A lot of people feel like they’ve seen and done everything there is to see and do in their local area. They’re bored of their daily routine, and contemplate going off on some grand adventure in a exotic locale.
My guest would say that you don’t actually have to wait until your next big trip nor go far afield to mix things up, and that adventure can be found right where you are, in your ordinary routines, the everyday landscape of your life, and even DIY projects, if you decide to approach them in a different way.
His name is Beau Miles and he’s an Australian filmmaker who documents his own small-scale adventures on YouTube, as well as the author of The Backyard Adventurer. Today on the show, Beau shares his experiments in proving anything can be infused with the challenge, intrigue, and fun which mark adventure, if you add in some intentional risk, difficulty, and simple what-the-heck quirkiness. He tells us about some of the close-to-home adventures he’s executed, including walking and kayaking his 90-kilometer commute to work, reconnecting an old, long closed-down rail line by running its often hidden, overgrown path with a shovel in his hand, and making a paddle with scavenged wood. We then talk about how he created a gastronomical adventure for himself by eating his body weight in beans, and even turned tackling his to-do list into an adventure by pairing the crossing off of its entries with running a marathon in 24 hours. Along the way, Beau shares how backyard adventures help you better get to know your local area, how he deals with the police who sometimes check in on what he’s up to, and how the next time you get some odd idea, you ought to just go for it, mate.
Resources Related to the Podcast
- Beau’s films/adventures mentioned in the show:
- AoM Article: My 8-Week Microadventure Challenge
- AoM Podcast #120: Microadventures With Alastair Humphreys
- AoM Podcast #560: The Magic of Walking
- Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck
Connect With Beau Miles
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Read the Transcript!
Brett McKay: Brett McKay here, and welcome to another edition of The Art of Manliness Podcast. A lot of people feel like they’ve seen and done everything there is to see and do in their local area. They’re bored of the daily routine and contemplate going off on some grand adventure in an exotic locale. My guest would say that you don’t actually have to wait until your next big trip, nor go far afield to mix things up, and that adventure can be found right where you are in your ordinary routines, the everyday landscape of your life, and even DIY projects if you decide to approach them in a different way. His name is Beau Miles, he’s an Australian filmmaker who documents his own small scale adventures on YouTube, as well as the author of The Backyard Adventurer.
Today on the show, Beau shares his experiments in proving anything can be fused with the challenge, intrigue and fun which mark adventure, if you add in some intentional risk, difficulty, and simple what-the-heck quirkiness. He tells about some of the close to home adventures he’s executed including walking and kayaking his 90-kilometer commute to work, reconnecting an old, long, closed down rail line by running its often hidden, over-grown path with a shovel in his hand, and making a paddle with scavenged wood. We then talk about how he created a gastronomical adventure for himself by eating his body weight in beans. He even turned tackling his to-do list into an adventure by pairing the crossing off of its entries with running a marathon in 24 hours. Along the way, Beau shares how backyard adventures help you better get to know your local area. How he deals with the police, who sometimes check in on what he’s up to, and how the next time you get some odd idea, you ought to just go for it, mate. After the show’s over, check out our show notes at aom.is/backyardaventurer. Beau joins you now via clearcast.io.
Beau Miles, welcome to the show.
Beau Miles: Thanks for having me, man.
Brett McKay: So you’re an interesting guy, you make YouTube videos of yourself going on these… Planning and executing these crazy close-to-home adventures, but before that, you were a college professor. So I’m curious, how did you shift from college professor to a guy who’s documenting the adventures he’s going on on YouTube?
Beau Miles: Well, in truth, I never really stopped doing the filmmaking gig when I was at the University at Monash. And so it was always a hobby that’s crept into being more than a hobby. And luckily, I got made redundant, so I didn’t really get fired, but I suppose I got fired and that made my choice clear, I’m just gonna go off and be a filmmaker full-time, which was kind of liberating, to be honest. After the shock of not having a solid paycheck for a few days, I thought, “You know what? This is the best thing that’s ever happened to me.” So, away I went. And look, there’s parts, Brett, of my job as an outdoor educator, that I really miss. I miss guiding, I miss students, I miss going to the tea room with a whole bunch of work mates and having a cup of tea in the morning. I think that was a really… Was one of the best parts of my day. But I got a small family now and a great little business working with great colleagues. So I’ve landed with my bum in honey, and life’s good, mate. And I’m just gonna keep making films.
Brett McKay: So yeah, you were a professor of outdoor education. So you’ve basically, you’ve been doing outdoor stuff for a lot of your life, correct?
Beau Miles: Yeah. I left school at the age of… Well, 18. I was a school leaver, and instead of going to University, I did an outdoor education traineeship, and then went to University. And so I was able to work all through University as a guide and as a builder part-time, so they were my two work incomes. And making pizzas on the side. So I had a few streams of income through University, but it was always outdoor related. And that took off from there.
