Microadventure, macro life

(Originally published in The Sewanee Mountain Messenger. Reproduced by permission.)

Quick, think “adventure” and then note the next thing that comes to mind.

Was it Everest, or maybe the Amazon? Jungle, desert, or the open ocean?

Alastair Humphreys is a 37-year-old British adventurer, author and motivational speaker. He has cycled round the world for 4 years, raced a yacht across the Atlantic Ocean, canoed 500 miles down the Yukon River and walked the length of the holy Kaveri river in India. In 2012 he was named a National Geographic Explorer of the Year.

In 2011, though, he went in a very different and interesting direction.

Humphreys decided to focus on making adventure accessible to people who may have very little outdoor experience. He even coined a term for what he was doing: microadventure.

I think this is really, really cool. He could have spent the rest of his life doing epic things in far corners of the globe; instead, he chose to inspire people who are unable to make those kinds of adventures happen in their lives.

Even cooler, he bases this in crowded, comparatively-little England. We in the wide-open US have even fewer excuses than they do.

On his website, alastairhumphreys.com, he posts things like “locations close to London,” “making a beer-can cookstove,” and “a kit list for microadventure.” “You work from 9 to 5,” his website says. “But what about your 5 to 9? Those 16 hours of freedom?”

“Microadventures,” he says, “are a refresh button for busy lives.”

What an exciting concept.

Like most activities, adventure has become a little commodified. Being good citizens of the developed West, we associate doing something with buying something. Adventure = gear. or perhaps adventure = hiring a guide and buying a plane ticket.

The idea of microadventure sidesteps all that. Drive to a state park, cook hot dogs with your stove on the picnic table, sleep in your car or in a sleeping bag on the ground next to it. Get up in the morning and come home.


This is another of those instances where it helps to think like a child. (Wouldn’t that be most instances?) I’ll bet we can all remember childhood microadventures. My buddies and I, all around nine years old, found a ‘secret spot’ in a tiny bit of trees and bushes. A street was on one side, a cotton field on the other, but inside felt like our hideaway. It was only a ten-minute bike ride from my house, but to go there was to have an adventure.

Maybe you camped out in your backyard. Perhaps you splashed around in a stream, trying to catch minnows. Remember how much fun that was?

Alastair Humphreys is having a Summer Solstic Microadventure Challenge. Go on a microadventure, share your story online, win prizes (maybe). One rule: “it must entail sleeping out in the wild for at least one night, without a tent.” You can find it on his website. The deadline is June 30.

Who’s in?