About micro-adventure10 mn de lecture

Launched in 2012 by an English adventurer, Alastair Humphreys, micro-adventure is a hot trend. Yet, does it really have everything to seduce us? Let’s take stock, as the sailors say.

What is micro-adventure?

A magnificent idea, in the form of an invitation: that adventure can appear around the corner and that all it takes is a slightly open mind – and a pinch of zaniness – to go out and find it without much expense.

I have long been convinced of this.

To tell the truth, and although some of my Idle Fantasies participate fully in the concept, I was unaware of its existence until recently. For example, by walking from Fontainebleau to Nantes on a funny impulse, I was doing what the Bourgeois gentilhomme did in his time: prose without knowing it. Nothing new in the sun… It was while browsing from blog to blog this winter, looking for inspiration to redesign my homepage, that I came across articles praising the merits of this modern oxymoron: Proximity Exploration.

I can’t imagine, if they had known about it, what Alphonse Daudet writing Tartarin de Tarascon or Gustave Flaubert, as author of Bouvard et Pécuchet would have made of it. But let us not go astray.

The inventor: Alastair Humphrey

Originally from Yorkshire – the English province, nothing to do with micro-dogs – Alastair Humphreys spent a decade crisscrossing the planet in extreme conditions. To know more about it, I recommend you to visit his website.

Back from this decade of expeditions, spotted with glacial or skin crevasses, Alastair explores his native surroundings through short, affordable and playful adventures. From this experience, he draws a book-manifesto: if not everyone has the means to travel the globe by bicycle, he says, everyone can on the other hand afford small trips, sporty or not, within the reach of a weekend on a tight budget: bivouac not far from home on a weekday evening, take a random train and come back by bike, visit his distant family by foot, etc. 

It’s a clever and really generous idea – I’ll come back to it.

National Geographic is not wrong, awarding Alastair the Adventurer of the Year award in 2012. Respect – without any irony. But also, in my opinion, the starting point of a misunderstanding.

Micro-adventure VS Adventure?

In other words: is the microadventure still a real adventure, the kind with a capital initial?

To answer this question, and as always in the case of lexical conflicts, let’s call up Robert – famous french dictionary – which comes running and opens up to the right page.

ADVENTURE : {avãtyr} n.f. – adventure 11th; lat.pop.°adventura, from part.fut. adventurum, from advenire →advenir. 1. vx That which must happen to someone. (…) 2. One, adventures: that which happens unexpectedly, surprisingly (…) 3. Adventure: a set of activities and experiences that involve risk and novelty, and to which a human value is attributed. (…) 4. A l’aventure: at random, without a fixed plan.”

Thank you Robert, you can close up. Thanks to you, we now know that there is no such thing as a microadventure.

Microadventure IS an adventure.

Is it that simple?

Not quite. There remains the problem of the capital A.

The prefix “micro” induces indeed a form of modesty – of means, of project, of destination – which is of course opposed to the Great Adventure.

Thus, even if I consider my Idle Fantasies as real adventures – and even micro-adventures for some of them, in the “canoeing” section for example – I have nevertheless added the adjective “small” in the subtitle of the site, as much out of deference to the professional adventurers to whom I would not know how to compare myself, as out of a conscious acceptance of my own amateur condition. In short, I put a lower case to my escapes. Not crazy.

Let’s be honest: I find it hard to believe that a winter bivouac in the garden, just because three snowflakes fell on Fontainebleau…

… is equivalent to a long-distance walk in the footsteps of Slavomir Ravicz, or a world tour strictly following the Equator, or several months of solitary survival in the Australian bush, and many more.

The big adventure

A slight digression to come back to our subject: where does our fascination come from – mine or that of millions of others – for the extraordinary experiences I have just mentioned?

Simply because, unlike Sylvain Tesson, Mike Horn or Sarah Marquis, to name but a few, we are after all only ordinary humans whose sensitive bodies, fearful precautions and imposed schedules lead us to prefer vicarious tribulations to the true call of the wild – and its notorious drawbacks: death, for example.

One will have recognized above Christopher Mac Candless, whose tragic fate inspired the story written by the mountaineer Jon Krakauer, Into the wild.

Let’s pick up the thread and ask ourselves:

Where does the success of the micro-adventure come from?

Well, precisely the above. Gone are the days when people’s lives were at stake. Everyone can now pose as an adventurer – with a selfie stick – according to his or her meager possibilities: physical, mental, temporal. Everything to seduce the contemporary petit bourgeois: it’s eco-compatible, carbon free, with that little touch of fun essential to true free spirits. Let’s spend the night in a yurt. Let’s go graze some organic lawns. The tour operators have not been mistaken and have happily jumped into this promising niche. Instagram must be fed, musn’t it?

And so: no more micro-adventures?

Of course not.

