By Any Means Necessary (the adventure dream)

The Americas

The Americas
Image source: http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fichier:Americas_satellite_map.jpg
For some time, in my head I’ve an idea for an adventure.

It’s been there, in some dark corner, getting kicked about occasionally like a half-deflated football.  I’ve been wondering about a trek covering the entire length, top to bottom, through Central and South America — taking in the Aztecs, Mayans, and Incas along the way, as well as the cities, towns and scenery.  I have no idea how long such an adventure would take,or  how possible it could be — let alone how to even begin funding something like that.  So it’s stayed as the half-deflated football — it comes out occasionally when I’m bored, and I try to kick around for a while, but give up before too long.

Then, last week, the idea evolved.

I read a BBC News report about Sir Ranulph Fiennes and his upcoming record-breaking attempt at an Antarctic expedition.  The story asked if there are any real adventures left: now the highest peaks have been climbed, the oceans explored (apart from their depths), and everything available to view on Google Earth.  As a side note, I remember one day at an early age telling my Dad that I when I grew up I wanted to be an explorer.  He let me down gently, but told me there wasn’t anything left to explore: all the lands were discovered, and the maps published.  I guess the Queen of Spain will never give me a fleet of ships to seek out new lands.  The BBC article also asked people to respond with what they thought, what adventures could be left — I wondered myself if adventures couldn’t be had (or records broken) with time constraints.

Oh, sure, you can circumnavigate the globe — but how quickly can you do it?

Then that old half-forgotten idea of the Americas adventure resurfaced, but this time I had another thought relating to it.  Thankfully, not about how quickly such an adventure could be completed (which with my flat feet and no sense of direction couldn’t ever be quickly) but since at the time I was enjoying Canada so much I thought “Why not include North America?”.  And I came up with the adventure I am calling “By Any Means Necessary”.  Like the Arctic Adventure (or “Jay and the Great Arctic Fundraising Challenge” to give it the full title) and “The Year of the Dragon”, it’s important to start an idea for an adventure with an interesting title: it saves time when you commission a book deal later on.

The adventure involves a journey through North and South America, from Alaska to the southern most tip of Argentina, by any means necessary.  It could involve hiking, dog sledding, snow mobiling, travel by motorbike and perhaps even kayaking — pretty much whatever options were open, so long as there’s no cheating and taking a bus or train for several days.  At some points, I recognise, it might occasionally be necessary to include something more robust — since it isn’t meant to be a survival challenge, but as I say it would be cheating to take a bus through a whole country.

Right now this is just a silly dream.  I have no idea how long something like that would take, or if it would even be remotely possible for a number of reasons: like how would I ever fund or equip such a journey, what employer would ever give me the time off from a job to pursue it, let alone who could possibly want to stick around in my life while I disappear for however-long chasing such a crazy adventure. And most of all: is it even physically possible to do it at all?

I really really don’t want to go ‘back to sleep’ and forget about this idea, or have it be a story I tell, or a dream I have that’s never realised (“Oh, have you heard about Jay’s crazy dream of an adventure?  Tell them about it, Jay, it’s really funny, he’s been talking about this for years…”) but right now I see no way to even approach getting it started.

The Niagara Adventure

Horseshoe Falls

Niagara Falls: the Horseshoe FallsNiagara Falls is apparently the biggest tourist attraction in North America, and one of the world’s most popular honeymoon destinations.  We were in town for a friend’s wedding, where I had been asked to be best man.  Last year, when Calvin told me about the upcoming wedding he asked if it would be possible for me to make it out to stand by his side.  It’s not often I can claim the title of “best” anything — so I readily accepted and told him he could count on me being there. I would make it happen, somehow, some way.

The Canadian adventure began in Toronto last week, and after three days in a spacious downtown apartment in the city the girl and I braved Ontario’s public transport to get to Niagara Falls, where we were booked for a week in a motel.  We arrived early evening, and just after my friend Calvin had finished work, so he was able to pick us up at the bus stop and ferry us to the motel.  As he dropped us off, he made clear we were invited over to his house for dinner as soon as we were unpacked and left us with directions to get there.

I was asked yesterday what — aside from being best man at my friend’s wedding — my “favourite part” of my time in Niagara Falls had been.

