There is no feeling quite like the freedom of standing atop an isolated mountain, nothing between you and the horizon but snow, rock and more mountains.
Or perhaps pedalling purposefully along a straight stretch of tarmac, running flat across an empty plane with the sun lowering slowly ahead.
And peering from the porch of your tent into the woodland and calm of an early morning, surely, is hard beaten for the sense that you are truly free?
A fundamental aspiration for people the world over, and not just the adventurous types, is the idea of being free.
The freedom to choose and be free from constraints. Free thinking, free speech, free will.
For me, that is one of the great appeals of expeditions. The ability to escape so much of the routine that impedes the spontaneity and curiosity with which we are all born.
It’s easy to achieve those things when you are so completely removed from normal life – dangling from a rope on a sheet of ice in Kyrgyzstan, driving for 24 hours straight to catch an Atlantic-bound ship that sets sail in 72 hours’ time 3000 miles from where you are, or finding sheer cliffs where a clear path was anticipated whilst dragging pulk and rifle in the high Arctic (all of which have happened to me on expedition) – but how does that help us the rest of the time? What about those days, weeks, months when we are stuck in the routines of work and life?
How can we get that sense of adventure and the thrill of freedom more accessibly than with a grand expedition?
Here is how:
Cycle to work.
The buzz and exhilaration of taking your journey into your own hands and under your own steam is surely what your mind and body are craving.
Don’t cycle? Walk. The same principles apply. And if walking’s impractical then how about just trying a new route in the car? Whatever your commute, take control of your day and do it your own way.
And if your route to work is not providing enough action for you then wrestle some more hours back from your email, diary and work.
Get up an hour earlier and go for a run. It doesn’t matter how far or how fast, just so long as you get that burning sensation in your lungs, the one that I call freedom. Or stuff running. If it’s not your thing then drive, cycle, swim, walk, anything that gets you taking charge of the world first thing in the morning.
You get an hour for lunch, right? Use it. Or maybe it’s half an hour and maybe you don’t have time once you’ve been to the cafe. Incorrect. The time is there if you want it. Go hungry, get up early (see above) and make sandwiches or just snack on the sly afterwards. Freedom will not be delivered by Fed Ex Same Day Service. You need to get it yourself.
Fight the feelings of constraint that every day life inflicts by taking back a few small victories – your commute, your lunch break, your evenings, your weekends. They may not seem much but the intoxication of life has lasting effects.
This year I have been testing these theories. Feeling fraudulent about the idea of extolling such ideas to a group of school kids in February, I grabbed my bivi bag the night before and slept outside, in a field a few hundred yards from my house to put my money where my mouth was.
Paying bills with a mind-numbing data entry job the month before, I snuck out of the office in my wetsuit, ran through the snow and jumped into the River Thames to reclaim as mine an otherwise dull, dull day (and got busted dripping river water in the corridor on my way back).
And for my commute, I ran, even though it took nearly three hours and meant getting up at an unearthly hour (and still arriving late).
The sense of freedom should not be reserved for remote mountains and silent deserts. You can find it at home, at work and in your own town. It may take a little more effort to achieve but then the best things usually do.