The Modern Adventure

Mitch Wilson argues that the next great adventure we face may not lie outside of our worlds, but within them; in our hearts, minds, careers, and families.

By Mitch Wilson / 16 March 2017
6 min read

Adventure. It’s a word that conjures images of Indiana Jones, lost worlds, and undiscovered lands; challenges that when faced define the very nature of who we are, facing off death and danger in the pursuit of a higher goal. As long as we’ve walked the earth, humankind has shown an unmatched ability for taking on the unknown, and overcoming the world’s challenges..

But adventure is changing. The lost worlds have been found, google maps not just shows you undiscovered lands, but in time will be getting you bus routes for them too. Most of the danger encountered these days comes with signage, guard rails, and a waiver form. Much of what makes adventure feel adventurous is the unknown – and we have very few unknowns left.

But while our perspective of adventure changes, the spirit of the adventurer does not. Recently, Steve Whyley of Getinspired365 and ZIDILIFE, and Christian Sommer founder of ZIDILIFE. interviewed individuals who are breaking new ground in the 21st century and, in doing so, are forever changing the way we think of adventure.

Jason Lewis roller blading through Arkansas

Jason Lewis is the first person to ever circumnavigate the Earth; using only his body power. Without motor or sail, he walked, cycled, and skated across five continents; while kayaking, swimming, rowing, and pedalling boats across the rivers, seas, and oceans in-between. Taking thirteen years to complete, the 46,505-mile journey was hailed “the last great first for circumnavigation” by the London Sunday Times. Jason’s previous occupation? Window washer.

James Ketchell was an IT salesman. After a motorcycle accident that left him with two broken legs and a broken ankle, he was told he’d have a walking impairment for the rest of his life, and never regain the active lifestyle he’d enjoyed till then. Over the next 4 years, he went on to row across the Atlantic Ocean, climb Mount Everest like his hero Hillary, and cycle 18,000 miles around the world. For many of us, just one of these challenges would be a life’s achievement. But to do all three is a first – even Bear Grylls was impressed.

Sean Conway is the first and only person to swim the length of Britain, from Land’s End to John O’ Groats – 900 miles in total. He has previously cycled the length of Britain, and plans to finish his Great British Triathlon by running the same. Previously, Sean had intended to break the world record for cycling around the world, and began that challenge cycling a paltry 180 miles a day. Three weeks into his journey, Sean was hit by a car which fractured his spine. Normally, spinal fractures are a good reason to stop, but instead Sean continued, dropping his quota to 140 miles a day, and completed the next 12,000 miles with his fractured spine.

Sean Conway running through Britian

Adventurers need to break new frontiers and do things we never thought possible. The boundaries they break can inspire others to break free from their routines, and in turn follow their own passions. When adventurers take on the great challenges of the world, the perspective on our own challenges is shifted.

Anna McNuff running through New Zealand

But as modern adventurers have to go further and further to do the never done before, do their stories still inspire us the same way they once did? Adventurers of old who achieved firsts for mankind were celebrated across nations; yet the extreme feats of modern adventurers today often go unnoticed. Never before have we seen the human body endure such extremities, and yet never have their achievements been less heralded. Perhaps it’s because their achievements seem too far beyond us. Even the most adventurous spirits among us could be forgiven for admitting that ‘I could never do that’.

“The last great first for circumnavigation.” It’s true – there aren’t many new ways we can keep going round the world. To fill this void, a pseudo-adventure industry has developed – selling us adventure as a ticketed event. You can buy your way up mountains, along guided trails, and out of planes. You buy your Go Pro and your adrenaline rush and you are now an adventurer. Most of what we now label as adventure amounts to little more than self ingratiation and a new profile picture. And while these experiences can be fantastic (I love jumping out of a plane as much as the next person) they are just that – an experience. They can push us outside of our own comfort zones, they can thrill us – but they can’t contribute to a wider community the way that adventure historically has.

Sean Conway swimming from England to Scotland

With the exception of people like the adventurers mentioned above, adventure has for many become little more than a luxury commodity. The fact we can choose whether or not to buy into an adventure is unique in our history. The greatest challenge faced for many people looking for adventure today comes not from exposure, death, or the idea you may never come back; but whether they’ll be able to save enough money and book enough time off work.

What is the modern adventure? Do we have to find near impossible human feats to overcome as Jason, Sean, and James have, or else are we limited to experiences with safety notices? Do we have to give up our way of life just to have an authentic adventure, or is there a way we can still experience it in our own lives?

Jason Lewis kayaking Singapore Straits

True adventure rarely begins with adventure in mind. Adventures are stumbled upon, usually in the pursuit of something big, risky, and dangerous. Adventure has never been the goal – it’s just what happens sometimes along the way, as you try to reach your goal. True adventure in fact does not require a journey at all. Adventure is a sensation – that excitement you feel when you face extreme risk, and you don’t know for sure that you will succeed. The journey, the success – these are not prerequisites for adventure – but risk is.

What inspires us most about the adventurers mentioned above is not necessarily the journeys they have taken. What moves us is the way they took those challenges on, and how they interpreted them. They have a way of doing things; an ability to see both the risk and the reward of something, and to respectfully (or often disrespectfully) ignore the risk. We may never choose the path they took, but we can choose the attitude they have, to take on the risks and dangers in our own life, in the pursuit of something more.

Is it possible to have an adventurous attitude without a life-changing adventure? From window washers to IT salesman, none of the people mentioned above were exactly your typical adventurer to start with. But they had something inside them which allowed them to become who they are now. It’s that same something that made you take the risks in life that you’ve taken till now, and it’s in all of us, dormant or otherwise. Like any of our talents, the more we use it, the stronger it gets.

The next great adventure we face may not lie outside of our worlds, but within them; in our hearts, minds, careers, families. While there are fewer ways than ever to find ‘real’ adventure, there has never been a greater need for us to be adventurous. As we continue to improve agriculture, medicine, science, and technology, our world keeps getting easier. But we do not grow in comfort. The risks and dangers we have fought so hard to eliminate from our world are similarly the very things that help us grow. The solution will come not in dismay at our progress; but in the ability to still see clearly the limits placed upon our lives, and of our world around us – to have the courage and strength to do something about it and, together, change things for the better. Perhaps this is our adventurers’ greatest trait – not just that they were able to overcome great challenges – but that they found a challenge that was worth overcoming.

The next great adventure we face may not lie outside of our worlds, but within them; in our hearts, minds, careers, families.

And while our own adventures may not take us round the world, every challenge we take on begins a journey. Whether that journey takes us across countries or not, the journey our mind takes is what ultimately grows us. And when it gets tough – and a good adventure always does – stories of the adventurers who took on the world will be there to remind us of the seemingly limitless capabilities that lie within us all.