Fancy an adventure… a microadventure?
Adventure is a loose word that means different things to different people. It is a state of mind, a spirit of trying something new and leaving your comfort zone. Adventure is about enthusiasm, ambition, open-mindedness and curiosity.
I remember as a young lad reading books like The Hardy Boys and Swallows and Amazons, these book instilled this spirit of adventure in me. I loved the mystery, the almost mystic sense of belonging to something exciting and well… adventurous.
Most people enjoy adventure and would love to have more of it in their lives, but most people don’t have the time to cycle round the world, sail the black sea’s or climb the seven summits.
But adventure should not only be for ‘Adventurers’.
A little while ago I can across an article published by our friends over at The Art of Manliness. This article highlighted the works of Alastair Humphreys and his most excellent book titled, Microadventures. Now here I was intrigued. Finally I could have an adventure, with my family, that can fit into my string budget and lifestyle. Oh baby! I can final wet my appetite for fun and adventure.
What exactly is a Microadventure?
I’ll let Alastair explain it as simply as possible… “[Adventure] is a state of mind, a spirit of trying something new and leaving your comfort zone. Adventure is about enthusiasm, ambition, open-mindedness, and curiosity….‘adventure’ is not only crossing deserts and climbing mountains; adventure can be found everywhere, every day, and it is up to us to seek it out.” –Alastair Humphreys, Microadventures
Sounds great right? RIGHT? Want to get out and explore more, but don’t have the time or money to undertake a major, globe-trotting expedition? Feeling stuck, rundown and frustrated? I challenge you to a microadventure.
Now Alastair Humphreys is a true Adventurer with a capital A. Humphreys has bicycled around the world, walked across India, and rowed across the Atlantic Ocean. And he noticed that whenever he spoke of these travels, listeners would get a look of awe and envy in their eyes and wistfully express how they wished they could take similarly grand adventures. This admission was invariably followed by a list of excuses for why such expeditions were not in the cards — the would-be adventurers lived in suburbs and cities, had jobs and kids, and didn’t have enough money, vacation time, etc.
Humphreys was sympathetic and understood that it is hard for normal folks to take four years off to cycle around the world. Yet he strongly believed that people from all walks should cultivate the spirit of adventure in their lives. So to address this dilemma, he decided to undertake an experiment: for a year he would seek short, simple, cheap adventures in a place not known for its wild landscape — his home country of England. Rather than setting out on involved, far-flung expeditions, he would regularly take “microadventures” – tiny trips that butted right up against the boundary of what might be called an adventure at all, but still retained the fun, excitement, escapism, and challenge inherent to the essence of true adventures.
Image from Alastair Humphreys
Image from Alastair Humphreys
Humphreys wanted to bust the seeming barriers and excuses people gave for lacking adventure in their lives; he wanted to show that adventures could be had close to home, fit into a 9-5 schedule, and didn’t require gobs of money, lots of gear, or special training.
To that end, he squeezed in weekend mountain biking trips, rode the subway out to random patches of countryside where he’d sleep on the ground or atop a hill, took a two-day bike ride down the coast, swam and camped the river Thames, climbed some local mountains, tubed a small waterway near Wales, and hiked in small areas of wilderness. Some of his adventures were longer and more challenging, others more simple; once, he simply curled up in a sleeping bag in the garden outside his backdoor and slept the night in his yard.
At the end of his year of microadventures, Humphreys concluded that his small expeditions had packed a big punch, leaving him feeling rejuvenated and rekindling his boyish spirit. He thinks everyone else needs regular doses of microadventures, too.
“[Microadventures are] for aspiring adventurers who are looking for the confidence to kick on to bigger projects, as well as for seasoned adventurers wanting to learn more about their local area or scratch the itch of adventure in between big trips. It’s for people with real jobs and real lives, with a couple of kids and a cat to feed. It’s for people who love reading about adventure, who yearn for adventure, but who think that they are too busy, too old, too fat, or too urbanized to be able to get out there and do it.” –AH
The microadventure challenge
I am throwing down the gauntlet here. I challenge you to a duel! Whups! wrong journal. However I am serious I want to challenge you to at least one microadventure a month. It could be something as simple as a hike out in the woods, or visiting the Natural History museum, but the challenge is more to break the cycle than anything else really, challenge yourself and LIVE out there
“Even in your backyard there are new adventures, new sights, new perspectives: you just have to make the small effort to go and discover them.” –AH
Here is a few ideas around the Pretoria/Centurion area of South Africa.
