2. January 2023

The outdoor adventure movies inspiring me in 2023

Silhouette of male rock climber climbing cave roof with sea view at sunset

I’ve got several big shows to get on the road in 2023: keeping my legal translation business going while building up a whole new business idea/income stream. Lots to do, many mountains to climb!


And yet the energy is lacking. I can’t even seem to summon the drive to create a vision to move towards — something which used to come to me easily. Where is all the power I used to have?

Once upon a time, I powered my way into (and through) a tough law and language degree at a prestigious UK university. I packed my suitcase and went off to live in a foreign country where I didn’t know a soul — just because I wanted to! And I threw myself out into the safety-net-free world of self-employment literally at the drop of a hat. That was some serious moxie I had going on! Where did that woman go?

No worries — she’s still there. A little older (indisputably), a little bit wiser (I would hope)…and a whole lot more interested in naps (I LOVE a good nap). But she’s still there. She just needs some geeing up to take on the challenges of the next leg of life.

I’m going to need some props and external inspiration for this. But you can take your motivational, pep-talk videos, affirmations and Paolo Coelho-esque quotes and stick them where the sun don’t shine. When it comes to getting me off the sofa and reaching for the stars again, these things do diddly-squat for me.

Outdoor adventure movies are my personal go-to for inspiration. There’s something about watching ordinary folks doing extraordinary things in the great outdoors — be it slacklining across a huge abyss, canoeing around Greenland or cycling high alpine passes at age 80 — and facing down the elements to achieve their crazy goals that I find unbelievably empowering. O, the power of a project!

Over the years, I’ve watched hundreds of these outdoor adventure movies/movie shorts. But these are the three that stand out and which I watch again and again when I need a shot of motivation in the arm to keep on pushing forward.

Wide Boyz, starring Tom Randall and Pete Whittaker

The first of my favourite outdoor adventure movies is “Wide Boyz”, a climbing film from 2012. There’s something about climbing videos that I find extra inspiring. Perhaps it’s because I’m a climber myself (albeit a wholly untalented one), so I understand the challenges and the difficulty of the sport — but also the stripped-down beauty and spirituality of it. In many ways, the challenges of climbing are the challenges of life. Just like life, sending a climbing route demands patience, skill, focus, the ability to keep calm and think through fear — while always aiming upwards.

Wideboyz is a great watch for anyone who always finds themselves rooting for the underdog. When Tom Randall and Pete Whittaker, two hitherto unknown British climbers, decide to enter the niche, American-dominated sport of off-width climbing, the general reaction on the scene is one of incredulity. Not only that: the duo chalk up Century Crack — a giant wide crack in Utah of almost mythical difficulty — as their ultimate goal.

Hang on a minute! Off-width climbing is a sport for roughneck Yanks — not a couple of mild-mannered Brits! What on earth do they think they are doing? How are they even going to go about achieving the impossible when the UK has less than 10 wide cracks to practice on?

Tom and Pete might not come across as tough or scary — but don’t let their modest demeanour fool you. These guys had a goal and nothing was going to get in their way! Watching them casually smash out the routes and show the Americans how it’s done on their own turf — how could any Brit not love it?


Transamericana, starring Rickey Gates

Donald Trump’s 2016 election shocked the world. Like many of his fellow countrymen, Rickey Gates, a professional runner from Colorado, was left reeling. How could he have so little idea of his own compatriots and the concerns which would lead them to vote in such a way?

Pondering this question, Gates realised that — during his own running career — he had travelled far and wide, spending time in numerous countries from Canada to the UK and Germany. And yet he had never been to Kansas, the neighbouring state.

Slowly, an idea began to take shape: Gates would run 3700 miles across the USA in a bid to discover the country in which he was born and had grown up but about which he actually knew very little.

Starting in Charleston, South Carolina and carrying nothing more than a 12-pound knapsack with the bare (and I mean BARE) necessities, Gates embarked on what inevitably became a journey of discovery — not only in the sense of getting to know his fellow countrymen, but also himself.

Somewhere between the Atlantic and the Pacific, Gates discovers that — politics aside — Americans have far more in common than divides them. It is not made up of Trump and Clinton voters, Republicans and Democrats — but ordinary people like him, just trying to make their way.


The Road From Karakol, starring Kyle Dempster (†)

In 2011, the US adventurer Kyle Dempster packed up his bike and panniers and headed out to the former Soviet state of Kyrgyzstan to cycle solo across the country. Mostly overlooked by the higher profile mountaineers, Kyrgyzstan still has a kind of final frontier feel to it. It attracts explorers like Kyle who want to be the first to climb untouched mountains in its wild interior.

Taking on roiling rivers, dilapidated roads and drunken, corrupt officials, Kyle shows us that — even in the 21st century — true pioneering and adventure is possible.

Of course, being an adventurer, Dempster has courage, curiosity and daring in spades. But what makes this film a true adventure classic is his keen sense of irony and humour. With his relatable commentary, easy-going manner and a compelling soundtrack (including Lemolo’s sublime “Open Air”), this is a film I never tire of.

Since 2016, it has taken on a poignant feel: Kyle disappeared that summer while climbing Ogre II with his companion in northern Pakistan. They never came back. Although it is always unbearably sad when the mountains claim another climber — it is somehow a consolation to know that they died doing what they truly loved. I am sure the same can be said of Kyle Dempster. May he rest in peace.


Related articles:

My Via Claudia Augusta adventure – cycling solo across the Alps

The Soleweg – my 2007 hiking adventure

The best hike ever – climbing the Gehrenspitze in Tyrol

4 feel-good films to lift you out of the doldrums

Great art encounters – Picasso’s “Guernica”


Photo credit: photobac at Envato Elements