Confusing the original concept with what the marketing has done with it is obviously reductive. If I am not fooled by the advertising maneuvers, I also know that, after all, everyone organizes their leisure activities as they wish. So if for some people, adventure means paying a lot of money for a paddle on the Burgundy canal, well, it’s better than eating chips in front of Netflix. And incidentally, it also gives work to sports instructors, no small profit. 

The important thing, for me – and I accept that this is not universal – is not to lie. I am not interested in flattering oneself on stage to show what one is not, all this with a strictly narcissistic aim.

And anyway, that is not the main thing.

Th spirit of adventure, micro or not

It was only after he had cycled around the world, rowed across the Atlantic and so on, let’s cut in short, after he had experienced a few adventures that were not “micro”, that the possibility of undertaking more humble ones became apparent to Alastair Humphreys. I think, therefore, that the spirit of adventure – that is, curiosity about the unknown and the ability to step out of one’s comfort zone – was exactly the same for him on any scale.

And this is where I find his proposal really generous: not so much to put adventure within everyone’s reach – that’s what tour operators sell – but rather to promote its essence and beauty, this idea that there is not always a need to go running through jungles and poles to open oneself to the unexpected, and that one can also meet it by leaving one’s home if one accepts the – minor – risk of taking the necessary “step aside”.

I suspect that this is precisely what the National Geographic has recognized, and distinguished. 

Promoters of the intention

I talked above about the organized micro-adventure. You will have understood that it is not for me. However, I do not judge the commercial approach, nor its consumers. In matters of adventure as in other things, I am secular. But I won’t talk in this paragraph about websites specialized in the sale of stays. If you’re interested, you can always go online to see what they’re all about.

I totally agree with Alastair Humphreys’ project, and I’m obviously not the only one. My chronicles – with the exception of the diving trips that can hardly be classified as micro-adventures, for technical or budgetary reasons – have no other purpose than his: first, to please myself by finding escapades within my reach, and then to have fun putting them into images and words, in the hope that if I enjoyed living them and telling you about them, sharing them with you will make you want to do the same.

Obviously, this is also what motivates many other bloggers that I met virtually when I discovered the subject. There are many of them, so it is difficult to propose a selection, except for Olivier Bleys’ site. Besides the fact that he is the author of a book on walking that I really like…

For english readers, I’m sorry: I’m not sure that is has been translated yet.

He has also been caught by the virus (oops) of the micro-adventure.

Mischievously renamed “pocket adventures”, his trips are totally in line with this approach and I can only suggest you to read them, in book format as well as on the dedicated page of his website.

Bonus: Olivier Bleys is a talented writer, so reading him is a much more pleasant pleasure than the tiresome enthusiasms of some blogs, whose salvos of exclamation marks and emoticons make me feel like I’m back in those colorful, bawling groups I sometimes meet on the trails, and that I’ve christened the Quechua Hordes – because of a famous brand in France of cheap hiking clothes. Nothing to do with the Indians of the Andes.

Micro-adventure, instructions for use

Pas de prescription ou de longs conseils techniques ici. Juste un exemple.

J’habite en bordure de la forêt de Fontainebleau. Outre que j’y ai grandi – cf cet article – je la connais vraiment bien. Pour moi, quitter la maison à pied pour m’enfoncer sous ses futaies ou serpenter sur ses crêtes de grès n’a donc rien d’une aventure, même micro.

Comment faire pour transformer l’essai?

Facile. Suffit d’y aller en pleine nuit. Seul. Crois-moi, ça change tout. Outre que c’est beau une forêt la nuit, y marcher en solitaire te plonge par moments dans des états d’inquiétude étonnants. Un craquement, un bruissement, le vent dans les branches : et te voilà saisi d’une bouffée de frayeur atavique, ancienne, qui te remonte du fond des contes de fées. Essaie, tu verras. Bien mieux que le train fantôme!

Et puis, bonus photographique, tu peux aussi t’amuser à rendre hommage à Edward Steichen.

No prescription or long technical advice here. Just an example.

I live on the edge of the Fontainebleau forest. Besides the fact that I grew up there – see this article – I know it really well. For me, leaving the house on foot to go under its trees or to snake on its sandstone ridges is not an adventure, even a micro one.

How to do it?

It’s easy. Just go in the middle of the night. Alone. Believe me, it changes everything. Besides the fact that a forest is beautiful at night, walking in it alone sometimes puts you in a surprising state of anxiety. A creak, a rustle, the wind in the branches: and there you are, seized by an atavistic, old-fashioned fright that comes back to you from the depths of fairy tales. Try it, you’ll see. Much better than the ghost train!

And as a photographic bonus, you can also have fun paying homage to Edward Steichen.

Do you know about micro-adventures? Don’t hesitate to leave me a comment or to share this article.

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In addition to this reading, always in the spirit of what drives me to “go play outside”, I also recommend this other post from the bazaar:

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