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The Man Who Invented The Microadventure

Calling yourself an adventurer isn’t the reserve of tough men and famous explorers – it’s something that ordinary people can do too as well, says adventurer, author and blogger, Alastair Humphreys

When Alastair Humphreys set off on a whim to cycle around the world after university, he had no idea it would lead to a career as a professional adventure blogger. Combining your passion with your career is something that most of us dream of, but Humphries has made it real and along the way coined the now famous expression ‘microadventure’.

His desire to democratise adventure and show that anyone can have one has led him to crossing the Empty Quarter while towing a cart, rowing across the Atlantic and walking across India, collecting the National Geographic Adventurer of the Year award into the bargain. So, what was it that drove him to set off on his own life’s adventure?

I wanted to break down the psychological barrier that adventure’s only for tough guys

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Q: What is the most challenging expedition or adventure you’ve done?
A:
‘In terms of the mental and physical side of things, rowing the Atlantic definitely was a mental and physical grind. And then for shear longevity, because that has a bit impact on the trip and on your life, but spending four years cycling around the world would be over all the single most challenging thing I’ve done.’

Q: So what is it you’re looking for in an adventure?
A:
‘I think I’m looking for variety. I’m a jack of all trades adventurer. I’ve never been someone who wants to be the best at one single thing because I like dabbling in lots of different worlds. So, it’s trying something that is new, different and difficult to me, excites me much more than getting a record or becoming the best at some obscure niche activity.’

Q: Where did the seed for microadventures come from?
A:
‘I was getting increasingly busy in my own domestic life and struggling to go away on big trips. I also realised that this was something that applied to most normal humans. I was hearing from so many people who loved the idea of adventure, loved reading about adventure and adventurers, but weren’t doing so much stuff themselves. I wanted to break down those barriers that were stopping people from doing adventures – lack of time, lack of money – but equally break the psychological barrier that adventure is only for tough guys and no one is invited. I want to democratise it and make adventure something that everyone can do.’

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Q: People have been going on microadventures for millennia, but you gave it a brilliant name – how much do you think that helped in your mission to get people outside more?
A:
‘You’re right, I didn’t invent things like camping or cycling or going away for a weekend. I think what I did was give it a pithy name and help validate it. You say you can’t cycle around the world because you’ve got a real life, that’s fine – so go away for 24 hours instead. It still counts and is better than nothing.’

Q: So you must have a number of weaknesses – what are they and how do you overcome them?
A:
‘I think a lot of my weaknesses are the reason I started doing adventures. I began doing adventure stuff, partly because I wanted to see the world, to write and have a good time. Partly because I didn’t want to have a boring job. And partly because I wanted to prove myself to the world. It was a bit of ‘f**k you world,’ I can do remarkable things as well.’

‘Growing up I did sport but I was pretty rubbish at it, even athletics. It was only when it got longer and longer and longer that I started to get in the game a become more competitive. I’m better at endurance stuff than most things, probably because endurance sports require you to be daft and stubborn.’

Q: Do you practice mindfulness?
A:
‘Actually I do! Whenever I go into my shed in the morning I turn the kettle on and sit down and do my ‘Headspace’ thing. I try my best to do that every day. Equally I get the same sort of benefits just by going for a run. Anything that involves not being online and getting outdoors also ticks that box.’

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Q: Is it a bit strange to be working as a professional adventurer when you started out doing it for fun?
A:
’If someone gave me a million pounds and I could retire from actual working, I would still take my camera and my notebook off on my adventures, but probably with a less manic obsession of making things as good as I do. I’d also probably enjoy it a little more. But as we speak now, I’m actually sweating in my shed editing a film - something I love doing. I just love the work aspect of what I do.’

Q: So what do you classify as a successful adventure then?
A:
‘I’m actually terrible with adventures, because if I go off on a journey, when I get to the finish line, instead of patting myself on the back and feeling proud and saying well done, I instead think it must have been too easy. I’ve finished and I still have gas on the tank. I suppose a successful adventure is one where you crawl across the finish line unable to do one more step. But if that’s the case, I’ve probably never really had one as I’ve always had something left.’

To learn more about Alastair Humphreys visit his website, www.alastairhumphreys.com

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