Adventure & Exploration

Just for today, ‘Do Life Differently’…

I am a nature lover, I feel energised and creative in true wilderness. BUT, my reality is long hours and screen time writing about and sharing others stories about the great outdoors. Not today—today I am doing life differently.

The impetus for this change is due in part to the research and reviews I am working on. As a journalist fuelled by insatiable curiosity, I delight in exploring outlier philosophies and practices—turns out millions share my interest, with altered state and human performance a $4 trillion dollar industry, that consistently tops the charts as the most downloaded content on the inter-webs. As such I am taking the Flow Fundamentals Course and reading ‘Stealing Fire: How Silicon Valley, the Navy SEALs, and Maverick Scientists Are Revolutionizing the Way We Live and Work’ (#StealingFire) by Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal.

Science has never been so translucent or applicable, Wheal and Kotler are detectives for a revolution set to disrupt and advance our actions and attitudes towards life, potential and conservation. Sticky issues or as the authors coin them ‘Wicked Problems’ are the bane of our generation—more than aggravating (as in growing populous and traffic jams) but life threatening (as in species extinction and health compromising pollution). Solving dynamic and decades-in-the-making problems of this paramount, require genius, novelty, and edge-walking beyond what humans are typically comfortable with. Amongst the most compelling stories are those of explorers, extreme athletes, fearless reporters and visual-storytellers who risk life to reveal it’s worth and our stake in it’s preservation.

This is the subject of my research: ‘How adventure (flow states) can influence conservation, inspire innovation and change lives.’

As part of the Flow Fundamental Course (#FlowGenomeProject) students are assigned a series of challenges, of these one resonated deeply with my love of nature. Big Wild and untamed nature (think #MeruFilm), demands adaptive and acute attention as the deciding grace between life or death. In this high stakes environment the self is consumed to the force of nature and time or other distractions fade. This equates to the ultimate challenge but the course suggests more modest degrees of the same principle—nature immersion (i.e. watch the sunrise and set each day for a week).

As I pondered my level of commitment and action, I was influenced by another source of inspiration: ‘Never Look A Polar Bear In The Eye: A Family Field Trip to the Arctic’s Edge in Search of Adventure, Truth, and Mini-Marshmallows’ by Zac Unger (Da Capo Press, 2013). The author and self-proclaimed James Bond of Vertebrate Zoology, was disillusioned by suburban environmentalism (aka: the gap between eco-friendly actions and experiencing climate change first-hand)—his resolution was to pack-up the family and head to the Arctic (Big Wild) in search of the ice bear and a tangible connection to nature.

Reading Unger’s story compounded my growing desire to ‘Do Life Differently’.

As I write this, pioneers of ecstasis are leveraging the potential of flow for rewilding, technology innovations, discovery sciences and creative exploration. We are all part of some aspect of these advances, and finding our role within them—is key to instigating pivotal and vital change that benefits mankind and nature.

So, just for today: How will you ‘Do Life Differently’?

Albert Einstein succinctly describes the definition of insanity as: “Doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results.” I believe we are all capable of tapping our potential, and flow is a viable and efficacious method for achieving this. By this equation finding your flow trigger (mine is unequivocally nature) will lead you to discovery your personal power and place in the world—begin today with one great step, ‘Do Life Differently!’

As for my #DoLifeDifferently? Today I will seek-out a peaceful patch, get a little grubby, meditate for a moment, and breathe in the scent of fresh rain.

Resources and Recommended Reading

Flow Genome Project / Fundamentals Course (flowgenomeproject.com)

Stealing Fire (harpercollins.com)

Never Look A Polar Bear In The Eye (dacapopress.com)

Meru, 2015 documentary film chronicling the first ascent of the “Shark’s Fin” route on Meru Peak in the Indian Himalayas. Co-directed by married couple Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and winner of the U.S. Audience Documentary Award at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. (merufilm.com)

When the ‘Big Wild’ calls to you, but buildings obscure your view… scroll your screen to this: ‘The Art of Flow’ a short film to kindle your fire until you can up-stakes and make neighbours with a polar bear.

