One of the things I enjoy the most about my work at Sidetracked magazine is how the overall picture of each volume only comes into perfect focus in the last few days before we go to print.
When commissioning features, we try to look for a good spread of subject matter – a bit of climbing, cycling, nature, culture, cold and hot and wet stuff – but we never consciously think about themes or threads to tie the whole thing together. At least, not at this stage. These emerge later on by a process that can feel almost like magic. But that isn't to say that these themes were never there – only that some of the most important work we do as editors and writers is about far more than time at a keyboard or checking items off a to-do list.
As stories come in and I edit them, subconsciously my mind is working on the ideas that bubble up from the depths. In every single issue we have created, a significant number of stories seem to naturally amplify a handful of core themes, and my editorial process encourages this – again, subconsciously on my part.
Even when the magazine is finished, it's often hard to clearly see its single, simple message, because by this point I've read every story many times and my mind is focused on details. Then, a few days before the end, the foreword comes in.
We ask a different person to write the foreword for every issue. After reading the stories, I then get to read what they think of the magazine as a whole – and it is often only here, days before it goes to print, that it all suddenly makes sense. And I realise that my own subconscious process of creativity, combined with the work of our talented contributors and team, has once again produced a harmonious whole.
For Volume 27, we asked Gilly McArthur to write our foreword. She wrote about how the stories made her reflect on the meaning of adventure, how immersion in nature is so important. And: 'In all these wild adventures the joy is in stopping for a moment to realise we are part of the majesty of nature.' This, I realised, was a core theme. And as I sat down to pen the blurb, I realised something else: Sidetracked Volume 27 was really about the inherent creativity of those moments. How we are perhaps at our most human when we stop to wonder, create, or adapt to the winds of change.
As it says in the blurb, 'To be creative, to grasp a flare of insight and see the world anew, is what it means to be human – but sometimes we must let go of our need to be in control, and instead accept that nature is in charge.' And: 'If we adapt to nature rather than trying to dominate it, we might find creativity in the very moments that scare us the most.'
In my opinion this volume is unusually strong. So many of the stories are standout ones, but I'll quickly mention a few of my favourites.
The Light Lines project by Vegard Aasen and Calum MacIntyre, which features so boldly on 27's front cover, has everything: grand adventure, technically demanding photography, climate activism that goes far beyond the usual 'raising awareness', and some beautifully subtle use of metaphor that really makes the story.
It was a pleasure to once again work with Joffrey Maluski. After bikepacking across Iceland with friends, he decided to return, solo and in winter, to fatbike across the country. The result, ghostwritten by me but very much guided by Joffrey, is a remarkable tale of resilience, humility in nature, control, and gratitude.
When we first saw the images from Lisa Paarvio's ski/surf trip to Senja, we thought that it might make a good short Single Moment, but it ended up being so much more. Her story is perhaps the clearest manifestation of Volume 27's core ideas: 'Suddenly I realised that these conditions were not difficult or bad. They were the very fabric of creative opportunity.'
There's also 'Wild Vjosa' by Carmen Kuntz. This is another story of environmental activism with an unwavering focus on tangible results, and shows how a group of river-lovers pushed relentlessly for seven years for Europe's first Wild River National Park. Again the theme of creativity comes to the fore. While Vegard and Calum's Light Lines became an artistic focus for their campaign, the organisations participating in the Balkan Rivers Tour found an even more tangible focal point: a blue kayak covered in hundreds of signatures demanding action and change.
Nature is not passive, but it is vast, and it can seem far beyond human scales of reference. Perhaps adventure, at its best, is art: a moment of action that creates a lightning rod, bridging nature's unknowable sublime power and the human spirit. Manifesting and transforming the intangible. And just as nature has the power to change us profoundly, so can we do the same to nature. There's responsibility in that, and also a kind of divine freedom that can elevate us, for just a moment, far beyond our limited mortal selves.
Perhaps that's what Sidetracked truly is: an endless fascination with this point of change, this manifestation, in whatever form it might take.
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