Adventure, or conquest?
Once upon a time, explorers set off from Europe with a view to “conquer”, and that Eurocentric view persists in some form or another to this day. If I was to ask you who discovered the Victoria Falls in Africa, you’d probably answer that David Livingston did. If you answered that, you’d be wrong. The locals who lived in the area had a different name for the falls: Mosi-oa-Tunya, which translates as “the smoke that thunders”. There’s nothing wrong with exploring somewhere you’ve never been before, but you really should show some respect to the locals, who I can assure you “discovered” the place long before you did.
What is adventure?
The Oxford Dictionary defines adventure as “an unusual and exciting or daring experience”, and I think that’s a perfect explanation, especially since it starts with the word “unusual”. Adventure means getting out of your comfort zone. Adventure means doing things differently to your normal daily routine. Adventure very often means escaping your normal life, even if only for a while. The only limits on your adventure are set by you, and there’s no real minimum entry limit.
The cost of adventure
Having said that, remember that adventure has a cost, and a reward. I’m not talking about financial cost here, though obviously that applies too. Instead, I’m talking about the impact of your adventure. In South Africa, there’s are area called Namaqualand. It’s semi-desert, but in spring, the arid area is absolutely covered in wild flowers. It would be very tempting to walk out into all those flowers, and have a picnic, yet the area is so sensitive that the very act of doing that will leave a scar that could last for years. Obviously, the cost of such a picnic is simply too great.
Though the sensitivity of Namaqualand is extraordinary, the same principle applies no matter where you go, and also applies to the kit you use, and how you get there. One of the places on earth I most want to see is Machu Pichu. In fact, I’d love to camp there overnight (yes, I’m aware that isn’t allowed). Sadly, I will most likely never get to see it, as I’m doing my absolute level best to remain flight free. The last time I was on an aeroplane was in 2008, and obviously my decision is based on the enormous environmental harm leisure flights cause. I’m not telling you to never fly at all – if you are in the UK and need to get home to New Zealand, for example, flying is pretty much your only option. What I am asking you is to at very least severely limit the number of flights you take, and to head on over to FlightFree UK’s site, to pledge to be flight-free for a year. The hard truth is the future ability of human survival on this planet is far more important than your 4th holiday flight this year.
My kit can be unethical?
Well, yes, and no. It’s a complex issue and there’s no simple answer. In the main, research manufacturers before buying from them. A case in point is that of brand names like Giro, and Camelbak: many people will tell you that these are great products from great companies, but the company who fully owns those two (and others), Vista Outdoor, also manufactures assault rifles. It is for this reason some outdoor kit suppliers have made the ethical decision to stop selling Giro and Camelbak products. In life, integrity is a valuable, and increasingly rare commodity. I am not telling you what to do, nor will I judge you for your choices, but I feel I cannot simultaneously oppose assault rifles, while supporting a company who makes assault rifles. As a result, Camelbak, Giro and Bolle are three brands I will never buy.
Of course, there’s more to adventure ethics than simply boycotting one or two brand names – how often do you replace kit that could instead have been repaired? Insecure people often try to cover themselves with new (or new-looking) branded stuff, as if they somehow will become more valuable human beings. That same point applies to people who are good little consumers, and who dutifully buys things, use them for a short while, then replace them with brand new – all to maintain that “image” of having new stuff. Do yourself the enormous favour of breaking free from that! Repair what you have, and be proud of having done so! Buy second-hand whenever possible, and boast about doing so. We live on a finite planet, and infinite consumption is a death sentence. Though usually attributed to him, Ghandi never actually said, be the change you want to see in the world, but the principle of that saying remains solid.
What about my behaviour?
You learn much from people simply by observing their behaviour. Don’t be one of those who go wild-camping, then break branches off trees to make a fire, and end up leaving the site as a tip. The most important rule of wild-camping is simply this: leave no trace. If whatever you’re planning will leave a trace, then don’t do it. This is one of the reasons why I’m not a fan of hammocks, and why the use of hammocks is banned on Dartmoor: they scar the trunks of trees that you tie them to. Why would you choose a piece of kit that will harm trees?
ALWAYS do a last sweep of anywhere you camped, and collect any and all rubbish. Yes, even if it’s not your rubbish! Again, be the change you want to see in the world.
Adventure with others
I love my own company, and require regular solitude, but going on an adventure with others is a very enjoyable thing to do. This is why I have what I call Travelling Ouballie rides. However, if you organise a ride, and participants behave unethically, I suggest you ask them to leave. If you’re on a ride someone else organised, and the others behave unethically, ask them to stop. If they don’t, then leave. Cheap popularity is never worth sacrificing your principles for.
Go have an adventure!
If you’re a regular reader of WillCycle, then you probably already support the values I expressed here. If you’re new to WillCycle, or especially if you’re new to cycle touring, don’t overthink it, but trust your gut and try to do the right thing.
Now, go plan your next adventure!