In theory, the concept is simple: a man reads a book about another man who decided to busk his way across Spain, wants to emulate it and then he writes a book about it. Except, that’s not really what this book is about.
My Midsummer Morning: Rediscovering a Life of Adventure by Alastair Humphreys starts in medias res with the riot of emotions any traveller or performer may feel as they embark on something new: “I had imagined this moment for years… spurred on by the anticipation of how happy I would be. Yet now that it was beginning, I felt only lonely and afraid.”
This moment perhaps foreshadows that the book will be far from just a regular travel narrative, recounting a physical transit from one place to another, but rather something substantially more psychological and transformative.
Humphreys is an adventurer with an impressive back catalogue of feats: cycling the world for four years, running marathons in the Sahara, rowing across the Atlantic and trekking across the Rub' al Khali.
This journey, though, starts in Slough with “drizzle and gloom” and the declaration “This was my life.”
Humphreys, now married and with two children, found himself not feeling like the true adventurer he felt he should be. He “craved being on the road again, inhaling the heady air of places new with just one difficult but simple goal to chase. Instead [he] was trundling round and round telling old tales to pay the bills.” Was it that domestic life meant that he’d lost something of himself?
Whether or not you have children and a partner, it is a relatable situation that anyone could find themselves in. The older you get or the more senior your job, increased responsibilities and accountability risk tying you down and changing who you are.
Our human instinct is often to reflect back and think about things you could change in your past, rather than focusing on what you can do to move yourself forward - or at least find a sense of satisfaction with what you do have.
Furthermore, with social media such as Instagram, we see constant images of other people’s adventures or Flashpack-style travels and we wish to copy it. All the while, we’re stuck in our workplaces wondering how to pay the rent and meet deadlines in the middle of November.
Humphreys had first read As I Went Out One Summer Morning by Laurie Lee as a student and considers it to be one of his favourite books.
Lee had headed off to Spain in 1935 with no set plan other than to head south from Vigo using his violin playing to pay his way. Following in Lee’s footsteps seemed like the perfect way for Humphrey’s to satisfy some of his latent lust for adventure.
Using the camping and basic survival skills he had acquired over the years, along with some hastily arranged violin lessons, Humphreys left for Spain. He had no money in his pocket, Laurie Lee for a guide and maps to help him navigate. Everything would rely on his novice violin playing and the kindness of strangers.
Although there are moments of immense beauty in the description of places (“wooded hills curved green embracing arms around the blue bay…”) what makes this book so engaging is Humphreys’ vulnerability and brutal introspection. Very few place names are mentioned; in their place are the author's thoughts and the retelling of his interactions along the way.
At times, he is clearly wracked with guilt about leaving his wife and children behind in order to settle this tug-of-war between domesticity and adventure. In his reflections, he doesn’t attempt to create the perfect travel narrative, a smooth learning curve where everything falls into place – when things go wrong and he’s feeling down, he shares this openly with the reader.
To use his own words, he challenges the old cliché that “Adventure [is] rugged men doing rugged stuff in rugged places.”
By the end of the book he has begun to really understand why his desire for adventure is so all-consuming, and instead of trying to redefine himself, he learns to redefine what adventure really means to him.
Find out more about Alastair Humphreys, not least his magnificent 'Microadventures', at: https://www.alastairhumphreys.com/