This article appears in Volume 23: The Adventure Issue.
I have to confess I approached this issue with a certain amount of dread. My brief forays into the realm of adventure have generally been through a veil of tears – the time I crashed my bike into the side of a mountain and had to sit out the rest of the journey in the recovery car, the time I forgot how to breathe while scuba diving and had an underwater panic attack, or perhaps the time I got stuck in thick, gloopy mud up to my thigh in an anaconda-infested swamp as my friends wept with laughter and failed to pull me free.
Accident-proneness aside, I don’t think I’m alone in feeling ill-equipped to take on the mantle of the “adventurer”. As the writer Rae Boocock charts so eloquently in her unpacking of the word, for as long as we have told stories our collective imaginings of adventurers have been of swashbuckling heroes – men steering ships and slaying beasts, planting flags and sowing seeds. This narrative of conquest cemented adventure as a self-centred, grandiose quest to impose our own worldview.
Yet in a more culturally sensitive era when much of the globe has been mapped, this meaning has shifted. Although the lure of the frontier still appeals, the modern pioneer seeks immersion rather than dominion. As Rocco Wachman of Arizona Cowboy College told the aspiring cowgirl Kate Wills on her ranch-flavoured road trip through the state, “We live such sterile lives now, we need something to scare us. We’re craving that danger.”
This same thrill drew the surfer Mike Lay to the frigid coastline of Iceland, where he spent the summer months navigating the “smashed diamonds” of melting glaciers amid the country’s waves. In their search for a more sophisticated alternative to the adrenalin-heavy backpackers’ trail in New Zealand, our Food Editors nonetheless found themselves tackling staggering inclines in the pursuit of equally staggering beauty .
Risk and adventure often go hand-in-hand, particularly when there is more at stake than a postcard-perfect holiday. The filmmaker Leon McCarron is an advocate of “slow journalism”, using his epic walks across troubled lands such as Iraq’s Kurdistan Province to shed light on the plight of their inhabitants. Meanwhile the photographer Claudia Legge documented the bravery of the rangers at Northern Kenya’s Borana Conservancy who put their lives on the line to ensure the survival of endangered species.
This dark shadow of humanity’s obsession with exploration haunted my every turn on the once rainforest-blanketed island of Borneo, where the endemic wildlife is being forced into ever-narrower corridors. The increasingly rare jolt of coming face-to-face with creatures in the wild was also felt on safari in the African countries of Gabon and Zambia.
When travelling, however, the real adventure is often found in other people. In Bhutan the filmmaker Jack Harries was moved by the peaceful nature of its natives – apparently the happiest in the world – and our Digital Editor India Dowley assembled a dream-like cast of ethereal characters in the ramshackle villages and rum-soaked islands of Nicaragua.
In the words of the photographer Johan Lolos, “The real story of people’s lives is much more satisfying to capture than a beautiful landscape whose sole purpose is to make people click the ‘like’ button on Instagram.” As modern adventure becomes about escaping the manufactured in search of the authentic, we have decided to replace our fashion covers with original photography captured by our contributors as they seek adventure across the globe, starting with Yuri Andries’ photo essay in China’s Gansu Province. We hope you will join us as we take this next step on the road less travelled.