Lockdown was a bit of a piss-pot for all of us.
But I wonder: can you think of one positive thing that came out of those months of loneliness? I can, just about.
Lockdown, by taking away almost everything I’d ever taken for granted, gave me the time (so much time) and introspection (so much introspection) to notice what really matters to me in this world.
I mean, of course, this world. More specifically: getting out in it.
At the end of 2020, after our first ‘bubble’ Christmas, I decided that the next year I would try to have 100 Days of Adventure; days where I would spend a significant chunk of time outside on an adventure.
I left my definitions deliberately wide open. ‘Outside’ was vague because I’m a firm believer that adventure can be found anywhere: yes to the mountain tracks of Macedonia, but also yes to a walk through Peterborough. Both outside.
‘Significant chunk’ and ‘an adventure’ were as broad as possible because those terms will mean very different things to different people — including myself, depending on what hat I’m wearing that day.
I don’t think I’ve counted many outings less than a couple of hours, but that’s me. For someone with kids and a full-time office job, getting outside for twenty minutes could be properly significant.
And adventure, well, adventure could be cycling with a hundred people from Glasgow to Athens or it could be asking for a free cup of tea at a snack bar on Bournemouth beach.
Back in 2021, I had serious doubts that I could do 100 Days of Adventure in a year.
It might not seem like a lot, getting outside in a significant way twice a week; but the challenge was to keep the momentum going for the whole year, rain or shine, sickness or health, lockdown or freedom.
Spoiler: I did it. So I did it again in 2022. And again in 2023. Over the past three years, without really paying attention, I’ve racked up 340 Days of Adventure. That, all of a sudden, is a body of work.
I thought it was high time that I look back and distil everything I’ve learned about myself and this world into an internet-friendly listicle.
I have, of course, totally failed in that task. Not really my thing.
But here, nonetheless, are five things that I’ve learned from three years of 100 Days of Adventure (AND NUMBER FIVE WILL BLOW YOUR MIND! 🤯).
1. Even when adventure is a central part of my job, I still have to make time for adventure.
I’m so lucky that my work over the past three years has included 29 days’ supporting schoolkids on their own outdoor expeditions as well as 123 days’ cycling and supporting other cyclists on three mega adventures with Thighs of Steel — but that’s still less than half of all my Days of Adventure.
Even with my vocational head start, 100 Days of Adventure is still a challenge and that challenge has motivated me to do the things that I know make me feel good, but that are not quite as easy as much less adventurous things.
It’s easy to go for a walk along the beach because the beach is right outside my window here in Bournemouth — but that’s not an adventure (unless I get lost and accidentally explore The Millionaire’s Ravine).
It is not so easy to get on my bike, onto a train or into my car and go for a walk somewhere I’ve never been before. That takes a little extra push.
Sometimes that push comes from work: I’m hired to walk with a bunch of kids around the Chiltern Hills. Sometimes that push comes from friends inviting me to stay with them at an off-grid cabin in the Lake District. Sometimes that push comes from a stupid and arbitrary target to go on 100 Days of Adventure.
Whatever the push, the outcome is I feel good. Oh, and also…
2. Adventure is precursor to genius (ahem).
In chemistry, Wikipedia tells me, a precursor is ‘a compound that participates in a chemical reaction that produces another compound’.
Adventure — doing new stuff outside — smashes together not one but two precursors in an alchemical reaction that produces a third really cool thing: genius.
This alchemical reaction has been tested by scientists, most famously in a 2014 study by experimental psychologists Marily Oppezzo and Daniel L. Schwartz at Stanford University.
Their coolest results came when they tested human guinea pigs on a test of creativity called Barron’s Symbolic Equivalence Task.
The BSE gives people five minutes to come up with analogies for three prompts. For example, you might be given the prompt ‘a candle burning low’ and you might (if you’re feeling really creative) come up with an analogy like ‘the last hand of a gambler’s last game’.
Importantly, the BSE has what psychologists call good ‘external validation’: it really does measure creativity in the real world. Someone clever went out and gave the BSE to loads of people with all different jobs: famous writers came out top.
