Jeffrey Bowman spends most of his time where we would all like to be more often: out in the fresh air. The creative director of the Millican rucksack label made a name for himself as an “outdoor prophet” after publishing two books, The Outsiders and The Great Wide Open. Where does someone like Bowman go in his MINI Countryman?
MINI Cooper SE Countryman All4: Fuel consumption weighted combined in l/100km: 2.1 – 1.9 (NEDC); 2.1 – 1.7 (WLTP), CO2 emissions weighted combined in g/km: 48 – 44 (NEDC); 47 – 39 (WLTP), Energy consumption weighted combined in kWh/100km: 14.8 – 14.1 (NEDC); 15.9 – 14.8 (WLTP), Electric range in km: 53 – 57 (NEDC); 44 – 51 (WLTP). Further information: www.mini.com/disclaimer.
In his tent on the roof of a MINI Cooper SE Countryman ALL4 in Sage Green, Jeffrey Bowman sits with his legs hanging out, squinting into the morning sun, like a bearded monarch surveying his realm. A misty, moss-green landscape stretches out before him – hills and mountains, grey-blue lakes and stony paths as far as the eye can see. England’s Lake District National Park is the largest nature reserve in the UK. It encompasses precisely 2,362 square kilometres (912 sq mi) of spectacular scenery that often looks like it’s straight off a Bob Ross canvas, so there’s plenty of colourful inspiration for a creative soul to find here. Bowman, 36, first saw the light of day just a few kilometres from here. After stints working in the Netherlands, Norway, Manchester and Nottingham, the fact that he’s returned here for no other reason than to be happy seems like the logical outcome of a grand design.
Bowman has written two books, The Outsiders and The Great Wide Open – both of them to an extent works of popular philosophy enhanced with breathtaking photography – that have earned him quite a reputation in the global outdoor community. He has a degree in graphic design but he’s also an artist and adventurer, and the force behind the Millican backpack label.
The tall, multi-talented Bowman now descends the small, two-part aluminium ladder from the MINI’s roof. His dog, Loki, a Hokkaido, climbs down after him. Still a little dishevelled, Bowman grins. “Yes, it may only be a MINI tent, but hey, we both had more than enough room and got a really good night’s sleep!” The mattress inside its cotton cover is perfect, he says – not too hard and not too soft. The AirTop on the roof of the Countryman is rainproof and windproof, has two doors that close snugly with zips and two windows fitted with fine-mesh mosquito nets. The car tent erects itself automatically and, from a distance, resembles a small cottage in the countryside.
Bowman wipes the morning dew off the MINI’s windscreen with his hand. It’s one of those moments where his desire to connect with nature is – quite literally – palpable. It has to be cool, fresh and wet. “If you want to feel something, go outside,” he says. In two easy steps, he folds down his mobile bedroom. The rooftop tent disappears into a flat box in piano black. “Nice and easy,” the outdoor expert mumbles to himself. Then he hauls his backpack, containing the utensils for making his morning coffee, from the back seat. Bowman sits down on the damp grass, leans against the door of the MINI Countryman Plug-In Hybrid and lights his camping stove. “Grab a map, preferably a paper one. Decide on a meeting place with your friends and only take with you what you really need, so that you have nothing to worry about when you set off.” That’s his attitude to road trips like this one.
Even taking a short walk will always clear the head a little, help you return to yourself a bit, Bowman believes. “It doesn’t actually matter where you go.” Our life is determined by an imposed urbanisation: social media stress and overflowing email inboxes; plastic bottles, fast fashion and environmental pollution; noise and traffic jams. Only out in nature is it possible to get away from it all and find your way back to yourself. As he speaks, his eyes rest on the glorious scenery of the national park, brilliant in its vivid autumn colours. Bowman’s voice now sounds as though he was aiming to provide the subtitles for this panorama.
