Within two hours of paddling out from the sheltered waters of Castlehaven, the coastline of Cork was a distant scribble three miles to the north and I was further out at sea, alone, in a kayak than I’d ever been before. Everything around me was Atlantic or sky, or—where the spray was blowing off the wave tops—some combination of both.
Until setting off earlier that day to circumnavigate the thousand-mile coastline of Ireland, I hadn’t paddled a kayak for over a year.
Sure, I’m from the southwest of Ireland, and had sea kayaked a bit along this coast, but that only underlined how little I knew—really knew—of tidal streams and currents, of prevailing winds and headland races and the correct procedure for sending an SOS. I was using a landlubber’s units of furniture to measure the heights of the waves. Coffee- and dining table- height were okay, breakfast counter not so much, and wardrobe-height was a horrifying specter.
Reading to this point, serious paddlers may be tempted to throw their flares, VHF radios and certifications of competence at me in frustration. I’m going to have to make a spirited defense of my position. It’s this: I was on a slow adventure.
Slow adventure is like slow food, slow travel, slow sex and all the other unhurried pleasures of the slow movement. It’s about taking as long as it takes to do something, rather than racing clocks and calendars. It’s about enjoying the actual doing, instead of worrying about achieving a goal. Time—rather than training or equipment—is my safety net.
Roald Amundsen, the pre-eminent Norwegian explorer who beat Scott to the South Pole in 1911, famously claimed, “Adventure is just bad planning.” I agree with him. But slow adventure is the result of just enough planning. In other words, it’s the opposite of an Amundsen-style, micro-managed expedition.
Heading round Ireland, I didn’t do much planning because I didn’t know what I was planning for. I had too little essential gear packed into my 16-foot, plastic Necky Narpa, but I was richly freighted with time.
Time enough to spend a fortnight in Dingle, playing guitar in Dick Mack’s pub whilst I waited for two weeks of high winds to blow through. Time to dawdle amongst pods of basking sharks, or spend three days camped between thousand-year-old stone huts on Inishmurray Island. And, this is especially important, time to postpone indefinitely if the trip proved really stupid.
Three decades of poorly planned, low-tech, comically inept but ultimately successful travel have kept things in perspective. Walking a thousand miles through North Africa’s Atlas Mountains, riding horses across Kyrgyzstan, or on saddle-’n’-paddle trips in Patagonia, I’ve only had to raise my eyes to see that whilst I was at play other people were at work. Pretty much everywhere I’ve looked, someone—a cowboy, a fisherman, a reindeer herder or, quite often, a child in poor shoes and inadequate clothing—is doing a tough job in extreme weather. Life, too, is a slow adventure.
The joy of the slow adventure is its random nature. Unexpected twists will make the trip different from—but just as good as—whatever you had intended. There’s no pressure to achieve something, so no failure if you don’t. A trip takes as long as it takes. Or you go as far as you can comfortably and safely go in a given time.
Anyone can have a slow adventure. It’s as easy as launching your boat on a whim. Adventure will follow. Just don’t plan on it.
Jasper Winn wrote about circumnavigating his home isle in Paddle: A Long Way Around Ireland, his first book, and is currently working on a new book about living and traveling for 10 months with a nomadic Berber clan in North Africa.