Anyway. Oppezzo and Schwartz administered the BSE to forty people randomly assigned to four different conditions: sitting down indoors, walking on a readmill indoors, sitting down in a wheelchair outdoors and walking on legs outdoors.
In five minutes, the sitting indoors group came up with an average of 0.6 high quality novel analogies (fair play: not sure I’d get that many).
But here are the cool bits:
- Just sitting outdoors more than doubled the number of high quality novel analogies the guinea pigs came up with.
- Walking indoors on a treadmill more than trebled the number of brilliant analogies.
- And the combination, walking outdoors, quadrupled the number of analogies. These geniuses were churning out an average of 2.4 high quality novel analogies in their five minutes.
Remember: all these people were randomly assigned to the different conditions. There was no underlying difference in their ‘natural’ creativity. Genius was the result of the alchemical reaction catalysed by the combination of activity and the outdoors.
I’ll say again: creativity quadrupled! It really is that simple. Go. Out. Side.
Without claiming to be a total genius, I’ve certainly reaped the benefits of adventure myself, both in ways that are hard to pin down, such as keeping my day-to-day sanity, and in my working output, most obviously the 67 stories I’ve written based on various Days of Adventure, but also pretty much everything else I’ve done in the past three years.
If you want to become a more productive worker bee in 2024, then you could do a lot worse than committing to a habit that regularly gets you outside doing stuff.
3. I’m so lucky that where I live is so rich in adventure…
As this clutch of photographs will attest, I’m incredibly lucky to live so close to New Forest National Park, the Isle of Purbeck and Brownsea Island: three vast adventure playgrounds between twenty and forty minutes from my door.
4. … But I feel like I haven’t even scratched the surface of all the adventures this place has to offer!
I have only recently begun to explore the 71,000 acres of the New Forest, while I scarcely know my way around the Purbecks at all. Brownsea Island, meanwhile, is a hotpot of biodiversity that keeps a team of full-time ecologists entertained for their entire careers.
There is more here to see, feel and learn than is possible in a thousand lifetimes.
Even along the same route, the forest today is not the forest I walked through yesterday. There is always something new to discover. (And hopefully it won’t be so boggy.)
As Heraclitus might have said:
‘You can’t go on the same adventure twice: it’s not the same forest, mountain or ocean as it was yesterday, and, besides, you’re not the same person.’
5a. Do something every few days for a few years and — abracadababoom — you’ve got yourself an awesome life…
This is a lesson that every creative person learns at some point: producing good work consistently is not about intensive sprints or pulling all-nighters; it’s about putting in a decent shift and sticking to a regular routine over the course of years.
The same applies to living a life of adventure, or any other existence you want to cultivate on this sweet Earth. Routine is paramount.
In the kind of quote that makes me want to underline every sentence and italicise every other word, Author Annie Dillard praises the ‘scaffolding’ power of routine in her book, The Writing Life:
How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. […] A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order — willed, faked, and so brought into being.
I also love the poetic words of William Osler, founding professor of Johns Hopkins Hospital, lauding the generative and enduring power of routine to Yale University students in 1913:
One day must tell another, one week certify another, one month bear witness to the same story.
100 Days of Adventure is a schedule, a mock-up of reason and order, that wills into being a particular kind of life, each month of progress bearing witness to the same story: that I am now the kind of person who routinely goes on adventures. Awesome.
5b. … and an awesome body of work.
Over the course of three years, I’ve racked up 340 Days of Adventure and, in partnership with the regular routine of this newsletter, I’ve written a story for 67 of them.
All of a sudden, without really paying any attention, not only have I learned a lot about myself and the world, but I’ve also accidentally built up enough material for a whole book. That’s a body of work.
I didn’t intend this, but here we are.
Now then. I’m aware that I can’t just print out 67 blog posts and call it a book, so I’m curious: what do you think? What would get YOU excited about reading a book about living with many more Days of Adventure in your life?