Thursday, 31 May 2012

Bending mettle

Middle-aged people really are the most adventurous it seems. A survey published widely this week has established that 41 is the age when people feel most able to pursue an adventure. Reduced family commitments, increased disposable income and a growing intolerance of work and routine all combine into a perfect storm of opportunity to prove that life really does begin at 40. Sooner or later (mostly later apparently) an astonishing realisation hits you square on the nose – you need to take more out of life and, as Bob Dylan put it, "but for the sky, there are no fences facing".

Where does this long-acquired lust for adventure take the mature risk-takers? An oft-quoted route for adventure is along 'the path less traveled', but a truly remote wilderness is hard to find in a world with 7 billion people and many of the standard 'package' adventures are too sanitised and itinerised to qualify. I've been on a few however, and they do, at least, leave you wanting something more raw. Anything potentially life-threatening, though, might have to be ruled out. But not always.

Perhaps something extreme, with a good dollop of danger but within a regulated package is what draws novice adventurers to the ultimate adventure of climbing Everest. Many of this years intake will have seen more than they bargained for as they carefully stepped around the frozen, dead bodies of fellow climbers (10 this year). The picture in this report: Everest is shocking if you imagine yourself at the back of the line, slowly slushing towards an 8,000m death-zone. It's not my idea of adventure. It doesn't even look like climbing. It's certainly foolish.

Nevertheless, a need for adventure is an instinct that, once recognised, demands resolution for good or ill. Middle age brings the experience, the life-skills and the desire to put ourselves up for judgement. It bends our mettle.

“So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man's living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.”
Chris McCandless

PS: Some astonishing statistics are quoted in the survey conducted by Discovery Channel: 42% of people claim never to have attempted an adventurous activity and 14% of 18-24-year-olds thought virtual world gaming was an adventurous activity. I'd claim that gap years are wasted on the young.


  1. "Reduced family commitments, increased disposable income and a growing intolerance of work and routine" doesn't describe me 100%, but at 37 I can say for sure I get more out of travel than I would have right out of college when I had too many insecurities, too much debt, and, well, some career ideas.

  2. Youth is wasted on the young, but then we all knew that. Though usually not when we were young ourselves.

    I started traveling seriously when I was forty and I remember in Athens seeing the young people and thinking how wonderful it was that they were traveling when they were young. And then when I went into the back country I never saw any of them and realized that they traveled narrowly and only with their own kind.

    Today, they have no wonder at what lies beyond the next corner or bend in the river, for they have a app to tell them and a cloud of friends to advise them.

    Forty is a fine age to set sail.