I have a new adventure coming up. It’s made me think about the roots of adventure; where did that spirit come from?
I’ve always been an adventurer. But where did it begin? Where did it come from? Being planted in the right soil helps. My parents always encouraged me to pursue adventure, and to seize every opportunity with both hands. They never had the money when I was growing up to take all 5 of us away for big trips abroad, but what they could afford, they did. They took us up mountains in the Lake District at every chance, with my sister Charlotte summiting Skiddaw aged just 4. Early on I learnt the lure of a peak, and became familiar with the urge to go as high as possible. Whether it’s a bench, a wall, a tree, a hill or the top of a hotel, for as long as I can remember my natural instinct has been to get as high as possible, as soon as possible. Height lends perspective from which to discern the next steps.
Then, as the means became available, my parents took us gradually ever further afield in France, and eventually to Spain in 2002 and Greece in 2003. While this southward progress was going on, my school encouraged me in adventures too. I was blessed enough to go to a very good school, not only in an academic sense, it also in its appetite for travel. They put on every trip possible, from the traditional jaunts across to France to more outlandish destinations. In year 9 in 1999 I seized the opportunity to go on a week’s tour of classical Greece, inspired by the intrepid Mr Pearson. If you ever read this, Mr Pearson, thanks for helping to show the way. I enjoyed that trip, which combined holiday weather with historical and cultural fascination, at places like Athens, Delphi, Olympia and Corinth, so much that I went back again in 2003, hungry for more. I scaled the Acropolis, spoke in the great theatres of Argos and Epidauros, ran the original Olympic track and swam over the ruins of Cenchrae: golden memories all. Skiing in Canada in 2002 was also not to be missed, nor Iceland in 2004. I cannot thank my parents enough for sacrificially finding the money to send me to these places. I actually missed out on the Ukraine, Kenya and even China, but what I did do was enough to whet my appetite for grander adventures to come.
A huge part of my passion for adventure stems directly from my Grandma, Barbara Last (nee Upton), and her second husband, Dick. They were always off trotting the globe, be it Greenland, America or Nepal. I so admire their spirit of adventure and thirst for exploration, not letting age hold them back. It was at Dick’s funeral that I first learnt that real holidays should properly be termed ‘adventures’, and once Dick was gone Grandma found no little solace in continuing to roam abroad. Every year she would insist that this trip would be the last, and of course it wasn’t, for she went to Spitzbergen in her late 70s and kept going to California until she literally couldn’t. What inspirations. I spent countless hours during summer holidays poring over their National Geographic collection, and the latest copies of the Voyages Jules Verne brochure in the Green Room. I daydreamed my time away thinking which of the trips I would do one day.
As I neared the end of my time at school the opportunity of taking a gap-year suddenly made those daydreams look more real. With a flexible job and a whole year to play with, I re-armed myself with those brochures and started creating a massive adventure. Many countries and trips came and went for consideration, some making the list for a time and then dropping off again. Ever present was the desire for two things: historical interest and natural grandeur. There would be no fancy resorts, no idyllic beaches, no wild partying. This would be a year of meaningful exploration. The final list looked like this: Italy, Peru, USA, Jordan, Egypt, Kenya, Tanzania, Tunisia, India, Nepal and Turkey. From Rome to the Grand Canyon; from Machu Picchu to Mt. Everest; from the plains of the Serengeti to the antiquities of the Nile. It would be a multi-part trip, taking in 11 countries in 9 trips over some 75 days. I was propelled out of my chair and into real planning. For the very first time I would travel by myself, without friends or family. Now I had real fears to overcome, doubts to dispel, and aspirations to achieve.
I will tell the story of each of these chapters in turn, commemorating successive tenth anniversaries, but suffice it to end here by saying that this gap-year odyssey was a turning-point in my life. It entrenched adventure in my soul forever. Its legacy is an incurable wanderlust and an enchantment with the unknown. I have promised myself that I will always look to attempt the extraordinary, and never settle for the ordinary. As I began in 2004, so I intend to continue.