I have written this newsletter series in a way so that whatever time you signed up, each one hopefully still feels relevant when it lands in your inbox.
And yet I am also writing this a couple of months into the global Coronavirus lockdown when 'time' as we know it has stopped.
I dearly hope that you are reading this in a world returned to normal, looking back from happier and less uncertain times, and that this post feels obsolete.
But, right now, it is impossible for me to write a breezy post about life as a working adventurer, for that life has stopped! Whatever topic I write about now will invariably be influenced by the impact this pandemic is having on life and livelihood.
For the previous articles in this series I followed a pleasant routine of going for a bike ride for a few hours, then stopping for lunch in a cafe to write down my thoughts. How I wish I could do that today!
Instead, over a cup of tea in my shed, here are some musings on the world of adventure in the world of Coronavirus, written in full knowledge that everything might be different again in a couple of weeks or months, and that ‘adventure’ feels more trivial than ever amongst all the terrible implications of the pandemic.
Amidst all the uncertainty, this feels certain: the world of adventure will be greatly changed by Coronavirus.
What is less certain is how long the changes will remain, or whether at some point we will return to ‘business as usual’. In some ways, I hope not.
There are so many big issues involved with adventure-post-Coronavirus (containing the spread of a global virus, a crippled travel industry, wildlife and habitats that rely on tourism to survive, communities that benefit from travel, vaccination passports, opening of countries etc.) but I am going to limit myself to writing about my own tiny little slice of the situation.
First of all: boy, how I miss the mountains, rivers, oceans and the freedom to wander. There is so much that I took for granted!
Right now I am feeling hemmed in, impatient, selfish.
But I am also thinking that perhaps this is the opportunity I need to liberate myself from doing things the ‘way I’ve always done them’. To question why and how I work and live. To ask whether the things I’ve done for 20 years (but temporarily cannot do) are the same things I want to continue doing once we all get out of our sheds.
On a double spread of my diary I have headed the left hand page 'What is p****** me off' and the right hand page 'Solutions'.
I have also made a list of everything that Coronavirus has stopped (‘Speaking events’, ‘My working week’, ‘Gym’, ‘Pub’…) and allocated various options such as ‘Accept it’, ‘Find Alternatives’, ‘Plan for Resumption’, ‘Eliminate’. I am excited about the possibilities if I put enough effort into following through on these thoughts.
My priorities are different right now. I feel less ambitious, more inclined to ride my bike. Less competitive, more collaborative. Less envious of continent-hopping Instagram travellers, more dreaming of a tight-knit community in the hills or by the ocean. I’m reading more Marcus Aurelius, fewer How To Market Your Blog-style books. All of these are improvements.
This caesura in the mad dash of 21st Century life has given me the chance to pause and reflect.
It feels clear that it is time to readdress 'adventure'. In the future it will need to be, for many people, cheaper and simpler than before. As well as that, since lockdown, the increase in people walking, running, cycling and exploring the local area has been heartening. On some of the paths I run, I have seen people for the first time in two decades! It confirms what I have known ever since writing Microadventures in 2014: my attempts to encourage people to take on adventures of their own has very much been preaching to the converted.
I have been asking myself how can I (and the 'outdoor' world in general) connect with all these families wobbling along on ill-fitting old bikes dug out from the depths of garden sheds, and with the couples tip-toeing through nettle patches in flip-flops and headphones?
I hope this lockdown becomes a chance to begin again, to live differently, question habits, and hone our priorities.
The natural world that we adventurers love is also benefiting from this human-free time. How can we possibly return with a clear conscious to previous lifestyles of relentless flying, buying ever more gear, and eroding over-visited wild places?
As someone who makes their living from adventure, my travels and purchases not only cause harm in themselves: I’m also actively encouraging other people to contribute to climate ruin and buy more stuff than they really need! We need to consider whether we want to go back to the way things were. And it would be judicious to do this reflecting before the huge marketing onslaught begins to try to persuade us to get spending and flying again.
In terms of getting my adventure fix, lockdown has forced me to practice what I preach about Microadventures. I often write and speak about the wild places and beauty that lie all around us, wherever we live. But I also really love jumping on the sleeper train to mountains hundreds of miles from my home...
In recent weeks I have been running every street fanning out from my front door, including, to my astonishment, a street 400 metres from my home that I had never noticed before!
I have been climbing the same tree time and time again. It is different, beautiful and restorative every time.
I have been making journeys round my home at ever-increasing radii, every time going to places I have never been before, and therefore being an explorer. Turns out I was right all along: there is newness and curiosity and wildness everywhere. The more we look, the more we see. Alexandra Horowitz's On Looking was an ideal audiobook companion for my late-night runs. The Seek app has shown me, in every scruffy alleyway, how little I know.
Right now we are all local adventurers. Whether we continue to embrace that and find wonder and satisfaction in it will be up to us as individuals. It comes down to a framing of our attitude. Can the purpose of my exploring be achieved locally and sustainably? My answer at the moment is, ‘yes… mostly’.
But I really, really can’t wait to get out of my shed, jump in a lake, paddle a river, climb a mountain, sleep on a hill, and go to the pub.