Polar Bears International is the ultimate resource for all things Big, Wild, and White (polarbearsinternational.org), and for a virtual close-up with the king of the Arctic checkout their Polar Bear Cam!

For those who dare to #DoLifeDifferently and Look A (REAL…WILD) Polar Bear In The Eye, checkout Frontiers North (frontiersnorth.com) who offer a variety of Arctic Adventures.

If bears are on your bucket-list, checkout: Churchill Town & Tundra Enthusiast and Tundra Buggy Lodge Enthusiast.

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This spellbinding documentary follows Aisholpan, a 13-year-old nomadic Mongolian girl who is fighting to become the first female eagle hunter in twelve generations of her Kazakh family. Set against the breathtaking expanse of the Mongolian steppe, The Eagle Huntress features some of the most awe-inspiring cinematography ever captured in a documentary, giving this intimate tale of a young girl’s quest the dramatic force of an epic narrative film.

A timely rhapsody on living wild, embracing adventure and restoring forgotten instincts. Produced by photographer, filmmaker Bjørn Olson (mjolnirofbjorn.com).

“One final paragraph of advice: do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am – a reluctant enthusiast….a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much; I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk-bound men and women with their hearts in a safe deposit box, and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this; You will outlive the bastards.” —Ed Abbey

From deserted cities and strange settlements to remote islands and underground labyrinths, Atlas of Improbable Places uncovers our planet’s most unique, intriguing and often unknown places. This is the world and its obscurities, displayed like never before.

Accompanied by Alan Horsfield’s stunning, specially commissioned illustrations, Travis Elborough goes on a voyage to the world’s most unlikely and curious locations in search of the mysterious and bizarre, the beautiful and estranged. He explores such unusual and perplexing locations as San Juan in Parangaricuto, a town entirely submerged by lava, and Leap Castle in Ireland – allegedly the world’s most haunted house. Atlas of Improbable Places features Dream Creations, Deserted Destinations, Architectural Oddities, Floating Worlds, Otherworldly Spaces and Subterranean Realms. Spanning centuries and reaching all around the globe, each entry provides key information, wittily observed, and beautiful illustrations that evoke both the habitat and our relationship to it.

As Travis Elborough himself states: “Atlas of Improbable Places is intended as a compendium of unlikely, curious and plain odd locales. The improbability factor, if you will, of each of these places was that they were distinguished by some element of their architecture, natural geography or present or past state of being. Improbability may have been inherent at the beginning, or thrust upon them later or only accrued in recent times, but these places all have fascinating stories to tell us.”

redonda-island-carribean

Q/A with the Authors

In curating this curious collection which place did you most delight in (re)discovering?

I had always been intrigued by the Kingdom of Redonda, which might more honestly be said to be a state of the imagination rather than an actual principality. Though the place itself is real enough and lies off Montserrat in the Caribbean Sea, the story of the lineage of its regal title is closer to the stuff of fiction and, indeed, has been employed in at least one novel, and was fascinating to delve into.

How did the idea for the book come about?

As a pop cultural historian I’ve made something of a career attempting to make people aware of the extraordinaries of often quite mundane things, or landscapes. I’ve previously written books about the red London bus, the English seaside and most recently public parks. So some of the impetus of this project was simply to do the complete reverse of that for a change and select a series of quite obviously extraordinary places and tell their individual stories rather than ranging over a single topic for a whole book. And, frankly, who doesn’t love an atlas or a map?

The actual idea for the book really stemmed from conversation in my local pub about certain places just being ‘impossible’. These were primarily confined to stuff like Oxford Street in London on the Saturday afternoon before Xmas. But somehow this led to a lively discussion about what an ‘impossible atlas’ might look like. Or more seriously whether an atlas of impossible places would, by definition, be impossible. What I ultimately salvaged from this bar philosophy session was the vague notion perhaps what the world needed was an atlas of improbable places instead. I await the world’s judgement on this obviously.