- Hike in Groenkloof Nature Reserve
- Visit Freedom Park
- Visit the Natural History Museum
- Go Fishing at Bundu-Bashing (Or any pond of water close by)
- Visit Rietvlei Nature Reserve
- Mountain Bike Cycle at The Red Barn 7
- Tour the Tswaing Crater
- Go for a weekend camp
- Do breakfast at Jasmyn
- Camp with the kids in the back yard
All of these are within easy driving distance from the Capital and can cost almost next to nothing. You will love it, your kids will love it, Heck the entire family will love it. Looking at that simple list I think whats surprises me the most is that it’s really not all that challenging to find a microadventure. But this challenge will get your mid out of the rut and into a different mode. Not to mention feeling more connected to the city ad the environment around it.
As Humphreys writes, the great thing about microadventures is they can be scaled up or down. If you’re childless, or simply already have a higher comfort level, you can seek out more exciting and involved challenges. If you’re super busy and have a lot on your plate, you can find ways to squeeze tiny microadventures into your schedule.
“Ever since I began taking on these intentionally small ‘expeditions,’ I have discovered that coming up with an interesting plan (and committing to making it happen) is virtually all you need to do to guarantee an interesting, challenging and rewarding experience.” –AH
The most important thing, no matter your situation in life, is to realize that chances for adventure are all around you. Don’t think adventure has to wait for a grand global trek, or for the perfect circumstances in your daily life, where you think all your ducks will get in a row, and you’ll be able to start getting out more. In every city there are pockets of wilderness to explore; in every schedule there are pockets of time to utilize.
- Rucksack – as a rough guide, a 30-liter pack is probably big enough for your first venture. Line it with a bin bag to keep all your gear waterproof.
- Sleeping Bag – don’t buy anything special. If you worry that your sleeping bag might not keep you warm enough then just pack as many extra jumpers as necessary.
- Orange Survival Bag – use a bivvy bag to protect you from wet weather. Buy these online or at any camping shop for a few pounds and put your sleeping bag inside.
- Foam Sleeping Mat – essential for getting a half-decent sleep. Put it outside your sleeping bag and inside the orange survival bag.
- Torch (Flashlight)
- Rain Coat (even in the summer)
- Wool Hat (even in the summer)
- Warm Clothes
- Food that doesn’t need cooking. Or eat breakfast before you go. Have breakfast when you get back home.
- Water (2 liters should be plenty)
Picking where to camp
Once you have worked out roughly where you are going for your first 5-to-9 microadventure, you might need a few tips to help you find the perfect wild camping spot.
Things to look for on your map to identify a delightful sleeping spot include lots of contour lines (a hill) with a flat bit at the top, green areas of woodland, blue areas of water, or even walls to shelter behind in areas of fields away from homes. Look for a footpath leading off the road into quieter areas. Stroll down a path like that for half a mile or so and you’re virtually guaranteed to find a nice place to lay your head.
Image from Alastair Humphreys
Getting a good night sleep
Make sure you have a sleeping mat. A good one is worth the money. The nights I have not bothered with one, in the name of traveling light / minimalism / testing myself / giving it to a girl to impress her, have all been a miserable disaster. An inflatable pillow could be a good investment, otherwise use some spare clothes bundled up in a dry bag. The nights where I have had to use my shoes or a can of beer for a pillow have always been unpleasant.
Take some time to find a flat bit of ground to sleep on. Small lumps grow demonically large in the night. Ditto for gradients.
If you wake up cold in the middle of the night, don’t just lie there shivering. Force yourself to get up and put on more clothes. It’s easier said than done but it is so worthwhile! Five minutes of hassle and shiver is worth it for being warm through the rest of the night. I have mastered this art, at long last, and it really is invaluable.
Image from Alastair Humphreys
Documenting your adventure
- Take a camera with you. And don’t just take a camera: actually take it out of your bag and begin using it! This sounds obvious, but it makes all the difference. Even if it’s just the camera on your phone, get into the habit of taking regular photos, whatever the weather. The times when you really can’t be bothered to take photos are probably the times you should be shooting.
- Although you probably are using a digital camera, try to imagine that it is a film camera. In other words, think that every picture you take will cost you 50p. This should help you make a little more effort with your photography. Pause, think, compose, and only then press the shutter. It amazes me how often I see people taking photographs whilst actually still walking, like Arnold Schwarzenegger shooting from the hip on the move.
- If you have a DSLR camera then learn how to use the different modes. You’re on a spectacular hilltop. It’s getting dark but there is a lovely late, soft light. Your bivvy bag and rucksack lie heroically in the foreground. You decide to take a photo. It will be a great shot.“*FLASH* goes the camera, on automatic mode. The result? A pitch-black background and some dazzles from the reflective bits on your bags. The simple solution for a decent exposure? Just open the aperture or slow the shutter speed. Even my phone now has an app for shooting at slower shutter speeds.
You just have to realize that adventure is all around you, take the first small step, and make stuff happen. For more inspiration, and ideas for much sexier microadventures, I highly recommend picking up a copy of Humphrey’s book. He has a website packed with microadventure tips as well.