Mortlock, C. (2001) Beyond Adventure. Reflections from the wilderness: an inner journey, Milnthorpe: Cicerone Press.

Mortlock is the founder and first Head of the National Association of Outdoor Adventure Education. He likes outdoor adventures and seems to gain personal benefits from it, like peace, quiet and a sense of fulfilment. This book has his personal recollections from a series of adventures while climbing, camping or kayaking and boating. Some of them are interesting but the 'spiritual' tone gets up your nose after a while. Like some Puritan, or keen young priest, he just has to draw important lessons from everything and lecture us about them.

He uses some recognisable terms from Leisure Studies such as ‘flow’ and ‘oceanic feeling’ ,and a common-sense version of ‘the edge’. He is credited with also developing a 4-stage model of adventure experience, that was later developed into the more useful Adventure Experience Experience Paradigm, (AEP) (see an example of its use here). According to the Wilderdom site, the model runs like this:

Stage 1: Play: Characterized by little emotion through relatively easy participation in activities which are below the person's skill level

Stage 2: Adventure: Characterized by enjoyment and excitement, where a person's (sic) is using his her capabilities more fully, but the person maintains control over the situation and his/her self

Stage 3: Frontier Adventure: Characterized by peak experience, which emerges from a person experiencing adventurous challenges very close to his/her limits.  If the person succeeds, then generally a peak experience is had, but there is real risk of pushing too far and falling/failing, leading  to Stage 4.

Stage 4: Misadventure: Characterized by a person choosing or being forced to participate in challenges beyond his/her capabilities, resulting in negative emotions (fear, hurt, etc.), possibly injury and even ultimately death.

Anyway, this book carries on with the themes – how ‘inner journeys’ lead to wisdom about the self and others and ultimately one-ness with Nature. Inner journeys are more important but only arise after outer journeys, conveniently. It is all rather wishy-washy, pious and amateur. As an example:

Early one morning I had gone into the garden...I was instantly aware of a powerful presence hitting me in the back - -not physically but psychologically [for those deaf to metaphor]. If that does not make sense , then in a way it doesn’t matter, because I now intuitively know that at least some of the most profound experiences are beyond rational description...The impulse had come from a group of garden pansies...Somehow I knew they were rebuking me for not acknowledging their presence as I had walked past them. I silently expressed my apologies as I admired them...never...had there been such a moment of synchronicity...there was a message coming from deep within [not to only do manly OA things] (76)

Or try this, on his core beliefs (129—30):

As far as possible the natural environment and everything in it should be regarded as sacred [some ‘deep green’ commitment that says famine and disease is Nature’s way? Or is all that covered by the weasel about ‘as far as possible?’ which lets us plough and cultivate, and defeat the 'natual environment' of contagious diseases]

Each of us is a member of society. So we have obligations to that society and that society has obligations to us [GCSE Sociology would have got you further forward than that, without all that rock climbing]

No human being is more or less important than any other human being [ludicrous abstract egalitarianism –easy to say but impossible to operate. Is he lobbying for equal wages? Equal access to Oxford [where he went]. There is of course an implicit qualifying clause after 'important' --'important in a deep spiritual sense but no other']

No human being is more or less important than anything else in Nature [let’s hear it for Cockroach Rights!]

 Fair enough...I am not really a spiritual person myself and would offer much more normal and rational explanations for such feelings. after physically exhausting effort, and 'flow' and 'edgework' seem to be perfectly adequate.  But this kind of permanently switched-on spirituality has some obvious problems:

1.       Where is it located – in him or in Nature?

2.       If it is located somehow in mundane encounters like the one with the pansies in the garden, then ‘outdoor adventure’ need not mean expeditions in the wilderness, but a walk round the garden – what does the ‘adventure’ bit do exactly?

3.       What does he mean by Nature anyway – everything related to the planet is one way he defines it here, so presumably bacteria, malarial mosquitoes, cockroaches etc as well – do they make you feel spiritual as you watch poor kids die? Is it effluent as well as mountains? Did the victims of tsunamis communicate with Nature as the wave rolled in?

4.       Is it as naive as it looks? This man is an historian so he must know the methodological problems involved in appeals to Nature (that we have always been engaged with the world via culture, at east within human memory, so there is no independent access to ‘Nature’ except via those experiences he charts), and the social context (‘Nature’ is used simply as a term to contrast with [bad, risk averse, unmanly] ‘society’ or ‘culture’).

So – I read it, I smiled, I moved on, thinking – why are there so many hippies?

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