Why is the interest in remote and rare places so relevant to today’s traveller?

I think we all know that thanks to cheap(er) air travel and the internet, places that were once the stuff of dreams and improbable to the point of implausibility to our ancestors—Australia itself for one—have become far more accessible and can seem as familiar to us as our own neighbourhoods. And yet if we sometimes worry that our globalised and Google-map enabled world is shrinking, arguably that technology has if anything only helped heighten our appetite for the unusual and the out of the ordinary.

When almost every action we perform online is tracked and all things digital attempt to distance us from the body and physical disintegration, it’s perhaps not so surprising that our fascination with the utterly abandoned, the long unobserved, the decayed and ruined has, for example, increased exponentially. That pictures of a weed-infested factory or rotted mansion in Detroit or St Louis, say, will frequently have their greatest currency on Instagram or other social media sites, only reaffirms rather than contradicts a particular contemporary desire, I believe, to seek out the obscure and unburnished.

How can this book and the inspiration to explore improbable places add value to our understanding of culture and unique landscapes?

Hopefully it does so by describing these places with as much honesty, wit and sensitivity to their characteristics and histories as possible.

Which destination would you most like to visit?

Of the ones in the book I didn’t reach, I think the Pacific island paradise of Palmerston seems most appealing right now, typing this as I am, on an exceedingly dull, damp afternoon in London.

Favourite fascinating fact from the places you explore?

That at Bunker 42, a former cold war communications bunker in Moscow, two gentlemen of mature years are able to earn their daily crust as lookalikes, respectively, of the former Soviet Leaders Joseph Stalin and Leonid Brezhnev.

Are there any places not mentioned in the book that you feel warrant a mention?

There were loads, easily enough for a second volume. When I was in Arizona visiting Lake Havasu City I picked up a book from the 1970s about gold rush settlements in the American West that had long since become ghost towns. There were a couple of those I sought out and wanted to include but due to space and the greater improbability factor of some of the other destinations I reluctantly had to omit them.

About the Authors

Travis Elborough has been a freelance writer, author, and cultural commentator for more than a decade. His books include The Bus We Loved, a history of the Routemaster bus; The Long Player Goodbye, a hymn to vinyl records; Wish You Were Here, a survey of the British beside the sea; A Walk In The Park, a loving portrait of our open spaces; and A Traveller’s Year – 365 Days of Travel Writing in Diaries, Journals and Letters. He is a regular contributor to newspapers, magazines and broadcast media including the Guardian and Observer, The Times, Sunday Times, New Statesman, The Oldie, Tate Etc., BBC Radio 4 and Radio 5 Live. Travis lives in London and has been described as “one of Britain’s finest pop cultural historians” by the Guardian.

Alan Horsfield has over thirty years experience as a cartographer. Having started his career at the Ordnance Survey of Great Britain, he has created artwork for many publications, most recently as chief cartographer for Reader’s Digest World Atlas. Alan lives in Hampshire.

Atlas of Improbable Places: A Journey to the World’s Most Unusual Corners
By Travis Elborough and Alan Horsfield (Aurum Press • September 2016 • $39.99)

Uniting exploration, photography and the natural world, Tales by Light offers a rare glimpse into the eyes and minds of some of the world’s best photographic storytellers.

This series follows in the footsteps of five adventurous photographers as they travel around the world for their craft. Shot in 15 countries over the course of one year, Tales by Light is an insight into what it takes to capture images that tell powerful stories.
Told from the eye of the storyteller, follow these extraordinary artists as they work to capture the perfect image and show us our world in a new light.

Produced by Canon Australia and Untitled Film Works (untitledfilmworks.com.au) and directed and shot by Abraham Joffe, this new series seeks to inspire people to explore the world and tell stories through photography.

The second series premieres in Australia and New Zealand on the National Geographic channel this November. www.nationalgeographic.com.au/tv/tales-by-light/