‘Everything Started to Feel More Amazing:’ The Startling Joy of Exploring Close to Home (Alastair Humphreys, author and adventurer)

Jump To section

Humans Outside episode 361 Alistair Humphreys

How well do you know the outdoor areas near your home? I don’t just mean the obvious spots, I mean all of the spaces.

And what would happen if you took the time to truly and deeply explore them?

That’s something British adventurer and author Alastair Humphreys set out to discover as part of a personal project that turned into his new book, Local. Dividing the region into one-kilometer grid squares, Alastair systematically experienced all of the outdoor spaces near his urban home, and in the process became not only more familiar with where he lived, but also grew a deep appreciation for the nature around him found in some of the most unlikely places.

In this episode you’ll hear all about Alastair’s truly local adventure, plus some of the simple benefits of taking time to enjoy everything — the good, the bad, the ugly and the beautiful — that nature has for you close to home.

Listen now!

Some of the good stuff:

[3:08] Alastair Humphrey’s favorite outdoor space

[4:02] Alastair’s outdoor story

[5:46] What “Local” is about — project and book

[8:37] What is “nearby nature?”

[10:35] For the record, I don’t have this outside my window

[11:38] What did Alastair find during his project that surprised him?

[15:21] Embracing technology to make outside time better

[17:59] The inspiration to fix problems

[21:55] A mind shift to gratitude and curiosity

[26:12] Taking the time for adventures big and small

[28:36] How anyone can get started on a project like Local

[34:03] Alistair’s favorite outdoor moment

Connect with this episode:

Listen to this episode on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or wherever you find your favorite podcasts.

The following is an edited transcript of this episode of Humans Outside.

Amy Bushatz: You know that feeling you get when you spend even a little time outside? No matter how challenging it is to get out there, spending time in nature is always worth it. I’m your host, Amy Bushatz and this is another episode of Humans Outside. Join me as we hear from fascinating outdoor minded guests, and use the Humans Outside 365 Challenge of spending time outside every day no matter what to push us outside daily.

I’ve been a journalist for two decades, and I love asking questions. But I also love going outside, so why not combine the two? Ready to hear from experts and outdoor lovers who make heading into nature just a part of who they are while we work to do the same? Let’s go.

One of the biggest challenges I’ve heard over the years from people who are working to build an outdoor habit is mindset. It’s been whacked into us over time by culture and history with the outdoors that getting outside and appreciating the great outdoors and the wilderness in a way that’s meaningful is something that takes planning and time and usually a journey.

But one of the most important things I’ve learned during my own time heading outside daily is that nature is everywhere, even in unexpected places. I’ve learned that while yes, standing on a mountain is a magnificent, breathtaking experience, I can also find small, magnificent things right where I am, literally in my backyard.

But to find them, I do actually have to look for them, or perhaps more importantly, when I see them, I have to actually see them, not overlook them. It would be spectacular if we all had the chance to go find adventure elsewhere, but that’s not how life works. Many of us simply don’t have the privilege of making that happen, the time, the family support, the finances, the access, etc.

And so that makes it even more important that we appreciate the outdoors right where we are, even if on first glance that outdoors isn’t especially, well, outdoorsy.

Today’s guest, Alistair Humphreys, knows all about finding nature out in the wilderness. He’s literally traveled the world having great adventures in far off places.

And yet, when he won National Geographic’s Adventure of the Year title for 2012, it was not for some grand thing in a far off place. Instead, it was for creating something he called micro adventures right in his own backyard, slicing out time to connect with nature in a way that was accessible and didn’t require a trip to the Sahara.

Today, Alistair continues that theme in his wonderful new book, Local, a chronicle of his journey exploring an area around his urban home near London in one square kilometer increments. The author of 14 books on adventure and big and small. Today Alistair is going to share some of what he has learned in his wanderings in a place that few would characterize as nature rich and how we can learn to appreciate that right where we are too.

Alistair, welcome to Humans Outside.

Alastair Humphreys: Thank you for having me. I’m looking forward to it.

