Adventure is probably the best thing in the world, but are we all able to embrace it?
Over lockdown, I’ve become pretty damn hooked on outdoor podcasts. As it’s not been possible to go on big adventures of my own, listening to other people talk about their exploits has been slightly envy-inducing but overall a good remedy.
These podcasts share riveting tales from polar expeditions and Atlantic rows to solo walks across the Himalayas and first ascents of remote peaks in untamed landscapes. And it’s told by individuals whose lives completely revolve around the outdoors.
To say they are uplifting would be an understatement.
They make me lust to get back outside, all fired up by their fantastic tales of exploration. I’d also be lying if I said I didn’t wish for the lifestyle many of the interviewees had.
The podcast guests start with some wild storytelling about their remarkable achievements and ordeals they faced on the road, followed by powerful interview questions about ‘adventure’ from a wider perspective.
In this section, there’s one magical narrative that always flows strong: that adventure is available and accessible to all.
These guys, who have gone around the world and done the most extraordinary things, passionately advocate outdoor lifestyles and how anyone can reach out and grab them. It’s an undoubtedly inspiring message, because who wouldn’t want to reach out and grab them?
This ‘available to all’ mantra is something I’ve always been compelled to believe, but, after a number of recent events, it got me thinking: is the great outdoors actually available to us all?
Fingers crossed, we’ll soon see the back of these lockdowns, and that will mean that adventure is finally back on the cards. But, is it on the cards for everyone?
What even is adventure?
‘Is adventure accessible?’
I shared this excruciatingly ambiguous question with the Twittersphere and the resounding responce was: ‘what do you define as adventure?’.
A good point.
According to Merriam-Webster, it’s ‘an undertaking usually involving danger and unknown risks’.
By this definition, our weekly Morrisons shopping trips throughout lockdown have definitely been adventures.
Ask the chaps at the Cambridge Dictionary and they think it’s: ‘an unusual, exciting, and possibly dangerous activity, such as a trip or experience, or the excitement produced by such an activity’.
And according to Sean Conway, an idol of mine, adventure is just a mindset. So going by that, ANYTHING can be an adventure.
It doesn’t take you long to realise that everyone has their own concept of the A-word. However, people seem pretty content with it being a personal observation rather than everyone on Twitter shouting THAT’S NOT ADVENTURE, YOU’RE WRONG, like it often does with other topics.
So surely adventure is REALLY accessible?
100%. If adventure is less about what you do and more about how you do it then the opportunities are boundless and available for anyone.
And outdoor pursuits are pretty accessible.
Geographically, you can probably run, hike, bike, swim and walk only a short distance from your house. It doesn’t require a membership or an education and, for many activities, you can kit yourself out for less than the price of a PS4 game.
Topping it off, wild landscapes themselves don’t discriminate, they’re always open and can be embraced on your own or as a group. It’s a beautiful thing, really.
Sure, just going outside and getting sweaty doesn’t necessary = adventure. But, with some imagination, you can turn regular outdoor activities into ones that fit the typical adventure stereotype.
Head out for a hike in a storm and you’re going to get your adrenaline pumping. Go for an off-road run at nighttime with a head torch and you can get a good adventure fix. With some creativity, you barely have to venture far from the house to experience something ‘unusual, exciting and possibly dangerous’.
That’s pretty accessible, surely?
And this was what originally drew me to the outdoor lifestyle I have now: the bewildering possibilities you can unearth in a landscape if you look at it in the right way.
With so many epic benefits to spending time outside and all of these natural opportunities around us, it absolutely feels like something we can and should be embracing.
The flexibility of ‘adventure’ is a double-edged sword
Though it’s clear some ideals of adventure can be grabbed by virtually everyone, this is often not what they talk about on the podcasts. It’s certainly not what you see advertising epic 4x4s, sunglasses or Swiss watches either…
Rallying across sand dunes, carving snow on pristine mountains, world-first summits and general Nat Geo-worthy antics … it’s a completely different kettle of fish. Maybe it’s accessible to people who can pay £5,000 for a watch – but damn, how many people can pay £5,000 for a watch!?
You also realise that, more often than not, when ground-breaking explorers say ‘adventure is accessible’, really it means adventure was accessible to them.
Think of all the outdoor pioneers of our time… the vast majority are highly educated white people with lots of money, ample connections and potentially family who were elite-level outdoor athletes or renowned in outdoor circles…
If they wanted to go on a grand expedition – a REAL adventure – they could probably do so with very few obstacles and have sponsors lined up tomorrow. Could your average Joe or Josephine? Probably not.
‘Available to some’ doesn’t have the same ring to it…
My mother recently became dependent on a wheelchair; when I’m outside, I now spend a lot of time realising she’d no longer be able to share these moments with me. Some people aren’t able to pay for outdoor equipment or transport to the countryside, even if it does cost less than a PS4 game.
Are any elements of adventure available to them? They definitely should be.
Clearly, this plays into a much bigger picture of government funding and development: things which we don’t really have power over as individuals. But, whilst the physical barriers might require a detailed strategy, we can smash down the social barriers immediately, together.
This article is being written in the light of Sarah Everard’s murder and less than a year from the Black Lives Matter movement.
I’m very much aware that as a white man of no religion, it’s easy for me to say the outdoors are accessible too. I’ve never really questioned my safety from others whilst outside, even in remote regions and distant lands. And I’m guilty of taking this for granted.
For women, People of Colour and other marginalised groups, exploring wild landscapes can be a completely different experience.
I can’t really put myself in their shoes, but from the accounts of friends, family and many stories that are coming to light, feeling threatened, being the victim of assault or prejudice is a terrifying reality.
Whilst for men, bothies might seem like a safe haven, for women, it’s a different picture; the prospect of hiking as a black person can be anxiety-inducing; the number of racially-motivated attacks continues to spike since the start of the Coronavirus…
It’s easy to seek remote landscape for solitude when they don’t present a threat and the fact that many adventure-seekers are feeling vulnerable when they are outside should make us feel ashamed. We all have the right to embrace the magic of the great outdoors.
These nasty realities make adventure dangerous and intimidating for a HUGE percentage of the population, but, they are social elements that are in our control.
We are the culprits behind the prejudice, attitudes and behaviours that hang over our hills and mountains. We are also the solution.
Something worth fighting for
If we can work to make the outdoors safer and more accessible, the whole prospect of adventure will follow suit. And, damn, that’s something we should work towards.
Wild experiences and adventure planning should be a reality for all those that want it.
Take a city-dwelling kid to a national park for their first hike and watch their eyes widen. Have a crap week a work and feel the frustrations simmer away when you jump into the saddle and peddle into the countryside.
If more people were able to embrace the outdoors we would be happier, healthier and have far more appreciation for the natural world. Honestly, I think a good ol’ adventure could be the solution to a whole lot of problems.
Is adventure accessible? It definitely can be, and it should be. Now we need to work together to make sure it’s a reality for tomorrow.