Podcast on Soundcloud called Everything Micro

Please Don’t Tell Me What Adventure Looks Like

In my case, outdoor adventure is not about having the latest gear or looking a certain way.

With this in mind, I feel somewhat disillusioned with the approach taken by much of the outdoor industry. Sure, I could ignore everything that goes on and move on with my life, but then part of my purpose involves removing the obstacles (and reasons) which seem to be stopping people from getting outdoors more often.

So yes, let it be known that I take issue with how these businesses get in the way and how they make ordinary folk feel about their own potential. After all, why do we still maintain an image of runners, climbers, and hikers as perfectly toned or incredibly fit athletes?

I would like to run marathons, without training for marathons

The truth is, there are no similarities between how I feel and the image being flaunted in the outdoor industry. I am not as flexible or as slim as the exterior of my clothing suggests, and I’m the kind of person who would like to attempt a marathon, without having to train for a marathon.

In fact, when I finished struggling my way across Africa on a bicycle for one year, a British Adventurer finished the very same trip in just eighty days. Eighty days! Of course, this superhuman effort deserved serious credit, but instead, it left me feeling pretty inadequate and almost as if my own adventure was not so special after all.

But I am an Adventurer, even if I look nothing like the one we see on television. Some might say, I am a fluffy and much softer version of Bear Grylls, except I have none of his vast experience, no brands, sponsors or expensive equipment and no camera crew following me to the toilet.

Further, I am the polar opposite of that image you often find in the outdoor industry. I have fat in places which I can thankfully hide, and I am often too lazy for a ten-minute stroll never-mind the prospect of climbing a mountain. I am not proud of this being the case, but I do take pride in the fact that my outdoor adventures are motivated by an urge to reach out and engage with those who feel the same disillusion. You know, people who might also be fed up with hearing about invincible athletes as they attempt to break another long-standing record.

You know something else? Nobody refers to me as an adventurer – just me, and this was a conscious decision. You see, it is incredibly difficult to break into the outdoor industry and more to the point, I feel inadequate anytime I compare the above mentioned images to whatever I see in the mirror every morning.

After all, if I do not “look like an adventurer”, then how can this be true?

I am not as flexible or as slim as the exterior of my clothing may suggest, and I’m the kind of person who would like to attempt a marathon, without having to train for a marathon.

An Entirely Unlikely Adventurer

Back in 2013, I spent one year riding a bicycle across Africa as a means of combating some very serious anxiety and depression. Scaling the highest mountains in Africa, crossing the oldest deserts in the world and camping in unprotected lion territory – the adventure was quite a primitive journey and this was extremely important for my own self-awareness.

However, it was enlightening for the fact that I was suddenly fixated on the road ahead and without depression or any concern for my general appearance. On the contrary, I felt empowered during this time by my own potential both mentally and physically. Yes, I was vastly inexperienced on that trip but this was when I started to realize how there was really no difference between an adventurer and the average Joe Soap.

In short, my motivation and outlook on that trip went from reaching a destination to slowing everything down and appreciating the present moment.

Training for the Pacific Crest Trail

Since then, I have taken many more adventures and recently announced my plans to hike the Pacific Crest Trail in 2018.

However, as I began “training” for the Pacific Crest Trail, I developed a habit of assessing my physical condition each and every morning. Standing in front of the mirror in my boxer shorts, I felt that same familiar feeling of inadequacy.

An adventurer? Who are you kidding? I guess we never see pictures of these adventurers arguing with their insecurities in a bathroom.

As the weeks passed, I tried to ignore these concerns and continued to research every last thing about the trail. However, throughout this process, I was still feeling a distinct resentment for the images and stories filling my newsfeed. It was almost as if Facebook was in on it.

Fastest, strongest, first, best – since when was an outdoor adventure a competition?

Once again, I did not look like any of these adventurers and this was certainly not the way I looked or felt on an adventure.

Outdoor Adventure Does Not Look a Certain Way

Derek Cullen

But here’s the thing; focusing on my appearance and the physical requirement of an adventure was a failure of my own making. Instead of realizing my strength, I was choosing how to feel about my adventure based on advertisements and promotional material. I mean; so what if someone broke records and managed to look good at the same time? Good for them.

It was me – I was the only person stopping myself from becoming an “Adventurer”. And for this reason, I not only decided to call myself an adventurer but I also determined that I should establish myself as a different face in the outdoor industry.

That is to say; an adventurer who tries, cries, vomits, fails and tries again.

The thing is, you know what has happened since I started to call myself an adventurer? Nothing. Yes, I finally realized that nobody really cares about my own insecurities and they certainly have no will to challenge me anytime I refer to myself in this way.

To summarize, I am entirely obsessed with nature and the great outdoors. However, for as long as I can remember, I have felt no connection with an industry that continues to tell me what I should look like to enjoy the outdoors. The truth is, I may never look like a typical adventurer, but I see more value in encouraging other people to get out there, rather than feel sorry for themselves in the bathroom.

Published by

Derek Cullen

Derek Cullen is an Irish Adventurer and the author of Microadventureworld. He is best known for taking long distance adventures around the world such as cycling across Africa and hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in America. In recent years, Derek was nominated for People of the Year by Outsider Magazine and has featured on popular media channels including the Irish Times, Today FM, RTE and Africa Geographic.

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