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a refreshing look at the world on your doorstep by a true English eccentric
on 5 October 2014
Alistair Humphreys is among the breed of mad dogs and Englishmen who go out in the noon day sun. He says he started life as an adventurerer without the physique, bravery or finances that characterised his famous forbearers, but I bet he will go down in history among them. Having cycled the whole world for over four years on a total budget of £7k, he set himself the task of finding adventure on his doorstep; the kind of adventure that anyone can or might have, if they are prepared to step outside as night falls and set out on foot, prepared to stay out all night. I bought this book at a talk he gave at the Royal Geographic Society (he's an excellent speaker btw - relaxed and charming. My teenagers were hooked.)
Humphreys reminds us that our locked in or humdrum lives can be invigorated simply by dragging a sleeping bag out into the garden, or walking out on a workday night and sleeping in a wood you've spotted from the commuter train. His ideas are simple but challenging. He has been taken to task by another reviewer for fixating on outdoor adventure. But that reviewer misses the point, Outdoor adventure is Humphreys' thing. He shares his own concept of adventure here. It's not a bucket list of all the things you might do to shake off the rut. It's a list (to my mind) of the things you might not think to do if you aren't by nature an outdoor adventurer.
Reading it reminded me of the icy night I woke my small children, worried I was doing the wrong thing because it was a school night, wrapped them in blankets and sat them on the front porch to watch Venus glowing red in front of the moon; of the time we climbed Snowdon together one weekend when we couldn't afford a long holiday. It reminded me of the fabulous woodlands near where I live that I used to run in but stopped when pressure of work took over; of my husband's confession that the night we first met he felt so excited he walked home from Waterloo to Battersea. It reminded me of a night long ago in France, with a friend, when the weather was too dreamy to stay inside the cottage so we just slept outside and woke with dew on our clothes and in our hair; of the night my husband woke in the Sahara desert with frost on his eyebrows after a night camp, surrounded by desert dog paw prints. We're not adventurous people. We're bookish, getting on, and homey. But this book has that trick of reminding you what you are capable of, what you enjoyed once and might again. Its particular focus means it never strays into the general pep talking of self help books. It's more interesting, more individual than that. But its impact is of that kind, only greater for being so specific and practical not cerebral.
In short: this book does what it intends to do, it nudges us awake again, and says: stop, look, put on your coat and walk out, keep going. It's a wonderful book, and probably all the stronger for being so narrow in its focus, because it's built upon Humphreys' genuine enthusiasm for his own calls to adventure rather than being a catch-all bucket-listy book of things that are of more general but perhaps diluted appeal. Humphreys writes extremely well - he writes as he talks, in a warm, humble, inquisitive, conversational tone. His eccentricity, his dedication to his way of life and his zeal to share these are rare. If he gets the TV series off the ground, I'm sure it will be a huge hit (Kickstarter, anyone?) but until then, read this and have a go at a micro adventure on your own doorstep.