Brett McKay: And so while you were a professor doing outdoor education, you started making these videos of you just doing stuff that you just think is normal, right? You’re just building things from scrap wood, just doing crazy stuff. But what I like about what you do is the adventures you do are close to home. You’re not going up Mount Everest. You’re not doing the typical going to Patagonia or whatever. Why do you think it’s important for people… ‘Cause it seems like that’s what you’re trying to do, you’re trying to help people broaden their definition of what an adventure is.
Beau Miles: Yeah. Look, I’ve never sat down and thought about it, Brett, in a sense of, “Alright, let’s make a list of what I’m really trying to do as a so-called Backyard Adventurer.” Because, heck, people have been doing backyard stuff and localized forms of anything and everything forever. I suppose my point of difference is, is that I’m doing it as a storyteller. But I’m really doing it because, one, it serves a practical purpose of being closer to home and more bang for buck. I’m really into this whole more bang for buck thing, because we all have 168 hours a week, and I’d rather not spend them on a plane or in a car, so why not do as much as I possibly can from my doorstep? But secondly too, the big thing that’s hit me in this emerging middle age is that I wanna learn more about my local area, because there’s so much of my local area I think I know about, but I just don’t. And you don’t have to go far from your doorstep or from your own property to realize that, “Man, every little creek, and alleyway, and old train line, and edge of town, these are all super interesting places that have something to offer.”
And if you create some sort of quirky idea around a so-called adventure, then you can go out and you can challenge the heck out of yourself. You can find out cool stuff, and you can have a bloody good fun doing it, you know? And that’s a big three in my book. If you can check those three off: Challenge, intrigue, and fun all in one hit, then boom, you’ve got yourself a combo, and I love it.
Brett McKay: So is that your definition of adventure? If you have that challenge, intrigue, and fun? Is that what needs to be present?
Beau Miles: Yeah, maybe. I think I might have just come up with a big three, it might be my next book, mate.
Brett McKay: Yeah.
Beau Miles: Yeah, I think so. If those three things are percolating through your system as you’re traveling on that particular day, then, yep, ripper. You know, you’ve signed off on this really cool day and it’s… I mean, what a great thing. Imagine going to your regular work day and have all of those three things checked off. And at my time at the University, I would virtually never sign off all of those three things on any given day, unless I was in the field, which was only 50 days each year in the end, and the rest of it, I’m behind a computer screen like anyone else. So I get to live and die by my sword a bit more as a filmmaker, instead of being stuck up in a university.
Brett McKay: And one thing I noticed that you did with a lot of your adventures, your backyard adventures that you would do, is that you would increase the adventure level by increasing the risk, by maybe not planning or preparing as much as maybe you should have, right? So, we’ll talk about something, you’d be like, “Well, I’m gonna walk to work.” And we’ll talk about what that looked like. Instead of packing a whole bunch of stuff, it was like, “Well, what can I do with just the bare minimum?” And that increased the intrigue factor significantly.
Beau Miles: Totally, mate, yeah. It’s all about fiddling with your ingredients and to come up with kind of a rule book of what you do, and that can make your backyard adventuring as hard as those sort of Everest things that you’re talking about. And look, that’s not watering down Everest. Everest is hard, but so is going down your old Boyhood river, if you do it with really basic fundamentals, that was hard. I spent four days going down this river that tracks through my entire history, and it was a freaking hard four days. It was really tricky. And so, yeah, I think the rulebook thing is really important because walking off to work for two days with all the bells and whistles in a fancy backpack, and you’re instantly doing kind of an underwhelming bush walk then, or a trek or a hike, whereas if you don’t take anything, man, you’ve gotta look around and you’ve gotta make stuff, you’ve gotta observe, you’ve gotta be switched on in a particular way, otherwise you’re gonna go thirsty and hungry and have a real crap time. And I’m never setting up to do these things to have a crap time, ever. I wanna have a really insightful, fun, challenging time.
Brett McKay: All right. Let’s talk about that adventure one where you walked to work from home. Now a lot of people, they walk to work from home, but how is your walk different?
Beau Miles: Yeah, well, this is when I commuted, mate, so this is why I’m living the good life now and not commuting anywhere, I just come down the road to my mate’s studio. But I used to drive 80 kilometers a day, one way. So 160 kilometers a day or 100 miles a day. I’d drive my old Ute to the university and back. And it was mostly country roads, and I… Look, I quite enjoyed the drive, it was a good way to sort of get into the day and unwind at the end of it and listen to the radio and whatnot, watch the seasons go by. But that’s a long time to spend in a car. I was still doing that at least three days a week, so anywhere between six and ten hours a week, I was in my old Ute driving across the country land to get to the university. And I remember one day, I’m thinking, “Gee, I kinda know these grounds, I know my commute really well.” I’d stop on apple trees on the side of the road and get fuel sometimes and a coffee at a coffee van at the airport, and it was kind of fun. But I don’t know them well, I know them in a commute way, where I know them five meters from the roadside. So, yeah, I decided to walk to the university, and away I went. And it took a few days.
