“The particulars of new places grabbed me and held me, the sweep of new coasts, cold, lovely, dawns. The world was incomprehensibly large, and there was still so much to see. Yes, I got sick sometimes of being an expatriate, always ignorant, on the outside of things, but I didn’t feel ready for domestic life, for seeing the same people, the same places, thinking more or less the same thoughts, each day. I liked surrendering to the onrush, the uncertainty, the serendipity of the road.”
— William Finnegan, Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life
When I look back on my 24 years of existence, I’d say that roughly 80% of my best memories have come from some kind of adventure. Some have been grand — like navigating the chaos of Hyderabad traffic on unlicensed scooters to head beyond the city, south, to sleep in hammocks on the outskirts of a tiger reserve. Or cycling around the coast of Japan for five days, sleeping on park benches or in empty baseball stadiums, fueled by 7–11 coffee and onigiri. Others have been far less Instagram-worthy, though no less worthwhile. Choosing to take a four hour walk to get to a university event rather than hopping in the twenty-minute Uber. Accepting an invitation to tea at a stranger’s home. Even just resisting the desire to stay in the comforts of a warm bed on a cold morning, and dragging myself to the beach to watch the sunrise over the water.
The beauty of these kinds of adventures - the ones that can be scribbled on the back of a napkin - is that their grandness isn’t in their ambition, but in their accessibility. A walk, with the right lens, can be a full-fledged adventure, whether it’s a couple of hours through a new part of town, or a six month trek along the Camino de Santiago. Each adventure is an act of shifting your perspective from one of planning and precision, to one of curiosity and serendipity. Which feels more like exploration to you: Hopping on a plane to a foreign country and methodically ticking your way through a checklist of tourist hot spots? Or taking the afternoon to walk through a completely new part of town, without your phone tapping against your thigh in your pocket or your Lonely Planet guide weighing down your backpack? I know what my answer is.
For me, these experiences are each examples of living life as richly and fully as possible. Temporarily disregarding my daily life of to-do lists and Google calendar invitations to something incredibly simple, often as simple as: get from point A to point B without dying. By removing meticulous planning and preparation you remove the ability to predict the outcome. You don’t know where you’ll eat your next meal, where you’ll find a bit of shelter to sleep under, or often whether you’ll actually finish the thing you’re trying to do. You open yourself up to the possibility of the unknown, which in a world powered by predictive algorithms and hyper-connection, feels like some form of quiet revolution.
Generally if something makes up 80% of your peak life experiences, it makes sense to do more of that thing. So, that’s what I’m going to do. This year, I’m going to complete 12 adventures over the course of 12 months. 12 full-fledged, ill-planned, and moderately-risky adventures. These could be anything from a spending a week free-diving in the middle of winter, to an afternoon spent exploring a new part of town and trying to meet as many strangers as possible.
I’m not going to leave it as I usually do, with a few new photos in my Google Photos album and a return to work on Monday morning. Instead, once each adventure is complete and sleep has been caught up on, I want to create something. I’m going to take the few weeks post-adventure to write an article — here on Medium — that captures the experience in a way that feels worthwhile. Writing will be the foundation, but I want to document them in other ways too, with photos, videos, audio, drawings, or whatever else feels like it adds to the story. Maybe it’s a little doodle rushed on to the back of a receipt. Maybe it’s some carefully edited photography. Maybe, if I’m feeling really pretentious, it’s an audio recording of the traffic whipping past me as I walk along the highway. Maybe it’s a little of everything. The point is to capture these experiences in a way that captures their richness, and perhaps, if I’m really lucky, even adds to it. It’s pretty simple. Adventure. Document. Plan the next adventure. Rinse and repeat.
Documenting these kinds of experiences more thoughtfully feels like tipping my cap in the direction of adventure, acknowledging the value these experiences consistently offer me. Our human brains are flimsy and forgetful. The internet is not. Recording some trace of my adventures here ensures I don’t have to rely on my memory to capture everything I want to remember. This little pocket of the internet can become my external brain for adventure documentation, the place I turn to when I want to remember what it felt like to arrive in a small fishing village at 9pm after cycling all day and realise that not only was there no place to find food, but there wasn’t a single person in sight. But there’s also a little more to it than that. Maybe in the process of writing these 12 articles I don’t just capture the adventures, but I actively add value to them? Maybe the process of documenting and processing actually improves the quality and depth of the explorations? I don’t know if this is true, but I have a sneaking suspicion it will be. At the very least, I’ll come out of this year with a collection of memories all in one place, 400% more articles published on Medium, and at least 12 more adventures under my belt than I started the year with.
In terms of what I’m going to write, god only knows. I might drop into a cave post-adventure and produce 10,000 word travel memoir-style monoliths, detailing every moment under a microscope like it’s a new edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica. Or if that feels a little much, I might just pick an afternoon, or a conversation, or a particularly good surf session, and let that be the scope of the article. In the spirit of a proper adventure, I’m not making more rules than necessary.
Despite being a terrible surfer (hopefully that will be less true by the end of the year), one of my favourite books of all time is William Finnegan’s surfing memoir Barbarian Days. It remains my favourite book about surfing, and one of my favourite books about life. Here’s a passage I come back to a fair bit:
“Hands folded under my chin, I drifted. A bruise-colored cloud hung over Koko Head. A transistor radio twanged on a seawall where a Hawaiian family picnicked on the sand. The sun-warmed shallow water had a strange boiled-vegetable taste. The moment was immense, still, glittering, mundane. I tried to fix each of its parts in memory. I did not consider, even passingly, that I had a choice when it came to surfing. My enchantment would take me where it would.”
— William Finnegan, Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life
In daily life, it often feels like there aren’t that many “parts” worth “fix[ing]” in our memories. The pace at which we move from one thing to the next, or worse, to multiple things at the same time, prohibits the kind of sensory experience that Finnegan describes in the above passage. We respond to emails as we drink our coffee, finishing the cup before we notice what it tastes like. We rush from task to task at such a pace that the idea of registering what a space smelt like seems almost absurd. Ask any of your friends whether they noticed what the clouds where like yesterday and you will likely be laughed out of the room. But when you put yourself in a context as far removed from the day to day as possible, where your to-do list becomes the thing that feels absurd, your senses start to come back to life. You pay attention, not because you’re trying to, but because your experience - the thing actually happening in front of your eyes - demands it. For that brief moment, the idea of spending your time watching other people live their lives out on a 6x3 inch LCD screen, while your life passes you by, seems ludicrous, and rightly so.
As for the adventures themselves? Well, I’ve got some ideas in mind. Start the day on the East Coast of Taiwan with a coffee in the sand and make it over to the West Coast in time for a sunset beer by the water. Rent a couple of scooters and see how many mountain hot springs we can find over the course of a weekend. Hitchhike from the very north of the country to the south in 24 hours. Consider these ideas written in pencil on the back of a napkin. I’ll probably lose the napkin and at the very least I’ll spill some water on it a few times. Part of the beauty of this is not having everything planned out, and I for one, couldn’t be more excited by that prospect.