When I first heard that Alastair Humphreys would be speaking on the Rough Guides Podcast (which is great by the way), I didn’t think anything of it. I had never heard of the guy and whilst I didn’t doubt what he had to say would be interesting, I wasn’t bargaining on hearing anything that would change my life.
To all of you who are reading this and thinking, who the heck is Alastair Humphreys, allow me to give you a quick crash course on why his work is so important.
Alastair Humphreys is a writer and adventurer who has not only embarked on hugely ambitious projects overseas but has also succeeded in finding adventure at home, something even the most intrepid wanderers have struggled with, myself included.
So How Does He Do It?
Alastair is the pioneer of the microadventure. According to his website:
‘A microadventure is an adventure that is short, simple, local, cheap – yet still fun, exciting, challenging, refreshing and rewarding.’
After listening to Alastair’s interview on Rough Guides, I was convinced that I needed some microadventures in my life. I went straight onto Amazon and ordered a copy of his book. The spirit of the microadventure really resonated with me and it didn’t take long before I ended up perusing camping websites to stock up on the kit essentials.
As most of you can probably tell from my writing, if I could be anywhere it wouldn’t be back in my hometown. After long periods of living and travelling abroad, I craved the thrill of discovery and felt that returning home had isolated me from that. The microadventure sounded like not only a new way in which to tackle wanderlust withdrawal but also a challenge to myself, to see my home from a new perspective. For anyone who feels like their life could do with a little refresh, the microadventure could be exactly what you are looking for. Here is what happened when I stepped out of my front door in search of something new.
My First Microadventure
First off, I will confess we took the car. There were a couple of reasons for this, both Tim and I were very busy so were unable to take off until late. We also had a wedding to attend the next day so cutting the journey time was important for us. Believe me, when I say, you definitely don’t want to have to rely on Norfolk’s public transport on a Sunday when you’re in a rush!
In my head, I had three quantifiers that would determine the success of this microadventure. The first was that I could eat a decent evening meal and thus avoid murdering Tim in a hangry rampage. The second was to choose a sensible place to bed down for the night, ensuring a minimum of at least five hours sleep and therefore to avoid murdering Tim in a violent sleep deprived rampage. The third quantifier was to return from the adventure feeling appreciative of the places around me. Hopefully, I would manage to escape the worst case scenario and avoid being put off of the English countryside for life (or end up in prison after aforementioned rampages).
We drove down the coast where we parked up and headed towards the beach in search of food. It was here where we discovered a true culinary gem of the Norfolk coast: The Bucket List. In a little village named Overstrand, there is a small van which serves chips. Not just any chips though, these hand cut chips are smothered in a whole manner of different toppings. After salivating at the menu for a good five minutes, I settled on the garlic mushrooms, parmesan and truffle aioli option. Wowee. Posh they might be, but worth every penny. As I had eaten half my body mass in delicious cheesy garlic chips and therefore had the movability of a beached whale, we remained seated to watch the sun set over the beach and quietly marvelled just how much we took our home for granted. Chips finally pushed down, we continued onto the place where all microadventures should take a pause: the pub.
Practically, it would’ve been better for us to decide where to lay our heads for the night when it was light. Instead, we had got carried away with sunset views and pints and now had no choice but to make the decision in the dark. We headed towards the nearest mass of trees and started looking around for somewhere that might act as a secluded nap spot. As it dawned on me that this was no longer a fun idea in discussion and that I was going to actually have to sleep outside, I began to get nervous.
I started racking my brains about everything I had ever heard about camping in the wilderness. Okay, so it’s not quite the Rockies, but as my mind began to spin it may as well have been. The questions whirred around inside my head. ’When is rutting season? Are adders venomous? Don’t tics live in forests? Can they give me Lyme disease?! At least I’ll get to appear on that cheesy American show Monsters Inside Me…
It was official, this microadventure had the potential to kill me.
As we wandered through the woods, Tim suggested a flat spot to set up but I wasn’t so sure. ‘How far away do you want to be from houses?’ he asked, with growing frustration. My honest answer would be: ‘Far enough away that I won’t see any people but also close enough that I can run for help if we end up in a Hills Have Eyes/Blair Witch/Wrong Turn scenario’. Instead of voicing this, I compromised with, ‘Maybe a little further but not so far we can’t find our way back’. We trekked up a grassy hill and finally settled underneath some trees, ready to sleep out until the morning.
Initially, the night was anything but peaceful. Music floated along on the wind from a distant fairground and cars whizzed past. We must’ve been close to the road. Making our small spot of forest cosy was another challenge, pine cones thwarted my every position and I frantically dug out knobbly twigs from underneath me. As I sank into the comfort of my woodland bed, I felt completely at peace as I gazed up at the stars. I dozed off, though my night was far from over when I was awoken by a guttural scream. My first thought was that a woman was escaping from some kind of forest cult. I tugged on Tim’s sleeping bag so he could rescue me from the certainty of being caught up in a primitive sacrificial ritual. When he decided he could no longer pretend to be asleep, he informed me that the noises I could hear were just foxes. My anxiety faded slightly but my mind continued to be on high alert as I listened intensely to my surroundings. Eventually exhausted by my own paranoia, I fell into a surprisingly peaceful slumber.
The following morning, I awoke early, greeted by the light of the sun on my face. As I lay in my sleeping bag, I watched as the squirrels scampered nearby and the birds built nests overhead. Now that it was daytime, the feelings of distress were instead replaced by those of giddiness. What a beautiful place to wake up.
So, The Conclusion…?
I won’t lie and say that I enjoyed every second of my first microadventure, I have a much too active imagination and an overwhelming sense of doom for that, but I can say I found that whole experience not only wonderfully refreshing but hugely liberating too. Getting out into the country and going back to basics was for me, a much-needed break from reality and everything that comes with it.
Nowadays so many of us want more from our lives than the daily grind of the 9-5 and the microadventure shows us that this is not only possible but positively easy. These tiny explorations are compatible with even the most hectic lifestyles and the tightest of budgets; making them accessible to everyone. One of the things that I enjoyed the most about my first microadventure was how it challenged me to do something new (which isn’t always easy when you’re as much of a wimp as I am)!
While there are several reasons to kit up and get outside, the most compelling is undoubtedly the opportunity to experience nature in its raw, untouched form. When I think back to how I felt falling asleep under the stars or laying there in the morning watching nature’s rituals, I feel immensely humbled by the world that we are lucky enough to live in. That is something we all need to be reminded of sometimes, right? For me, microadventures were everything I had been looking for, why not see if you’ve been searching for them too.
Are you familiar with Microadventures? Would you consider doing one?