Adventure – do you need skill, will or to just Say Yes?
Do you believe you need to be skilled and experienced at outdoor adventure to give it a go? What about your kids? How willing are you to let them feel the fear and do it anyway? Two professional outdoor adventurers have given me pause for thought this winter, acting as role models and inspiring us to get out there more…
“Humans are the only creatures who have the ability to think long forward term and have ambition. And when you couple that with the fact that every time you do something new you grow and develop, wouldn’t it be terrible to waste that and not explore your potential?” – Adventurer Dave Cornthwaite.
Who to invite to dinner?
You know that game where you list your dream dinner party guests? The one the weekend papers often ask their feature subjects that prompts people to sit The Dalai Lama next to Gemma from TOWIE and Adolf Hitler? Once upon a time my table would have been filled with 80’s pop stars. Add a few more years and you’d be looking at novelists and poets. During the winter months I’m always tempted to invite the entire cast of Homeland. But more and more adventurers and explorers are creeping in. Because increasingly I’m looking at role models for myself and the kids that inspire us to get off our backsides and do something.
Say Yes to Dave Cornthwaite
I recently discovered two more outdoor people I’d like to add to my mental list of dinner party invites. The first is Dave Cornthwaite, an adventurer who has made it his business to say yes to challenge. I met him at Kendal’s Mountain Film Festival in November and listened to him talk. The atmosphere in the room was electric. But the energy wasn’t all coming from the speaker. The auditorium was filled with lightbulbs going off in people’s heads that they too could get out there and adventure if they put their mind to it. In fact Dave insisted that this is necessary for our fragile world.
“Adventure is such a powerful tool. It’s not just there for our personal development. But to make the world a better place. So many of us have a disconnect to nature. We need to get out and feel the sun on our faces and know what it is like to hear a forest at night time. We have to travel light and think on our feet because if we live for 80 years without testing ourselves it is the biggest tragedy of all,” he told us.
His list of achievements and world records is impressive, but disarmingly, he doesn’t put himself in the same category as athletes. In fact, he confessed that until he was 25 years old, his only strength lay in his thumbs.
“For three years I’d been playing play station for ten or twelve hours a day. It was all I looked forward to. When I was at work I’d been thinking deeply about getting home to play it. And it wasn’t getting me anywhere. I started thinking what am I here for? I had literally lost months and months and years and years. I didn’t learn a thing from them. I felt wasted. I felt I was a loser. I didn’t inspire myself. I had nothing to talk about when I went out. I lived in Swansea, down the road from the best surf beaches in the UK and I didn’t go to one in six years.”
Say Yes and everything changes
One day it all changed. A snowboarding holiday, followed by a discovery of skateboarding led him to a madcap plan to skateboard further than anyone had ever skated. He ended up skateboarding 3618 miles across Australia for a Guinness World Record.
“It was a life changing trip in so many ways; the slow realisation that anything was possible. I look back on it so fondly despite the fact that those days were filled with pain and blisters and the realisation that we’re all just human,” he said.
The interesting thing for me was that despite his adventures being obviously ambitious and physical, his message and philosophy is all about courage and determination rather than a life spent acquiring skill. He skateboarded Australia on one foot as he hadn’t trained himself to balance using the other one. (He wore through 14 right shoes while his left shoe remained intact!) When he rode a tandem from Vancouver to Vegas, it was his first time riding a bicycle made for two. And he swam the lower Missouri without any intensive swimming coaching. His adventures have morphed into his 12 year Expedition 1000 project; a simple yet demanding concept of completing 25 non motorised journeys of over 1000 miles.
Say Yes to wild swimming
I went away inspired to try something new. I am useless at skating and already do long distance biking, so neither of those would work for me as a new hobby, but wild swimming might be a challenge. And a quick chat with local outdoor swimming specialist Peter Kelly confirmed that this is perfectly possible for me. And for the kids. Peter is Director of Head To The Hills, an outdoor sports shop that introduces people into swimming the lakes and tarns of the Lake District. He says much of his job is about helping people unlock the potential that’s already there.
“Ordinary people can quite easily do extraordinary things. You’ve just got to get out there and do it. People come back to us and say ‘You’ve changed my life,’ but in reality all I have done is take them swimming,” he told me.
Peter has volunteered to take us wild swimming in the spring, (not advisable for a beginner this time of year apparently,) so watch this space.
Inspired by Danny MacAskill
Then towards the end of the year the kids and I were fascinated by a BBC documentary showing world renowned trials cyclist Danny MacAskill’s attempt at ‘Riding the Ridge.’ The Black Cuillin in Skye is one of one of the most dramatic mountain ranges in Scotland and Danny’s ten day ride was precarious and thrilling. There’s no doubt that for some adventures, enthusiasm isn’t enough. Danny has clearly spent his life training to be top of his game and the documentary was filled with skill as well as daring.
We can’t all be that skilled
But we don’t all have to be as skilled up as Danny MacAskill to ride a ridge. Everyone can hop on a bike and take it to their local hill. Perhaps all you need to do a ridge is a bump or a log to start with. And perhaps all you need to attempt a bump is a patch of grass where you can get your balance and extend your comfort zone. When we found ourselves in Danny MacAskill territory in Scotland over the New Year, we decided to make our own little tribute to him. So, on a long, traffic free downhill road following the twists and turns of Glen Lyon, we hopped on our micro scooters. And it wasn’t long before we were trying some tricks of our own. Here’s Hannah’s (or should I say Hanny’s) experience of giving it a go.
But to just Say Yes can impress
We thought Hannah was pretty cool until Danny tweeted us to say he’d biked over the TOP of that bridge.
@familyonabike great effort by all involved! I think Ive actually ridden over the top of one of those bridges before! Keep up the good work!
— Danny MacAskill (@danny_macaskill) January 6, 2015
But what we did confirm that day is that you don’t need a huge range of skills to have a go at what he does. You just need two wheels, a little bit of bottle, a warm coat, a role model to inspire you and show you what’s possible, and the will to make a start and see how far you get.
Say Yes to the dishes
So Danny MacAskill’s adventures catapult him on to my dream dinner party guest list along with Dave Cornthwaite. And one day when Dave and Danny come round (along with Alistair Humphries, Russell Brand, Damian Lewis and The Pope?) we can discuss our attitudes to adventure and whether skill is as important as will. There’s only one house rule; the first one to shout ‘Winner Winner Chicken Dinner’ has to do the dishes. No saying no. You must just Say Yes.