Seven Years On: Recalibrating Microadventures

It’s over seven years since I first tentatively began dabbling with my new idea of “microadventures” on this blog. Over the past winter I’ve been mulling over leaving both microadventures and bigger expeditions behind entirely and moving on to pastures new. But, quite apart from me still enjoying my days and nights out in the wild as much as ever, I hear so many lovely stories from people whose microadventures have changed and improved their lives that it seems carrying on banging the drum is the right thing to do.

The days are growing warmer, the evenings longer. It is time then for another summer of microadventures — Microadventures v.2017!

It feels worth spending a few moments recalibrating my ideas about microadventures. Originally I felt that microadventures should be short adventures that were as epic as possible. Walking round the M25, for example, or packrafting the length of the Shetland Isles. Back in 2010 I wrote that microadventures should be “fulfilling, challenging and worthwhile”.

Over time I found that the idea resonated more with people the more I removed barriers to entry. We are short of time, of money, of expertise, and more of us live in cities than wild landscapes. Suggest adventures that fit round those limits, I realised, and the only obstacle left in our way is our procrastination, pessimism or laziness. Enter the idea of the 5 to 9 microadventure. This is adventure that is compatible with real life. It is also a convenient demonstration that in every situation in life we can choose to see the obstacles (the 9 to 5 job) or the possibilities (the 5 to 9 of hypothetical freedom).

I haven’t invented anything, of course. ‘Microadventure’ (or, worse, #microadventure) is nothing more than a cute bit of branding for “go camping, go ride your bike, go do stuff!” Indeed, as one astute Facebook commenter observed, “If you’ve ever called the weekend a microadventure you probably deserve to get run over by a train.”

What I have tried to do is help solve a few problems for those who felt that people like them couldn’t have adventures like proper adventurers do. I’ve tried to open eyes to a slightly different way of thinking, and to “give people permission” to get started, to have a go, to try something new.

I have always been careful to point out that there are no rules to any of this. There is no overseeing committee. It doesn’t matter what you do, so long as you do something. I have tried to offer suggestions (FAQs here) and mindsets rather than formulae. Local microadventures are ideal, for example, but if you find yourself halfway round the world in Hong Kong or Hollywood then you can still apply the microadventure approach and explore there too. The final “rule” in all the summer solstice microadventure challenges has always been that “rules are for the guidance of the wise and the obedience of fools.”

One person’s microadventure is another person’s Everest. What we each take from a microadventure differs. Some people are fit but mentally frazzled. Others are calm but fat. Some are urban-bred and have never climbed a hill. Others are idle and need a kick up the backside. Microadventures mean different things and serve different purposes to different people at different times.

Take me as an example…

I began dabbling with microadventures because I found myself no longer to disappear for months on end but I still yearned for endeavour and distant horizons. As the years passed my life became madly busy and 5 to 9 escapes became key to maintaining any sort of sanity. One a month, for a year, helped a lot. Today I am older, calmer, less driven. I see the opportunity to add more purpose to microadventures. To help us get fitter and healthier. To provide some headspace if we are drowning in emails and stress. To encourage us to care for and engage more with wild places. Or to provide a way for more people to sample outdoor adventures and the lessons and benefits that they offer up.

The world of expeditions can appear elitist and exclusive. With microadventures I wanted everyone to feel involved. What feels adventurous depends on you. Perhaps it is buying your kids a kelly kettle and making weekend hot chocolate in the woods. Maybe it’s a full moon walk up a hill without a torch, or cycling to the coast and sleeping in a bivvy bag. Perhaps only a winter ascent of K2 will do. That is why I have always tried to keep the idea of microadventures as ‘open source’ as possible: “here are my ideas, do with them what you will.”

I am amazed by the growth of microadventures. It has been so gratifying to see the idea spread. It ended up making me money too — a nice and surprising bonus — through my Microadventures book, increased speaking work, and through working with brands on films like this. Some people do not like that and feel I have “sold out” (read “Madoc’s” rant against me in the comments here). Other brands have used the idea too, without involving me — Berghaus and The North Face, to mention two. I’ve always taken that as a compliment that the idea works.

But the problem with an ‘open source approach’ is that a concept can morph and spread and dilute and, eventually, become useless.

Witness, for example, Holiday Inn UK advertising a weekend break in a city hotel, complete with cafés, bars and restaurants, as a microadventure. A fun weekend, sure, but nothing to do with the original goals.

Or Thomson releasing a press release saying that

“to meet this demand for microadventures, Thomson is launching multi-centre holidays for 2017 winter via its website using market leading technology with six exotic, long-haul destinations currently on sale — Costa Rica, Cuba, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Goa and our new destination Vietnam.”

Or #microadventure being used as a catch-all online until the original purpose of the hashtag — to connect similar people looking for ideas and encouragement — is no longer possible. Helicopters and speedboats? Not a microadventure. Blemishes and facial redness? Not a microadventure. I’ve even seen some freak in America posting pictures of his gun with the hashtag #microadventure!

If a word is to have any weight or worth it must be used properly, otherwise it loses its meaning. Like pannier screws after a thousand miles of dirt roads, or the bolts on a rowing boat after a month at sea, things bounce loose with use. They need tightening up. And so, seven years on, what does the idea of a microadventure mean to me?

I will encourage anyone who gets outdoors more. Sitting on the beach, going for a walk, visiting somewhere new, swimming in a river: all good. (If a brand chooses to cash in on these things — well there are bigger things we should all be fretting about in life.) There’s no doubt in my mind though that extending these activities to include a night out of doors (without a tent) significantly adds to the lasting impact of the experience. That may mean bivvying on a hill, hiking for a weekend, or cycling for a week, a month, a year.

I love spending time in the wild, tackling new and challenging experiences, kipping in bivvy bags. I’m excited by the opportunities that microadventures offer for introducing yourself / your friends / your kids to nature, wilderness, simple living, pushing yourself, feeling discomfort and earning the rewards. It is not for me to define what is mere fun, what is a microadventure, and what is a ‘full’ adventure. Remember that rules are for the guidance of the wise and the obedience of fools.

All I would like to do is re-emphasise what I wrote back at the very beginning: a microadventure ought to be fulfilling, challenging and worthwhile.

Enough of the pedantry. To the hills!


Originally published at www.alastairhumphreys.com on April 14, 2017.