Adventure is out there...
"All adventures start with a cliche" said a bearded Fearghal O'Nuallain. I was inclined to agree with him. Say the word "adventurer" and my mind automatically conjures up images of khakis, high protein food replacement bars and gear so ridiculously technical looking I'd be lucky to get it out of the box without injury. Yet here I was in a room of these so-called 'adventurers' in central London on a warm evening in June, slowly deconstructing the cliche Fearghal alluded to.
Work had been rough, I'm a trooper and love a challenge but when a close friend extended an invite to a Tales of Adventure midweek talk I gladly accepted. Treating it like a trip to the cinema, I intended to pull up a chair, clutch a glass of wine and lose myself in other people's stories before snapping back to the 'real' world when the talk was over. This didn't happen. Spoiler alert:
The talk may have changed my life.
As Fearghal's talk continued I felt my heartbeat quicken on numerous occasions. The first speaker of three, O'Nuallain's playful lilt took us through his own adventures focussing in particular on his circumnavigation of the globe via bike. As in, bicycle. People actually cycle around the world?! The thought was so alien yet, to the horror of every sensible cell in my body, excited me beyond belief. When asked about how he planned his journey Fearghal simply smiled and shrugged:
"I just kept going West for so long that it eventually became East".
Madness. Simple, beautiful madness.
The second speaker was Laura Kennington, who happened to be Skyping in from The Volga river in Russia. Which she was currently kayaking down. What on Earth was going on here?
I partly expected a hardy warrior princess awaiting the other end of the laptop. After all, kayaking Europe's longest river through the heart of Russia requires some grit and determination. I expected Gamora from Guardians of the Galaxy but the woman who answered the call was slight, bubbly and all sorts of gorgeous. She looked like someone I'd like to have coffee with.
Her Skype was coming from a stranger's home. She had inadvertently become a viral hit in Russia and everyone wanted the English adventurer to spend a night in their spare room. The original plan was to kayak and camp (again I repeat, what on Earth was going on with these people?) but her accidental catapult into semi-celebrity status had seen a huge wave of support for Laura and a lot of love (and chocolate) from good natured locals as she passed on her way.
My mind was whirring by the time the Skype connection cut out. I was astounded. Laura is only just older than me yet she was challenging herself in ways I never thought possible. She wasn't that different to me, maybe I could...you know, do something pretty cool too?
All of the barriers I'd constructed in my life suddenly seemed very, very flimsy. Over the break I remembered countless hours I'd spent as a child pouring over copies of National Geographic (and, I confess, Where's Wally in the World) magazines. I remembered the dreams of being some accomplished love child of Indiana Jones and Lara Croft, preserving ancient monuments and saving endangered species as I travelled the globe. Although relieved the Indy/Lara crossover dream had moved on, I began to think about when I stopped dreaming about travel and adventure and why.
It may be that I let go of these dreams as new ones took hold. It may be that I downscaled my aspirations as I ascended into adulthood, pursuing material and academic dreams rather than those of exploration. Somewhere along the line I had convinced myself that I'd never be able to have an adventure or even travel to remote destinations that lacked the safety net of tourism. I told myself these things cost too much. These were the hobbies reserved for people who already knew people like this. These pursuits were exclusive to the world of adventurers. Yet here I was in a room of adventurers and they didn't seem that different to me. In fact, would I look at Fearghal twice on the tube (short answer, yes but not for the reasons discussed here) and think "Wow, he looks like someone who travelled the world on a bike"?
The walls were coming down. The dreams were stirring. The goosebumps began to rise.
The final speaker was Dave Cornthwaite. My friend had already recommended this speaker to me, having seen him on stage twice already. Dave's talk began with a stark warning:
This talk may make you want to quit your job.
Crikey. What had I let myself in for? Dave had quit his own job 10 years ago when he realised that despite acquiring everything on the proverbial "happiness list" including a house, job and long term partner, he felt desperately unhappy. So far so good, lots of people come to these conclusions and change career as result. Dave however, quit his job to skateboard more than anyone in the world had ever skateboarded before. Ever. The best bit? He'd only started skating two weeks prior to handing in his notice.
For the third and final time this post I repeat: what on EARTH was going on here?!
Starting with a month skateboarding from John O'Groats to Land's End, Dave went onto achieve his declaration by skateboarding across Australia. I couldn't comprehend how but was beginning to feel an affinity with why. Over the past 10 years the strawberry blonde pommy has continued to challenge himself and others in numerous projects which would require a blog post all their own. Just know this: the guy is a phenomenal force of doing.
I expected arrogance, I expected ego, I expected some multimillionaire with gadgets upon gadgets. The man giving the talk was kind, funny and just a little bit lovely. Far from owning all the tools under the sun, Dave lives out of two bags, staying with an extensive network of friends between expeditions or slinging his hammock up when participating on one of his many, many adventures.
The Tales of Adventure talk had me enthralled. These individuals were so welcoming yet performed such incredible feats. The barriers I'd rested on were being deconstructed one by one and I suddenly realised that I was too comfortable and in terrible danger of missing out on opportunities that were unmissable. I'd closed myself off. Suddenly my horizons were being forced open again and they were almost as wide as the smile that had crept across my face.
I was a little ashamed as I left the talk. I realised I'd been guilty of believing the cliche of the pompous adventurer I'd constructed in my mind. I'd done so because it is far easier to tell yourself things are impossible or out of your reach when you're a little afraid or, in my case, a little lazy. I've settled for a life that is wonderful, but it borders on a little average. 8 year old me would be disappointed and I owe it to the universe explore the wonders it has so kindly allowed me to witness.
As Dave says:
"Don't you think it would be silly to miss out on the chance to make life more memorable. Start now. Say Yes More."
One week later, that's exactly what I did.