And I had nothing with me other than the clothes on my back. I didn’t even wear shoes the first time I did it, which was far more challenging than I thought, and I had to put on a spare pair at 8 kilometers, with the cameraman. Yeah, and so I just ate whatever I found on the side of the road, which I thought would be far more plentiful. I thought people would be throwing out more burgers and half eaten bananas and whatever, and there just was nothing. I’ve run forever, and I’m always finding food on the side of the road that people have thrown out, but there was nothing. And roadside foraging is pretty minimal too, there was a few clover leaves and rose bushes and fetal heads and little things that barely have a calorie to them. So I was always after something that was disused or thrown out by humans and it was tough. I was freaking hungry. But two days later, I turned up to work pretty disheveled, and on one occasion, I just… I got to work and I had a cup of tea and thought “Well, that was it.” And then I had to drive home again. And the other one, I had to give a lecture. So it was an excellent experience of… I kind of wanted to give my students a total window into the other side of an adventure, as raw as it can be, so I walked in and I’m stinking up to high heaven, and dehydrated, and away I go. So, it was fascinating.
Brett McKay: It took you two days, so how many miles a day were you doing?
Beau Miles: Doing about 30 miles a day. So, just ticking along, it was super easy flat walking. It was on a highway, so it’s the easiest kind of walking a human can do, basically at sea level along the side of a highway. But what it doesn’t really… And what the film only does half a job of showing is just how noisy and how kind of deadened the world is by our highway. One, there’s road kill everywhere. But two, your senses don’t work like they would usually, because of the road noise. Road noise is really oppressive, and so you just have this 100 decibels of road noise constantly coming at you. So I put carpet insulation in my ears and tried to hum songs, and there would be these lovely brief moments of silence where there’s not a car for 20 seconds, and you’d really realize it, and you’d hear a bird song or you’d hear a distant farmer or a distant something, and it was quite unique. So it was a hell of an experience. I slept by a petrol station in Blackberries in the gorse, this off to the side where no one was gonna come looking for me other than potentially males having a leak in the middle of the night. And yeah, I got up sparse the next morning and walked into work.
Brett McKay: So your food was whatever you could find. What about water? What did you do about water?
Beau Miles: Oh, I was just opportunistic, mate. I’d drink water out of cow troughs or whatever water I could find on the side of the road. And the big one, which people are disgusted by, these old coke bottles and Pepsi cans or whatever, whatever was a half-drunk bottle of Coke or something, I’d drink the rest. For some weird way, I trusted carbonic acid as being so evil that I thought, “It’s not gonna have any pathogens in it, I’ll just drink someone’s leftover coke.” That was one, it was calories, and two, I figured out, well, maybe no baddies are living in this water, and it seemed to work.
Brett McKay: Besides the noise factor that you discovered, you can’t hear that when you’re in your car, you don’t know there’s a lot of noise going on outside. What else did you learn about your environment? Because you said earlier, that’s one of the reasons why you wanted to do these backyard adventures, see your local world in a different way. What did you learn about your environment, walking it instead of driving it?
Beau Miles: Well, I mean, what you’re doing is… So when you drive, you generally, you’ve got your eyes out front and you scan the horizon and you just… You’re cruising along, you might be on cruise control, who knows? Generally, when I’m driving that route, I’m listening to the radio and I’m taking intermittent glimpses or soundbites of the outside world. You’re in this little bubble. And we live in this little bubble and we get on with our world, and we’re often thinking about our to-do list and what’s being said on the radio, or what song you’re listening to, or what you had for breakfast. You’re very much not in the place that you’re driving through. I would say ever, really. You just have little glimmers of it.
And so walking is kind of the opposite, you can’t help but to be very, very present because things are fairly abrasive. I was constantly looking for things too, so the fact that I didn’t take any of my supplies with me, man, I had to look for everything. I looked for everything from a knife, to water, to food, to shelter, so I had to make my swag that night. And so that took sort of a full day just to find the ingredients to sleep in. Old duvets, and carpet insulation, and all bits of webbing, and truck tires, and all sorts of stuff to give me some sort of nice sleep, which was really cool. It means you’re occupied and you can’t help but to be very there, you’re very present. So, it was cool.
Brett McKay: Yeah, I’ve noticed… I’ve done things here in my own town, like a GORUCK challenge, where you’re hiking around in the middle of the night for 12 hours with a ruck. And doing that experience really helped me to get my bearings better about my town. I discovered things about how things are located that I otherwise wouldn’t have known because I was driving by it. But when you’re walking it, you notice… Somehow, it embeds in you more when you’re walking the route instead of driving it. It’s hard to explain. It’s some sort of embodied cognition maybe, I don’t know.
Beau Miles: Well, it makes sense, don’t it? We’re basically traveling at a slower speed, we’re able to look in a 360 view, you can’t do that in a car. And a car serving a purpose, a car is miraculous as is a plane because it gets us to where we’re going pretty quick, it’s very utilitarian. And so, yeah, when you’re on foot, you go back to this ancient form of thinking and being. It’s wayfaring, purely because you just have to find your way. And even if it’s very basic, like a highway, when you’re finding things or when you’re having a look-around and you’re still having to do road crossings and you’re still getting beeped at by cars, it’s still very interactive of the journey and all of the ingredients along that passage. So yeah, I think it just makes sense that you just have to do more and see more and be more present, because that’s just the form of travel you’re doing.
