Singletrack Magazine Issue 124 : Editorial

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The wider we travel, the more narrow our focus…

Words Chipps

It’s been said that travel broadens the mind. If you expose your mind to new experiences, new places and people, you will find that your understanding of the world at large is brought into better focus.

However, that’s not always the case: it depends on how you travel, where you travel to and how varied your travels are. If you only ever travel to the same places, then what are you learning about the world?

I’m well known for being a fan of Moab in Utah, home of great riding and incredible scenery. I’ve been going there regularly since 1993 and was there for a two-week stint last October. The trouble is, it’s so familiar to me now that it no longer really counts as travel – I even bump into people I know in the coffee shop – but when I first went there, arriving at night with nothing but the phone number of a friend of a friend and having to use the first payphone in town to get him to come and get me… Now that was an adventure.

Part of the dulling of the adventure travel experience is the availability of information. You’re no longer alone in Geneva Airport with just a ‘Rough Guide to France’ in your pack and the address of a cheap hotel. Now you have a phone full of peer-reviews and recommendations, a list of ‘must-do’ trails to ride in the mountains and a selection of forum tips for getting the best rental bike and probably an offer or two from locals to show you around.

As we get older, we generally get less and less adventurous too. Whereas my 19-year-old self slept on a school fire escape in Flagstaff, Arizona, in all of his clothes and a load of carpet offcuts because he couldn’t afford a hotel, the same Chipps would now just plonk down a credit card and pay for it later. 

The biggest issue, though, I think is of familiarity. We travel somewhere for the first time and have a great time. We’re then tempted to go back there again because we had a great time last time. Even if you go somewhere new, there’s the temptation to return to it because you know where the trails are, where the supermarket is and you don’t feel so out of your depth. You then end up with a half dozen places where you’ve gone before that then become your palette of holiday or travel destinations forever more. 

True adventure, though, should involve a taste of the unknown and at least a bit of mild peril. If you go into every trip knowing exactly how it’s going to play out, with what you do and where you end up at the end of every day already mapped, then it’s not an adventure. And if it’s so familiar that it’s reassuringly comfortable, like the English pubs on the Costa Blanca, then it hardly counts as travel at all.

Rather than seeing every new place as a potential destination to return to, we should be trying to suck up as much of it as possible while we have the chance, in case we never return again. Had a great holiday in the Alps? Then go to the Pyrenees next time. Always book a guide? Try going self-guided. Always self-guide? How about hiring a guide? 

If you think that Whistler is the best place ever, then see what the scene is like in Finland or Croatia. Always go to Glentress for a week? How about skipping it and trying South Wales? Always ride local? Then go a couple of hills over and really dig into the scene that’s 20 miles away. You know, the one you always mean to check out but end up riding out of the door instead because it’s easy.

There’s a lot of huge potential out in the big wide world and we can only ever see a tiny sliver of it. While we’re here though, we might as well make that sliver as big as possible. 

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