Book Title: My Midsummer Morning – Rediscovering A Life of Adventure
Author: Alastair Humphreys
Promotional Blurb: Seasoned adventurer Alastair Humphreys pushes himself to his very limits – busking his way across Spain with a violin he can barely play.
In 1935 a young Englishman named Laurie Lee arrived in Spain. He had never been overseas; had hardly even left the quiet village he grew up in. His idea was to walk through the country, earning money for food by playing his violin in bars and plazas.
Nearly a century later, the book Laurie Lee wrote – As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning – inspired Alastair Humphreys. It made him fall in love with Spain – the landscapes and the spirit – and with Laurie’s style of travel. He travelled slow, lived simply, slept on hilltops, relished spontaneity, and loved conversations with the different people he met along the hot and dusty road.
For 15 years, Alastair dreamed of retracing Laurie Lee’s footsteps, but could never get past the hurdle of being distinctly unmusical. This year, he decided to go anyway. The journey was his most terrifying yet, risking failure and humiliation every day, and finding himself truly vulnerable to the rhythms of the road and of his own life. But along the way, he found humility, redemption and triumph. Source
My Thoughts: This is yet another engaging long-distance-walking read based in (you guessed it) Spain. I should apologise for my fixation on Spain, but I won’t! While our international borders remain closed I will continue to read and dream about strolling through the Spanish hills and across plains.
This book is different though, on a whole lot of levels. While it is mostly set in Spain, it also spends a fair bit of time in Humphreys’ head as he struggles to rationalise or compartmentalise his identity as an awe-inspiring adventurer and a suburban husband and new father.
“…I realised I had been sitting in this threadbare seat for years now, staring out commuter train windows. I called myself an Adventurer, but I was not living adventurously anymore. I was no longer proud of the story I was writing…I wanted uncertainty and doubt in my life, and the courage, energy and spirit to face them”.
Humphreys is “…cursed with fernweh, a yearning for distant places” and I understand that concept completely. Sometimes I wonder if it is a small case of the grass-is-always-greener although in my situation, I know it is about injecting my soul with the completely new and different to make me feel like I am continually learning and growing.
I really enjoyed the premise of the book that Humphreys intended to replicate author Laurie Lee’s 1935 journey. This makes the book more of a literary book, not just a story about a long walk. I wonder if there is an author whose footsteps you would follow?
I just left my chair and stood in front of my book case, scanning the book spines. No one leapt off the shelves to inspire me to recreate their journeys unless it is an imaginary adventure to Middle Earth.
“Laurie showed me a different outlook; that ordinary people could also see the world. I didn’t need experience or ability. Those I could earn along the way. This scrawny young poet (Laurie Lee) gave me the guts and the permission to begin”.
The interesting twist in this adventure book is not the physical, but the mental. Alastair knew he could walk the distance (probably in his sleep and backwards), but to learn to play the violin well-enough to busk and have people donate their precious coins just so he could eat each day, was a whole new risk that he chose to accept. Considering I do not have a musical bone in my body, I would have been looking at daily starvation!
“You can be sure that an adventure is good if the idea makes you simultaneously excited and scared, and you are unsure whether it is brilliant or stupid”.
Humphreys’ walk across Spain gives him time and space to re-orient his life and identify. It seems his key learnings occur when he is doing his best to busk and earn three Euros so he can eat for the day, rather than the physical challenge of walking a long distance.
The very act of playing the violin, even badly, meant he had to make himself vulnerable to the opinions and acceptance of others. Would they like his playing enough to toss 50c into his violin case? Or was it more a matter of pity and the 50c was for effort or courage alone?
Again, this conflicted with his identity as the big, brave adventurer always in charge of his own destiny vs this new persona as a dishevelled novice violin player. He couldn’t plan or bluff his way through this adventure. If he didn’t achieve those handful of coins, he wouldn’t eat that day.
“Life has its many parts and all play their role in a fulfilling life. It is healthy to move through them without regret for missed opportunities or with a yearning for chapters past”.
When Humphreys stopped trying so hard to control everything and to live up to his own extremely high expectations of his own life and how he should live it, he became open to a whole different type of beauty and generosity in the World. A balance between taking every opportunity and challenge and at the same time, simply rolling with what life offers you.
“..I now believe there is something even more important than striving for the remarkable. And that is to stop dreaming about an ‘adventure of a lifetime’, and instead pursue a lifetime of living adventurously through a daily pledge to push myself a little, scare myself now and then, and remain curious”.
A fine ambition for all of us in our own unique way. A really enjoyable read. I gave it 8/10.
Author bio: Alastair’s quest for adventure began young. Aged nine, he completed the 20 mile Yorkshire 3 Peaks challenge, then the National 3 Peaks in 24 hours aged 13. At 15 he cycled off-road across England. After leaving school, Alastair taught for a year in South Africa.
Whilst at university (Edinburgh and Oxford) Alastair cycled from Pakistan to China, Land’s End to John O’Groats, Turkey to Italy, Mexico to Panama and across South America. He ran a charity project in the Philippines and the London marathon dressed as a rhino. Since graduating Alastair has cycled round the world for four years, raced a yacht across the Atlantic Ocean, canoed 500 miles down the Yukon River and walked the length of the holy Kaveri river in India. Alastair has also run the Marathon des Sables and rowed to France with a paralysed soldier. In 2010 he completed an unsupported crossing of Iceland by foot and packraft.
In 2011 Alastair decided to remain in the UK in order to encourage people to seek out adventure and wilderness closer to home, challenging themselves through microadventures. In 2012 Alastair rowed across the Atlantic Ocean, did an expedition in Greenland and walked across the Empty Quarter desert.
Since then he has concentrated on his microadventures, encouraging people to get out and fit more adventure into their busy lives. Alastair’s book, Microadventures, was an Amazon UK Top 20 Bestseller for all books. Grand Adventures reached Number 8 for all books on Amazon UK.
He was chosen as one of National Geographic’s Adventurers of the Year in 2012 and won the Ordnance Survey Children’s Travel Book of the Year in 2019. Alastair lives in a village outside London with his wife and two young children (hence the microadventures!) Source
Author blog or website: https://alastairhumphreys.com/
Publisher: William Collins
Available from: Book Depository for $24.00.
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