A few days ago, I read a book called Microadventures by Alastair Humphreys. An accomplished adventurer, Alastair has rowed across the Atlantic, crossed the Empty Quarter desert in Northeast Africa on foot, and bicycled around the world. Microadventures describes his attempts to reconcile the spirit of his wanderings with a season spent working in urban London, without the time to travel across the world in search of adventure.
The idea is simple: invent excuses to get away from your routine for a day, a night, or a weekend. Instead of looking for wilderness adventures far away from home, his book asks the reader to look no further than their own periurban region for a source of inspiration and adventure. The idea is to make the act of getting out of your house to explore and seek adventures as easy as possible, while fitting it in between a typical 40-hour work week.
He illustrates this with examples of his own microadventures around England. These range from 1 day hikes to overnight camping in a bivvy sack to weekend trips tubing or swimming down local rivers. I like how he tries to tear down as many obstacles to just getting out of your house for a night and using what he calls the "5 to 9".
At one point Alastair self-consciously defends himself, noting that "a few people have criticized me for putting a fancy name and a hashtag to activities that people have always done...". I can understand that criticism from one perspective. But I also think that the critique is a bit one-dimensional. Yes, people have always gone hiking, camping, cycling, etc. But what makes Alastair's perspective valuable is that he encourages and equips the reader to do these things regularly and naturally, and in more or less their own backyard. He argues that you don't need to travel hours away to find beautiful wilderness, but that you can step outside your front door and walk to the beautiful wilderness that probably lies within 10-15 miles of your house. They may be tiny slivers of nature in the left-over space between urban or suburban areas, but they're probably enough for a day or night long adventure. In fact, some of the suggested microadventures are designed to take adventure of precisely this kind of local natural space. The microadventures are enticing for their unorthodoxy, such as walking the normal commute instead of driving or catching the train at the end of the work day and bivvy sack camping halfway home.
I also enjoyed being challenged to observe and appreciate what already lies around us. We tune out the potential beauty and the opportunity for exploration and discovery of our immediate surroundings because we've become accustomed to it. It's lost its novelty and become mundane. Alastair invites us to reconnect with our oft-ignored home turf and engage with it in new and adventurous ways.
I read this book concurrently with Access All Areas, written by a deceased urban explorer who went by the moniker Ninjalicious. It's a sort of beginner's guide to the activity of urban exploration, and I drew parallels between both these books. As you might guess, urban exploration involves engaging with the urban environment and infrastructure around you in unconventional ways. Urban explorers make a point to "take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints", and find their way into abandoned buildings, buildings under construction, drainage tunnels or maintenance tunnels. They take satisfaction in learning about the parts of their community that most ignore, and engaging with their environs on their own terms. At the risk of making a sweeping generalization, I see Alastair Humphrey as advocating more or less the same philosophy, except for natural spaces instead of the urban environment.
My first microadventure
Properly inspired by Alastair Humphrey's book, I promptly picked Saturday, August 2nd as the date for my first official microadventure. My plan was simple: pack water, a little booze, a can of lentils, homemade camp stove, and a book (the aforementioned Access All Areas), then hop on my KLR 650 and ride to the local reservoir, Lake Thunderbird. It's a pretty big lake, and a popular recreation area, so I figured I'd circle it on my bike until I found a fun trail or forestry road to follow on my motorcycle. I'd tool around for a half day while exploring on my bike, test out my homemade camp stove, read for a bit, do some hiking, and head home.
I stopped at a gas station on the way to the lake and asked if they had a map of the lake. The attendant asked me if I was looking for anything in particular at Thunderbird, so I shared my quest for a fun bit of trail to take my bike out on. She replied that all the roads in the area were paved, and that there weren't any trails for off-road vehicles. Alas, her response didn't bode well for my search for a proper riding trail. But I am not so easily defeated!
I figured, I'lI keep riding around the reservoir and I might happen upon a lonely forestry road or some such trail that, waiting to be discovered, might provide my desired recreation. I wish I could say I found one- what a fantastic discovery that would have been! Instead my curiosity nearly got my bike trapped in a treacherously sandy hill.
You see, each road I turned on to was filled with homes and inevitably led to a dead end. Frustrated, at the end of one such teasing street I noticed that a well-worn path through the grass seemed to lead off through the trees and towards the lake. Ah, I thought, my search has born fruit! Off I took, chortling along around the bend.
I chortled my bike right into a sandy hill, where it cut a rut into the earth and got stuck fast.
It took 30 minutes to free my motorcycle from the sand and backtrack to the road. Dual sports are decently weighty bikes, and they're also top heavy. I struggled to try and push and pull the bike out of the sand, but it kept sliding into the ruts. Occasionally I'd lose my balance and the bike would fall over, leaking gas out of the top of the gas tank. It was pretty miserable.
I finally freed the bike by finding sheets of fiberglass someone had thrown away in the woods. By this point, the bike was so firmly held in the sandy ruts that the motorcycle patiently stood up straight on its own. I slid the fiberglass sheets behind the wheels and pulled the bike backwards onto them. That gave the bike the traction it needed to take off, and I chugged back the way I came without stopping to avoid getting stuck in the sand again.
I resigned myself to the fact that I probably wasn't going to find any cool riding trails at this point, and my thirst for dual-sport adventure had been quenched. I continued my circumscription of the lake, stopping a few times to take in the scenery.
I stopped at the southern dam and dock area of Lake Thunderbird. I figured I'd explore a bit on foot and go for a swim. I was lucky enough to stumble upon the network of mountain bike trails in the area. I knew there were bike trails in the area, but I'd never considered exploring them before. I was impressed with how pretty and bucolic this part of the lake is.
I consider the trip a success just for having "discovered" the bike trails. I spent probably about 3 hours exploring the trail system and getting a bit lost. It was a blast! I also had the opportunity to test my homemade camping stove. You can find the instructions here.
You punch holes in the side wall of an old tuna or cat food can, fill it with a bit of denatured alcohol, and light it. It burns invisibly, so you have to be careful, but in my first test it heated up a can of lentils in no time flat. Easy to make, inexpensive, and lightweight- who needs a fancy $50 camp stove?
I am happy and quite satisfied with how my first Microadventures inspired trip went. I got to spend a day fooling around on my motorcycle and discovering a local sliver of beautiful nature (yes, I am aware of the irony of this being a man-made reservoir). Walking along the trails, shrouded by laden boughs of verdant trees, experiencing what the Japanese call komorebi- the dappled effect created when sunlight filters through trees- I felt a world away from all the stresses, worries, and responsibilities that we all face. It was regenerative, despite being only the better part of a day. And I think I captured at least some of the spirit of a bigger adventure.
Here's to my next microadventure!
Until the next time,
Dillon Dakota Carroll
...sees much and knows much