Wednesday 20 September 2017

Make this the year of micro adventures

There's no need to wait until the summer holidays. Make the most of this year with a midweek mini excursion

The great outdoorsy types: Graham Clarke, pictured with his wife Mary, says micro adventures can be anything from camping overnight in the wilderness to getting the train to the end of the line
The great outdoorsy types: Graham Clarke, pictured with his wife Mary, says micro adventures can be anything from camping overnight in the wilderness to getting the train to the end of the line
Man with a plan: Alastair Humphreys popularised the idea of micro adventures in his best-selling book

Arlene Harris

A new year has dawned and many of us are already thinking of when and where we can go for our summer holidays. But do we really have to wait until June before having a little fun?

Absolutely not, according to a growing number of 'micro-adventurers'.

This intrepid group are not only refusing to confine their adventures to summertime breaks, they are also reluctant to limit their fun to the weekend - instead they are making use of all their free time. Rather than slumping in front of the TV on a weekday evening, they are packing up their belongings and heading out into the world for a micro adventure.

Graham Clarke from Westport, Co Mayo, explains that having a micro adventure doesn't have to involve anything elaborate. It could simply mean pitching a tent on top of a hill and spending a night under the stars.

Man with a plan: Alastair Humphreys popularised the idea of micro adventures in his best-selling book
Man with a plan: Alastair Humphreys popularised the idea of micro adventures in his best-selling book

"I tend to go a little nuts if I don't get outside. My wife maintains that I'm a dog trapped in human form," the 38-year-old laughs. "I've been involved in hiking and other adventure sports since I was five, as my dad is an outdoors man. So getting outside is very much in my DNA and micro adventures are short, simple and cheap.

"Generally, they involve an overnight stay with a bit of a challenge, but that's it. It's just about utilising time better to have more outside time and adventure - even between workdays - whether it is spending the night outdoors in a sleeping bag, swimming a river from source to sea or even finding out what the oldest tree in your county is and cycling to it. It's just a bit of fun."

Clarke, who works as a productivity consultant and film director says his latest escapade involved a 121km cycle and he has much more excitement planned for the year ahead.

"The most recent micro-adventure I took was after four months of intense work on the adventure film festival, so I needed to get away by myself and re-energise," he says. "So midweek, I cycled from Westport to the Nephins and slept overnight in a bothy (shelter) at the head of the Bangor Erris trail - Ireland's only designated wilderness. The next day I cycled on to Bangor Erris and made my way back to Westport. It was my first time cycling that loop and one of the best experiences I've ever had on a bicycle.

"I have a whole list planned for this year, including paddling the Shannon from source to sea on a wooden raft, cycling overnight sections of the Wild Atlantic Way, camping on a cliff-top and basically finding as many excuses as I can to be outside overnight. Mind you, my wife is pregnant with our first baby which is due in July so that'll probably be the biggest adventure I'll have this year."

English author Alastair Humphreys popularised the idea of micro adventures and his book, aptly named Micro Adventures, is packed full of ideas - so Clarke says we should all consider taking on at least one little challenge in the coming year.

"As much as I love the outdoors, I almost always make an excuse when it comes to doing a micro adventure - I'm too busy, it's cold, I'll be on my own or I don't have enough money," he admits. "But I always tell myself the same thing: on my deathbed, I won't be wishing that I'd spent more time in work or watching Netflix. Moments like these matter. The rest is just details."

Andree Walkin from Killaloe, Co Clare, agrees. The 36-year-old explains that micro adventures are simply small and achievable overnight outdoor excursions for ordinary people with ordinary lives.

"In essence, it can be anything from pitching a tent in nearby woods, exploring a town or city by moonlight or even holding a family slumber party in the back garden," she says. "The only real rules are that you keep it minimalist, cheap and you must sleep outdoors away from your usual habitat."

Andree, who works for UL Sports Adventure Centre, studied Outdoor Education in college and both she and her husband Mike spend as much time as they can climbing, hiking, kayaking and cycling in various locations around the world.

While she acknowledges that not everyone has the time, energy or inclination for escapades of this magnitude, a micro adventure is much more accessible and appealing to all.

"It gives ordinary people the opportunity to take part in and get a taste for their own little adventure for the great outdoors," she says. "And although Mike and I had done a lot of big trips together, we realised one evening (last year) that we hadn't actually done a micro one, so decided to go on a kayak camping trip.

"Following a busy day in front of a computer, we left home around 5pm and made our way to the water. A quick repack from van to boats and off we went, quite literally paddling into the sunset. We spent the next few hours kayaking around Lough Derg and once the sun started to set, we made our way to an island, set up tent and got the stove lighting for dinner.

"Afterwards, we took a short wander around the perimeter of the uninhabited island and then it was time to lay our heads to rest. After a lovely sleep interrupted only by the occasional moo from a cow, we woke at the crack of dawn and paddled across the bay. I was back at my desk at 8.52am feeling refreshed and ready for a productive day.

"We are now looking at doing more of these adventures and inviting friends and family to come with us. Next up is a cycle along the beautiful East Clare Way under the stars," Andree explains. "Micro adventures are suitable for people of all ages and walks of life - all that is needed is an open mind and an interest in getting outdoors."

Alastair Humphreys’ micro adventure tips

Spot a shooting star

You can see meteors streaming across the sky any time of the year, but rates pick up between late July and August. If the forecast predicts clear skies, make your way to a stargazing site and set up your tent (or bivvy bag) in a secluded spot. Bring along a star chart to help you pick out the constellations before falling asleep under the stars.

Swim wild

There are excellent spots for wild swimming all over Ireland, from Kerry to Donegal. Before you dive in, remember you should never swim alone and consult Irish Water Safety’s rules for safe swimming. When the sun shines and water conditions are calm, you’ll be running for your togs and towel.

Get a bus or train to the end of the line

This is a handy one for rainy days, or for people who aren’t so keen on the outdoors. We’re so used to our regular commutes that you’ve probably never been to the end of the line, unless you managed to fall asleep on the way home. Take a bus or train to the final stop and spend the day exploring. All it requires is a positive attitude and some cash for the fare.

Sleep under a full moon

Invite a group of friends to meet on top of a hill. Get everyone to bring their tents, sleeping bags and some food for a night under the stars. Laying out under a full moon, passing around a bottle of something to keep you warm, will make for a truly special adventure to remember.

Spot a shooting star

You can see meteors streaming across the sky any time of the year, but rates pick up between late July and August. If the forecast predicts clear skies, make your way to a stargazing site and set up your tent (or bivvy bag) in a secluded spot. Bring along a star chart to help you pick out the constellations before falling asleep under the stars.

Irish Independent

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