Ben Watts / Student Paramedic
In the words of William Penn, ‘Time is what we want most, but what, alas! we use worst’. Ben Watts is a student paramedic at Plymouth University. With a penchant for wandering the great outdoors in his spare time, he enthusiastically introduces Adventure Medic to the recently coined concept of microadventures. Not enough time for a proper mission? Read on.
As health care professionals (or students), we often seem to find ourselves working hard; snowed under with audits, portfolios and that ‘really pressing thing’ which always gets in the way. When we think of adventures we become fixated on large undertakings with aims and objectives, often requiring blocks of annual leave. We also fairly regularly find ourselves working complicated shift patterns, or find ourselves with days off midweek.
You may have seen the student part of my title and thought ‘students get loads of time off… what does he know?’ Sadly, I don’t get nearly as much time off as you might think and have to pay the University for the pleasure. Not that I’m complaining. It does mean, however, that I have to make the most of my time, with the little money I can scrimp, savouring the things money can’t buy.
Some time ago I stumbled across an idea which, having laid dormant for many months, surfaced again – pioneered and publicised by an outdoorsy, blogging type, Alastair Humphreys. He has developed the concept of Microadventures and 5to9ers. Maybe I am just easily influenced by social media and trends, but I would like to think that I am readily inspired.
The concept is simple: microadventures are short, easy to complete, single or multi-disciplined adventures. They can be an “over-nighter”, a long weekend or whatever time you can spare. Ideally they are 100% cost-free, exploring your local area. However, this is not always possible. So, try to make them as inexpensive as possible, maybe take the tube, bus or train to an area near you, explore and take time to stand and stare.
5to9er’s take it a step further: leave work (via bike, foot, kayak, stand up paddle board or whatever other ingenious method of transport you can devise) and find your own wilderness. Be it moors, mountains, forests, rivers or beaches; spend the night in a bivvy bag, hammock or homemade shelter of wood and bracken. Then, an early start back to the office (hospital, ambulance station or GP surgery) in time for tea, toast and tales for colleagues.
An example from my recent past: I finish a twelve hour day shift at 6 on a Monday evening, and now have a whole day off before starting back at midday on the Wednesday. What to do? I should probably go back to my house in Plymouth, do some revision e.g. learning my drug preparations and write some reflections. Instead I pack my JRCALC guidelines, my notebook (the sort you used a pencil for), head torch, jacket, beanie, sleeping bag, bivvy bag, a multi-fuel cooker, food, a lightweight camera and my phone. All items tightly squeezed into my rucksack I step onto my stand-up paddleboard (SUP) looking out to a beautiful South Devon evening with Broadsands Beach behind me. A thirty minute paddle at a leisurely pace brings me to my own private beach where I build a small fire ready for dusk and begin to make dinner. I scribble some notes for a reflection, skim some stones and collect drift wood. Pasta pesto with broccoli and chicken – fit for a king! I spend the next day exploring the Torbay coast line, stopping occasionally to read and for an ice cream at a beach shack cafe. After another meal, I camp under the stars and fall asleep to the crackle of my fire. I wake ready for a swim before returning to work for a shower and a quick iron of the uniform.
The best things about microadventures and adventure in general, are to step outside of your comfort zone, endure an element of challenge, and enhance your appreciation of the world around you.
If you happen to have a bit longer to spare or more advanced notice, then plan a bigger UK-based adventure and explore. March… Canoeing and wild camping? Sleeping in wood shelters on the banks and islands of Lake Windermere? Never built a shelter? No problem, youtube.com can teach you the basics, or if you have the time, funds and desire then there are survival courses out there.
The Road Up North
One of my favourite microadventures started with a chat with my best friend and fellow adventurer Ryan. I had a week’s holiday from university and he booked a couple of days off work to coincide. We planned and plotted like thieves, booked train tickets and within a few weeks were sitting on the platform of Plymouth Railway station.
I had packed a similar kit to my previous SUP overnighters. This time I also had my mountain bike rigged with panniers and hammock. During the 17 hour train journey I met some very interesting characters, all of whom had their own insights and contributions, mostly of concern regarding the -8° C night-time temperatures forecast for the coming week! Ryan joined me at Leeds and we continued our journey, eventually arriving in Fort William at 22:30. Our first adventure would be to find somewhere to sleep. With a little local knowledge from a previous trip, we headed to the woods on the other side of the road from Ben Nevis.
Hammocks hung, we lay back drinking in the gloriously big sky, a masterpiece stretching out above us, untainted by the corrupting light-pollution of cities and towns. They are the skies where you see not hundreds, but thousands of stars. They steal the breath from your lips and send chills down your spine.
Having woken to stunning views of the sun rising over the base of Ben Nevis and surrounding snow-capped peaks, we pedalled the banks of the canal, drinking in crisp morning views of the Nevis Range before starting the uphill climb in the general direction of the Kyle of Lochalsch. After two days of cycling, the odd cheeky pint and a fair bit of filming and photography, we sat with a glorious fire putting the world to rights, as only best friends can.
We awoke to the faint smell of wood smoke, tucked our bunk bed hammocks away, and after a few more hours of hard, dusty cycling, take a quick skinny dip in a lochan. Refreshed for the long downhill ride to the ferry port, we cruised over to Mallaig for some well-earned fish and chips. The tiring slog was made worthwhile with breathtaking scenery, plenty of wildlife and the promise of world class downhill mountain biking at Aonoch Mor for our final day, before heading back on the train and a 17 hour journey home! A slightly less ’micro’ adventure than some of my others, but a good example of what can be done to explore our beautiful islands on a small budget and a spare week of holiday.
Sold on the idea?
My own microadventures to date have featured mountain biking, walking, climbing, sailing, canoeing and kayaking. With varied modes of transport and activities come rather different kit lists. So, as my grandfather rightly advised me, it’s best to keep a standard list with you which can easily be amended for purpose. Learn from your mistakes, and from those of others, because trips don’t lend themselves well to second thoughts or last minute kit purchases.
So, next time you are sitting at home watching Strictly, Downton or that thing on TV that you didn’t really want to watch, take a minute, pack a bag and head out, somewhere, anywhere, and do something! Take time to stand and stare, explore the world around you, don’t worry about booking leave, just use the time you have wisely. Take the kids, the dog or even the other half, experience something new. Search for the milky way, count shooting stars, make stories, tell them, spread your passion and share enthusiasm, you never know the difference you will make to your own life or someone else’s!
Above all else: Explore … adventure is out there and often just around the corner!
Ben takes it as a given that you may have some basic outdoor kit already: however, if not, here’s his list of recommended items not to leave the house without.
Favourite Basics / Rab Photon Jacket, sleeping bag, ascent bivvy bag (I’m not sponsored I promise, it’s just great kit), Exped Work and rescue Drybag Rucksack (best bag ever!)
Keeping Warm / Kikine Beanie (worth a look, you can ‘design your own’,)
Sleeping / Thermarest sleeping mat or Lifeventure hammock
Cooking / Primus Multifuel cooker
Record your moves / GoPro HERO 3 camera, enclosed in an Encase waterproof case