Amy Bushatz: So we start our episodes imagining ourselves with our guests in their favorite outdoor place, or perhaps an outdoor place they’ve come to appreciate. if we were going to hang out with you outside somewhere you love, where would we be with you today?

Alastair Humphreys: Oh, well, this is the sort of question which I’ll probably give a different answer for anytime I, I get asked it, for example, at some point, I’m sure I definitely have answered the question by saying how much I’d love to be in the wilds of Alaska out in the middle of nowhere and far from London, but, but given that that’s your backyard, I will, and given that it’s cold and wet and horrible in England today, I’ll, I will think about my time, walking through Northern Spain with no money or credit card and only my violin to earn some money and the beautiful mountainous hills of northwestern Spain, which are green, warm, sunny, and exactly what I’d like right now.

Amy Bushatz: Okay, let’s go there. I’m down because you, you said it’s cold here. It is cold here and it has recently been horrible and gray and icy. So I completely empathize.

How did you become someone who likes to go outside? What is your outdoor story?

Alastair Humphreys: I had a nice, lucky, happy, normal, rural English childhood, which essentially involved my brother, me, and a couple of our friends just running around the fields and little rivers and little woods and small little hills of Northern England. which is really nice, but it was entirely just normal, I suppose.

So what pushed me into doing it on a bigger level really was reading books, reading books, travel and adventure. It was, it was, from sitting ironically, spending a lot of time sitting inside in my bedroom, with my back up against the warm radiator, reading stories of travel that got me. out the door.

So yeah, it’s a love of a love of books. I think is the biggest thing.

Amy Bushatz: I, Relate to that. I spent my childhood reading classic children’s literature and then, which so much of it talks about, you know, I’m thinking of the secret garden and Island of the Blue Dolphins. So much of these books talk about Treasure Island, right? About these adventures and, and getting outside. And that was something that I really wanted to do. And, you know, so I’d go and, and play pretend with those, with those things. and it, it sparked imagination and kept me going, you know what I mean?

Alastair Humphreys: Yeah, definitely. And then for me that the hard part was just sort of building it into a habit. And now that I do spend a lot of time either outdoors or with my heart turned outdoors, I find it hard to not imagine that just being a regular part of my life really.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. So tell us about the project you tackled for local. What was the idea behind that? And if you don’t mind, please describe just exactly how urban the place you’re talking about is. You get a really good sense of this when you’re reading your book, but course, folks listening to this probably have not. So tell us about Local.

Alastair Humphreys: Okay, so I think I just need a couple of sentences before local to lead into it, which would be to say that I’ve spent quite a lot of years chasing really huge adventures and travel. So I cycled around the world for four years. Probably past your front door, perhaps. I’ve rode in a little boat across the Atlantic Ocean. I’ve done expeditions up in the Arctic Ocean of, up in the Arctic, crossed, Iceland, walked across the Empty Quarter Desert in the Middle East. So I say these big things because that then leads on to hopefully adding some credibility then to the conclusions I found when I decided to stop chasing the whole way around the world and just see what was on my doorstep.

So I realized that in many ways, I’d spent a lot more time exploring and certainly, being excited by far off distant lands. I didn’t really know what was just down the road from where I live. So I decided to commit to spending a year exploring the single map that I live on. And all of Britain is divided up the sort of maps that you’d use if you go hiking, the whole of Britain is covered by that sort of level of detail.

Like your, the U S Topo series of maps. And they measure about 20 kilometers by 20 kilometers, but 12 miles by 12 miles, a pretty small area divided up mine. And they’re divided up into kilometer grid squares. So there’s about 400. And the area that I live on is just outside this big city. So at night, the sky glows orange with the city lights, wherever you are, you can hear the freeways you can hear trains, there’s electricity pylons all around. But there are also there are farms and villages and little bits of woodland as well as giant shopping malls. It’s just, that’s a weird just out of a city landscape. And it’s an area that I really don’t particularly like. I would swap homes with you in a heartbeat to live in Alaska.

