Alastair Humphreys has nothing against big adventures – he’s cycled around the world, rowed across the Atlantic and pulled a glorified shopping cart for 1,000 miles across the Rub’ al Khali desert on the Arabian Peninsular, a giant, ludicrously inhospitable sandpit.
These days, however, he prefers to think small. Indeed, he now devotes much of his time to dreaming up what he calls “microadventures” – challenges that can be accomplished with limited resources and within a limited timeframe. These pocket-sized projects may be small, but what they lack in scale they usually make up for in inventiveness. As if to prove the point, when I manage to track Humphreys down he’s just completed a trip to Wales which saw him paddle a tractor tyre inner tube down the River Teifi.
“We just drifted downstream for a few miles to the beach and then slept in the dunes,” he says. “We got the inner tubes from this old school tractor garage about 100m from the water. It had never occurred to any of the people working there to do this before – they all thought we were totally mad and that we’d definitely die – but it seemed to me to be the most obvious thing in the world, and I would love to do it again.” He pauses for a second. “I’d take more beer next time, though.”
Humphreys is evangelical about his microadventures, and this midsummer, in a bid to get as many people microadventuring as he can, he’s devised something called the Summer Solstice Microadventure Challenge. The rules are fairly fluid (Humphreys is fond of saying that rules are “for the guidance of wise men and the obedience of fools”) but broadly speaking, all you have to do to enter is go on a journey that involves spending a night under the stars in a bivvy bag, record the experience as either video, writing, photography or a combination of the three, and then make Alastair aware of the results. Oh, and don’t worry if it’s raining on the night of the 21st – adventures can take place for a week either side of Midsummer’s Eve and still qualify for a prize of outdoor gear.
“Ideally I just want it to be as loose as possible in order that as many people as possible just feel that little spark of motivation to go out and do an overnight microadventure,” says Humphreys. “There will be small prizes for people selected at random and then bigger prizes for anyone who does anything really fantastic or documents it really beautifully.”
As a concept, the microadventure could hardly be more timely. For a start, many of the obvious big adventures have now been done. The Earth has been circumnavigated by foot, bike and balloon; the oceans have been crossed by all manner of small craft; the tallest mountains have been conquered. Adventuring nowadays is as much about creativity as it is about endurance. More interesting, surely, to be the first person to inner-tube down the Teifi than the 1,001st person to climb Everest.
Then there’s the environmental impact of adventuring to consider. What will our grandchildren and great-grandchildren think of today’s adventurers when they look back from the sobering vantage point of a carbon-poor, globally warmed future? Who will they remember more kindly: the ones who spent their lives jetting around the world to challenge themselves in extreme environments? Or the ones who dreamed up elaborate but equally fulfilling challenges for themselves closer to home?
The thing that makes the microadventure concept really of its era, however, is the way it seems custom made to fit into the hectic, 21st-century lifestyle. You don’t need a trust fund or months off work to go adventuring Humphreys-style. In fact, as a variation on the microadventure format, Humphreys is now pioneering what he calls “5 to 9 adventures” – journeys designed to be squeezed in between the end of one working day and the start of the next. A short film on his website shows him taking some office drones from Milton Keynes on a magical 5 to 9 bike ride. Point being: if you can have an adventure in Milton Keynes, you can have one anywhere.
• For more on the Summer Solstice Microadventure Challenge, see www.alastairhumphreys.com