As a tourist, there is lots to keep you enthralled and I think the girl and I must have seen the Horseshoe falls (the most famous of the three waterfalls) about every way it was possible to do so, short of going over it in a barrel.  We saw “Niagara’s Fury” a 4D experience exploring (largely in cartoon form) the creation of the falls, we rode the Maid of the Mist boat into the spray of the Horseshoe Falls, we explored the tunnels and saw the the thundering water from behind the falls, we got alongside the raging (and sometimes deadly) rapids downstream on the white water walk, and even saw the falls and rapids from above on a helicopter flight and the Whirlpool Aerocar.

There was a lot to choose from.  They were probably expecting me to answer with one of these amazing things you can do, but really the best part for me in Niagara Falls was the people.

The Whirlpool Aero car, designed by Spanish engineer Leonardo Torres QuevedoAlmost without exception, everyone we have met and spoken to in Canada has been amazingly friendly and nice — but in Niagara Falls our friends and their families made us feel so incredibly welcome, and loved.  The people took hospitality and friendliness to whole new levels, to the point of telling us to consider ourselves as their family.  More than any memorable flight in a helicopter, or leisurely walk alongside raging river rapids, long after my pictures have faded or lost the anecdotes attached to them, we will remember the warmth and kindness of the people we met on this trip.

One of the most common threads in my travels and adventures is that people the world over are generally nice.  Watching the news or reading the papers, you can get a distorted of the world and think that people are angry and selfish and fearful — but everywhere I go, people along the way are kind and welcoming, and nowhere has been more so than in Niagara Falls.  This morning, checking out of our motel, the girl and I were sad to be leaving — if we could, we’d have loved to stay among these people, but more adventures await, and no doubt there are yet more lovely people waiting out there.  But for now, there has been a heap more added to our Christmas card list.

On Toronto (it rains down so damn hard in this city)

ImageToronto feels almost a little strange, in a way, because it feels so familiar.

This is my third new city in the space of a about a month — though this isn’t a work trip, this is a real holiday.  The first “real” holiday in a while, since I don’t count the Arctic Adventure as a holiday — adventure, yes, and an experience I’d gladly have more of in my life, but it was a year of hard work, training, fundraising and — at times — worry.

But back to Toronto.

Toronto stirs up those familiar feelings of wanderlust, that feeling you get when you visit a new city and you think “Yes. I could live here. I could love this city”.

Munich was fine, but I didn’t feel like I could make it a home.  Dublin was grand, Barcelona definitely makes the list, and there are many more places, too — places that remind me that life is too short and the world too small to stay in London forever. Toronto joins the list.

We’ve only been here two full days (and sadly leave the city already tomorrow) and yesterday was spent dodging torrential rain showers, but as I say, it feels familiar.

My first impressions of Melbourne when I visited a few years ago were that it reminded me of a mix of New York and Manchester (among other places) and Toronto reminds me of Australian cities like Perth and Melbourne, as well as some US cities, but always with its own unique charm.   Toronto feels like being introduced to a mutual friend, and seeing immediately why you have friends in common.

After Munich, it feels funny to be in a city where I speak the language — and I could probably even understand most of the French, if it came to that — although I am self conscious about my accent, just like I used to be when I lived in Utah.  In a restaurant yesterday I had a dilemma ordering: I thought about ordering my second-choice, because my first would have involved having to tell the waitress “no tomato” and I didn’t want to have to say the word “to-mah-to”.

The city feels like it is proud to be Canadian — maybe I am just noticing these things because I’m seeing the city with fresh eyes, but I see the Maple Leaf flying almost everywhere I look.  Is it the same in London with the Union flag or the St George Cross?  I don’t think it is.  At the Royal Ontario Museum yesterday, I read about the war of 1812, and learned how the US war hawks at the time thought invading Canada would be a pushover — and were very wrong.  I get the feeling here that the Canadian identity is all the stronger for having such an influential neighbour to the south.

Toronto seems to be a city of dog-lovers (never have I seen a city with so many dogs, I swear), of skateboards (insert here, if I had one, a picture of all the people I saw yesterday skatebording while wearing white shirts and ties), and a city of coffee-drinkers.  Maybe that’s just the North American continent, but I’m sure that you don’t see so many people with coffees in London.

Unlike London, Toronto just doesn’t feel so crowded — crowded with buildings or with people. Although London only ranks #21 on the list of most populous cities in the world, it is way above any other European city, and Toronto by comparison comes in at #101.

Our next stop is the Niagara Falls area, let’s see how the adventure continues.

(more pictures from Toronto can be seen here)