I have high ambitions for my personal adventures; I want to explore the wilderness of Scotland by bike, sail across one of the oceans or travel around Europe in a van as a few examples. Whilst I am yet to realise these goals, I try to occupy my spare time with more manageable adventures – these carry a lot of parallels with the ideologies of ‘Micro-Adventures,’ a phrased coined by Alastair Humphreys. This is can be as simple as taking the long way on the ride home from work, or venturing into the woods for half an hour on the road bike.
These are not major achievements in any way but they are nice little reminders to step outside of my comfort zone once in a while, and that the rules laid out by others may not be the only way. For the last few years my brother in law, Ben, and I have taken it upon ourselves to go for a Festive / Christmas / Seasonal swim. This simple act of swimming is often met with exclamations of madness from those around us but on the grand scheme of things, it’s only swimming – all be it in some cold water. However it did get me thinking, as it’s not the first time that I have been labelled mad by a family member or loved one.
I am not a swimmer. By that I mean; I do swim, but not in the pursuit of swimming itself. When I was younger, swimming for me is was what happened as a consequence of jumping from sea cliffs and since has devolved into something more accurately described as floating about rather than swimming. So Ben and I’s new tradition of swimming in the middle of winter isn’t some effort to continue a strict training regime, in fact, if I am honest, there is very little actual swimming involved. Nor does it carry any religious or real spiritual weight for us – despite Ben likening our recent Christmas Swim to an annual baptism.
So why do I like to run into the freezing British waters each year? Well up until a few days ago I would have probably shrugged off the question with a noncommittal grunt, but then I remembered something Ben had said on a previous ‘adventure’ up in the Lake district.
We had gone North to cycle some of the roads we had seen on previous visits, but we were greeted with less than ideal weather conditions. I wrote about the trip in greater detail here – but at some point when we were shivering in a tent that was struggling to remain tethered to the earth Ben jokingly stated, ‘Sometimes it’s nice to feel uncomfortable.’
This was said in jest at the time but it has stuck with me somewhat in the back of my mind, and resurfaced just the other day after we had returned from our 2016 Christmas swim. The more I thought/think about it the more I feel it holds more weight than a jovial comment.
I have increasingly become uneasy with my acclimatisation to city life. I grew up running around fields, building dirt jumps and boldly exclaiming that I would never live in a city – I was a country man. Now, I live in the centre of London and have done for the last three years. Despite my complaints of the financial expense of living in London, my life is pretty easy. I'm never far from somewhere warm and I can get some of the best food I have ever eaten delivered right to my doorstep – receiving what I would have considered a luxury meal a few years back in my pyjamas. This is great and I am very fortunate that I am able to live the life that I do, but as I said, it makes me aware of how comfortable it is. It would be very easy to exist in this comfortable life on cruise control; Wake up in a comfy bed, travel to work on a heated bus/train, have porridge heated in the microwave, sit at my desk in front of the radiator and carry on. As I said, this is a privileged existence that I appreciate, but sometimes I find myself asking if it is what I want.
I miss the days where I would spend my evenings and weekends digging lumps of dirt in the woods, staying out until I couldn’t feel my fingers just so when summer came around I could ride dirt jumps with my friends. I fondly remember camping trips atop sea cliffs where we would dump pasta, smash and instant soup into one pot on the fire and pass it around – then wash that pot in the sea. These little moments were I can do something 'mad,' that doesn't make any logical sense, or doesn't have any particular purpose other than the experience itself resets my mind. It makes me more aware of the fantastic privileges and opportunities we have in our contemporary age – it also re-awakens the child in me, that un-burdened sense of adventure, of doing something ‘just because.’
So I think that’s why I have these moments that label me (and Ben) ‘mad’ around family and friends. It’s a little moment of ‘why not?’ It’s a time where we can do something for the thrill and adventure of doing it. It’s a jolt back to remembering how good we have it by putting ourselves in situations where we long for a bit of comfort. When I was camping on top of a mountain in the Whistler Backcountry a cup of instant soup was ‘the best thing I’d ever tasted.’ When I was shivering in that tent in the Lake District I yearned for a winter sleeping bag.
In a world of comfort and convenience it’s nice to sometimes strip all that away to just surviving, if only for a minute. It’s rare to have a moment where we are uncomfortable or where the consequences can be severe. All of the technical wonders of modern life are fantastic, it means we can do more things, more quickly, efficiently and better – but sometimes I want to slow down and do things the hard way, to struggle a little bit to remind me that I am alive. To really appreciate life for everything we have, sometimes it’s nice to feel uncomfortable.
Words & Pictures — Jack Sadler