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FOUR SEASONS: MUDDLING THROUGH

Published: The Scotsman (TSMag) 16 June 2012

ON MONDAY evening, some of the most revered adventurers of our adventuresome age will assemble at the Omni Centre in Edinburgh to talk about their exploits. Round-the-world cyclist Mark Beaumont will be joined by Arctic explorer Charlie Paton, boundary-busting sea kayaker Patrick Winterton and the ever-inventive David Cornthwaite, whose multifarious achievements include crossing Australia on a skateboard and paddling a surfboard down the Mississippi River.

If you count host Alastair Humphreys, himself an international stravaiger of some renown, there are a total of 12 speakers on the bill for this “Night of Adventure” – a fundraiser for the charity Hope & Homes for Children. That’s an awful lot of tales of derring-do to pack into one evening, but to keep things snappy each speaker will be limited to 20 slides to accompany their stories, and each slide will be projected for just 20 seconds, giving a total stage time of around seven minutes per person (once you factor in a few additional seconds for walking on, shuffling notes, accepting applause and walking off again).

“The tales you’ll hear will range from the extreme to the downright crazy,” runs the blurb, “but one thing they’re guaranteed to do is leave you inspired and hungry for adventure.” This is a group of “ordinary people,” it continues, in reference to Beaumont et al, coming together to discuss their “extraordinary achievements”.

Subtext: anyone can be an adventurer. Yes, even you! Don’t worry, you don’t need any qualifications. There is no BA in Adventure Studies. At least, not yet. The ability to read a map may be an advantage, but don’t worry: GPS devices are very good these days. All you really have to do is select an adventure and get going with it. Good luck!

It’s a reassuringly British way of looking at things. We are, after all, a nation whose history has largely been built upon the exploits of enthusiastic amateurs and have-a-go heroes. Just think of David Livingstone, the mill worker-turned-medical missionary who made a pretty decent fist of mapping much of sub-Saharan Africa; or, indeed, Captain Scott: didn’t have a clue about how to travel over snow and ice – thought learning to use skis would be a waste of time, in fact – but made it to the South Pole all the same. Could these people have made life easier for themselves by doing a bit more research, a bit more training? Of course. But there’s something endearingly noble about the way they muddled through.

Perhaps this deep-seated British love of muddling explains why I’m increasingly drawn to people who seem to stumble blindly into adventures having done little or nothing in the way of training or preparation. Yes, I still love listening to serious, professional men and women of action explaining how they managed to shave a few extra ounces off the hi-tech survival kit they carried with them to the top of mountain x or the source of river y, but the guys that really make me smile are the ones that genuinely seem to be making it up as they go along.

Case in point: Scottish cyclist Chris Barr, whose exploits I’m currently following with much amusement on his blog, The Hairy Push Biker. The challenge he has set himself – to cycle from Glasgow to Turkey – is a serious one, but the way he’s gone about it is anything but. “I’d love to say I’m all prepared and training has gone well,” he wrote in his last blog post before setting off, “but… prepared isn’t a choice of word I would use. I have googled ‘Amsterdam to Istanbul’ and printed that out haha!”

There’s no faulting the logic behind Barr’s heroic lack of preparation – “it will be more of an adventure if I don’t actually know where I’m going” he reasons – although the logic behind his strategy for deterring thieves (“I’ll just open my mouth and speak the Glesga accent”) probably won’t stand much scrutiny.

At time of going to press, Barr was in Newcastle, about to embark on a ferry to the continent, so by the time you read this he’ll probably be somewhere in Holland, warding off bandits with his Glasgow burr.

• Keep up with his progress at www.thehairypushbiker.blogspot.co.uk. For more on the Night of Adventure, see www.hopeandhomes.org

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