Ever find you get so bogged down in the day job that you limp through the week focused only on the shining beacon of light that is the weekend? Somehow the ‘9-to-5’ has turned into an ‘8-to-7’, but it’s just not humanly possible to get through the work in eight hours a day. Or perhaps you start the week full of good intentions and exciting plans which, come Tuesday, you’ve fully given up on.
I will hold up my hand and answer yes to each of these questions. When I escaped London to move to Yorkshire, I was determined to leave the late-working nights behind and make the most of having beautiful countryside on my doorstep. Every night I’d be out climbing, running and cycling. Then life – and work – got in the way and I settled back into monotony, resigning myself to occasional bouts of freedom at the weekend.
But there is another way. A way you can deal with the realities of having to work late (sometimes) and still have a life of adventure. Let me introduce you to the concept of microadventures.
Now, I’m not a huge fan of categorising ‘adventures’. I mean adventure is adventure right? And it will mean different things to different people. If you’re never been out of a city, then your first visit to the countryside, or up a mountain will be an adventure. It doesn’t all have to be about cycling across continents, or exploring polar wastelands.
But I do quite like the concept of microadventures, and in particular 5-to-9ers. These are really quite simple. Rather than focusing on the hours of work (9-to-5) focus on the adventures you can have outside of this time – between 5pm and 9am the next day. However much you have on at work, you just need to leave early one day a week to have adventures and experiences you will never forget.
Inspired by reading Alastair Humphreys’ excellent book, Microadventures and panicked by the realisation that summer was pretty much over, we decided enough was enough. It was time to say ‘sod it’ to everyday life for a night. It was time for an adventure.
Our plan was simple. Leave home, jump on the train north for a couple of stops, walk up to the conveniently marked pub on the map for dinner and then head up onto the top of the moor to sleep out for the night. No tents, just sleeping bags, mats and bivvy bags. Next morning we’d get one of the first trains back home, shower and go into work. The great thing about simple plans? They rarely go wrong.
The first step
We left the house just before six. It was pretty strange heading out in walking boots with a pack on at this time in the evening. Even the first steps along a familiar road felt somehow different. Adventurous. The excitement of not quite knowing what was to come put a spring in my step.
On the train we checked over the map and glimpsed at the other passengers. People heading for a night out, or home from work. I felt almost sorry for them, going back to their normal, everyday lives. But each to their own – sleeping under the stars at the end of September isn’t for everyone!
The light was starting to fade as we hiked up the hill and across fields to the pub. A chill in the air reminded us that winter was just around the corner. In the pub I overheard a man asking his wife how far she thought we’d walked. “Ooo, they must have done ten or twelve miles,” she replied. More like one. You don’t have to walk far to have an adventure.
Into the wild
Feeling rather stuffed, we dragged ourselves away from the warmth and light of the pub and headed out into the night. It was almost dark, but a bright moon helped light the way, so we left our headtorches in our bags. Which was great – until the springy grass field unexpectedly turned into a bog.
We headed onwards and upwards, until we were high above the valley, looking out over a sprinkling of orange lights. It felt a world away from home, the office and real life. After a bit of exploring we found a flat spot that was sheltered from the bitter wind, and laid out our mats, sleeping bags and bivvy bags.
Sleeping under the stars
Snuggled down inside my sleeping bag, cocooned by layers of down, I stared up at the clouds sweeping across the sky. The only noise was the occasional plane taking off from the nearby airport; the only light that of the moon and the soft orange glow of the city in the distance.
One thing about sleeping out at this time of year – you go to bed early. We were tucked up and ready to snooze by quarter-past eight in the evening. If we’d have stayed at home, we’d have probably still been eating dinner.
At some point in the night I was wakened by the wind blowing across my face. Though we’d picked a sheltered spot, the wind had changed direction in the night, and was now blowing straight across us. I buried myself deeper into my sleeping bag, pulling the bivvy over my head to shelter me from the cold. And slept.
The alarm on my phone woke me – an unexpected jarring sound in this wild place. Alarms are associated with home and with getting up early for work. Not with adventure. But we had a train to catch, and that meant getting up before sunrise.
It was cold in the pre-dawn darkness, so we lost no time in packing up our kit and making our way back down to the train station. As we walked the sky began to lighten. The world was waking to a new day. We passed houses whose occupants had not yet stirred, sheep still lying in the fields and a few early morning joggers.
It is these moments – at the very beginning of the day – when I feel closest to nature and most at peace. I love my sleep and normally struggle to get out of bed early, but when I do make it out first thing in the morning, I never regret it.
At the station we joined commuters on the platform, dressed in suits and smart shoes. I wondered what they thought of us in our hiking clothes and muddy boots. It was hard to believe that today was just another ‘normal’ work day and that soon we’d be joining them for our morning commute.
Back to reality
Back home we quickly unpacked bags, showered and headed out the door to work. I got to my desk before nine, and sat down with a coffee and breakfast to deal with the morning’s emails. Just like any other day. Except that bubbling inside of me was the excitement of our secret. And thoughts and plans for the next adventure. Because when it comes to microadventures, the next one could be just around the corner.
How to have your own microadventure
All you really need to have your own microadventure is, well, a sense of adventure! Add a sprinkling of imagination and you’ll quickly come up with a dozen potential plans.
To wild camp you need a basic sleeping mat, a warm sleeping bag and a bivvy bag (you can pick up a basic survival bag for a couple of pounds). Technically it is illegal to wild camp in England and Wales (though legal in many parts of Scotland) – you can either seek permission from the landowner, or find a remote place and go by the ‘leave no trace’ principle*. Everything you take in, you take out and leave no scars on the landscape.
For more microadventure ideas, check out Alastair Humphreys’ website. Be warned, you may get lost for hours dreaming of adventure!
*disclaimer – we would always suggest you get permission from the landowner. For more info on the safety and legalities of wild camping, check out this useful blog post.