The Backyard Adventurer
Avid runner. Award-winning filmmaker. Self-described oddball. All-around adventurer. Beau Miles is many things, but he’s no stranger to gallivanting around the globe. Recently, however, after years of running, kayaking, hitchhiking, and exploring around the world, Beau has settled down in his native Australia and is now devoting his time to finding adventures closer to home. Sound boring? It’s anything but.
Recently I had the opportunity talk with Beau about his new book, The Backyard Adventurer, and his philosophy on adventure and travel. For those of us who prefer to travel sustainably or who have limited travel opportunities due to small budgets, demanding careers, or any other number of reasons, Beau’s philosophies on backyard adventures could be the perfect solution to satiating wanderlust.
In your book, you discuss the power behind going to new places and how the source of that power comes down to invisible meanings that we conjure. How do those invisible meanings play into your personal philosophy on pursuing adventure?
This is the purpose of backyard adventuring: going to new places that are close to home, saving on travel, carbon, expense, etc., all in the name of knowing that adventure is “invisible,” so why not exploit our malleable sense of reward and achievement by questioning where we go?
In saying that, I’ve still had to go through a period of convincing myself that close-to-home places are adventuresome, playing on the human sense of perception to cash in on our invisible and intrinsic want to be in new places that bring about physical and emotional challenge. This only really needs to happen once through a genuine discipline of making the effort to see all, or many places, as adventurous. Once you can do that, the close-to-home world is your adventurous oyster.
You talk a lot in your book about perspective and the power of perception. What advice would you give to someone trying to make that shift in perspective and trying to see a familiar place with new, adventurous eyes?
It takes a natural curiosity to want to shift from classical, storybook adventuring to doing odd things close to home with few resources and a strange script. More to the point, it takes discipline, because going to exotic, faraway, newish places tends to be easy, subscriptive, and innately attractive, so you have to put in the hard work to make the shift.
Ask yourself, “Why do I like adventuring? What is it that I’m looking for or chasing—a feeling, view, physical demise, physical bolstering, skills?” Then look at where you live or have ease of access to and overlay that place with those personal answers.
As I’m allergic to giving direct advice, general advice would be to ask those personal questions of yourself, then pore over maps and satellite images to conjoin the forces of self, places, and adventure.
What’s your favorite adventure you’ve embarked on, if you have one, and why?
“Run the Line” [an adventure wherein Beau retraces 43 kilometers of an abandoned, barely-there railway] is perhaps the most satisfying one-day project I’ve done, especially in terms of a cross-sectional venture that turned into a story and film. It had all the elements I’ve long searched for in adventure, be it a multi-month venture or a few hours offtrack in the bush, full of genuine surprises and beauty.
Was there ever a shift in your personal philosophy that drove you to seek out more backyard, close-to-home adventures, or have you always made those types of adventures just as much of a priority as adventuring in other parts of the world?
To be honest, I couldn’t tell you why I decided to do adventurous things closer to home—at least not a moment, or day, or experience that struck me like a bolt of lightning. The era of change was due to full-time work as an academic.
While I was finishing my PhD and running programs for undergraduate students, backyard adventuring became very much about squeezing trips and stories into my everyday calendar. In all, practicality drove the shift, which makes sense, as I’m a practical guy who loves being driven by time, mechanical processes, and calories—and questioning how all this fits into the same chunk of time we get every week.
Do you learn different kinds of things about yourself when you travel abroad as opposed to what you learn on your close-to-home adventures?
I’ve had the luxury of large-scale, non-local adventures as a counterpoint to local and small ones. So, while I’d love to say that local and small can tap into my sense of identity and the world in much the same way as faraway places and experiences, I’m not sure. What is important with all of these experiences is a sense of physicality, different point of view—even up a tree next to my house—and sense of depth in terms of how I want to tell the story of the so-called adventure.
Q: What role does curiosity play for you in selecting or planning your adventures?
A: Everything. If you’re not genuinely curious about a thing, it isn’t worth doing as you’re kidding yourself. Audiences know if the storyteller is there for the right reasons—authenticity is key.
I’m very selfish with my ideas as I need to be genuinely interested in them. Lots of things seem like a good idea, but it’s the ideas that make it through multiple rounds of thinking, framing, and talking over with others that get started in the end. Ideas are cheap; making them into something you still like before doing them is the ticket.
For more tales of Beau’s epic adventures, check out his YouTube channel and his book, The Backyard Adventurer, now for sale in the US.