Picked up Alastair Humphreys’ book Grand Adventures yesterday and reading it now. An absolute joy. Lucid, convincing, inspiring, practical (without sounding like a “guide”) and humorous in places (often self-deprecatingly so). This book is a must-own for anyone who has even had the slightest inkling of a consideration of embarking on an adventure, odyssey, journey, whatever, grand or otherwise.
Grand Adventures can be broken up into four parts, some of which overlap. The first third of the book consists of practical matters, and the point of it is to convince you, the reader, that yes, a big adventure is possible, and yes, you can find the time, money, etc. to go on one. The second two thirds of the book is broken down into modes of transport, or types of adventure—travel by bicycle, by foot, by watercraft, etc.
What could the other two parts that comprise this book be, you may now be thinking to yourself, since I’ve obviously covered the entire length of the thing from front to back. Well, Grand Adventures is also arranged in such a way that each of the subsections are broken down into two formats. Each is introduced by Al and his thoughts on the matter at hand, and then, and here’s the real genius of the book, supplemented by the thoughts and anecdotes of certain people, average human being and Grand Adventurer alike, he questioned who have gone off on these adventures themselves. I almost don’t want to say “supplemented by” because these stories and bits of advice from others make up the bulk of the book. They’re also the bits that when you read you can’t help but be grabbed by the guts with the desire to immediately fling everything, all previous engagements and responsibilities aside, and run out the door prepared or not. Each section is then neatly concluded by Al summarizing stories and pointing out similarities, differences, and unique points of view between them. It’s a neat little bow on a tidy package full of gifts of inspiration and motivation.
If you’ve never rowed across an ocean before (and I’m pretty sure that accounts for about 99.99999 percent of the population of the world) you might find yourself wanting to. If you’ve never gone on an (ant)arctic journey before, maybe that now sounds exciting and possible. If you’ve never walked farther than from your front door to the nearest bar, then perhaps walking across your country of residence (or any country for that matter) sounds like it might be up your alley. Of course, maybe you think it might be better to row across a smaller body of water than an ocean, to start with, or maybe make a visit to southern Greenland rather than attempt to trek around the arctic, or pick a shorter distance to walk than across a continent or country (unless your country is small, unlike the United States), although, the wonderful thing about walking (or cycling) is that you don’t need any more experience in doing it than you already probably have.
There are no lengthy kit lists here, just a very simple one covering some of the basics. That’s not the point of the book anyway, which is mainly to convince and inspire, and this it does exceedingly well. If you as a prospective adventurer are set on going on a particular adventure, the web contains vast surpluses of information for recommending specifics in terms of kit (along with the lengthy debates that often accompany them).
The photography in the book is, on the whole, excellent. At its worst it’s bland and prosaic, but does still cover its most basic function of describing or detailing further a particular story. The great bulk of photographs though are far and away better than this, many of them being jaw-droppingly gorgeous, particularly the two-page full bleed spreads (I’m thinking of a particular image of Iceland right now). These images not only enliven particular vignettes, but also make one envious of the subject in the photograph, or of the photographer himself, and oftentimes both, while additionally, and perhaps most importantly, evoking a wide array of feelings, from daring and desolation, to danger, but also quietude, peace, joy, and fun. Above all though, they inspire adventure.
To wrap this all up I think I’ll repeat what I began with in my opening paragraph. And maybe add a few bits. If you’ve ever at any time in your life thought about going on an adventure, big or small, you should own this book. But even if the thought has never crossed your mind to go on an adventure, you should own this book; it’s likely that you need one but just don’t realize it. Perhaps you’re feeling life’s gotten a bit dull, lost a bit of its sheen, is too predictable or repetitive, but you can’t quite pinpoint why this might be. There’s this itch you have, but you can’t quite figure out how to scratch it. All this is pointing to one thing: you’re desperately in need of an adventure. But you didn’t know this because you either don’t know someone who’s been on an adventure, or you haven’t read a blog or a story by someone who’s gone off on an adventure. In short, you haven’t been exposed to the adventuring world. But no worries. Now you know. And with this book you can get to thinking, pondering, picking, and planning. This book will be your constant companion, at least until you leave, because by that point you will be no longer be in need of it. But, while you’re planning, or just pondering an adventure, or even after you’ve returned from one, you will always go back to this book, for it is filled with the seeds of your own personal journeys that you’ve finally discovered you so badly need.