The path stretches out in front of me, yet again.
I’m using the same photo from Day 4 because it’s the same view. Except it isn’t. I’m looking further, imagining what’s over the horizon – because in a week’s time, I’m going to attempt something stupid.
But is it stupid enough?
For the last few years, I’ve been trying to come up with a good definition of “adventure”.
This was somewhere near:
And this was the closest I’ve got so far:
But even that didn’t adequately capture it.
Take this very series of blog posts I’m writing and you’re reading, for example. Are they an adventure?
They’re a challenge, a diversion, a quest to see stuff and think things and stretch my writing skills. I have no illusions about this. I’d need to work a lot harder than this.
Adventures are pretty easy to spot. Here’s a wonderful one from the other day:
A young Chinese man decided to cycle home for Chinese New Year. He did this because he didn’t have the money for the train (he was sleeping in internet cafes, a popular way of saving cash in China and Japan) but still wanted to get home to meet family – so he decided to cycle it.
Now, at this point, less adventurous souls would have opened a map, look at how far the route was, turn pale, and come up with an alternate plan.
Unfortunately, he couldn’t read maps.
So he set off anyway, apparently undeterred by (or oblivious to) the fact that his journey would be 1,700km – the distance from London to Algeria – during an incredibly cold Chinese winter.
This is all pretty adventurous, but what happened next is what really puts the seal on it.
After 30 days of cycling, he was stopped by the police, because he was cycling up a highway designed only for cars. He was 500km into his journey at this point.
It was now that True Adventure struck: he was informed, probably by someone who will require therapy later, that he’d been cycling the wrong way. He’d spent 30 days increasing the distance home from around 1,700km to over 2,000km.
Police and toll-station workers promptly had a whip-round, and paid for his ticket home. This is the happy ending he deserved, and a great relief to us all.
Now, this story is probably far from unique. Quoting the Telegraph:
“Many of China’s 282 million migrants are making the trip home ahead of Lunar New Year, which is on Saturday.
About three billion trips are expected to be made across China during the peak 40-day period, including more than 350 million rail journeys and 58 million flights.”
But the cycling-the-wrong-way thing? That’s special. That’s glorious.
That takes a very special gift for extracting maximum adventure out of already highly adventurous circumstances.
That’s why he’s a hero.
The way I see it, this was an adventure for three reasons:
- It was terrifying. The poor bugger must have been out of his mind with fear at various points.
- It was stupid. It required an impressive amount of creative reinterpretation of the apparent facts (where most of us would say, “heh, okay, that’s impossible”) and trying to do it anyway – which to outsiders is often labelled “stupidity.” More on that in a minute.
- It went wrong. It’s not an adventure if it all goes according to plan. Adventures don’t have a script. You are a paper boat bobbing on a roaring ocean of Oh God What Now. That’s the hallmark of a true adventure.
So, with this in mind, I can finally define adventure as follows:
A word on defining “stupidity”:
In today’s world, this is a negative term, meaning “ill-thought-out” or “lacking smarts”. However, it’s also often used to denote things that look absurd to an outsider until they have the reasoning explained to them in great detail, at which point they get reluctantly won over, and say something like, “You know, that’s totally insane and I love it.”
That’s my definition of stupidity here.
It means “I know I look daft, but that’s not the point. You’d love the point, trust me.”
A word on defining “disaster”:
This really means “things not going to plan.” Real disaster isn’t funny, obviously – but this definition covers the entire scale of not-to-plan-ness, from exciting, enlightening serendipity to fate-cursing misfortune.
Using this Venn diagram, it’s easy to determine if you’re having an adventure or not.
If you’re fearful and everything’s going wrong but you’re not having any fun in the process, you’re a masochist and should immediately find the nearest pub and reassess everything.
If you’re appreciating, or will someday appreciate, the delicious, life-enriching absurdity of it all, and you’re also a bit terrified, but so far, everything has gone 100% according to the plan you created before you set out, sorry, it’s not an adventure yet – but I sincerely hope things are about to go tits-up for you, because you’ve worked hard and you deserve it.
And if you’re doing something entertainingly daft and things are going hilariously wrong but you’re not actually afraid? Well, you’re a wuss. You’re not even trying. So scale up the challenge until your bowels turn to water and your knees tremble: that’s the sign you’re on the cusp of a good, solid adventure.
OK, back to the railway lines.
How does this rank, this thing I’m doing next week? Let’s see:
- Am I afraid? Yes. A bit. This walk next week will involve three days of covering 25 miles a day on foot, and I’m currently only fit enough to cover maybe 15 miles without really starting to suffer. This walk feels physically beyond me. I’m doing it anyway, to find out if I’m right or not. That’s what adventurers would do, so I’m going to pretend I’m one as well. I’m dreading doing it.
- Is it stupid? Pretty stupid, yes. I’m sleeping in a variety of absurd places in my bivvy bag, so it’s my first microadventure of the year, and the temperature’s only a few degrees above freezing. (I’ve experienced worse, thankfully). One of my sleeping-spots is on the outskirts of Hull. I’m sleeping outside, in Hull. That fulfils all sorts of other definitions of stupid (and afraid). But I have a plan for keeping safe.
- Will it go to plan? Regarding sleeping outside in Hull, yes, yes I hope that part goes exactly to plan, even if that means I miss my chance of having an adventure during that bit. But away from Hull, as I haul my weary bones up the Trans-Pennine Way all the way up to York, I’m open to as much creative misadventure as possible. I will gladly take it on the chin so I can blog about it later. Fate, I am a blank canvas. Paint your misery all over me.
So no, it’s not an adventure yet.
But hopefully, it might turn out to be one.
(Nearly) every weekday this year, I’m going for a walk to explore the limits of my ignorance and write about what I find. Want to follow along?
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