Humans venture away from all that is familiar for various reasons. For some, staying in one place for too long brings feelings of uncomfortable stagnation, while others have a thirst for adventure and to push their limits. Perhaps the reason that makes most sense to me is the one concerned with not only realising a deeper connection with the natural world but attempting to satisfy a yearning to immerse myself completely in nature.
There is a song that plays on repeat in my mind. I often find myself sitting in silence humming it without even realising. Here’s to now is a tune that features in my favourite adventure film, the 2008 classic 180 Degrees South. The film follows adventurer Jeff Johnson as he sets out from California in an effort to retrace the steps of the famous 1968 expedition/ road trip of a lifetime undertaken by Yvon Chouinard and Doug Tompkins. This road trip saw them drive in an old van from California, down the Pan-American Highway, eventually ending up in Patagonia. (If you aren’t familiar with these two people, then do yourself a favour and look them up).
Both Yvon and Doug make an appearance in the modern-day version of their famous adventure with Yvon describing the original group as “Conquerors of the useless”. This is a quote that has stuck with me since I first heard it. The trip had no real purpose. They didn’t set out to accomplish anything, break any records or tick a destination off a list. They simply wanted to see what was down there.
When I started travelling with as an adult, I always set out from home with a distinct list of things I had to do, places I had to see and recommendations I just couldn’t miss. On more than one occasion I have found myself racing through Europe in an attempt to squeeze as much as possible into the time I had, only to result in a blurred, brief recollection of a few things that I saw and the people I met. For years I had it in my mind that I had to conquer things and places that I saw in travel magazines and brochures for all-inclusive bus tours targeted at the over 50’s.
As I got older, and you’d like to think a little wiser, the importance of ticking off the big-ticket items on my travels has taken a backseat to doing the things that make me happiest. Fortunately, these things are more often than not in the outdoors and don’t cost me a dime. This outlook and reprioritisation of what is important took a while to develop, but now it has taken a foothold in every other aspect of my life. Every hobby, activity, book or magazine article I read seems to have the aim of giving me the ability to seek out places that are even further into the natural world than I considered to venture before.
Spending days hiking and camping in the middle of nowhere not only gives your lungs a break from the city air but gives you time to think about life, the world and everything that is happening in it. For me, it is in these times that the line between me and the natural world blurs. I no longer seem to be an intruder but a small part of something that is so much bigger than all of us.
Perhaps it is the hours and days spent listening to nothing except for my own breathing, heartbeat and footsteps but isolating the senses from anything manmade seems to activate something within me that is usually drowned out by the seemingly constant hum of human activity.
As the song begins again in my mind, I can’t help but smile at the thought of conquering something else that most consider as useless. Whether it be walking through a National Park, surfing an average point break a thousand miles from nowhere or climbing an out-of-the-way mountain, these experiences will form the memories that I’ll look back on when I am old and no longer able to venture into the greater unknown.