Philosophy Of Travel U.S. West Coast 2012

The Evolving Rationale Of A ‘Professional’ Adventurer

It’s less than a month until I leave these shores for the first of the two ‘big trips’ I’m going to undertake this year. And of all the questions in my head right now, this one sounds the simplest:

“Which camera should I take?”

Mirrored self portrait

But this post will not deal with the ins and outs of camera equipment selection. (That’s for another post, which non-geeks will be able to happily skip over.) No. As I sat down to write, I realised that this question in fact drills to the core of my motivation for continuing to journey, explore, adventure, or whatever verb you may wish to attach to what I do.

Personal Updates Philosophy Of Travel Rants

Why I Won’t Be ‘Live-Tweeting’ My Next Expedition

This post was borne of a heated debate I recently had with a couple of friends. It arose from a remark along the lines of “I don’t have time to read your blog, but I do have time to read Twitter updates, so you should be ‘live-Tweeting’ your trips because more people like me will know what you’re up to”.

Well, I won’t be ‘live-Tweeting’ my future trips; not for my friend, nor anyone else. And here’s why.

Tweets, by their nature, are free-floating snippets of information. Each one inhabits a single drop in an ocean of content. In any given Twitter user’s feed, this could span mainstream media headlines, celebrity gossip, a viral video or two, links to random interesting articles, or photos of your mate’s swollen foot.

Then along might come the following:

“Spent a night in no-man’s-land between Kyrgyzstan and China.”

I assume that this is the kind of update my friend would like to see. It would save him having to read a tiresome thousand-word diatribe on the same experience, which he doesn’t have time to do. My adventure travelling experience could be happily digested alongside the remainder of his Twitter timeline. In my friend’s eyes, there’s no difference.

Now, I have no doubt that the Twitter user who posted the update above (which I took from today’s feed) is perfectly happy with his or her Tweet, and feels that it accurately represents what they were doing at the time. And there is little doubt that somebody who has done their fair share of self-supported adventure travel might be able to roughly guess at the context in which one might find oneself camping between two distant Central Asian border posts.

But to my high-flying friend sitting in a coffee shop or office in central London, exactly what would this message mean? What context would he have for it? What first-hand experience of the Tien Shan mountains does he have? When was the last time he spent a month sleeping under canvas? What was the longest man-powered journey he took in his adult life? What is it actually like in ‘no-man’s land’? What are the Tweeter’s motives for being there, and why is it important that he or she let the world know?

The Tweet invites imagination, and sheer invention is what inevitably follows. Tweets are so short as to leave every aspect of the words’ true meaning to guesswork. And, assuming that the majority of us have yet to spend the night in no-man’s-land between Kyrgyzstan and China, our guesswork and assumptions will be all over the shop, and the chance that any of the guesses might resemble reality is practically zero.

And in any case, my friend will look at the Tweet, consider it for maybe half a second, and then be distracted by the next in the never-ending stream of informative nuggets. Then something else will happen: the guesswork and the assumptions will be done in the background, subconsciously, where all the misconceived impressions unwittingly held by those who haven’t experienced the world for themselves will be built into a vague and ever-more warped idea of the Tweeter’s journey, as told through his or her Tweets.

Here’s another example from today’s expeditions on Twitter:

“Had a road rage incident.… Dave got tackled off the bike and kicked in the nuts… eventful day.”

Can I feel Dave’s pain? Do I know how he feels; what his sensibilities tell him to make of it? Do I know how blissful his previous month of cycling was before this cruel blow to the family jewels took place? Do I know what events caused the incident? What does his riding buddy make of it? Why am I assuming that a car driver was involved, even though it was never mentioned?

My top priority when I do share my journeys is to take my audience with me, as much as such a thing is possible. Why? Because it’s enjoyable. It might be educational. On rare occasions, it might even be a little bit inspiring. But I know that my audience member probably doesn’t have the luxury of first-hand context for the experiences about which I write or speak, so I have to paint pictures, evoke atmospheres, invest emotions, provide some insight into the whys and wherefores.

