Alastair Humphreys, author and adventurer, writes about the excitement of a microadventure
Adventure is a loose word, a spirit of trying something new, trying something difficult. Going somewhere different, leaving your comfort zone. Above all, adventure is about enthusiasm, ambition, open-mindedness and curiosity. I imagine that many parents would consider these to be positive traits to try to foster in their children.
If this is true then “adventure” is not only rowing oceans, climbing mountains or cycling round the world. Adventure is everywhere, every day and it is up to us to seek it out and to help our children to seek it out. We need to encourage them that wilderness and adventure and calculated risk are all good things, not things to shy away from.
I’m a full-time “adventurer” (I feel the need to add the inverted commas as it doesn’t really feel like a proper grown up’s job description). And I have spent much of the last couple of years pursuing adventures on my own doorstep. Only last week I camped in a field near Milton Keynes and cooked a campfire supper on a hilltop in the South Downs. These are unremarkable adventures. But the essence of them – the wildness, the simplicity, the rawness – is exactly the same as the essence of the adventures that I had when I walked across India or cycled over the Karakoram mountains.
Many young people derive massive satisfaction from adventurous programmes such as the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, Gap year projects or backpacking tours. I’m a real advocate of all these things. However, I often field nervous questions from parents whose post-school age children are heading off “on their first big adventure”. The parents are generally pleased, proud… and very worried! Adventures tend to begin with toddlers climbing tall sofas but then fizzle out too quickly in our risk averse society. Not enough children or teenagers experience the thrill of adventure. But here’s the thing: risk is a good thing, a vital thing. It teaches us about our limits and personal responsibility. It encourages us to try harder, to learn the consequences of failure and the pride of hard-won success. It teaches us that our capabilities are far greater than we imagine.
This is why more people need to try small adventures, tiny adventures, even microadventures. Children and teenagers can’t go on huge adventures all the time. But they can have a microadventure. You do not need to fly to the other side of the planet to find wilderness and beauty; even people living in big cities are not very far away from small pockets of wilderness. Adventure is only a state of mind. Adventure is stretching yourself; mentally, physically or culturally. It’s about doing something you do not normally do, pushing yourself hard and doing it to the best of your ability. You do not need to be an elite athlete, expertly trained, or rich to have an adventure.
A microadventure is an adventure that is close to home, cheap, simple, short, and yet very effective. It has all the ingredients and the spirit (and therefore the benefits) of a big adventure. It’s just condensed into a weekend, or even a school night. Here’s one example of a microadventure which I hope will help change the perception that adventures are time-consuming, dangerous and expensive. This idea is so simple your children could even try it without parental supervision once you are comfortable with their levels of responsibility and common sense.
Pick a warm Friday evening, perhaps June 21st (the summer solstice night). After school and homework, pack a bag with the basic essentials – sleeping bag and mat, bivvy bag, warm clothes, food and a torch – and head up a hill. Eat your tea on the top. Enjoy the view. Light a campfire if you have permission. Look up at the stars. Chat and share ideas. Sleep under the stars. Wake early as the sun rises and the birds begin to sing. Dawn is the “Wow” moment, if you have not already felt it, when you feel vindicated in deciding to sleep on a hilltop. Waking early but refreshed, with a view more uninterrupted and magnificent than any five-star hotel, on top of the world.
Imagine the excitement! Imagine the fabulous exciting adventure of sleeping on a hilltop and watching the sun rise from a view so familiar yet so new. You do not need to wait for children to leave school before they venture off on their first adventures. Start them today, as young as possible, and I believe you will be thrilled with the results.
Why not commit to trying a microadventure yourself? Do it alone or with friends. Climb a hill, jump in a river, sleep under the stars. Try it. What’s the worst that could happen?
Alastair Humphreys is an author and adventurer. He was a National Geographic Adventurer of the Year in 2012 for his microadventure campaign