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It’s difficult to avoid the word Adventure at the moment. It’s become very, very popular, seemingly the world has decided to forgo the settee, get off its arse, embrace the great outdoors and embark on an adventure of some shape, size or form. Personally, I think this explosion of interest is great, encouraging people to get outside should be applauded and there’s certainly no shortage of people willing to help you sample your own adventure. The media, in all its forms is awash with it, papers, magazines, the web and TV have all cottoned on to the appeal and are doing their best to capture a piece of the action. The literary world hasn’t been shy in approaching the table either … whilst adding ‘wild’, ‘adventure’, ‘extreme’ or ‘camp’ to the title of a book won’t guarantee a best seller, it appears that it certainly doesn’t do any harm either … never before has there been so many people telling the unadventurous and unimaginative how, when and where to have an adventure and that’s what bothers me.



Shouldn’t adventure be just that – adventurous? Should it not involve an element of risk, a degree of the unknown and a certain amount of discovery along the way? Surely, any endeavour with a guaranteed outcome can’t be adventurous? Are we in danger of downgrading ‘adventure’ in the same way that ‘epic’ now describes any 3 hour ride that actually involves the use of a map rather than following little arrows and signs within a sterile confines of a conifer forest? As I’ve already said, I’m wholeheartedly in favour of encouragement and promotion but there’s a line, that once crossed sanitises the whole concept and renders not only the word but the entire experience meaningless.

Nothing worth having ever comes easily, instant gratification is instant devaluation and ultimately leads to contempt for whatever we initially sought. There’s pleasure and immense satisfaction to be had through discovery and when effort is required the rewards are much greater. How do you feel when someone tells you how a film ends just as you sit down to watch it or reels off the last chapter of a book word for word when you’re on page 4? Do you feel grateful that they’ve saved you the effort? Happy that they’ve freed you up to get on with something else? No, I didn’t think you would. You might decide to continue staring at the screen or turning pages but the unknown has been removed and with it, much of the pleasure too.

Tracking down the location of a bothy used to be a little trickier than it is today. Locations weren’t publicised or freely available, you either had to join the MBA or find someone willing to show you … It’s different now. Spending 30 seconds on a computer will arm you with a list of ‘accommodation’ options long enough to keep you busy for quite a while. I’m unsure why the MBA chose to put their list of bothies in the public domain, maybe it had something to do with the charity status? I really don’t know. However, what I do know from my own experience is that bothies generally don’t seem any busier … they just seem to contain more litter and vandalism than before. When finding a bothy took leg-work (either physical or metaphorical) you cherished it, it was somewhere special, knowing that effort had been required gave it value well beyond its roof and stone walls. Obviously MBA bothies aren’t the only places to spend the night, there’s a good number of less official options. Some are structures and others just places or spaces, they’re all special but they’re not magic. Burnt ground doesn’t just become green once people leave, snapped tree limbs don’t regenerate over night and stones don’t replace themselves on walls when you turn your back … it isn’t the kitchen from Fantasia.

Until the recent ‘adventure explosion’ most of these places were shrouded in a little mystery … their existence may not have been a secret but their locations were usually something known only to those willing to search for them. Is that elitist? Unfair even? I don’t think so. You didn’t have join a secret society to enable you to enjoy them, you didn’t need to pay a membership fee … you just needed some desire and a willingness to apply yourself. The genuine effort required to find such places is what ‘protects’ them and should mean, that they’ll continue to be there for as many years in the future as they’ve been there in the past. At the moment it appears that the lid on the lamp is very nearly open but not quite. Once the genie does escape, then it’ll be impossible to put him back in and many of these places will cease to exist or their character will change to the point that they’ll no longer be recognisable as to what they once were.

Perhaps you could liken things to a party – at the moment it’s 9pm and people are turning up ready for a good time but before you know it, most people will have left, having grown tired and bored sometime around 2am, leaving you to tidy the mess up … and you just know that living room carpet will never be the same again.

Although it probably won’t be obvious, I thought long and hard before writing this. It wasn’t that I had to think what I was going to write but more a case of whether I should write anything at all for fear of sounding elitist. In fact some people may consider this post in some way hypocritical but I’d disagree, as while I’m wholly committed to encouraging and hopefully inspiring people to seek out their own adventures, I don’t think it should be spoon fed because in doing so, it misses the entire point.