And I’ve spent quite, I’ve spent too long actually grumbling and complaining about where I live and wished, wishing that I was elsewhere. And so part of this project was to try to get some sort of deeper sense of connection and empathy and perhaps appreciation of where I live. So it’s not a particularly nice part of the world, but I went out to try and explore it with that you know, if you go off to some distant country, you suddenly become such a curious, interested person, don’t you? You just become fascinated by everything. and trying to see the good and the beauty in everything. And so I tried to take that traveler’s mindset and apply it to my small little gray suburban landscape.

Amy Bushatz: One of the, kind of the concept you’re describing is, can be called nearby nature, and that’s a term I think you use in your book, and it’s a term we’ve used here on the show before. I would love it if though you could define what that means for people who are maybe not familiar with that term. So perhaps it’s intuitive, but what is nearby nature?

Alastair Humphreys: It’s interesting you say that, I didn’t really realise it was a term, so I’ll have to do some googling on that, but, yeah, it’s very much central to what I was trying to do. One of the premises of the book in terms of what I was hoping to encourage from readers was to encourage everyone to find Nearby Nature wherever you happen to live. And in that sense, I think it’s for, for my project was actually really helpful that I don’t live in some sort of stunning, glorious wilderness. ‘Cause it’s, I, I imagine people say things, to you, for example, like, oh, it’s all right for you to look for nature. You walk out your front door and there’s some mountains and forests and um, grizzly bears.

It is wonderful. But where I live in Chicago there’s nothing. So where I so I quite like the fact that where I live isn’t that wild and yet once I slow down I noticed that well right now while I speak to you I look out the window and I can see a cloud so then that’s teaching me a bit about the universe. I can see a tree and if I wait long enough a bird will probably come along. So there is nature and wildness just by looking out of your window wherever you happen to be and nature can be as nearby as that.

I read a lovely, um, article recently about some prisoners in some high security jail and just outside the window, a swallow made its nest and all these real tough guy, scary prison dudes suddenly fell completely in love with this little bird and they were watching its progress. partly to connect with nature, but I suspect also to, to envy the freedom of that bird.

But yeah, it’s beautiful. A reminder that you can find nature everywhere. And I think it’s really important that it isn’t a competitive thing. So for example, I look out of my window now and I see oh a little bird. A goldfinch is a lovely little bird. You look out of your window now and you see, let’s say, a grizzly bear.

I shouldn’t think, oh, my nature is worse than yours and therefore it doesn’t count. I should enjoy and appreciate what I have wherever I happen to be.

Amy Bushatz: I just want to say for the record that if I saw a grizzly bear outside my window, I would be very surprised.

Alastair Humphreys: Okay. That would liven up the podcast though.

Amy Bushatz: If really, would

i, that has never, that has never happened. We, proudly, I, I think somewhat don’t have bear in my neighborhood because, that would really complicate things. So just so you know, no grizzlies here.

Alastair Humphreys: They’re all in bed now as well, aren’t they? They’ll all be asleep now, won’t they?

Amy Bushatz: One would hope. Yeah, that’s the theory that in the wintertime you don’t have to carry bear spray because the bears are all sleeping, but every now and then you’ll run across a bear track somewhere and think, well, crap. So,

Alastair Humphreys: Yeah, well I, you say that, but I do envy your bears, but I don’t envy your mosquitoes.

Amy Bushatz: Yes, fair enough. I, I think that that is a, a, a reasonable conclusion.

So. You tackle this project, you decide to once a week go out and explore one of the grid squares. What did you find that surprised you?

Alastair Humphreys: So I decided to start by going to my first random, 1 kilometer grid square. Well, the first one wasn’t random. The first one I chose one that looked really boring. And the reason I chose this was because I wasn’t sure yet whether this was a good idea or a really boring idea. I’m someone who loves travelling and going to new places and deliberately constraining myself to one small, boring map for years sounded like a bit of a dumb idea.

So I decided to test whether it had any potential by going somewhere that looked really boring on the map. So on this, this group, this one kilometre grid square I went to, it had no roads on the map. There were no woodlands, there were no contour lines or hills, there were no lakes or rivers or houses.