Brett McKay: If someone’s listening to this and they think, “Man, I wanna do that.” How would you recommend them going about it? Would you just be like, “Alright, just pick a distance and walk it.”
Beau Miles: Yeah, kind of, mate. Look, it was fairly practical for me because I was going to work. It’s amazing how many people chimed in on… After watching the film, they say, “Ah, gee, bro, didn’t you get sacked from your job that you took so long to get to work?” And I think, “That’s a very practical thing to think.” [chuckle] I think one of the days was a weekend day, so I was technically only sort of half-a-day work late, but yeah, it was… Look, I suck at recommending things, Brett, because people have so many things to do in their own to-do list. But you’ve gotta… I think a lot of people think weird things as well and think up quirky ideas, but they just don’t do them because their life is so busy around them, or they think that they’d be a cook or disallowed from their friendship group. I don’t know. Or they’d miss soccer practice at night, I’m not sure. But yeah, next time you have a weird idea, just try and do it.
Brett McKay: Try to make it happen.
Beau Miles: And remove some of the lies that you might have probably put to those things. Don’t take all of the things that will make it easy, just leave them at home. And you know what? You’re gonna have an adventure because of it.
Brett McKay: Right. And you can always bring a smartphone, a cell phone to… If you need to bail out for whatever reason. That’s like a…
Beau Miles: Yeah. Turn the sucker off and put it as far away as possible in the back pocket, or with someone that you trust, or you leave it at the 20 mile mark, whatever. But yeah, try and have as few outs as possible. Force your own hand. And so I often force my own hand, and if I’ve got people included, so if I’ve got Mitchel on filming the event, my filming partner, then if I’ve cooked up the event and I’ve got him out of bed real early and I’m doing this thing, then I’ve got a sense of pride to it as well. I gotta see this sucker through because other people are involved now. So yeah, force your own hand. I think that’s a good idea.
Brett McKay: Alright. So after you walked to work, you decided you’re gonna get there by kayak. And this river you decided to go down, this has played an integral part in your childhood, correct?
Beau Miles: I suppose so, mate. Yeah, look, I don’t think my boyhood river was like the Mississippi was to Huckleberry Finn. I don’t think it was integral to his day-to-day or my river was integral to my day-to-day, it wasn’t. I’d go down there once every two weeks, go fishing or swim in it, and it was kind of the threshold of my childhood, but it wasn’t a huge part of my life like other rivers are to some people. But it was still always there, and I always… I know the Tarago. It’s at the bottom of everyone’s farm, it’s where all the water drains to, and it’s the one that is closest to you that drains into the sea. So it sort of becomes this… It becomes your river, becomes the river that you think is like every other person’s river, I suppose. And so when I decided to pedal to work, that was the river to go to. That was my local water body that would get me to sea, which is near where the university is. And so, yeah, it became my transport route. And away I went. And this river I thought I knew, man, it wasn’t like I thought I knew.
Brett McKay: Well, the interesting thing is that a lot of times you think, “Well, I’m gonna take a river,” people take waterways to get to places faster. Kayaking actually took longer than walking to work, correct?
Beau Miles: Yeah, well, what it says is to… Our roads is so efficient now, and they go straight, and they go through mountains, or around mountains in the least, with the least possible distance. They’re remarkable. You’re sitting on 60 or 70 miles an hour or 100Ks the whole time because it’s this efficient line. Rivers don’t work that way at all, they’re following the path of least resistance, which is the low ground, which is the longest route. [chuckle] It’s… Yeah, so the twists and turns in a river are full on, and of course, the river too, it’s where all our bad stuff ends up, it’s where all our noxious weeds end up, it’s where farmers dump their rubbish, it’s where whole councils used to dump their rubbish; the whole town would just come to the river and dump their stuff, and so. Because it had big holes, big holes in the earth, and so that’s a good spot to fill it. Remarkable.
Brett McKay: Yeah, it took you four days to get down the river. How much did you prepare for this, like how much… Did you bring food, water with you in your kayak? Or was it…
Beau Miles: Yeah. Well, you mentioned that before, I sort of hybridized this one, I took the bare minimum, but I still took stuff, including a bit of cash, so I knew there was gonna be a dine up and along the way if it was open, and I knew there was gonna be a supermarket when I got to the sea or a little supermarket in a little town there. So, I took a bit of cash, I took a lot of bananas, I took tins of beans, I did, basically, didn’t take any clothes as such, I took a jacket and this best set of socks, but otherwise, I basically didn’t leave my wetsuit for four days, which was gross; but a real experiment, and I heard it was doable, so I thought I’m gonna give that a go.
Brett McKay: And you slept just wherever you could find, correct? On the side of the river?