If you compared Bowman’s life with a piece of wood, it wouldn’t be a straight stick. It would be more like a root, with lots of offshoots but still just a single piece. The young Jeffrey grew up here in Britain, in Barrow-in-Furness, a port not far from his present home in Keswick. He spent the best part of his teenage years on a skateboard, dreaming of turning pro. He wasn’t particularly interested in nature in those days – at least, not as far as he was aware. “You would be more likely to find me on concrete or out in the road. But I suppose it still does have an effect on you if you spend your childhood years seeing these mountains just before you fall asleep and again when you wake up in the morning.” Bowman’s home town borders the Lake District and its national park to the north-east.
In an effort to further his skateboarding career, Bowman travelled around a lot. It was a very formative time for him, he says today: “Meeting new people and seeing new places, pushing lots of boundaries.” He would film himself and others skating, compile the tricks and lay on a soundtrack to create video clips, as well as designing the logos and fonts for them. Soon, he forged connections with other like-minded creative types. After a few detours, he decided to study graphic design and actually worked in that field for many years, later teaching the subject at a private college. But then what happens to very many people in the modern working world also happened to him: Bowman started spending all his time at the computer, and it made him unhappy. Yet, unlike many, he decided to change this, take his life out of doors and commit himself to nature. In Oslo for a graphic design job, he made the decision while exploring the vast Norwegian woodlands on a snowboarding trip. “It felt healthy. So clear and natural,” he says today. “And then coming back to my old home town later, to live here with a very different perspective on life just seemed like destiny!”
Loki leaps into the back of the car and Bowman swings himself in behind the steering wheel. In the MINI Countryman, dog and master move all but silently in the direction of Ullswater, one of the many lakes in the Lake District. The car swishes left and right around wet bends – not a problem for its ALL4 all-wheel drive. Deep puddles send spray high into the air. As you would expect, the weather here is quite… English. We’re heading out to do some fly fishing. For outdoorsman Bowman, it’s a ritual he downright celebrates. While many nature lovers around the world adore his books, Bowman’s own “bible” is currently The Optimist, by lifelong angler David Coggins. Earlier on, the book was poking out of one of the practical pockets in his rooftop tent. Now it’s lying on the passenger seat. Bowman evidently wants to have it handy no matter where he is.
Bowman’s tattooed hands rest calmly on the leather steering wheel. Loki is asleep on the back seat. As we drive, there’s nothing to remind you of the steel clamps, the ladder and the two-man tent up on the roof. Folded down, the tent is stowed to aerodynamical perfection in the roof box. And you would forget about it completely if it weren’t for the envious looks of some clearly knowing hikers, who gaze admiringly after the MINI Countryman and its rooftop fixtures as the car takes the bend in the direction of the lake. Bowman says he likes the colour of the MINI, Sage Green. “It reminds me of the mosses and grasses here, but also of the waters in my neck of the woods.” His intention as an author is always to get people to experience nature for themselves, to discover its beauty outside their front door. This isn’t a trivial notion because, as he puts it: “Only if you have an affinity with nature, if you feel it and see yourself as part of nature, can you feel the need to protect it.” Bowman wanted the unique aesthetic style of his works to create an awareness of the brutal perils of climate change.
Ullswater now lies at Bowman’s feet. The boot of the MINI Countryman opens electronically. He pulls on his wellingtons, wades through the glittering water. Bowman’s eyes gleam. In the half-light, it looks very dramatic, the way he casts his line. Even if he is entirely alone out here, being part of a community is something he cares about. Bowman doesn’t regard himself as a hermit. “I curse my computer very often,” he says, “but it’s through social media that we connect, create a community that defines the natural experience as the antithesis of dog-eat-dog capitalism and consumer society. Nature can inspire us and at the same time help to solve our problems.” Perhaps it’s saying things like this that has young Japanese fans asking him for autographs at outdoor trade fairs.
This is how worlds connect, instead of shutting themselves off from each other. Bowman has a high regard for the MINI brand because it is basically responsible for inventing the modern small car, and also because sustainability has always been seen as attractive at MINI – something many people find appealing. In Bowman’s modern working world, his company Millican’s sustainably-produced backpacks are the main project, his baby. Functional equipment shouldn’t just be serviceable, it should also be produced fairly and cleanly, he explains. How else could you take it into the wilderness with a good conscience? Here, too, the designer wants to create a community – for feedback and criticism, for sharing experiences and ideas as equals, and for mutual respect. “I want a real community, not an anonymous mass of followers,” he says.
