I was pretty adventurous as a child. I jumped off the highest diving board at the pool, I got on all the scary rollercoasters, I went white water rafting and caving. Then something happened and I sort of mellowed out. I grew to be self-conscious about my body, I became interested in boys, and I settled into a comfortable indoor life. There were exceptions – at 18 I went skydiving and did the AJ Hackett bungee-jumping trilogy in New Zealand, as you do when you’re on your gap year – but essentially I didn’t do a whole lot of adventuring after the age of 13. That is, up until three years ago…
In 2013, I asked for, and got, a three-month sabbatical to travel in South America. This was huge for me, my first time travelling alone, while people around me were both impressed and concerned.
The trip itself was a rollercoaster, with highs including walking the Inca Trail and driving across the Salar de Uyuni and lows having my iPhone stolen in Mendoza, Argentina, and a terrifying incident with a gun in Encarnación, Paraguay. It was the best thing I ever did: it gave me the courage to quit my job, where I had been feeling stuck and unhappy, and has opened up so many wonderful things in my life since then – I’ve never looked back.
I headed off on my trip to South America proclaiming, “Adventure is Out There!” and looking for my own version of Paradise Falls (if you haven’t seen Disney’s Up then go and download it now – and I defy you not to cry during that montage in the first few minutes of the film).
Since then, I’ve been on a Secret Adventures cycle trip involving wild swimming and camping on a tiny island, I’ve joined Dave Cornthwaite on a paddle boarding weekend down the Thames, I’ve travelled to Memphis and joined Dave and Emily Penn on a canoe trip down the Mississippi, I’ve kayaked under Tower Bridge, and I’ve done a 24-hour paddle on the River Wey; alongside my continued travels to different parts of the world and a few half-marathons here and there. I would never have managed it a few years ago but these kinds of once-in-a-lifetime trips have now become a normal part of my life, a life of adventure.
Of course, ‘adventure’ can mean different things to different people.
To my family and many of my friends, my solo trips and sporting endeavours appear incredibly adventurous, something that they themselves would never consider. To others, or when comparing to someone like Ranulph Fiennes or even Bear Grylls, my activities are just tame little holidays.
Now I’ve got a signed copy of Ranulph Fiennes’ book Cold when I went to the Adventure Travel Show in London last year… but his description of the North Pole expedition and even just the name of that book were enough to make it clear to me that this is not the kind of adventurer I will ever be – nor do I want to be!
To me, adventure is pushing the boundaries of what I think I am capable of, getting out of my comfort zone to learn new skills and meet new people, challenging my body beyond what I would usually make it do.
It’s easy to find excuses for not making space for any kind of adventure in your life. When I read about Anna McNuff running the length of New Zealand, I got excited when I thought she was just ‘an average girl like me’ – only to find out that she had been an elite rower and was the daughter to two Olympians, growing up in a family passionate about sports and the outdoors. My parents’ interests were much more on the intellectual and cultural side, reading books, taking my sister and me to the theatre, solving crossword puzzles together with my grandparents. My dad once promised me that we would camp out – in our garden! – and it never happened.
But it doesn’t matter what you did or didn’t do as a child, or what the people around you are doing or not doing today. You have the opportunity to create your own kind of adventure now or in the future, whether that might be taking a cycle ride along the canal, completing an Iron Man, or running around Disney World dressed as a pirate (no comment).
Don’t compare yourself to other people, and don’t limit yourself by what you’ve done in the past. Take one little step towards adventure today, and you never know what opportunities will open up.
Adventure is out there – and it can be whatever you want it to be!