Beau Miles: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I had no set places, I had kind of an inkling where I would try and get to, and they were all wrong. So, I ended up sleeping in spots that were just into the day or when I got too cold or when it was raining or that made sense. So yeah, it was grass, that’s such a liberating way to travel as well, where you don’t know where you’re gonna end up, it’s just fantastic, it’s… And I don’t say that to be optimistic or cliche about it, I don’t always wanna be Steve Irwin, but he was a really cool dude, because he was always chipper about things, because he wasn’t quite sure what’s gonna happen, and that’s a nice sentiment to embrace.
Brett McKay: Well, that’s what makes life interesting, I think we can get philosophical here, I think one of the things that people in our modern world miss out on, is that sense of not being in control. I think we’ve kind of just controlled a lot of what goes in our life, we can control the climate in our house, we can control what stuff we consume, we can control the people we interact with. When you’re kayaking, you’re kind of at the whims of Mother Nature, you don’t have control and that actually feels exciting.
Beau Miles: Yeah, it was really excellent, mate, for exactly that reason. I came from a university system that I was still working in at the time, that is highly controlled, and there are key performance indicators at every turn and you have your… Everything’s graded, every time you deliver a class, the student can give you a mark out of 1 to 5. In saying that too, there were some great freedoms with my university life, but for the most part, you were still part of this big orchestrated objective machine, and to do the opposite to that is to say stuff, like, “I wanna pack a little red kayak, and I’m gonna try and paddle to work.” And there are so many unknowns in that four-day endeavor, which I didn’t think would be four days, by the way, I thought it would be two or two and a half at max. So, yeah, I was proven wrong, almost 100%, I had to double everything, which was really liberating.
Brett McKay: We’re gonna take a quick break for words from our sponsors. And now, back to the show. So, at one point in your adventure of looking for adventure near your home, you found yourself running with a shovel along an old railroad line in Australia. What’s the story there?
Beau Miles: Yeah, this is probably, Brett, one of my favorite films, because of its simplicity and its beauty and its cinematic qualities, it was just a grass day. I live close to, similar to the little river, the Tarago, an old train line that closed down in 1958. My dad went on it as a kid, or at least he remembers it’s going past and my… So, there’s still very much a generational gap between me and it, but it wasn’t long ago that this train line used to run from one town to the other, and ran for about 50 kilometers. And I’ve run on and off patches of this line my whole life, but I never sort of thought to stitch the whole line back together, let’s create a whole snake out of this thing that I just knew the head of and the tail of.
And so, that’s what I did, I grabbed my shovel, which I thought that was gonna be pretty handy for all the blackberries and brambles that I’d see, took some basic food with me, which was far too basic, to be honest, and off I set and had the film crew follow me in this sort of gorilla way for the 10 hours that it took me to get out of there. And away I went, basically trespassing all day to get to the end of the line, and most of the American audience that have seen this film, Run The Line, said, “Beau, you would have been shot an awful lot if you tried that in the States.” And then, the Scottish or the Norwegian audience chiming, “Yeah, fantastic. This is right to Rome, you’re off doing your thing.” And, Australia is a bit of a hybrid version of that, we have… I was certainly doing the wrong thing, but I hope to have done it with the least amount of animosity towards the land owners.
Brett McKay: Well, yeah, people don’t like… Well, here in the States, the rail lines are privately owned, so they don’t… Owners of the lines don’t like when people walk the lines for a whole variety of reasons, safety, and then they’re afraid that people are gonna do things to the lines to cause havoc. So, the police are usually called when people are seen on the lines, and that happened to you a couple of times. I imagine, did you encounter the police a lot when you’re doing these crazy adventures, sleeping outside, walking in places that you normally don’t see people walk in; and if you do, how do you handle the law enforcement?
Beau Miles: Yeah. So, the walk to work, I had the police both times, the paddle, don’t think I saw them with the paddle, I didn’t, but yeah, I have them, let’s say for every five films I make, I’ll get police intervention on one of five, and they’re really good in a sense, they always take a bit of warming up, the police, because I think what often the problem is, they have to be quite affronting and direct at the start to sort of see how the person reacts, and I’ll always react in a very similar way that I know in my heart of hearts, I’m never doing anyone any harm, right? So, I just talk to them, and then they tend to calm down, and then you just have a chat, and you tell them what they’re doing, and often they’re things that I think they don’t know if it’s illegal or not. So, a lot of people in Australia would think it’s illegal to hitchhike, for example, but it’s just not. You can hitchhike, of course, you can, you can ride a horse next to nearly every road in Australia, unless it says otherwise.
And so, there’s all these strange bylaws that are out there that I don’t think police quite understand and look, I don’t wanna exploit that, but in some respects, you’ve just gotta know your rights and away you go, and to be honest, I was amazed that the police let me go that day, when I was trespassing on a lot of people’s property, because in Australia, all the railway lines are owned by the government. And you’re not really supposed to go on train lines, but there is an easement that train lines are in, and often those easements have got bike paths in them and little nature reserves and all sorts of things. So in Australia, most train lines are sort of considered public lands, as long as you’re not on the tracks. So, I think they probably thought that I was probably okay in an old easement and I’m doing my thing and not harming someone, so they said, “No worries. Keep going mate.”