Without these things, my stories would encourage readers to build works of imaginative fiction in their minds. Some self-titled adventurers actually rely on this; cherry-picking the pieces of information that they know can be used to construct superhuman-sounding tales of high adventure by people who have no defence against their own lack of context and overactive imaginations. This appeals to media people who sell books and TV shows based on these stories, and of course to the oft-massive egos of the protagonists.

Adventure — being a state of mind rather than a set of criteria — should be without limits; without restrictions on who can partake of it, without it making the slightest difference how impressive it can be made to sound. So it’s not worth pretending my projects are elite or daring or impossibly difficult, or inviting others to do so on my behalf. There are the inconsequential details, and there is the irrelevant information, little of which survives the editing process, but the bottom line is that I have no reason to write at all if I can’t take my friend away from his office, just for a few minutes, and show him a different world; a set of events outside his own experience, something to provoke new thoughts — but in a way which avoids the kind of misinterpretation that is so easy to make.

Other than providing a link through to a fully-formed piece back here, these are things that a Tweet in a timeline — for the vast majority of followers — will never do. If you don’t believe me, try making all the points in this article using 140 characters or less. My friend honestly believes that there is no difference in consuming a handful of vapid Tweets and investing 15 minutes in reading a considered, crafted and complete piece of creative non-fiction (or, for that matter, investing a few days in reading a book). He is wrong. The difference is as great as between a single note and an entire symphonic movement. As someone who creates, I’d rather reach one person on a meaningful level than a thousand people on a level that is ultimately meaningless.

So no, I won’t be ‘live-Tweeting’ my next journey. I hope that these thoughts might provoke others in the field to reconsider their own use of the technology (not to mention reminding myself of these reasons when I’m tempted to start doing it!).

As for my friend’s “I don’t have time” argument, well, if he has better things to do, then good for him — I need not worry that he’s missing out.

Philosophy Of Travel

A Major Digression On Perspective And Motivation

An interview is not just for the benefit of the interviewer, as I was recently reminded when I gave an interview to Orla O Muiri for Beyond Limits magazine. As well as forcing you to reassess your own ideas, motives and achievements, having questions fired at you from someone else’s perspective can say a lot about the assumptions of that interviewer. And that, in turn, can say a lot about the way you have presented yourself; what your ‘public face’ looks like.

I spent quite a portion of this interview trying to defuse an underlying assumption that I was some kind of legendary overachieving extreme sports fanatic, which I am most definitely not. Since I answered these questions I’ve spent some time going through this site in an attempt to ensure that this isn’t the portrait I’ve painted of myself. It’s a difficult thing to balance, as there is always going to be a degree of mismatch between the writer and the reader. I hope I’ve got it roughly right.

In any case, do enjoy the full interview. Grab a cup of tea — this might take some time.

What are your emotional motives behind your adventures?

Mostly I go on adventures to satisfy my own curiosity. But what I’m curious about has changed since I started. On my first trip I was naive and idealistic, so everything was interesting and new and it broke my preconceptions. As time went on I became curious variously about my own endurance, my ability to tolerate discomfort, whether places in the world would live up to my fears, how it would be to learn a completely new language, how I might best communicate this whole process to those who stayed at home – so it’s curiosity and satisfaction at the root of it all.

Andy puts up his tent in Romania

Philosophy Of Travel

New Year Dreaming

It’s difficult not to get swept up by the tide of reviews, resolutions and manifestos at this time each year. It’s part of our tendency to try to bring order to chaos, to fashion meaning from the meaningless. In reality, today is just another day; no different to any other, save for the ideas we attach to it.

Looking out over Hrazdan valley

Having said that, my New Year’s Resolutions are thus: 

Books Films Philosophy Of Travel The Book The Film

Are Book-Writing And Film-Making The Same Thing?

Subjects are nouns, their actions are verbs, their appearances adjectives. A sentence is a single shot, while a paragraph is a sequence of them. Paragraphs are built into chapters, and sequences are built into stories. Then chapters are assembled into books; stories into films.

The viewfinder is my vocabulary. The focus ring and exposure dial are my spelling and grammar. These are basic things that I’d better get right. And I need a good mixture of context and detail, otherwise my tale will become muddled and hard to understand.