway in freezing January weather. It lasted a week, and what surprised Humphreys was that it was far more of a wilderness adventure than he’d envisioned.
In fact, he says, it had everything that he usually found on his major expeditions, only on a smaller scale.
Followers of Humphreys’ blog and Twitter account seemed to love his cheap-and-cheerful, close-to-home voyage, and one chilly morning one of them even cycled out to the leafy spot he was sleeping at to invite him back for a cooked breakfast.
“All the reasons I cycled around the world were also to be found on that M25 walk,” Humphreys insists. “Going somewhere new, meeting people, learning about different places. Rather than thinking that a micro adventure is small and a bit
rubbish, it’s much better to think of it as a proper one, but shorter.” And, as he astutely points out, it’s a lot better than the alternative – doing nothing at all.
Inspired by his amble along London’s congested gyratory system, Humphreys embarked on a whole year of small, do-able micro adventures, cleverly extolling the virtues of a “5-9 existence”, instead of living – as most of us do – with 9-5 at the forefront of our minds. “You theoretically have 16 hours of freedom to play with every single day,” he says, “so leaving the city at 5pm, finding a hill, lighting a campfire and sleeping under the stars are all possible. Then it’s back down the hill, swim in a wadi and back to your desk by 9.”
It’s a philosophy not lost on Dubai-based adventurer Adrian Hayes, whose own mega-adventures are augmented by a great number of much smaller trips. “In a world where many of us are glued to computers or smartphone screens,” he says, “there is something pure and refreshing about getting away from it, even for just a day.”
A former British Army Gurkha officer who also set two Guinness World Records for polar expeditions, Hayes goes on to talk – with nostalgic glee – about one particular weekend last winter in which he spent two nights in the Hajar Mountains with friends. “We slept on the ground at 2,000m above sea level in perfect weather under a canopy of stars. It costs nothing, and it just can’t be beaten.”
Jason Lewis adds: “An occasional leap of faith like this presents us with the opportunity to learn about ourselves and what we are capable of. What are our limits? What are our strengths? In the most basic sense of the word, adventure should be a conduit to provide some meaning to your life.”
Furthermore, Alastair Humphreys says that we owe it to ourselves to put a little adventure into our dayto-day existence. “In my ideal world, everyone would have some sort of national service-style compulsory adventure,” he chuckles. “Because a bit of adventure will change you for the better – even if you don’t enjoy it and don’t want to do it again. It will make you more aware of yourself and force you to be honest with yourself and not take life too seriously.” It reminds you, he says, that it is good to laugh at the ridiculous.
If you’re nodding along in agreement but now wondering which patch of grass outside Mall of the Emirates to try pitching your tent on, you might need to think just a tiny bit bigger.
“You’re only a 30-minute drive from vast, empty deserts,” says Humphreys. “I’m sure most people living in the city have been out and slept in the dunes: do it again! Do it more often and with different people. Spending a night under the stars with minimal stuff is great, and the fantastic mountains of Oman are only a couple of hours away.”
Hayes adds: “We have an incredible area of desert, wadis and mountains right on our doorstep and all are feasible by foot or 4WD between now and April. The crags for rock climbing are a year-round possibility.”
Hayes’ tip is to try and get away from the places you see written about in guidebooks. “All you need is a map, safety in numbers and enough food and water in case of any incidents.”
Both Hayes and Humphreys are no strangers to the area, Hayes having written the book Footsteps of Thesiger, which details his 44-day, 1,600km journey by camel and foot across the Empty Quarter, on the trail of 1940s British explorer Sir Wilfred Thesiger. A similarly inspired Humphreys completed his own Thesiger odyssey more recently – although it didn’t get off to a textbook start.
“Day one was actually the worst,” Humphreys winces. “We couldn’t afford a camel so we had a cart to haul our stuff, and it was only on day one that we tested it fully loaded and realised it didn’t work.” Luckily, a couple of backstreet mechanics were able to “whack and weld” the contraption into shape, leaving Humphreys and his travelling companion Leon McCarron to embark on a memorable journey that was to prove abundant not just in sandy vistas, but in Arabian hospitality, too.
To give the journey a clearly defined, almost totemic finishing point, the pair settled on the Burj Khalifa and, having donated their cart to a museum in Al Ain, they began their final trek towards the world’s tallest building. “I remember walking through the massive mall that leads to it, not having showered for 1,000 miles, absolutely stinking and getting some very strange looks,” says Humphreys.
By his own admission, it’s the strangest place he’s ever ended one of his adventures – but perhaps it is the perfect place to begin yours. Just add a backpack and travel buddy and point the compass south, and if it all gets a bit much a few minutes in, the Palace Old Town Hotel and its sumptuous double rooms will be right there to welcome you.
A micro adventure may be more do-able than you first think
Alastair aims to make adventures more accessible
A micro adventure could help you to take life less seriously...
...and perhaps become more self-aware and honest