Friday 9 September
I’d spent a pretty sleepless night trying to discourage the local dogs from chewing up our cyclists’ helmets that’d been left scattered around camp after a long day’s ride.
We were all still feeling pretty tender from our brush with some kind of Montenegrin lake-bourne vomiting bug.
Considering that, only two nights previously, I’d half-slept on a trolley in A&E, I felt incredible on yesterday’s ride.
Powering up the shady steep slopes of the Albanian Dajti and swooshing untrammelled down the other side, zipping through sixty kph mountain tunnels, out and over metalwork spans over thousand metre drop gorges.
I’d felt incredible, that is, until lunch.
Then things went rapidly downhill. Luckily, the last thirty kilometres of yesterday were indeed rapidly downhill.
So, although I woke up on Friday morning feeling okay, I was glad to be spending the day in Calypso, our twenty-year-old Ford Transit support vehicle*.
We waved the cyclists off, packed up camp and drove onward, over the Korab Mountains and into North Macedonia.
At the border, we discovered that we didn’t have valid vehicle insurance for countries outside the EU and would not be allowed to continue until we bought a 14-day insurance pass for €50.
Love that no border guards had cared about such legal niceties in Albania.
In 2019, as one of the conditions of their accession to NATO, the Republic of Macedonia agreed to adopt the geographical qualifier ‘North’, appeasing Greek political concerns.
As Calypso chugged into her ninth country of the tour, I noticed that someone had peeled away the cheap sticker that had announced the country’s new name, revealing the old beneath.
Together we flew over the border mountains to Lake Debar and followed the Black Drin all the way to Lake Ohrid, through pine forests and beside glittering water, marvelling at the beauty of the day’s ride from the hot cabin of Calypso.
We found camp on the shores of Lake Prespa and started to cook two tonne carbohydrates, with the moon rising over the distant blue of the Baba Mountain.
But we had no phone reception on the lakeside beach and, as time ticked on, somewhere out there in the gloaming, most of our dehydrated, delicate cyclists were climbing a mountain.
I climbed back into Calypso and drove the sharp zigzags to the top of Galičica, nerves rising with each switchback and no one in sight. Did they have lights? Had they run out of water, food? Or worse?
Then, somewhere near the summit, a dozen sweat-stained cyclists drifted like ghosts from the gloom before me, spirits high.
Sucking with relief, I refilled their waters and handed out lights and fleeces for the long descent.
Then I followed them down, headlights flickering against reflective cycle tape. The stars played on the lake below.
That day was my hundredth day of adventuring in 2022.
215 Days of Adventure (And Counting)
Last year, I wanted to spend more time outdoors and less time in front of the computer. To make sure that happened, I set a target to have 100 Days of Adventure.
This is my definition of a Day of Adventure, a simple yes or no: did I spend a significant chunk of the day outside on an adventure?
‘Significant chunk’ and ‘an adventure’ are both deliberately relative because I want DOA to be a binary measure that works for everyone. What’s significant and adventurous for you will feel different to everyone else: maybe dangerous, maybe dull.
After a slow lockdown start, I ended 2021 with 102 DOA, a healthy increase so far as I could tell from the years before.
The project was such a success that I decided to keep it rolling into 2022.
Today, we are 308 days deep into the year and I’m proud to say that I’ve spent over a third of that time outdoors, adventuring: 113 days.
A Big Year
I always knew this was going to be a big year: I was scheduled to spend 46 days on the road this summer with Thighs of Steel, cycling from Glasgow to Milan and then from Dubrovnik to Athens.
Days of Adventure are not necessarily biased towards these kind of exotic foreign epics: after all, I spent 35 days cycling around southern England in 2020.
But there’s no question that this big year owes much to the relaxation of pandemic lockdowns and border controls, allowing me to adventure abroad.
In fact, there was so much adventuring going on that I had no time to celebrate passing my 100 day target. So that’s what I’m doing today.
(Seriously, I mean that: yay 🥳)
Although my definition of adventure is flexible enough to encompass almost anyone doing almost anything, I know that it’d hard for most people to hand over a third of their year to adventuring.
(Besides the fact most people wouldn’t want to!)
100 days in a year is ambitious. 113 days (and counting) is straight-up ridiculous. When I stop for half a second to think about it, I feel very lucky.
For some reason, tracking my Days of Adventure is really working for me. This story is about why that’s the case and how something similar might work for you.
It’s a story that begins with a cautionary tale.
Goals Are Dangerous
My old philosophy tutor told us of a friend of his who had a long-time dream to collect a first edition of every record put out by a ridiculously niche record label.
(I think the label was some 1970s Americana psychedelic weirdness, but that’s not the cautionary part of the tale.)
This was back in the days before eBay and Amazon so tracking down the records meant trawling through secondhand junk markets across the world.
There were only about twenty records to find, but the search took him decades. Every LP that he finally found only raised the rarity of the next.
By the late-nineties, we were told, he had found all but one of the records. It’d been six years since he’d added to his priceless collection, but for as long as he hadn’t found that last LP, the game was still on.
Then he found it.
What a moment. What a feeling that must have been, after so many years of searching, to have finally completed the set, to have won the game.
To our tutor’s enduring incredulity, his friend never bought that last record.
