Have you ever looked at a distant mountain?
Ever felt that tug of adventure from over there?
Chances are, if you climbed that mountain and stood on the exact spot you’re looking at, you still wouldn’t be satisfied. (You may even feel vaguely cheated.)
The feeling of longing to climb that mountain was more fun than actually standing on the top of it.
Welcome to the “blue of longing,” as Rebecca Solnit calls it in A Field Guide To Getting Lost (2006). It’s what pulls obsessive travellers ever-onwards, because no matter how fascinating and gorgeous here is, over there, with its rich bounty of sights, sounds and unknown challenges, is a much more attractive prospect.
But it’s not arriving that they’re lusting after – it’s exploring.
1) Travel through (an unfamiliar area) in order to learn about it.
2) Inquire into or discuss (a subject) at length
It’s a modern cliché that the modern world, with all its technological marvels, porous national borders and unrivalled ways to comfortably get from A to B, has killed exploration. The world is boring! Everywhere has been seen and trod and picked over, drones will be mapping every corner of our planet, and the age of discovery is over, and with it, the thrill of exploration.
For a start, it’s nonsense because everyone else isn’t you. Exploration is the act of going somewhere you have never been. Unless you’re Mike Spencer Bown, Dervla Murphy, Gary Arndt or Chris Guillebeau, “somewhere you haven’t been” is still basically everywhere. Except, forget that qualifier. Even those folk won’t run out of places to explore either, because the world is too big.
On a personal level, there will always be more to explore.
That doesn’t sound terribly boring to me.
But being an explorer is more than just mileage. It’s also a way of seeing the world.
It’s assuming that if something looks “boring”, you’re not looking hard enough. It’s trying to judge for yourself what’s really in front of you, not what the world generally agrees upon. It’s deliberately maintaining a warm relationship with simplicity, benevolent ignorance and nerve-wracking uncertainty. It’s about the attraction of stupid-sounding adventures – because all too often, “stupid” means something other people didn’t enjoy or find useful. And they’re not you.
Explorers prod and pry. They try things out, however impractical, and they constantly seek new experiences – including the ones buried deep in things they’re over-familiar with. They ask questions (“stupid” questions), like the kid that says “why?” in response to everything. They assume everything has an interesting story, and if something doesn’t, wow, isn’t that interesting? They default to curiosity, and insist on seeing for themselves.
Here are some of my thoughts on exploring, and a few of my adventures in a world that’s forever too big for me.
- Lost & Found: How Uncertainty Makes Travel Memorable – Gadling, January 2013
Communicating & Interacting
U.K. – England
- When Exploring The English Moors, Come Prepared – San Francisco Chronicle, June 2011
U.K. – Scotland & Orkney
- Stories of Scotland: Beginning (Scotland)
- Stories of Scotland: Bridge (Scotland)
- Stories of Scotland: Fortress (Scotland)
- Glasgow: There Hasnae Been A Murder (Scotland)
- Orkney: What Do You Do? (Orkney)
- The Mystery Of Lighthouse Corner (Orkney)
- Nobody Expects The Orkney Haar (Orkney)
- Breathe (Orkney)
- All Change at Berlin Tempelhof – Gadling, March 28th 2013