New Year, new adventures?
It is that time when I might be starting to plan some adventures for the coming year. We all know it’s pretty difficult to plan ahead in any significant way right now and many adventures big and small have been put on hold for so many people this year. Our family Christmas adventure was cancelled at last minute and even today, after the announcement yesterday that Cornwall moves into tier 3 and secondary schools are on hold, I am left unsure today about what work and groups I will be able to teach or run next week. The time between plans that are made to plans being cancelled or reassessed is so tight. Being able to reinvent everything you do has become a vital skill. No doubt it has been difficult and stressful, but possibly for my own emotional buoyancy I have this new year considered that it also has some features of adventure. Granted, I will have a particular set of circumstances and privileges that means that I can even consider this year as an adventure, I have not lost anyone to covid and although I lost months of work and the site that I used, I did not lose my business or the roof over my head, my family is intact and healthy. This blog in no way means to trivialise the tragedy that many have suffered. As a person intrigued by the notion of adventure I have wondered if my own strange year could be considered as such.
Colin Mortlock, Adventurer and Educator said that adventure is:
“…a challenge that will demand the best of our capabilities-physically, mentally and emotionally. It is a state of mind that will initially accept unpleasant feelings of fear, uncertainty and discomfort, and the need for luck, because we instinctively know that, if we are successful, these will be counterbalanced by opposite feelings of exhilaration and joy.” The Adventure Alternative
In the outdoor community this is now a much discussed conceptualisation of adventure. In Adventure in Society, Beams, Mackie and Attencio suggest that Adventure may be one that is wilfully chosen, and I guess none of us chose the events of this year. They also suggest that adventure is a draw when you already live in relative comfort and stability. What is interesting here though, in the context of this year, is that if adventure is wilfully chosen or requires comfort and stability, most would not have Adventure with a capital A as it often requires certain privileges not least, financial; but that ALL Adventures were on hold for even the “big adventurers” whilst many ordinary folks went on, with an enforced block of “free time” time, to make pocket adventures close to home. The circumstances in which this was done was not particularly comfortable, stable or as we have established wilfully chosen. I am a believer that even in the most terrible of circumstances, you can still dream of adventure. For me stability and comfort are not a pre-requisite for wanting adventure more a pre-requisite for actually being able to facilitate or achieve one.
For some, adventure is an escape from the day to day and from the expected, well we certainly got that. Alistair Humphreys and his microadventure was already fulfilling the need for escape from the day to day by suggesting that you literally adventure from 5-9 by sleeping out without a tent overnight and still turn up at work or school the next day. The lockdown this year seemed to offer potential for endless microadventures for us, however conscience prevented us from staying over night anywhere other than at home as instructed. Much frustration mounted as we witnessed people able to microadventure or camp on their own land or even in their garden. Still, the outdoor education community is struggling with this overnight restriction, as they have been unable to hold any residential outdoor education and many centres have closed or face closure after an extended period with no income. The fight to save our outdoor centres is still ongoing. The escape from the day to day routines though can clash with what is essentially a crisis. Adventure maybe the sweet spot between the two, in which case the ability to view this year as adventure will vary tremendously from person to person. Even as I propose the idea that I may be able to reframe this year as adventure or approach the new year to come through a lens of adventure, it is still through desperately squinty eyes!
At this time last year, already determined that anyone should be able to experience the spirit of adventure in their lives, no matter what their circumstances, I was presenting the concept of tiny adventures suggesting that we find ways to get a tiny everyday adventure based on the idea that adventure could be relative. I knew that even the Humphreys microadventure was still a stretch to far for most people. A walk with a flask of tea and a packet of crisps could be an adventure for some who rarely spend extended time outdoors. Spending time outside in the dark could be an adventure as could walking in the rain, going for a walk to see what trees grow where you live could be an ordinary folks version of a scientific expedition. Of course, on the surface, according to some definitions of adventure this would not count, the very ordinary or day to day nature of these tiny adventures would exclude them from being considered adventure at all, if adventure is defined as an escape from the day to day. It depends on your day to day though doesn’t it.
