Fearless Footsteps edited by Nathan James Thomas and Jennifer Roberts
The contributions for this collection of true stories were the result of a call by the online travel magazine, Intrepid Times to readers for stories about overcoming fear in the course of their travels. The criteria for selection included stories that were able to make the connection with the anticipation that we call fear and the determination to overcome it.
Each person writes of a personal experience of the fear that arises from being faced with physical danger and the risk of harm and the fear of losing control and being hurt. These are individuals’ stories of being out of their comfort zones.
Each story has a different flavour: a teenager facing the challenge of flying alone for the first time; a sister flying to the other side of the world, where there are spiders but also an estranged brother. A long-distance runner facing physical fatigue but also the dangers, including lions, of the desert environment; the young woman hiking to the lip of a volcanic crater while debilitated with Crohn’s disease. A nightmarish bus ride and a fiendish taxi trip in foreign lands; a visit to a beach village after a tsunami has hit; exploring abandoned buildings in southern Europe where refugees bide their time waiting for an opportunity to continue their journey. A mother with post-natal depression finding solace in the hills of north Wales; an anxious American teenager meeting African girls living with smiles and laughter despite their circumstances; a young woman having to go naked in a Taiwan bathhouse; and an isolated walker lost in Pennine fog.
Such a variety of individuals and so many different voices, like an assorted box of chocolates, consuming too many at one time can lead to a lack of appreciation for each unique taste. All heartfelt and personal stories with a perspective to be appreciated and as such, this is a good volume to dip into and savour the taste of each one, or a few, at a time.
With the basis of each story being the idea of fear, the title Fearless Footsteps seems an ironic misnomer. Being full of fear and still taking the risk lies at the heart of each of these individual experiences, rather than being fearless.
Indeed at times I wondered whether some of these stories should be part of a compilation entitled Reckless Adventures. Many of these adventures could be seen as wantonly risky: tramping alone in the mountains; running a distance race through lion country, being a tourist in a war zone, and one I found saddest, a description of a trip to Whakaari White Island, which last year did indeed prove to have a tragic outcome for a group of tourists and their guides. The outcome of many of these adventures could have been very real tragedy not only with the accompanying cost to life and limb, but affecting others, including rescuers and loved ones. Some of these stories are only being told because the very real risk did not eventuate. And if things had not gone well, would their adventures be called fearless…or fool hardy?
What I found jarring about this collection was the lack of context; while the introduction says these stories were part of an international competition and that these are finalists, it would make sense to note an outcome or at least a reference to find out winners. In addition, the Whakaari Island story has no reference or editorial acknowledgement of the recent tragedy on the volcanic island. Even though these are individuals’ personal stories, the benefit of hindsight is an inevitable part of the reader’s experience.
It also seems surprising that there is no mention that this book is one of experiences from that blissfully unaware time, before the Covid-19 pandemic when global travel was taken for granted. With international travel and tourism being brought to a grinding halt in 2020, this collection seems out of touch. Reading this collection does seem to have a feeling of being in a time warp. Reader could find that it made them feel nostalgia for times when the world was there to be travelled or could evoke a sense of rubbing salt into the wound for those who are intrepid adventurers or even a feeling of regret for those who did not take the opportunity for adventure.
I felt that to ignore the context of the times in which these stories will be read has made it harder to truly appreciate these stories, as experiences of travel, of fear and of personal growth. But, each individual writer offers a personal and sincere perspective, that reading, we can engage with.
Reviewer: Clare Lyon