It was just nothing, just emptiness. What it turned out to be was, um, some old marsh lands, a part of my, neighborhood that I’d never been to. And I wandered around a bit at first thinking not much here, but then I thought, right, what I really need to do is really slow down and pay attention.

And I had two very useful tools to help me. One was a camera. So I got my camera out and then I started to try to just take beautiful pictures of whatever I see. And this was something I found very helpful that once you just start to decide that something is interesting and worthy of note, then it becomes interesting and worthy of note. So I start trying to take beautiful pictures of whatever I found, even if it was some sort of burned out car or something ugly like that.

And then the other thing that really helped me was I had an app on my phone called Seek. It’s made by iNaturalist. And it’s one of those apps where if you point it at. a, plant or an animal, it will tell you what it is. And I found this incredibly helpful because it went in my mind then rather than just wandering around, Oh, here’s a field with some, a bit of green stuff that doesn’t look that interesting to suddenly learning the names of these little plants.

And once you know the name of something, then you can start to learn its story. And once you know its name, you start to identify with it a bit more and you’ll see it again next week. And then you’ll notice when it comes into flower and suddenly I started to get connections with places. So I didn’t really find anything particularly remarkable in the entire year, to be honest, but what I did.

So, Red Bull, you know, the adrenaline, company, they emailed me this week saying, dude, we’d really like you to write an article about your new book. And I thought, great, this would be really good publicity. But then I had to admit to them, I don’t think it’s very interesting for you because nothing happened.

I didn’t really find anything of excitement and I’m sorry, it’s just not very Red Bull. But what I did find was lots of small little things, little British bits of wildlife that I came to know and notice and learn about and care about. And by slowing down and paying attention and being amazed by everything, then everything started to feel more amazing and wonderful, more full of wonder.

Amy Bushatz: Love that you’ve highlighted the role of curiosity in this. And that you are integrating technology into doing it because so often I encourage people to try to disconnect and in the world we encourage people to disconnect and that certainly has a role. But I think technology can also have a role in helping with your curiosity, just like you just mentioned.

When you use your Seek app. Did you then go back home and do research on the things that you found, like just, you know, kind of, I don’t know, make notes of what you saw and then hit Google when you got back , to your writing shed and just sort of flesh out the things that you encountered so you could really embrace that curiosity?

Alastair Humphreys: Yeah, so I tried to be as offline as possible for all the obvious reasons that you mentioned. And yet I also embraced some of these tools. So Seek was one there was another app called Merlin, which listens to bird song and tells you what the bird is, which I absolutely love that completely opened up my ears to the world.

So I did, I use the apps when they’re helpful, but I didn’t want to just start going down an internet rabbit hole while I was standing out in a field. Not least of all because the way I am with gadgets, I’m only two clicks away thinking, Oh, I’ll just check Instagram or Oh, I’ll just check my soccer team.

Oh, I’ll just answer 50 emails. And I’m like, what am I doing answering emails in a field? I’m an idiot. So I was quite strict on my use of it. So what I would do is I’d walk around. taking photos, paying attention, but anything I saw that was interesting, I just wrote a note about it. And then when I came home later, then I would start Googling about all the things that I’d found.

And this added a whole extra dimension to my project. Some people I imagine might enjoy going to explore their local map, but they’ll have no interest in this second part, which, I’ll explain now, which is I’d come home with this bunch of notes and then I would just spend hours googling all this random stuff that I’d found and I would allow my curiosity to flow on the internet as well.

So I spent a vast amount of time on Wikipedia, clicking, here’s this little plant. Click. Here’s the history and folklore of this little plant. Click. And then before you know it, you’re reading about some 17th century botanist guy. And this is fine. I’ll learn about him as well. So I just try to allow myself to be curious and to go on the principle that If you’re interested in anything, it becomes interesting.

So there was, it almost became equal amount of time walking around, looking at actual rabbit holes in the world and equal time back home, diving down rabbit holes on the internet. and some people, I guess will either like that aspect or think it was ridiculous. You can choose as you wish.