7 Comments

  1. SimonD says:

    I think your'e right Stuart. Instant gratification is expected in all areas of life these days. Indeed, the very fact that I can read your article as soon as you write and publish it. Then comment on it as soon as I have read it bear testament to this fact.

    Sanitised adventure is a misnomer…

    I shall just keep riding my bike and enjoying myself. Occasionally getting into scrapes when it doesn't quite go to plan.

    Cheers,

    Si

  2. Unknown says:

    I've always wondered who vandalises remote, hard-to-reach bothies. Whoever it is, I really doubt it's the kind of people reading the Sunday supplement articles about the joys of adventure or buying the slew of wild this, adventure that books that've come out recently. I could be wrong, but I'd be surprised. Who does vandalise a bothy?

    Jack

  3. Vandalism takes many forms Jack … from the blatant smashing things up, breaking windows, etc to leaving your empty cabernet sauvignon bottles behind. Damaging trees for firewood seems to be a particular favourite as does having a bonfire 10 feet from the bothy door.

    As for who vandalises a bothy in the conventional sense, I'm really not sure but many people have no regard or respect for something which isn't theirs and even less if they don't think they'll ever see it again. If we believe that 95% of the population are decent, responsible people … that still leaves over 3 million idiots and sadly it only takes one ;o)

  4. Unknown says:

    Damage to trees and leaving litter, sure, these are things that I've seen. And that I suspect have happened as long as there've been people wild camping or staying in bothies. If wild camping and bothy-visiting is on the increase, all other things being equal, you'd expect an increase in anti-social behaviour.

    I'm curious as to whether you think newbie 'adventurers' are more prone to being anti-social than old hands. And I wonder why that might be. You seem to suggest that it's a different kind of person that's now heading out into the outdoors – people with less initiative, people with less of a sense of social and environmental responsibility, people who assume that others will clear up after them. I'm entirely prepared to accept that this is the case, as you say there are some right tools out there, but I'm wondering, is there any evidence that the *prevalence* of bad behaviour is on the increase?

    As someone who writes guidebooks about cycling, I do labour the 'be responsible' message and if giving pointers about places to stay overnight, I never indicate actual spots I know, rather list a few possible areas and a few tips for finding a place that'll be nice, and I leave it up to the reader to actually find a spot. I think that's the most responsible way to do it, and I do get the impression that's how most other people writing about adventure/wildness (e.g. Ray Mears, Al Humphreys, Phoebe Smith) are also doing it. The reason I write about cycle touring is that I love doing it. The last thing I'd want to do is to spoil it for myself.

    Jack

  5. Jack, I'm certainly not saying that newbies are in any way more likely to indulge in anti-social behaviour, I've absolutely no reason to think that and I don't imagine anyone else would either. However, I can see that there might be more of an issue with the 'casual' user who is likely visiting a bothy, wild camp spot, whatever simply because it's seen as a 'trendy' thing to do. To a degree, I do believe there's a different type of person heading into the outdoors, whether they would have the inclination or initiative without the popularisation of 'adventure' I'm unsure.

    The only evidence I have that there's any increase in anti-social shenanigans is gleaned from experience, either personal or that of others. It might be interesting to see whether the MBA have any figures?

    I think 'pointing people in the right direction' as you've described, is exactly the way to do things. It helps minimise any activity 'hot spots' and also retains an element of the 'unknown' which is obviously an integral part of anything attaining to be adventure.

    Someone said to me yesterday that the surge in interest (and possibly peoples perceptions) had fired up his young kids and I'm sure there's lots of similar stories out there … I'm just hoping that by getting people to think about things, all these kids will still have something to enjoy in 20 years time. ;o)

  6. In a similar theme, I'm of the mind that some of the appeal of Everest and base camp is disappearing because it is becoming more "mainstream" shall we say. Maybe it's just the bucket list phenomenon that is driving some of this but I do think you are right in many ways. However in saying that, being someone who is only now starting out on my own adventures, and being a scaredy cat with no experience, being able to google, learn and be inspired by others adventures is very helpful indeed.

  7. Totally agree Katrina. As someone just 'starting out' it can be quite daunting and obviously you want to have the best experience possible when you're 'out there'. I do think that the experience starts well before you ever leave the house … it starts as soon as you unfold the map on the kitchen table or type a search into Google. All the info you could ever need is out there, taking the time and putting in the effort to find it, just adds to the adventure and satisfaction.

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