Brett McKay: Yeah, that was funny, when you’re doing the run along the rail line and they asked you, “Why are you carrying a shovel?” and you said, “Well, if I was carrying a machete to cut the blackberries, I think you’d be more concerned about that, so I’m just carrying a shovel.”
Beau Miles: That’s right, yeah, yeah. I chose the shovel because it was very agricultural and I thought, “Oh, well, I kinda look like I’m part of the landscape if I’m lumping a shovel around. If I had anything else with me, then I look like a proper weirdo.”
So that was kind of tactical as well, but to be honest, I probably shouldn’t have taken the thing. I used it for about 10 minutes and carrying a shovel for 50 kilometers is hard work.
Brett McKay: Right, and I imagine the law enforcement, it adds an element of intrigue or risk too. It’s that, not being in control, and that’s part of what makes your adventures fun.
Beau Miles: Yeah, yeah, and look, we’ve got a good police force here and I know that… Yeah, there was chances out that every chance in the world that that day I was gonna get pinged. I didn’t expect to get pinged so early to be honest but… Yeah, and you just talk your way through it, and even if they let you go, great, and if not, you gotta modify your journey and I don’t mind that either.
Brett McKay: Alright, so what I like about you too is your idea of adventure doesn’t just encompass hiking, kayaking, sleeping outside. It’s also just like making things with your hands could be an adventure, and you made an adventure out of making your own paddle. So tell us about that. How did you turn a simple woodworking project into an adventure?
Beau Miles: Well, I’ve been teaching paddle making for a decade or so, at university level where… Look, it was very basic and I never really talked much about the making process. I’d really just talk about why it would be important to do something like that or why it’s cool. And look, we all use outdoor equipment and at the time, our university had this huge shed-fulls of gear, all sorts of goodies, and you’d never have to make a thing, you just turn up to the shed and you get your 25 things you gotta use and away you go. But what if you didn’t have those 25 things and you had to make some of them or borrow them or whatever? And so it becomes a far more complex human scenario when you’ve got to make something or borrow it from someone else and then deliver it and pick it up and all these things, so that was very important for these particular trips we used to run. And so something like paddle making became a bit of a metaphor for just the importance of equipment and how we just use stuff and how the outdoor sector is so commodified.
And so students every year would make a paddle out of whatever wood they could get a hold of that they couldn’t buy. They’d have to get it from their granddad’s shed or their grandmother’s cupboard or on the side of the road or wherever. Go and see a hardware and see what pallets are at the front. And so our students did this for years, and I thought, “Well, I could make a film about just making a paddle or I could make a paddle that has a particular story and then I go on paddle with it.” So, I decided to just use junk wood that I could find between the train station and work that I used to commute to, and so I did that. Yeah, I just made it out of old wood that I could find between my 2.2 kilometer walk between the train station and my office and away I went. It was great, I loved it, and it’s actually one of my, I think, the most underrated film on my channel I really like.
Brett McKay: So what kind of scavenged wood did you end up using?
Beau Miles: I’d used beautiful hard wood. I found it like a tree stake from the council. Someone had pulled out a council tree stake and flung it into the train line so that made the shaft, which is the hardest bit to get. And then pallets made the blades with some little timber inlays from some garden edging, and then there was a tree that dropped a limb right outside the shed at work, and so I just chopped it up and made that the handle and I coated it in oil, and away we went. And we went down the Murray, which is Australia’s biggest river and the 14th largest in the world. That’s where we run a program, and I did a week on the Murray using this junk paddle and that was the little film.
Brett McKay: And I think the idea I took from that adventure is that you can turn any type of activity into an adventure by again going… You’re creating a rule book that you’re gonna follow, where you limit what you can and can’t do and by doing that, it increases the intrigue, as you said.
Beau Miles: Yeah, I think so, and it makes it very personal too, mate. So if… The more ingredients that you shape yourself, then the more, I suppose, input and output you can have into those day-to-days. Because you can go into a mega outdoor store and you can get yourself everything from a tiny miniature waffle maker to a sock darning kit and plasters that could go on every inch of your body with the perfect bend in them. And I think, unfortunately, the expense… There’s so much gear that facilitate the outdoors now, we often don’t have a really eclectic experience out there because our gear kind of filters that away for us. So, I think it’s really important to create your own rules and really… And pick and choose the gear you take with you.
Brett McKay: So you also made eating an adventure. And this one cracked me up because what you did is you decided to eat your body weight in beans. And I related to this one because it took me back to the beginning of the pandemic, where everyone wasn’t… Everything shut down and no one was sure like, “Could I go to the store? Are we able to do anything?” And so we’re running out of food and I was like, “Well, I got this big giant 10-pound bag of pinto beans. I’ll just cook that up.” I made a big pot of beans and no one else in my family wanted to eat the big pot of beans, but I just had this pot of beans I’d keep in the fridge, I’d pull out whenever I was hungry and I would just eat a couple of scoops. This went on for like… Man, it lasted me a good week. So, when I read about your adventure of eating your body weight in beans, it took me back to March 2020. How did John Steinbeck inspire this adventure of eating your body weight in beans?
