Joel’s Journey – The First Big Adventure

We all have that one event in our lives that leads us onto a certain path, one that we only notice when looking back at the past, older and perhaps wiser.

And later we face other decisions, problems, opportunities, or surprises that change our life again and open up new chapters for us to discover.

I’ve certainly faced a number of those, and they’ve led me to where I am today, and they’ll keep leading me to other, hopefully even more exciting, places in the future.

I want to share with you a few personal steps that have made my journey in life what it is. Key moments that I can see shaped me into the traveller, explorer, adventurer, writer, weirdo, and wanderer that I now am.

The first major life-changing event in my life came on my 17th birthday in Switzerland, when I was dragged out of my tent at the crack of dawn, tied to a tree with cling film (saran wrap) and drenched with several buckets of water!

Tied to a tree in Switzerland with cling film

I was dragged out of my tent at the crack of dawn, tied to a tree with cling film (saran wrap) and drenched with several buckets of water!

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Joel the Artist

A Little Bit Of Personal History

Before I get into how I ended up in such an unusual predicament, however, I just want to share a wee bit of my childhood.

Born and raised in the beautiful South Coast of England, I was never far from nature and spent my afternoons running around outside or walking through the woods.

Growing up in a national park seems to have given me a taste for adventure and gives me a sense of ease when I get back to nature. Maybe it’s the same for many people?

Laputa, Castle In The Sky

Of course, I wasn’t always outside, I loved to play computer games (this is pre-Playstation time, here!) and I also remember watching my favourite movie on VHS over and over – Laputa: Castle In The Sky.

For those who don’t know about this Studio Ghibli classic, it’s all about floating castles, ancient powers, sky pirates, and adventure.

In true Ghibli-fashion, it inspired people to look past their own existence and see what else was out there, to go beyond the norm and seek out more in life, to find one’s place in this world.

This is something that’s stayed with me throughout my life, especially as I’ve watched more of Ghibli’s masterpieces.

it inspired people to look past their own existence and see what else was out there, to go beyond the norm and seek out more in life, to find one’s place in this world.

Joel riding a fairground ride

Sounds like a pretty idyllic lifestyle, right? Well, things weren’t always fun. There’s not a whole lot to do in the countryside, especially when your school only has 60 people in it total and there aren’t many people your own age.

That’s probably a big factor in my desire to explore more of this world.

But I have no complaints about where I grew up, and I’m grateful for such a good start in life.

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Gotta Catch Them All!

I remember playing the original Pokemon games on Game Boy as a teenager (yes, I’m that old!).

I felt a connection to the main character, who starts out in a small village and must go and explore the world to find all the Pokemon for some weird professor.

Ok, not sure about the weird professor part, but the idea that I’ve seen so little of this world resonated deeply.

I felt a connection to the main character, who starts out in a small village and must go and explore the world to find all the Pokemon for some weird professor.

The First Key Moment – Heading To Switzerland

So what was it that changed my life and set me on the course that I’m now on?

Setting off with my Venture Scout friends to Switzerland for 17 days – going exploring, hiking, parasailing, rafting, and more in the stunning Swiss Alps.

We went to the Kandersteg International Scout Centre summer meetup, a 2 and a half week camping extravaganza in the heart of the Swiss Alps.

Find Out How To Hike In The Switzerland

I missed out on being a Scout (I didn’t want to wear the uniform) as a young teenager, but joined the Venture Scouts when I was about 15/16.

If you’re not aware, Venture Scouts are older and do a range of different activities, depending on where you are. We had access to lots of sailing facilities, so we went sailing, kayaking, canoeing, and boating in our free time.

Joel And James On Scafell Pike

The journey to Switzerland was an adventure in itself.

We spent a year raising money through volunteering and events that we organised ourselves, helping me to develop some very useful skills along the way.

Not only money was needed for this journey though, we also needed experience in the mountains.

To practice, we drove up to the Lake District in northern England and spent 3 (often rainy) days camping and hiking in one of the most beautiful locations in England.

We made it to the top of Scafell Pike, the highest mountain in England – not that that’s saying much as it’s less than 1,000 metres.

We were thoroughly exhausted, yet pleased, at the end of it, ready to tackle the real mountains in the Swiss Alps.

