Adventure is a word that is bandied about constantly in today’s world. People make a living from telling others how to break the mould and escape through books or by leading them by the hand into situations that they would never entertain without assistance. Some, like the brilliant Alistair Humphries, write and present with such a passion and enthusiasm that it would energise even the most ardent couch potato. Read any one of Alistair’s books and you will be hard pushed to not want to walk out of the door right now and not return. The premise is the same as it has always been. Anybody can have an adventure, small or large, simply by deciding that they are going to. There are no barriers than those we create ourselves and as somebody who has lead a relatively adventurous life I can vouch for the joy you will find along the way if you choose to walk that path.
For me, as a seventeen-year-old getting into mountaineering and climbing, it was the writing of Peter Boardman, Gaston Rebuffat, Walter Bonatti, John Menlove-Edwards and many other mountaineers that lit the flame of desire. What they did, hanging high above the world on fingertips and toes, was so removed from the world I lived in, I had to at least give it a try. That one decision led to a lifetime of loving the outdoors through climbing, mountain walking, flying paragliders, mountain biking and much, much, later on, cycle touring.
One of the things I have learned through my life is that whatever you choose to do, somebody has already done it, with a few exceptions of course. I only mention this because it always seemed to me that if somebody else could do it, why shouldn’t I? Knowing this helped me to do things I might otherwise have not done. I could all too easily fall into the mould where I saw other people as: better, taller, stronger, fitter, wealthier and all of those things, but for the most part the difference was a simple one: they wanted it more than I did. On those halcyon days when I didn’t see myself as useless, I felt as though the sky was the limit and climbed like I knew the secret.
I use the term halcyon days deliberately as they were few and far between. These were the days that you read about where others talked of being ‘in the zone.’ On those days everything was easy. Nothing provided a barrier too high to hurdle and you just floated up climbs with consummate ease. I have had more than my share of these special moments, but I never would have had I not given myself the opportunity to find them. Yes, I got lost in trying to replicate them and find more, that is the addictive side of climbing, at least it was for me.
Perhaps it is also human nature? When we find something that feels almost perfect we want more of it instead of just caressing that moment while we still have it. Too soon it is gone and nothing in the world can replace how it felt. Tomorrow is another day, a different one and the feeling of yesterday usually goes with it no matter how much we will it to stay. To use a metaphor, it’s the search for the perfect wave, the perfect move, the perfect road. Chase it at your peril or just be glad for today, it’s your choice.
It is not in any way linked to how much money you have, or how much equipment you have. As young climbers we had sound equipment for climbing but little else. We didn’t need anything else. We hitched thousands of miles to go climbing, endured long, uncomfortable bus journeys and ate whatever we could muster. We did it because the desire to climb was greater than any other desire in our lives. And in that cauldron great friendships were formed, the kind that last a lifetime.
As I grew painfully away from climbing, my mind shattered into pieces by yet another breakdown, it was the humble bicycle that picked me up. For those who know this, please excuse my reiteration, but if my cousins hadn’t arrived at our house in Wales on Mountain bikes I may never had taken any notice. Seeing them, with their chunky tyres, cantilever brakes and wide-range gears, I was thrown instantaneously back into my childhood. One look was all it took to strike a light in my heart, one that was strong enough to strangle the doubts, physical pain and bitter depression that had come to rule my life at that time.
Mountain biking had just begun, or at least mountain bikes from manufacturers had just arrived. Prior to this, stalwart cyclists took their heavily loaded cycles off-road under the guise of what was known as ‘taking the rough-stuff.’ Often pushing their loaded steads to places where only mountain walkers trod was a great challenge with great reward. It might seem a little pointless now but then, prior to there being piles of specific kit for every thought about adventure, these people were true adventurers, daring to take their bikes where many other feared to even walk. They did it because they could and because it provided an escape from their lives beyond cycling on the roads like everybody else.
We had no idea of what the limits of mountain bikes might be so we created our own, based on our humble abilities. It was only later, when seeing the faces of others who we had sent out on ‘easy’ rides that we gained any perspective at all about the fact that we were pushing the boundaries. We thought nothing of carrying our bikes for a while. We climbed Snowdon under a blanket of snow, meeting some mountaineers with axes and crampons as we rode our bikes down what they were climbing up! When we fell, which was often, our pedals would dig in and stop us dead. We didn’t have half of the bike skills you see now. We could only just bunny hop a few inches and manage drop-offs of a couple of feet, but we desired to be high in the mountains, much to the chagrin of fellow hill walkers who hated us for invading ‘their’ space.
We pushed the boundaries of what we could do physically and mentally on almost every ride as well as pushing the boundaries legally of where we chose to ride. It felt like a brave new world and we were part of its initial exploration. In that sense we had great adventures and as far back as the nineteen eighties I remember great trips across the tracks and paths that lead over the mountains of Wales.
Our bikes had no suspension and we had no specialised kit. My mountain bike had a rear rack and a high, over the wheel, front rack, onto which bags were strapped high above the rocks and heather that might catch them. Today, this is called bike-packing, then it was just what we did, no name and no need for one.
If you can muster up enough energy to get out and about, you too can have adventures. Just make the decision to go somewhere, anywhere, and you instantly become an adventurer. The memories you will acquire along the way and the people you meet will leave you wanting more, I guarantee it. Whatever sphere you choose you will find fun and friendship and your life will gain a great deal of colour and texture.
You may not always have a great time, life without a little adversity isn’t really worth much, is it? Those moments when you find your way around a problem will add to your life forever. So often adventure is shown as something that happens in the far-flung corners of the globe. It doesn’t have to be that way, and living in Milton Keynes or any other town doesn’t mean you are not able to think in an adventurous manner. So how about it? What will your first adventure be? I’m still working on my next.
Until next time…………………