The day is slowly drawing to a close. Cotton-wool clouds drift by. Bowman is sitting on a hillock now. He’s taken out his sketchbook and is doing some nature studies in pen and ink – a pile of stones, for instance, vivid and precise in shape and arrangement. “This is how, hundreds of years ago, people did what we do today on Instagram, namely record aspects of their life and show them to others. The channels change, but not the impulses.”
Jeffrey Bowman is the voice of a new generation of outdoor fans, young people who care about sustainability and at the same time love design and long to be close to nature – people who also look for a holistic beauty in their experiences. They look to him, listen to him, read what he has to say, and buy what he recommends. The outsider has become a role model. It’s night-time now so, headlamp on, Bowman opens up the MINI’s roof tent with almost professional panache, chucks his sleeping bag inside and climbs the ladder. Loki follows him soundlessly. Then all is dark and still. Before we met Bowman for this microadventure, we exchanged a few ideas on it via email. His signature includes this sentence "It’s better to be outside than in.” But that doesn’t apply to the tent, of course.
Hinweis (English disclaimers below):
Die offiziellen Angaben zu Kraftstoffverbrauch, CO2-Emissionen und Stromverbrauch wurden nach dem vorgeschriebenen Messverfahren VO (EU) 715/2007 in der jeweils geltenden Fassung ermittelt. Die Angaben berücksichtigen bei Spannbreiten Unterschiede in der gewählten Rad- und Reifengröße. Die Werte der Fahrzeuge basieren bereits auf der neuen WLTP-Verordnung und werden in NEFZ-Äquivalenzwerte zurückgerechnet, um den Vergleich zwischen den Fahrzeugen zu gewährleisten. Bei diesen Fahrzeugen können die CO2-Werte für fahrzeugbezogene Steuern oder andere Abgaben, die (zumindest unter anderem) auf CO2-Emissionen basieren, von den hier angegebenen Werten abweichen. Die CO2-Effizienz-Spezifikationen werden gemäß der Richtlinie 1999/94/EG und der Europäischen Verordnung in der jeweils gültigen Fassung festgelegt. Die angegebenen Werte basieren auf dem Kraftstoffverbrauch, den CO2-Werten und dem Energieverbrauch nach dem NEFZ-Zyklus für die Klassifizierung. Weitere Informationen über den offiziellen Kraftstoffverbrauch und die spezifischen CO2-Emissionen neuer Personenkraftwagen können dem "Handbuch über den Kraftstoffverbrauch, die CO2-Emissionen und den Stromverbrauch neuer Personenkraftwagen" entnommen werden, das an allen Verkaufsstellen und unter https://www.dat.de/angebote/verlagsprodukte/leitfaden-kraftstoffverbrauch.html erhältlich ist.
The values of fuel consumptions, CO2 emissions and energy consumptions shown were determined according to the European Regulation (EC) 715/2007 in the version applicable at the time of type approval. The figures refer to a vehicle with basic configuration in Germany and the range shown considers optional equipment and the different size of wheels and tires available on the selected model. The values of the vehicles are already based on the new WLTP regulation and are translated back into NEDC-equivalent values in order to ensure the comparison between the vehicles. [With respect to these vehicles, for vehicle related taxes or other duties based (at least inter alia) on CO2-emissions the CO2 values may differ to the values stated here.] The CO2 efficiency specifications are determined according to Directive 1999/94/EC and the European Regulation in its current version applicable. The values shown are based on the fuel consumption, CO2 values and energy consumptions according to the NEDC cycle for the classification. For further information about the official fuel consumption and the specific CO2 emission of new passenger cars can be taken out of the „handbook of fuel consumption, the CO2 emission and power consumption of new passenger cars“, which is available at all selling points and at https://www.dat.de/angebote/verlagsprodukte/leitfaden-kraftstoffverbrauch.html.