Beau Miles: Well, first of all, congratulations on doing that with the pinto beans. It was excellent.
Brett McKay: Oh it was… I love beans.
Beau Miles: I think that’s just great.
Brett McKay: I love beans.
Beau Miles: Yeah, I love beans too, and I still do. People ask me that all the time, and… One of the big critiques of my film of eating my body weight in beans, which was 190 tins if I remember, was that I didn’t cook them properly like you did. You had the proper beans that you cooked up yourself, that you made a lovely sauce for or brine or something, and away you go, whereas I just bought store-bought tin beans and mixed them up and I ate as many as I could. I did that for a reason because of the simplicity of it and the fact that I could weigh things and measure things and all that, rather than having to do it on the fly.
The idea came from… I was going through a bit of… I was going through a bit of a Steinbeck phase, which seems to find a lot of 30 year old males out there, kind of the road tripping, romanticized, hard life book to read. And American culture, American sort of twenties, thirties books are always fascinating too. And I read Tortilla Flat, and there’s a great couple of pages in it where Teresina Cortez, the mother of nine kids with their 10th on the way, basically only feeds her kids beans off the floor with rice or tortillas. And so these little kids were found out to be the healthiest kids in town, even though they were the skinniest and the scrawniest and the kind of the, you know, they look like vagrants, but they had strong teeth and strong bones and brilliant eyesight and all their faculties.
And so I thought, “Oh gee, isn’t that fun? And I love beans, what if I just eat beans for an awful long time like these kids?” And of course the fail part of the experiment was I didn’t eat tortillas or rice, which was the carbohydrate or the main carbohydrate because beans when they’re come out in their tin form are basically just a slurry of protein, all the carbohydrates sort of been soaked out of them, but anyway, there you go. So I just ate beans for 40 days and it was an awesome experiment where I didn’t go anywhere. Just an experiment of the body.
Brett McKay: How did… What happened to your body subsisting only on beans? Were you as healthy as the kids in Tortilla Flat?
Beau Miles: No. No. So I ended up with some really good things about my health and some really bad things. So I got tested before, during and after, and I didn’t make that part of the film as much as probably what I should have, but in some respects it was never about the science, it was all about the felt relationship with it. I didn’t want this to be a breakdown of numbers. I wanted it to be a breakdown of Beau, of how I thought of the world and if it changed my world view in a sense or how I eat. But yeah, my B12 plummeted to really dangerous levels, whereas everything else was pretty good. So my cholesterol dropped, my weight dropped, I felt really good. I felt like a really lean sort of acute version of myself and yet my moods couldn’t crack above a six or a seven, say six. So I was never a good version of myself in that respect, so there was some massive downfalls.
Brett McKay: The other way you up the intrigue factor was okay, you said you ate tins of beans. So you just like, you got all varieties of chickpeas, baked beans, pinto beans, and then you would take the labels off of them, so anytime you opened up a can, it was always a surprise what you’re gonna get.
Beau Miles: Yeah. Spot on mate. So I… Yeah, I got 200 tins of beans from the supermarket. I tried to get low sodium and organic beans, so that was really one of the only rules. And a big blend. Yeah, exactly like you say, a whole mix of beans and I had a… There was sort of a hundred of one variety and 20 of another and 30 of another and 10 of another, and then there was some blended mixes, which I think there were five in there that were like gold. If I’d hit one of these five varieties that were the tastiest and most exotic beans in a tin, that was amazing. But there was one day there that, you know, ’cause I’m just randomly picking and I had five or six tins a day on average, there was one day there, it was mostly black beans. And there was only about 20 black beans in the entire thing. And I thought I’d blended them and mixed them pretty well, but I had bloody black beans all day and I thought, “Gee, this is a bit rough.” It was the only day where I thought, “Oh, this is probably a dodgy experiment.” [chuckle] Where I stuffed up my blend. But that was good fun too.
Brett McKay: So have you eaten beans since then? Like are you already sick of beans?
Beau Miles: Absolutely. Yeah. Everyone asks, are you sick of beans? And so I never skipped a beat. And in fact, the day after the experiment finished, I ate regular food for a day or really exotic vegetables and fish and whatnot. And the day after, you know what, I was mourning beans already. I had a tin of beans on day 42. So no, I’m not sick of them.
Brett McKay: Thinking about them, I love beans. All right. Anyways. So the next eventually you did was, is called mile an hour where you… This is a really interesting thing you did. You completed a task on your to do list and then you’d run a mile. What… And you did this for 24 hours. What’s the story behind that? Like why do a task and then run a mile?
Beau Miles: Well, you introduced me at the start of the show, Brett, as an ex academic, someone who worked in the university. And when I was writing my PhD, it was the worst physical shape I’ve ever been in. I put on a bunch of weight. I didn’t leave the house as much as I usually would, I didn’t run as much as I usually would. So everything kind of ground to a halt, particularly in the last six months of writing my PhD, which was sort of around 2016, ’15 era. And I remember looking outside one day during a particularly long period of writing, I was under the pump to get a chapter finished and I just wanted to be outside running. And I thought, “Right, write some more words, mate, write 500 more words, clock them, make sure you have 500 words to the word, and then you can go outside. That’s your reward mechanism.”