He picked it up in the shop, flipped it over and read the sleeve notes. Then he slipped it back onto the shelf, went up to the desk and sold the lucky shopkeeper everything he’d worked to collect over the past twenty years: the entire back catalogue of this ridiculously niche 1970s Americana psychedelic weirdness label.
That’s the cautionary part of the tale: even an extremely difficult goal will, with dogged human persistence, be completed.
And then what? Emptiness.
Once he’d found the final piece, there was nothing more for our collector to do but scrap the lot, like breaking up a jigsaw puzzle.
That’s the danger of goal-setting — and that could be the danger inherent in a project like 100 Days Of Adventure.
But there’s something different with the design of that game, a difference best illustrated by another project of mine — now permanently shelved.
The Country Game
Back in the early 2000s, I had a friendly competition with pals to see who could travel to as many different countries as possible.
(Okay, it wasn’t always friendly — Monaco and the Vatican really got people’s backs up.)
The only rule was that the visit had to include at least one overnight stay and at least one activity of cultural interest. In other words: travelling across borders on the night train did not count.
It was a great game because I was usually winning (especially after making up a rule that added the Canary Islands and Gibraltar to the list of officially recognised countries due to something or other about non-contiguous borders and nautical miles).
And therein lies the problem with this game: the joy, for me, was in winning the game, not the experience of taking part.
Contrast this with the DOA project: I didn’t even notice that I had ‘won’ the game. I was too wrapped up with the experience until I sat down to write today.
It wasn’t that I took The Country Game particularly seriously, but the nature of the game mechanics generated serious discussions about how to reduce duplicates (each country could only count once) and how to maximise border-hopping with every trip.
To the spitting jealousy of the others, one competitor snared six countries in a single holiday to the Baltics. All within the rules.
In contrast, there’s no way to ‘game’ the DOA project without lying to myself.
I can’t score if I haven’t been outdoors for a significant chunk of the day doing something vaguely adventurous.
That kind of point-scoring is all about experience: it’s a reward that is intrinsic to itself. It’s found within, not without.
The problem with The Country Game is that its rewards were extrinsic, with no reference to the quality of experience within the game.
Quite simply, the reward of visiting a new country was to score one point.
And after that?
Visit another country, score another point.
And after that?
Visit another country, score another point.
And after that?
Visit another country, score another point.
And so on until there is no more ‘And after that?’, only the emptiness of the completed record collector.
Protect and Prioritise
I know I’m lucky to work the jobs I do, but over the past two years, my DOA score has been more than a mere coincidental symptom of my work and lifestyle.
Even this year, even with those 46 days (technically hard at work) with Thighs of Steel, I still wouldn’t have reached 100 Days of Adventure without making an effort to clear my diary to create space.
The DOA project has made damn sure I protect time for my priorities.
It’s taken me outdoors when outdoors seemed a long way distant — particularly at the short end of last year, when I was scrambling for days, a time that generated some of my most cherished memories that winter.
And That’s The Point
Since the first day of this year, hiking the double stone row at Hurston Ridge on Dartmoor with two friends, I’ve written seventeen more stories of adventure this year: a wellspring of memories filled with community, wonder and connection.
That’s what the Days of Adventure have brought me since 2021, a constant reminder that ‘how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives’.
There are 57 days left in the year. I plan to spend at least 13 of them outside, adventuring.
Are you putting your time where your heart is? What’s stopping you from making damn sure?
BONUS CONTENT: 17 Stories of Adventure
Adventures make me think. And when I think I often write. Here are the other 17 stories that I’ve written while on adventure this year:
- New Year’s Day hiking the double stone row at Hurston Ridge on Dartmoor
- 6 more days of hiking on Dartmoor in January and February
- 6 Thighs of Steel London Cycle Club rides and 4 New Forest Off Road Club rides
- 1 day hiking and 1 day mushroom picking on the Purbecks, plus another day doing conservation work on Brownsea Island
- 18 days’ travelling overland to spend time with friends in Paris, Rudenoise, Chantilly, Bayonne, Madrid, Lisbon, Barcelona and the inside of a long-distance coach while trying to stifle a heavy cold during a pandemic panic
- 6 days’ working as an outdoor instructor with schoolkids in the Chilterns and Surrey Hills
- 8 days’ cycling from Kings Lynn to Edinburgh in April as part of a slow travel reprisal of my 2011 round Britain adventure
- 6 more days of round Britain cycling from Glasgow to Oban, via Arran, Islay and Jura in June
- 3 days on an ecotherapy course in Somerset in June and July
- 32 days’ cycling from Glasgow to Milan with Thighs of Steel in July and August (stories: Philoxenia & The Magic Cobbler, Carpocratian Touring)
- 4 days’ exploring porticoes in Bologna, Italy and abandoned hotels in Kupari, Croatia
- 14 days’ cycling from Dubrovnik to Athens, via Montenegro, Albania and North Macedonia in September (stories: Not A Charity Auction, Lies and the What What Now Now), plus another 2 days’ cycling with friends in Greece
*It was Calypso’s fifth time supporting the ride all the way to Athens and back. She’s beginning to creak, so we’re looking for an upgrade for 2023.
Do you know anyone who might have a long wheelbase high top van they want to sell or give away to a small cycling community with a big heart?