Amy Bushatz: Well, I, I like it. Did you, when you encountered these, so your, your book really details quite a lot of ugliness, let’s be honest, right? Like that you’re, you’re encountering piles of junk. You mentioned burnt out cars, things that are objectively not nature, not beautiful. And then you found the things to appreciate within that, but I’m wondering if when you see things like junk piles, when you encounter fences in places that you wish they weren’t, were you inspired towards working to fix those things?

And if so, what have you done since writing this book? Because writing a book and getting it published is a super long process. So this wasn’t like yesterday. Have you found yourself sort of working on improving these things since then?

Alastair Humphreys: So, in between me doing the big global adventures and then me wandering around my little suburb with my camera and Wikipedia, I, I’ve spent quite a lot of years encouraging what you mentioned in your introduction as micro adventures, which has been a mission of mine to try and encourage people to have short local adventures wherever they live.

And I thought when I started this project, it was going to be micro adventures 2. Here are more adventures to have on your doorstep. I thought that was what I was going to be doing, but actually what, when I started walking around my particular area, first of all, I just got really depressed for a few months.

I started in the winter. So the weather was grim, it was rainy and muddy, but also there was litter trash everywhere. And these things that you mentioned that there’s, uh, woods getting chopped down to build more shopping malls, all this sort of depressing stuff. So I got pretty depressed for a few months and thought, man, this all sucks. I just want to go and live in. A beach in California. But actually I, then I sort of went down through the pit of despair, I suppose, into starting to think actually some of these things can be fixed. And I started to care about nature and be interested in nature in a way that I’d never had been in all of my years well, either studying, um, zoology at university, which I just found boring or in all of my years, luckily traveling through wonderful wild places of the world, which I really enjoyed, but I didn’t really give them that much thought. So it was only exploring my little woods close to home that really, for the first time ever, got me properly passionate about our wild world.

And I found that quite interesting, that perhaps you need to have some sort of sense of ownership of something before you care enough to then actually be nudged to do something about it. So in terms of what I’ve done about all these horrible things, well, the main thing really for starters was writing this book. I wrote a book that was very much not about here’s how to go camping in your local backyard. It was, as you’ve read a bit more, here’s some problems in the world, but hopefully some hopeful ways to go about. Fixing some of them as well. And then what happens next will very much depend on, we’re chatting before the book has actually come out.

And so I feel in a bit of limbo at the moment, whether anyone will actually enjoy the book. Or if everyone just says, no, this is rubbish, go back to being Mr. Adventure Guy. Or what I’m hoping is people would say, actually, I’m interested in learning about rewilding, how to, plant more trees, stuff like that.

And if, if that’s the case, then that’s definitely a direction I’d start to like, start to go down in terms of using my online audience and my book writing and things to try and encourage other people towards action. And then hopefully in about 10 years time, I’ll be Prime Minister of Great Britain and I can fix everything.

Amy Bushatz: That sounds cool. no, I, I appreciate that because as a writer myself so often what we do as creatives in this way is talk, in words, on paper or audibly like we are right now, and share information and trust the people who are reading it to walk alongside us to do the things that we’re talking about.

And that’s what we’re doing here today, is encouraging people to go outside their own front doors and experience whatever is literally right out there in a new way.

You mentioned being depressed over the first couple of months as you’re doing this because the weather was terrible. Relatable. And what you were finding wasn’t especially lovely.

I’m wondering how you learned over the course of this project to shift your attitude to impact your enjoyment. At one point in your book, you encounter a landscape again that isn’t particularly welcoming again, and you say something to the effect of you chose not to feel unwelcome, that it was unwelcoming and you chose that you weren’t going to feel that way. Tell us about that mind shift and that attitude growth over time.

Alastair Humphreys: Well I suspect quite a lot of it comes from a background in doing big expeditions in wild places where life is often quite miserable. You’re quite often cold, wet, scared, hungry, close to failing.