The tiny adventure concept became more important than I could have understood at the time. Just a month after we held a week of free community tiny adventure events in Bodmin over half term, we were in lockdown and suddenly everything was tiny, it felt like my outdoor world shrunk in the wash. Even the tiny became difficult. There was much coverage to suggest that people were getting out and enjoying the outdoors more than before. This was great news for any outdoor educator, it read like a dream come true or wish fulfilment for all of us who are advocates of the benefits of the outdoors. We also know that this was not the case for everyone however, and that access to any outdoor space at all was an issue for many with no garden or local green space. Even later, some people with less resources were struggling to access places local to them due to sudden overcrowding as these anonymised diary entries from the covid realities project describe. They are responding to a question I asked about if people were able to get outside more than before:
"I’ve been outside less. Aside from walking to the shop and taking the kids to school I’ve been
working from home and it just feels relentless. There’s no escape from it. Normally I’d spend
time outside during my normal day but all I seem to do is work." Rosie J
"I really thought my answer would be yes, but in actual fact we have been outdoors less since
the start of the pandemic than we were before. Before the pandemic my daughter attended an
entirely outdoor forest school nursery, and when she wasn’t there we would often be outdoors
at the park, in the woods, and local (and further afield) outdoor areas. In the first lockdown
my daughters forest school closed. We also found being outdoors got harder. The
playgrounds shut, and all our usual haunts got really really busy. I hated it. Finding
somewhere outdoors away from other people was impossible. As the pandemic went on we
found that places are still really busy which puts us off. In addition all the hospitality venues
are closed so there are no toilets or baby changing facilities. This means we can’t be out for
very long at all. I think in general people are accessing outdoors more, but that is actually
having a negative impact on my family." Nellie K
"Where do you go with no car and no money to spend when its cold, dark and it rains
constantly?" Alex R
"we are lucky in some ways as we live in a largely built up area but there is a large area of
open space including woodland within a short walk. but unfortunately for me I suffer from
mental health issues, I find it very difficult being around other people which was fine before
lockdown as some of the lanes were very quiet. Once lockdown started there were far more
people using these areas for excercise and dog walking which has led to me find it hard to be
able to use this space as much as I would like. So for me it has meant that I have spent a large
part of both lockdowns indoors." Erik J
Backed up by these entries, my feeling is that for the people for whom tiny adventures would have been most useful (those with fewer resources, money, kit, access to green space, support with children/family, free time, leisure time) have in many ways seen even their tiny adventures shrink or maybe disappear entirely. My New Year wishful thinking on this, is that tiny adventures could adapt and become pocket adventures, an even smaller, condensed and easy to pack away, quick to access or grab at last minute version of itself. It reminds me of when as kids we would put crisp packets in the oven to shrink and they would become a smaller, harder, more intensely coloured and fascinating shrunken version of itself. This year in lockdown, we spent a lot of time in our small front garden. We were able to sit in the sun, read a book in fresh air and we ate some of our lunches out there. For an outdoor family, we did not achieve even many tiny adventures, we saw and experienced only what was close to our house. I personally, certainly experienced a mourning for my favourite places and for my outdoor freedoms. I remember a conversation with my friend and colleague Mel, discussing how we had come to understand through the lockdown restrictions that we clearly had places that we would usually visit for regular tiny adventures, almost as therapy and to balance ourselves and our families. Without these special places in our tool box we were rapidly reinventing ways to remain buoyant.
And so moving forward, how do we adventure into the new year? For Christmas I had gifts that were designed to make adventures more condensed, easy to pack away or grab at the last minute, “pocket adventure” designed, in other words. The changeable nature of the past year has taught me to be more prepared, flexible and imaginative about what counts as adventure. I have also tried to accept that previously simple outdoor activity or events can sometimes now seem like unsurmountable challenges, as described in some of the above diary entries, but this is all the more reason to do it, all be it in a reduced or more accessible fashion. When even our beloved microadventures became impossible to undertake, or our Adventurers group unable to run we found ways to make the most of what we had, clumsily attempting to surf the waves of the uncertainty. Not too unlike polar explorers down to their last rations or a lost sledge of vital equipment in a bottomless crevasse, we found ways of improvising and adapting.
I have added dates to the calendar for pocket adventures that should be workable even in the event of a full lockdown-full moon walks and solstice walks. I hope some of these can be further away from home sometimes but if not they are an event booked in. Then I have written in dates for microadventures, Sunny and I hoping to do one at least every month and if all goes well sharing some with others this year. I booked tickets for the Ranulph Fiennes Tour in the Summer, which I hope will be able to go ahead by then. I have a stack of books to read about the adventures of others for inspiration when I feel restricted in my own. We aim to make videos to add to our you tube channel which we really began during lockdown when we couldn’t have our usual “live” open day. I have added a commitment to draw something from nature every week and have a small art kit in a dry bag ready to roll when I want to grab it on a walk near my house or hopefully a visit to the beach or the woods. I hope next that we can continue our curious and wild soup project so that we can take a pocket adventure to people where they are, as support, connection, and nourishment outdoors, all needed more than ever right now. There are dates on the calendar for this real-life work, but we are ready to make videos, posts, drawings, blogs, should restrictions prevent this. These are the pocket adventures we can have. These are the adventure dates on my calendar-so far.
I just read this blog out loud to my kids to ask if there is anything they would want to add and they agreed we should all get in the car now and go to the beach while we still can. Reminded of the lockdown restrictions this year by listening to me read this blog and sensing the current uncertainty, we are now getting a flask of something, a packet of crisps and left over mince pies to take to the beach…