Cow on the Swiss Alps

Kandersteg International Scout Centre Summer Camp

In July we made the long journey (by bus!) from England to Switzerland for the Kandersteg International Scout Centre summer camp.

There were hundreds of Venture Scouts from around the world there, and it was an incredible chance to meet people just like myself from other countries, and to learn more about the world.

17 action-packed days of living in a tent, cooking our own food, going on various hikes, and tying people to a tree for their birthday lay ahead of us.

It was an incredible time, and one that made me really appreciate the beauty and majesty of mountains. I was humbled and realised that this world is so much bigger than me.

Among the various activities we did there, I think the ones that stuck with me the most were the 5 day hike through the Alps, including the Oeschinensee Hike, a morning hike to see the sunrise from atop a mountain, and a hike across a glacier.

The last was also the most dangerous and involved a bit of free climbing, which was incredible, as well as scary. I have a strange fear of heights.

Strange, as I love hiking and have been on many sheer cliff edges. And strange as I haven’t gotten over it yet!

The most memorable day, the one I’ll never forget, however, came on my birthday.

It was an incredible time, and one that made me really appreciate the beauty and majesty of mountains. I was humbled and realised that this world is so much bigger than me.

Paragliding In Switzerland

Birthday Celebrations And The Start Of A New Journey

Ripped out of my cosy sleeping bag at the crack of dawn, I was held to the tree by a couple of the larger members of our group while the others wrapped me in cling film to keep me in place.

It was a friendly experience, and the ice cold water that washed all over my sleepy body, and rudely awakened me, was not the worst thing that could have happened when I was so vulnerable.

It woke me up and got me ready for an incredible day. After a campfire breakfast (probably a sausage sandwich or something like that), we got ready for the event I was most looking forward to, but also facing with trepidation.

As mentioned, I have a bad case of vertigo. I think I’m meant to be firmly on the ground and not looking down into the air. So the prospect of running and jumping off of a mountain scared the crap out of me!

But, that’s what I decided to do for my 17th birthday.

the prospect of running and jumping off of a mountain scared the crap out of me!

Paragliding In Switzerland

Floating Away On The Clouds

We hiked halfway up a nearby mountain, strapped ourselves to a big bit of cloth (with a friendly pilot), and threw ourselves off the mountain one by one.

If you’ve ever been paragliding, you’ll know that the first few steps are the hardest. Running down the side of the mountain and feeling your body lift off the ground is so unnatural!

It’s also bloody incredible!

I was alive, a bird soaring through the valley, with mountains buffering my path on each side and the town below nothing but a miniature play set.

The immensity of the Alps, along with my own minuscule insignificance, showed me the grandeur, the beauty, the possibilities that were out there.

From that moment on, I knew I wanted to see more of the world. I knew I had to do this again.

spoiler: I did!

Joel Hiking
Cow in Switzerland

Inspiration Comes From Many Places

Of course, I have to give an honourable mention to my Year 9 book report, too.

I wasn’t a big reader when I was growing up, preferring to indulge my imagination in fantasy games and movies, so choosing a book to read through and write about seemed like a big hassle.

I ended up choosing Michael Palin’s book Pole to Pole.

His travels from the North Pole to the South Pole filled me with awe and I wanted to explore the world like him. I wanted to see all these colourful places in the exotic pictures.

I wanted to set sail and see the world.

I gorged on his books and travel shows later in life, when I headed off to university and dreamed of travelling more of this big blue marble.

I wanted to explore the world like him. I wanted to see all these colourful places in the exotic pictures.

Something To Think About

If you’re reading this now and you have a chance, I’d encourage you to join an organisation like Venture Scouts (or regular Scouts, they’re cool, too). If you have children, why not encourage them to give it a go?

There are so many great activities to discover, passions you might not ever think you had, friends to make, and memories that can stay with you for a lifetime.

And if you get a chance, definitely check out the Kandersteg International Scout Centre. It’s in a dream-like setting up in the Swiss Alps, surrounded by so much natural beauty.

Cows with giant bells around their necks, snow-capped mountains even in summer, rapid rivers for rafting along, and lush, green fields of grass to go stomping through.

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