And then in these situations, you essentially have a choice. You can either feel a bit miserable and maybe cry, or you can just think, well, that’s not going to fix it so I’ll just laugh at the situation and just try and get on with it. So trying to sort of mentally just gee myself up is something that I’ve done quite a lot.

The other aspect, I suppose, with the part of this project was about scheduling into my normal, busy life once a week, every week throughout the year, whatever the weather, I must go and spend a few hours exploring this random grid square that I get sent off to.

And just scheduling nature and that sort of gentle exercise of walking or sometimes cycling around for a few hours is very, very good for my physical and mental well being. And quite often I’d be a bit negative beforehand I’d think, Oh, the weather’s rubbish. I’ve got lots of emails to send. And, and this countryside is really depressing.

And then I’d get out there and I’d wander around for a couple of hours and like, it would just. Inevitably, I would find things that were interesting that would spark my curiosity and just being out in the fresh air would cheer me up.

So I think it was sort of self fulfilling in that regard. And then in terms of the sort of the problems of the landscapes that are quite, it is quite depressing when you consider the state of nature in the world. But the solutions I find really hopeful and exciting that essentially if we just stop wrecking stuff. Nature will fix itself and it’s wonderful. So it’s, it’s not an easy thing to do, but it is a simple thing to do. And I like things that are simple because then you can just start to take some steps in that direction.

And I found the, um, there’s quite a lot where I live. There are quite a lot of railway yards or old factories or broken down, closed down sort of brexit failure factories and things that are on the first glimpse quite depressing.

But I actually really like these places because you start to see trees pushing through the broken concrete and you see plants growing, curling up the, the fences and you see butterflies coming in and the, the rewilding. I think learning about rewilding is just an incredibly uplifting thing anyway, that if you just step back from nature for a while, it, it comes back. And I, so I did find it surprisingly hopeful project by the end.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah, I love what you said too about the idea of having to schedule it in and be very purposeful about that. And then when you do that, you find that you do in fact have time to do that, but it is such a mental practice. it’s a practical practice as well because you’re finding the time and then you’re doing it.

But so much of that, for me at least is mental. There is a book, by author Laura Vanderkam, US author called Tranquility by Tuesday. She lays out some steps for, having a more tranquil, she calls life. One of the things that she recommends is every week taking time for one big adventure and one little adventure. And she defines this as something that takes several hours versus something that’s sort of a blip in your day. But unusual or, you know, not common in what you usually do.

And when I take the time to, to do that, to follow that advice, I noticed I feel better, life is more interesting and it, and it has a benefit across the course of my week.

But the biggest barrier to doing that is taking time to schedule it in and taking time to make it happen saying today I’m not going to do the thing that’s right outside my front door that’s easy access. I’m going to get in my car, make a little bit of an effort, spend, you know, a dollar on gas, spend an extra 20 minutes traveling and go do something that’s a little bit unusual that is a little adventure.

And then on the weekend, I’m going to carve out a bigger adventure, something even more unusual. And when I look at my week ahead of time, it feels like I don’t have time for this stuff. When I look at my week in retrospect, having done it, it feels like I can’t believe that I ever considered that I didn’t have time for that. It’s crazy.

Alastair Humphreys: And then, then the, the fantastic retrospect is imagine when you’re looking at your life in retrospect, when you’re an old lady on your deathbed and you’ll think, Oh, I’m glad I spent all those hours sending emails. I mean, it’s, it’s crazy, isn’t it? So I, I agree with everything you just said.

And I also find personally that removing any decision making from my life really helps. So for example, I, I know that going to the gym or going for a run is really good for me, but quite often I’m a bit lazy and I’d rather just watch TV and drink beer. So I just schedule it into my life and then it’s just, it doesn’t require any brain power or willpower.

And so in terms of this, so this was really good that going out once a week, but I’ve been doing for a few years and I think. It’s, you, there’s going to be people who listen to your podcast who, who don’t have as much spare time as me to go and spend a few hours, a week.

