Alastair Humphreys & the Not so Secret Solstice Microadventurers
Have you heard of the 5 – 9ers? A secret society of ordinary people doing a rather unusual thing. They leave work at 5 to head for the hills, a forest, riverside or mountain top. Armed with snacks, a bivy bag and sleeping bag, and for the most part unobserved, they have a little adventure. Then they head back to work again at 9 the next day. One of the most high profile UK micro adventurers is Alastair Humphreys. We took up his challenge of a summer solstice camp, and then caught up with him to ask him about some of his own 5-9 adventures and get some tips for our sleepover season…
How do you find a 5-9er?
It’s hard to know how many 5-9ers there are. They head off at sunset, choose a wild spot at dusk, bivi down in the dark and are gone before dawn, leaving no trace. Like hidden people. There’s probably hundreds of them in Iceland where they believe in elves.
There could be an increasing band of them in the UK, because the idea of a microadventure has been popularised of late by adventurer Alastair Humphreys. In fact he was named one of National Geographic’s Adventurers of the Year for 2012 for his commitment to microadventures. His ongoing mission is to encourage people to embrace adventure in their lives, in everyday, accessible ways. Recently, to celebrate the summer solstice and mark the start of summer he challenged people to get out on a longest day themed microadventure. And to share the evidence of their sleepover on social media using the #microadventure hashtag.
Hidden #microadventurers revealed
The results are fascinating. Check them out on Twitter here. Hundreds of pictures, videos, tweets and Facebook posts showing people sleeping in fields, on riverbanks, in woodlands, on beaches and fell-tops. The hidden people were, for one brief moment revealed. But maybe they won’t be hidden forever. This has the feel of a growing movement.
And anyone can be part of it. I want to be part of it and want my kids to be part of it too, squeezing adventures into moments when it might not occur to you that it’s possible or practical. I reckon for a first timer, discovering the simple joy of sleeping out between work days must be wholly liberating. Now I don’t work from 9-5. Sometimes I work through the night and other times I don’t work at all. But the solstice microadventure challenge got me wondering if we could just take off after school and do something different on a whim? Could we inject a little adventure into the post work, post school 5-9? With kids?
I thought maybe we could. So, at 3pm on the 21st June on the way home from school, I told the kids to pack a rucksack. Because we were going on a microadventure. And this is how our 5-9 challenge went…
Our Summer Solstice Microadventure
I entered it into Alastair Humphreys summer solstice competition with many other budding and experienced 5-9ers. But I wasn’t optimistic we’d win. As novice hidden people I feel we still have a lot to learn. So then I thought, why not ask the expert for advice?
So we emailed a quick questionnaire to the king of the micro adventure. And obligingly, between wild sleeps, Alastair revealed all about his 5-9 habits and gave us a few pointers about where we should be going with ours….
Q: We’ve been following your series of micro adventures. Where did the idea come from?
A: From meeting so many people who wanted adventure but weren’t able to do a big one. I wanted to remove excuses, barriers to entry and make the whole thing as simple as possible.
Q: What makes a good micro adventure?
A: Clear skies, a bivy bag, a friend or two to laugh with, and a river to swim in in the morning!
Q: Where does your adventurous spirit come from?
A: From reading books about the great adventurers. I don’t think I am particularly adventurous or bold. But once you begin it gets quite addictive and your trips get bigger and bigger!
Q: What part did your parents or family play in shaping it?
A: I was lucky to grow up in the countryside so spent a lot of time playing outdoors. My school encouraged camping and climbing hills. I was lucky to have these exposures to the outdoors from an early age.
How can people get started?
Q: Is adventure just about firsts, unconquerables and the extreme?
A: It’s about personal firsts, personal challenge, pushing personal limits. These are the important things.
Q: What advice would you give to non outdoor parents who would like to give their kids a taste of adventure?
A: To start small. Do you know the 50 things list from the National Trust? It’s really nice for this. Day trips. Walks. Fishing for tadpoles. Then a night in a campsite. Then a night in a wild camp… and so on!
Q: What’s the simplest, cheapest thing they could do to get started?
A: On a summer evening you can sleep out in the garden without any special gear. Have a picnic outside, watch the stars come out, and fall asleep outside. I still remember the first time I did this.
Any tips for the novice bivyer?
Q: As you know we have a bivy season running this year. We haven’t the first clue of how to bivy. Any tips?
A: Midges and rain will make life miserable! Other than that it is great. Wrap your other gear and shoes in a bin bag so they don’t get wet. Remember your sleeping bag will get damp from condensation so you need to be able to hang it out to dry somewhere.
Q: If you had one place or environment to suggest we go and bivy, what would it be?
A: On an island!
True or false
Q: True or false? Adventurers are born and not made
Q: True or false? Sleeping out is not for kids
Q: True or false? Tents are for wimps
A: A bit of both!
And personally speaking…
Q: What’s your favourite bivy snack?
A: Pork pies and beer
Q: If you could invite three people to your own bivy sleepover (live or dead) who would you invite?
A: Laurie Lee, Patrick Fermor, Eric Newby…
Q: And finally, what’s the wierdest place you’ve ever slept?
A: In a sewage pipe
Q: Us too! Perhaps we are more like you than we thought.
Over to you
If you’ve had a great microadventure experience, do leave us a comment and tell us about it.
Want to know more?
Our thanks to Alastair Humphreys for the inspiration and taking the time to answer our questions. And to Terra Nova Equipment for their support in loaning us equipment for our Sleepover Season. You can catch more of our Sleepover Season posts here. And a growing collection of family bivy adventure videos on our YouTube channel.