When Alys Fowler set out to paddle around the waterways of Birmingham, her home city, in an inflatable pack raft, she knew only that she needed an adventure. She had been stuck in a city too long, stuck in a job, stuck in that happyish way that is almost enough. She dreamed of taking off to explore the far reaches of Bolivia or the mountains of Central Asia, but this was real life, and she had tight finances and a chronically ill husband; she had to scale it back. Perhaps, she told herself, she could discover a new world right there on her doorstep. She bought herself a boat and a bus ticket and went to find out.