So, one thing that I’ve been doing for three years is I’ve been scheduling a monthly tree climb into my calendar, and I have this scheduled in my work calendar. The first Wednesday of every month, my work calendar goes, ding, climb a tree. And everyone has time in their work calendar for it to go ding, go to a meeting. So ding, climb a tree. I go to my nearby tree and I climb it and I sit and it’s the same tree. I sit in the same place every month and every month without fail, I look around thinking, wow. The seasons have changed. Look how much nature has changed in the last month since I was up a tree. How did I not notice the universe marching on? And then I sit in my tree for 20 minutes, drinking a cup of coffee. And then I come back down the tree and maybe I think a little bit about what I’ll do in the next month. Then I come back down the tree, return to my computer and get back on with work. But I wouldn’t bother, I wouldn’t get round to doing that as often as I’d like to if I hadn’t automated it in my life to remove it from my brain. So, Last year I did a, every full moon I scheduled in to go and do a full moon walk or run or cycle or swim depending on the time of year. So you put it in the diary and just automate it and then, then it’s more likely to happen.

Amy Bushatz: Oh, I love that. There are lots of ways to tackle something similar to what you’ve done. You mentioned runner Ricky Gates in your book, one of the projects he, he’s done is, every single street, which where he encourages people to, because he’s a runner, literally run every single street in their city or town.

So that’s one way, right? Another way is what you’ve done. If people want to do something like this, how should they get started?

Alastair Humphreys: So I would recommend that, wherever you live, you get the local map of where you are. So if you’re listening to this in Britain, it’s the Ordnance Survey. If you’re listening to it in the US, it’s the USGov topo minute series of maps. You can download the PDF, for where you happen to live. And then just don’t look at the map and think I’m going to go somewhere really interesting, like to that lovely hill top or something.

Close your eyes, wiggle your finger and point at random and go somewhere at random. Because the point is that if you’ve never been there before then you’re being an explorer and as much as if you went off to the middle of China or somewhere. So just choose somewhere close enough to home so that you can do it by the end of this week. And if that’s still too much hassle, then you need to think something even smaller that fits into the into your own constraints of your own realities. But you should definitely be able to find something to do by the end of this week that takes you outdoors to somewhere you’ve never been and you notice a bit of the wild universe racing by I think we can all do that By this weekend.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. Yeah. I love that. It’s tempting to hear you say that and think, no, I, you know, I live in an urban environment. I’ve been all the places. But that’s totally not true, as you found in your own area that you can live somewhere and have, not been within a 12, you know, square mile zone and have explored all the places. And the, and one of the points of Ricky’s run every street project is that you have not run every street.

Alastair Humphreys: This lockdown, I decided to do exactly what Ricky Gates had been doing of running every street. And he, he’d done it in beautiful old San Francisco, which is lovely. And I was doing it in some sort of rubbish, boring town. But by this time I’d written several books about adventure and I’d written one about micro adventures, which is explore locally. And I’m like an expert local explorer. And then lockdown came and I went to run every street and I found 500 meters from my house. a street that I didn’t even know existed. How closed and blinkered had my eyes been my whole time to not see something 500 meters away? So yeah, that was a, that was a great thing of, of Ricky’s.

Amy Bushatz: But I think that’s such a good point. That you are somebody who seeks out these things and still hadn’t sought out, hadn’t noticed that. That that happened, like, if that can happen to you, that can happen to anyone. And no matter, you can live in San Francisco and not have run every street. That makes sense. It’s very large.

You can live where you live and not have run every street or seen every rock. That makes sense, it’s very urban. In a small town place, it might be more tempting to think, no, I have. But I’m In Palmer, Alaska, it is not a big location, and I most certainly have not been down every street, and when I’m tempted to think that I have, I look at a map and realize that I have not, or somebody invites me over to their home and gives an address, and I have absolutely no idea where that is. And not just like, I’m not familiar with this street name, but I’ve never been to that part of town, ever. And I’ve lived here for, you know, almost seven years, and I get around.

