I’m snuggled up with a book late one January night in 2016, plumped pillows at my back, hot water bottle at my feet, hearing the wind whistling through the tiles on my roof and the rain lashing the bedroom window. In body I’m at home in the middle of a winter’s storm in England, but in mind I’m imagining I’m inside the book – in Afghanistan feeling the blast of hot air that floods the aeroplane as the door opens and Levison Wood gets ready to start his Himalayan adventure.
No stranger to that blast of hot air myself, I close my eyes and for a few seconds I’m really there – everyone clamouring to get off the plane first, chaos all round – but I’m taking a moment, savouring the warmth and the exotic smell of arriving in a new country.
My first real foray abroad was an ambitious backpacking trip in my early twenties. It was the mid-’90s, the internet was still mostly ones, zeros and random IP addresses and mobile phones were the toys of the rich. The trip was planned mostly with the help of the library and my most precious possession was the Amex credit card I could use in the credit card pay phones to call home.
I first experienced that blast of heat touching down at Hong Kong airport at midnight; it was 30 degrees and 90% humidity. Totally unprepared for the situation I was wearing heavy chinos, a thick fleece, woolly socks and hiking boots and carrying a 20kg rucksack. Standing there in the crazy maelstrom it did cross my mind that maybe the plane had crashed and I was in fact at the gates of hell waiting in the queue for one of Lucifer’s minions to stamp my passport …
Back in my bedroom I continued to read but my mind became distracted with thoughts of planes, trains and automobiles and a longing for the open road. I had been working in the same job for a number of years and in recent months had been feeling restless. My life was comfortable, I enjoyed my job and had great colleagues, amazing friends, a multitude of interests, 27 days annual leave per year and a mortgage to pay. In the preceding few years I had bought my own house and achieved some major ambitions, so was feeling an increasing need to challenge myself but wasn’t sure how. It was in that moment that inspiration stuck and I knew what I had to do: I would take a career break and go on an adventure!