Microadventures Are Everywhere

Photograph by Alastair Humphreys
Hiking Cuillin Ridge, Isle of Skye, Scotland; Photograph by Alastair Humphreys

Alastair Humphreys is one of our Adventurers of the Year. Follow his current Talisker Storm Adventure on Scotland’s Isle of Skye live through May 11.

“The mountains are calling and I must go” – John Muir

My phone beeps and buzzes. People are calling me. It never stops. Messages stream in from anywhere on earth. All around me, shops sell everything I could ever need. If I shouted for help right this moment, a hundred people would hear my cry. (How many of those would actually help, I do not know.) Crowds flow past me like a stream. Dare I stop amidst it all and pause for a moment to ask, “What am I doing here?”

I am in the center of London, one of the busiest hubs on Earth. A city where anything is possible. Within a mile of where I stand there must be a hundred doctors, a hundred teachers, a hundred of whatever I might need.

And yet what I need right now lies hundreds of miles away from here…

These are my thoughts as I board the night train to Scotland. Night trains are rare in Britain. Our country is too small to need many of them. Our culture is too busy and hurried to choose to spend 12 hours on a train over two hours on a budget airline. And so every time I climb aboard this train to the mountains, I feel that I am stepping many generations back in time. But as the train pulls away from Euston Station in central London, I also feel a weight lift from my shoulders. The doors slam closed, the whistle blows, the train heaves itself into motion. And the urgent, ambitious, churning city fades quietly behind me.

I pull down the window blind in my tiny sleeper cabin and rock to sleep to the tickety-tickety tap of the railway rattling northwards through the darkness. I have travelled this route before, so I fall asleep to fond thoughts of what I will wake up to.

Tomorrow I will be on the Isle of Skye. Skye is one of the largest and most famous of the wonderful islands that lie off the west coast of Scotland. The air will be fresh and quiet. I will climb rocky black mountains. Nobody can hear you if you shout up there. There is the freedom and responsibility of being accountable for your own actions. I will swim in the sea and cold rivers. It will be freezing and I will howl at the stupidity of my behaviour. And I’ll grin like a mad thing.

My phone will have no signal, the affairs of the rest of the world will feel far away and less pressing. There will be few shops, little infrastructure, little of anything really. And I know already that I will feel happier than I have been in a long while.

Sometimes all you need is to climb a simple hill, to spend time staring at an empty horizon, to jump into a cold river or sleep under the stars, or perhaps share a whisky at a small country inn in order to remind yourself what matters most to you in life.

What matters most to me is the simple happiness I derive from spending time in the world’s wild and empty places. It’s about doing things I have never done before, and doing them with enthusiasm and to the best of my ability. What matters to me is jumping on the night train from London from time to time and escaping to somewhere wild and beautiful like the remote, mountainous Isle of Skye.

I have spent years of my life in places like this. I have cycled round the world, rowed and sailed across oceans, paddled rivers, and trekked in wild and empty parts of the world. Yet the last few years have seen me relinquishing a degree of my wild vagabond freedom in exchange for campaigning to get other people to enjoy a taste of the adventures that I have enjoyed and which have moulded so much of my life.

Real people, with real jobs and real family commitments are unlikely to be able to cycle around the world. But I decided to try to persuade “normal people” that they too could squeeze more adventure into their lives, rather than assuming that grand adventures are for “other people.”

We all get preoccupied with the constraints in our lives: relationships and and our “9-to-5’”mean that there is probably no time for climbing K2 or paddling the Mississippi. That is reality. But rather than deciding that if we can’t paddle the Mississippi then instead we should sit at home watching Bear Grylls repeats on TV, I wanted to encourage people to try to try to squeeze in whatever adventure was possible.

Instead of saying, “I can’t climb Everest, so instead I’ll just do nothing,”

I’m working to persuade people to say, “I can’t climb Everest, so instead I’ll climb my local hill, or go for a bike ride, or sleep by the creek, or escape from my city for a short while.”

And so the microadventure was born.

If you don’t have the money to climb Mount Everest, then climb the biggest hill you can manage in a weekend.

If you don’t have the time to cycle to Patagonia, then cycle your commute one Friday night, sleeping out under the stars along the way.

See the opportunities for adventures, not the constraints that get in the way.

The Scottish Islands and Highlands are the perfect microadventure getaway for me, whenever the noise and crowds of London start to send me a little crazy. Sunlight seeps through the window blind when I wake in the morning on the train. I open it like a kid on Christmas. Has it snowed?! And yes, it has. Pockets of snow sit on the high ground of the dark Cairngorm hills. The train rattles over peaty streams and through woods budding with the first green of northern spring. I have made my escape! The mountains are calling me, and London’s worries and frustrations already feel a whole world away.

I am even more excited than I usually am about heading to the hills, for this time I will be sharing the adventure with a few other people. People who are eager for adventure, and as excited as me to be heading north this weekend. But they are people with jobs and families and commitments. I’m excited to watch them experience Skye’s beauty for the first time, and to see the impact that an arduous, if brief, adventure may have on their lives. I’m excited to share this microadventure with them.

The mountains are calling me, and I must go.

Alastair Humphreys is one of our Adventurers of the Year. Follow his current Talisker Storm Adventure on Scotland’s Isle of Skye live through May 11.


  1. Jenny Johnston
    United States
    May 8, 2014, 9:50 am

    My husband and I just made a commitment to get out 3 weekends of every month. He is a teacher so we will leave for 7 weeks in mid-june for a 1000 bike tour of canada (with our two young daughters!), but we realize that getting out as often as we can makes us all happy. We live in northern california so the opportunities are endless. Yes….microadventures are the way to go!

  2. […] read about the idea of microadventures in a blog post on National Geographic by Alastair Humphreys. His blog post pretty much describes my situation, but […]