Firsts and fastests

Firsts and fastests

Published on February 1 2018

Books about other people’s adventures make good reading, with ‘adventures’ acting as a pretty broad catch all term.

My bookshelf includes treks to Himalayan plateaus, round the world bike rides, solo sailing odysseys, drifting walks with nothing but a violin for company, and many variations on these themes.

The thing that appeals in these books is the feeling, intended or implied, that the person reading could do these things too if they wanted. Or that they could take inspiration to do something similar but more tailored to their interests. The feeling that the author isn’t trying to put up barriers between their journey or accomplishments, and normality.

There are two things in such books that appeal to me less:


These are, by definition, exclusive. Two people can’t both be ‘first’ to ride around the world.

If you are motivated by ‘firsts’, you are competing for increasingly contrived accolades. First to ride around the world wearing stilts (this hasn’t happened); first to ride around the world in 80 days (this has).

Inspiring others to join you from a position of exclusivity seems difficult. You can encourage them to be active, or to pick up a bike or whatever, but you do so from hallowed ground.


These, too, are exclusive. Although the torch can be passed.

Successive successful attempts seem to rely on getting better gear, better training, more money, and more freedom over your time. Not things that are accessible to most people.

Inspiring others to join you from a position which relies on them not doing so, lest they threaten your title, doesn’t seem ideal either.

It’s important to note these things don’t appeal to me. I’m not suggesting they’re wrong or meaningless in any way. I imagine the sense of accomplishment at being the first or fastest to do something is hard to match.

If they do appeal to you, either to read about, to aspire to or to achieve, that’s grand.

To me, I’ll most likely take the story of someone stumbling across a trail at the end of their back garden and seeing where it takes them, or wandering aimlessly to scratch that un-scratchable itch.

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