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Camping out at night

Alastair Humphreys

“You Can Live Adventurously Anywhere”

A Microadventure - an adventure that is "short, simple, local, cheap - yet still wonderful.”

Von Chris Cummins

FM4 Adventurous: Microadventures

Listen to Chris Cummins talking to Valentin Heppner and Alastair Humphreys in FM4 Adventurous, Thursday, 5th of August, 00.00 Uhr and in the Interview podcast.

We often talk of the “nine to five life”, but that about the neglected hours between nine and five when the working day is over? Those are the hours that belong to us and we can use them as we wish.

And that is why, at sunset, I found myself mountain biking through the darkening Vienna woods with a roll-mat, a sleeping bag and a couple of beers in my rucksack. I was off to meet Valentin Heppner, the administrator of the facebook page Microadventures Austria for a night on the Jubiläumswarte viewing platform, looking down over the twinkling city below.

“There are thousands of lights above and thousands below,” said Valentin as we greeted each other, his own eyes twinkling. “It will make you feel much better than if you were in your comfy bed.”

Was this a good idea?

I wasn’t yet convinced. Burly, bearded, rosy-cheeked Valentin looked made for the outdoor life. He spends most of his time guiding people on canoes through the Scandinavian wilderness or hiking over high mountains and has the air of a Victorian-era adventurer.

I had to be in the office at 9am the next day and I ‘d left a crying toddler behind with his mum (he’d stumbled). I was feeling a bit stressed and uncomfortable and wondering whether I had time for this little night-time mini-break.

camping in a cave

Alastair Humphreys

The term microadventure was coined by the British Adventurer and travel writer Alastair Humphreys, who has also become the main preacher of the benefits of introducing adventurousness into our everyday lives. He says a microadventure should be “short, simple, local, cheap - yet still wonderful.” His conviction is that “you can find wilderness and adventure much closer to home than you might realize.”

Years of Roaming

Alastair made his name with some pretty wild escapades, starting with a four-year long bicycle ride around the world. Then, in 2012, he rowed across the Atlantic. He has since walked across India and also travelled the „Empty Quarter“ of the Arabian desert on foot, as well as paddling 800km of the Yukon River in a small canoe.

Camping with bikes

Alastair Humphreys

Now he is focussing on mentality rather than geography: “I began dreaming of adventure as being about rough, far-off remote journeys and expeditions,” he told me via skype, “and then, over time, it has moved to realizing that more than that it is the attitude that this brings inside my head; the idea of doing things that are different and new and exciting.”

Build your spirit without destroying the planet

I understood the concept immediately. You know how when you are on a backpacking holiday and you are trying new foods, new experiences, learning about other cultures and sharing intimacies with strangers? And you wonder: am I just enjoying being in this distant, exotic country or is it partly that am I enjoying being this better, more open-minded version of myself that travel brings out of its shell?

It is the same with adventures: they are fun because they bring you in touch with nature, they test our boundaries and they activate our sense of curiosity. You can do that close to home without having to quit your job and without a leaving massive carbon footprint.

Hiking in the snow

Alastair Humphreys

Alastair’s first microadventure was actually not particularly micro: it was relatively long and rather arduous, involving 240 km of hiking. To prove you can be adventurous at home he tried to think of the most mundane landscape that came to his mind; and that was the infamously traffic-clogged M25 motorway than encircles London. “Everyone hates the M25, it sums up everything that is boring about modern life,” Alastair told me.

The prove that adventurousness was a question of mentality, he persuaded his friend Rob to join him on a hike around the circumference of this dystopic ring-road in the dead of winter. The friends surprised themselves by having fun.

„I was meeting good, kind, interesting people“

“What struck me is that time and again I just kept thinking to myself that the experience was exactly the same as the four years I’d spent cycling around the world,” remembered Alastair. “I was seeing places I’d never seen before, I was meeting good, kind, interesting people just as you do in the middle of far off countries, it was a challenge to me, and I thought how we don’t have to go to the end of the world to get these things.”

Along the M25

Alastair Humphreys

Clearly in times of a climate crisis, the concept of a locally based microadventure seems timely but Humphreys also highlights the inclusivity of the idea. Most people, when asked, say they’d like to have an adventure, but then they list all the reasons why the adventurous life is not possible for them. The reasons given are mostly time pressure or money issues or some sense of self-doubt.

“I deliberately started to look for adventures where you didn’t need to have much time, where you didn’t need expensive equipment,” Alastair told me, “and you didn’t need to be fit or to be an expert in anything.”

Anyone can do it

For example, canoeing down a river is fun and adventurous but buying a canoe is expensive and transporting one is a logistical headache. Alastair bought four tractor innertubes for 50 pounds and with three friends he spent the day drifting down a river together. “In the evening we camped by the riverside, made a camp fire and slept under the stars. Much of what I loved about adventure I got from that, and it was much simpler than having to plan a proper canoeing expedition.”

camping by a raft

Alastair Humphreys

„Child-like not childish“

I realize I have an annoying propensity to bring my two-year old boy into these Fm4 Adventurous stories, but Alastair’s words about adventurous being a state of mind chimed with me because of the sense of wonder and adventure I see every day at the children’s playground – little tots pushing their boundaries and finding delight in the discovery of bugs and earthworms. It’s inspiring somehow. Alastair laughed knowingly when I told him this:

“When I started doing lots of these microadventures to build up material for a book, I started to feel guilty because he I was, a grown man in my 30s, doing silly things like building a raft on a river on a Tuesday afternoon when I should have been answering emails and doing spreadsheets and I felt a bit childish. But I realized it was child-like; it was seeing the world through fresh eyes and having fun. We become so boring as adults, we lose our curiosity and I really think microadventures are a good way to get curiosity back into our everyday lives.”

Making fire

Alastair Humphreys

How was my night sleeping under the Viennese stars? Well, looking back, it did feel somehow transformative. I saw the city I’ve lived in for so many years from a new perspective and there were many surprises. Schönbrunn Palace was lit up with multi-coloured lights. Beyond the city, the oil refinery at Schwechat looked like a Christmas tree and, lining the far horizon, hundreds and hundreds of red dots flashed intermittently. These were the lights of the Lower Austrian wind-turbines, a hope-giving reminder of the onwards march of renewable energy.

Behind us was dark, mysterious forest was intersected only by the lights of the A1 motorway headed westwards with the rumble of the odd lonely looking car.

Easy Intimacy

Chris at the end of the adventure

Chris Cummins

We chatted long into the night as the light-show flickered below and sound of crickets rose up from the forest below. There wasn’t the sense of rush I usually have when I meet friends nowadays.

Midnight hikers came up and there was that easy intimacy that only seems to happen up a mountain or in the middle of the night. We swapped stories of our favourite summer spots in the city and of ways to escape the heat.

When the sun rose, it was like a giant grapefruit with all that exciting promise of a new day.

Life is short, enjoy it

I didn’t sleep at all, although I had tried to close my eyes. Alastair recommends ending the trip with a dip in a lake or river but there were none to hand, so, a couple of hours after dawn, we headed down for a shower and a hot coffee at home before the next working day began.

Despite the sleeplessness, I did feel very refreshed. I felt that thrill of freedom that usually you only get when travelling. My city was beautiful, friendship is sacred and there are so many opportunities out there. “If you think about it,” Alastair had told me, “life really is very short. It really matters how we choose to spend our time.”

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