Alastair Humphreys: And then on, I think even on top, on top of the fact that there will be places close to you that you haven’t been, I think it’s also a good idea to go to the places you haven’t been, but with a different mindset on. So, you know, we, you and I, we’re just talking on zoom. All I can see, all I know of you and all I can see of you is just you on zoom with plank of wood, a wooden wall behind you. So that’s not very interesting. It’s like 1000 zoom calls.

But weirdly, because I know you’re in Alaska and that’s somewhere I love, I found it really exciting. The thought of talking to you while you’re in Alaska right now, I found that really weirdly exciting. So, so it’s the case of going around your little small town, but thinking imagine if Alistair was here now, what would he find fascinating? What is crazy here for a guy from London?

So just having that traveler’s curiosity mindset. I did a podcast a while ago with someone who said we had this sort of similar ish conversation to the one we’ve been having now. And then he said, yeah, but what if you lived in Kansas? I mean, there’s literally nothing to see in Kansas.

And I thought, I’d love to go to Kansas I’d be, if you took me in a time machine now and dumped me in the middle of Kansas, I’d be so interested. So everywhere is interesting, even places we’ve seen a thousand times before. And that was the attitude I had to try and teach myself to remember seeing these familiar landscapes close to where I live.

Amy Bushatz: Thank you so much for inspiring , us with this. I am going to schedule into my schedule a weekly, I don’t know. I’m not sure I’m going to climb a tree, but I’ll, I’ll think of something, maybe a rock sit or something. for, for a little bit. I love, I love a schedule. So that is very, that is singing my song.

And, and I, I encourage people listening to this, to do something like that. It doesn’t have, you don’t have to climb a tree. You don’t have to find a fancy rock. Maybe just find a spot that is somewhere that you love a bench, even in a park somewhere accessible, even, and. put it in your schedule to go there because that is, one way to make that happen.

We know that’s one of the ways to build a habit, but also, what a, what a lovely idea. Alistair, is there maybe a way you can walk us out from this conversation by describing a favorite outdoor moment that you had while on your local project, somewhere that you keep thinking about, something that you keep going back to in your mind?

Alastair Humphreys: So, I, I did enjoy the broken down factories and the, and the, behind the streets and all that sort of stuff. I did, but equally in my heart, I’m a country guy who was missing the mountains.

So, one day I found a lovely little valley. It was very small, you know, but British, it was only small even by Britain. It was maybe a mile countryside, a small wooded valley, but it was really pretty and it was weirdly wooded and wild looking for southern England. And I stood there for a while just thinking, wow, this is the most beautiful place that I’ve been on this map.

This looks natural and wild and fantastic. And I was really delighted to be there. And then these two people walked along with their dog and they could see that I was obviously really focused on this small little landscape. And the man said to me, Oh, it’s really sad, isn’t it what’s happened here. And I said. What do you mean? This place is great. And he told me, no, it used to be a golf course until five, 10 years ago. And then the golf course had to close down for whatever reasons. And now it was just nothing, nothing. Nature was growing back. And he said, isn’t it a shame? There’s nothing here anymore. Nothing except nature. And that just made me smile so much because I was thinking how wonderful it was that there was nothing but nature. And a few years ago, it had been a completely human impacted artificial sort of landscape. But now nature is coming back and it made me very happy. If you do nothing for nature, everything will be fine.

Amy Bushatz: Alistair, thank you so much for joining us on Humans Outside today and inspiring us to go be local.

Alastair Humphreys: Thank you very much for having me. I’ve enjoyed it.

Amy Bushatz: That’s a wrap on this episode of Humans Outside. But, hey, I need your help. Enjoy this show? Leave a five star rating or review wherever you get your podcasts. It makes me feel good, but it also helps others find the show too, which is cool right? Now go get outside. Until next time, we’ll see you out there.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


Jump To section



Humans Outside Instagram

How does spending at least 20 consecutive minutes outside every single day since Sept. 1, 2017 change your life? 

We’re on a mission to find out.

[instagram-feed feed=1]

JOIN Us Today


Keep up with the latest podcast episodes, resources and announcements