Get out there

I’ve been told by many adventurers that the hardest part of any trip is taking the plunge and leaving the house, and 99.9% of people will never get that far. And I can believe it. For most of my life I’ve been one of the people who always talks about the incredible expeditions they plan to go on …one day. I always looked at maps and planned the routes I’d take around the world and the countries I’d travel through. I even got as far as committing to a couple of projects – but then always got scared and pulled out at the last minute. I was jealous of other people’s expeditions – sometimes to the extent that I’d go to great lengths to avoid reading or hearing about them.

So it bothers me ever so slightly when people tell me how impressed and inspired they are by what I’m doing – because behind the intrepid adventurer they seem to think I am is a lazy, indecisive, impractical, procrastinating coward, who could have done this years ago, but never quite got round to it.

But of course, maybe this is exactly why they’re inspired – because they look at me, and think “well, if a loser like her can cycle round the world, then a loser like me definitely could!”, or something like that. Inspiration can come from the strangest places, after all.

One of my main inspirations is Alastair Humphreys – the David Beckham of round-the-world cyclists, and also one of the nicest guys you could hope to meet. Al is most famous for cycling round the world in his early twenties, and since then has completed the Marathon des Sables, rowed to France, walked across India and written five books. Next month he sets off to row across the Atlantic.

It’s a mindblowing – and somewhat intimidating CV. But to my mind, Al’s greatest achievement has been to inspire countless other would-be explorers to get out of the house and start having their own adventures, however modest. Reading one of his books was what finally consolidated my years of daydreaming into resolution and action. And just about every other English-speaking cycle tourist I’ve met cites him as one of their main influences. He also seems to spend a great deal of his time networking and linking people together. “I heard about you via Al Humphreys” must be one of the most common phrases uttered by cycle tourists upon meeting each other, on the road in in the blogosphere.

And Al’s most recent initiative, for which he’s been named one of National Geographic’s Adventurers of the Year, was to declare 2011 the year of the microadventure, a concept which I believe he invented himself, though it has already been borrowed, quoted, emulated and plagiarized all over the place.

Not all of us have the time, money or energy to spend several months or years cycling round the world (etc.). I’m very much aware of how lucky I am to be one of the ones who gets to do it – I receive emails all the time from friends and strangers who tell me how jealous they are of my trip, and how they’d love to be doing it themselves, but can’t because of their mortgage, their job or their family, or simply because the thought of giving up everything and striking out into the unknown is too daunting.

But, as Al very persuasively points out, an adventure needn’t be large and expensive and time-consuming and ambitious. It can be as small and as simple as camping out for the night, or entering a race, or walking a lap of the M25, and it can be accomplished in a weekend, a single night, or even just a few hours. He argues that

even though we are busy we can still find (must still find) small pockets of time to test ourselves and to get away from the noise and clutter of modern life, out into wildness. To sleep under the stars, stand on a hilltop, swim in a river and swap Twitter for birdsong, if only for a short while.

So if you’re one of the people desperately wishing you could get out there and feel the wind in your hair – let 2012 be the year that you do it! No matter how full your schedule is, there’s an adventure to fit you. If you’re busy all day every day – then there’s always the night to fill. Try one of the Friday Night Rides to the Coast, or tackle the Dunwich Dynamo in July, and be home in time for Sunday lunch. Or set aside a weekend and go on a mini-tour on your own. It needn’t be that taxing. A couple of hours’ ride after work on Friday, a late pub dinner and then camp in a field somewhere, then a nice long spin on Saturday, another night under canvas and ride home on Sunday morning, in time to put your kit through the wash and rest up for Monday morning.

Maybe it won’t be quite as epic as cycling round the world, but you’ll still find you have plenty of stories to  regale your family and colleagues with. I went on two three-day tours last year, and each one was beset by more disaster than I’ve experienced on this entire trip so far (everything from floods to knee injury to catastrophic bike failure). It wasn’t fun at the time, but if you ever have me round to dinner, I’ll use up the best part of an hour telling you ALL about it.

Go and have an adventure. It will make you a happier, stronger and more interesting person. And then come and tell me all about it. I think Al might be interested too…

And, although it’s the direct opposite of a microadventure, may I just take a moment to congratulate my friends Vicky and Henrik, who have finally taken the plunge and will be setting out on their big adventure on the 6th of January. Follow them, from Ushuaia to New York, here.

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