Beau Miles: So I wrote 500 words, they were pretty crap words, but then I go and I get outside, I chuck my runners on and I go for a run around the block. Now, I knew my block was roughly a mile, I didn’t realize it was a perfect mile, and that’s a very famous distance. I got back and I’d barely got a sweat up, but I’d jump back behind the computer, and I felt really refreshed. I thought, this is a cool idea. I’d never run such a short run before. And over the course of, I think a few weeks, I realized that and I kept doing this. I thought that was a really good circuit breaker for writing. And over the course of a few weeks, I thought, “Gee, when I finish this PhD, when I hand this sucker in, I’m gonna run a marathon around my block and I’m gonna do all the things outside that I’ve been wanting to do for years whilst writing this PhD.”
So finish off barn projects, finish off all the little niggling housework, things that I’ve been meaning to do that are very easy that you just don’t do because they’re right under your nose. And so was born the film and it’s probably my most successful idea where I thought I’m gonna run around the block. And for the 50 minutes each hour, that I’m not running around the block, I’m gonna do all of these jobs I’ve been meaning to do. And I filmed it, or we filmed it and it was a real great success. It was a great film.
Brett McKay: So what did you get done that day?
Beau Miles: I had about 50 things written on an old bit of white laminex, a bit of kitchen shelving, and it got done about 30 odd jobs. And it was everything from painting the fence with old sample oil, to making the blanks of two paddles, I made a table, pruned the trees, did some lawns, fixed a whole bunch of things I’ve been meaning to fix, cooked up some great food for me and the crew and just, it was a rolling list of things to do that was sort of endless. It was really great. And in the depths of the night, I didn’t feel like doing things that required a whole lot of brain matter, so I just do pretty basic things like mowing the lawns or pruning the fruit trees. So it was great, it was a really eclectic diverse day. I was knackered at the end of it.
Brett McKay: Well, and you also said in the book, you mentioned that video or that adventure you did inspired a lot of your viewers. You had people with Cerebral Palsy doing their version of mile an hour, getting a lot done while walking and doing something for a mile after they do that task.
Beau Miles: Yeah. What it was, Brett was… And I’ve since stumbled upon this. What made that idea so successful I suppose, one, I did it with a sense of fun. Two, it’s not overly skill-orientated or I didn’t have… You don’t have to be a great runner to do it. And what those two things combined allow is a repeatable stunt. People can now do it themself. They can do it in their own way, in their own house, at their own pace, whatever they wanna do. And they don’t have to do a full marathon, they can do a half or a 10K or whatever. And just do a few things in between. And what a great concept. And so what it was was a repeatable thing to do, and then so people copied it.
Brett McKay: Yeah, and I think that’s another just a great example of how you can turn anything into an adventure, whether it’s a daily routine, or a DIY project, or your commute. By just mixing up how you approach it and by adding some additional challenge to it and just being creative. Well, this has been a great conversation Beau. Where can people go to learn more about your work?
Beau Miles: Well, YouTube’s really good, just type in Beau Miles YouTube. But otherwise, my website will steer you in all sorts of directions. So beaumiles.com, it’s got my book up there and all the film links and a bit of bio about me and a bit of whatever else on there. And then… But YouTube, yeah, YouTube’s gold. So Beauisms on Insta, if you wanna jump on Insta, I do some Insta stuff and I need to do more. I need to be more a social beast, but I’m so busy making content that I sometimes forget about the socials. But yeah, Beauisms on Insta, Beau Miles YouTube, and beaumiles.com.
Brett McKay: Alright. Well, Beau miles thanks for your time, it’s been a pleasure.
Beau Miles: Thanks Brett, it’s been excellent, and I wish you well in Oklahoma, mate.
Brett McKay: Thank you. My guest today was Beau Miles. He’s the author of the book Backyard Adventure, it’s available on Amazon.com and book stores everywhere. Also, make sure to check out Beau’s YouTube channel, just search Beau Miles on YouTube. His videos are really well done, a lot of fun to watch. And check out our show notes at aom.is/backyardadventure, where you can find links to resources, where we delve deeper into this topic.
Well that wraps up another edition of The AOM Podcast, make sure to check on our website at artofmanliness.com, where you can find our podcast archives, as well as thousands of articles from over the years about pretty much anything you can think of. And if you like to enjoy ad free episodes of The AOM podcast, you can do so on Stitcher Premium, head over to stitcherpremium.com, sign up, use code MANLINESS at the check-out for a free month trial. Once you’re signed up, download the Stitcher app on Android or IOS and you can start enjoying ad free episodes of The AOM Podcast. And if you haven’t done so already, we would appreciate if you would take one minute to give us a review on Apple Podcast or Spotify, it helps out a lot. If you’ve done that already, thank you. Please consider sharing the show with a friend or family member who you think would get something out of it. As always, thank you for the continued support and until next time this is Brett McKay, reminding all listening to AOM Podcast, put what you’ve heard into action.