Cambodia – a brief respite from my life in Vietnam

We stepped foot into Cambodia. Five of us, the original five, all such different people forced together through circumstance and found that we fit together. Three Canadians, one South African and me. The first night we partied hard, free of Vietnam, of work. We were young and reckless once more. In the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh, here for one night only to gulp long island ice teas and one dollar beers. To sway to the music underneath a canopy of fairy lights on a roof top bar.

A six hour bus to Sihanoukville, to the beach. I gazed out the dusty pane with heavy eyelids… and it was there that I fell in love with a country for the first time since my own beloved Eire. Head resting against the window I watched the world go by, watching the landscape morph from flat plains to towering hills, from dessert to jungle, from turquoise bath water to open sewers. I saw the blood orange moon, the houses built on stilts, the red dirt paths, the kids running and laughing, playing barefoot soccer… young and wild and free.

Such a simple life. A hard but happy life.

I am jealous of them , they are jealous of me.

How can such polar opposite worlds exist simultaneously? The Western world and the developing world, seemingly oblivious to one another’s woes.

Could I live this life, after growing up on the privileged side? Could I really be poor, not the kind of poor that we already say we are, but real poverty. Could I give up all my possessions, relinquish the internet and work as a labourer?  Eat slower, live slower, appreciate the little things in life once more. Family, the beauty of a sunrise, the texture of the ground beneath your bare feet.  Laugh sporadically and cathartically, work with my hands, draw sweat. Find joy in the feeling of a shower after a hard day’s work, the feeling of calluses forming on your hands and feet, in the satisfying but relentless itch of a mosquito bite, the peel of a sunburn. Every second playing out as if in slow motion.

We escaped to the island of Koh Rong, to Long Beach a forty-five minute climb over a vertical collage of rocks and then a straight drop back down the other side. Sweat pumping and heart pulsing between my ears I progressed slowly, the effort cleansing me of my over indulgent past few days… to emerge onto paradise. No postcards, no film, no tourist advertisement could do this justice. It was like being high, all your senses attuned to the magic unfolding around you, high on life. The sand like fluffy flour sifting between our toes, the water rippling clear and turquoise. We wrapped hammocks around spare trees to camp for the night. Another first for me, but encompassing everything I have ever dreamed up of for myself. Only other youthful hippies to share its floured shores for the night, all packing for one night, but staying forever.

Watching the magic of bioluminescence explode around me during a late night swim, sparkling plankton lighting up the dark waters beneath my hands. Gathering wood, lighting a campfire and dozing off beside it. Fleeing to our hammocks when the buckets of rain and lighting start hailing down upon us. Rising and stretching in the morning air, gathering our belongings swiftly and power walking back along the beach to catch a boat to reality in a typhoon. Laughing out loud at my luck, it hasn’t rained in four months here, but the day I come, typically the tarp is yanked free and the water unleashed. Wading out to the old wooden boat, body fully submerged in the rocking tide, bags held high over our heads. Tossing them carelessly on board and scrambling awkwardly in after them for a bumpy ride back to the central hub.

The days blurring together, a mash up of bed bugs and insect bites, we looked like we had chicken pox. Chronic diarrhoea and vomiting for three days in squat toilets with no flush and no toilet roll, “character building” my Ma and Da would say.  I can’t shave my legs because it’s like a cacophony of sores  kissing my skin. I can’t shower too often because the communal ones are usually covered in shit and when I do its under cold spurts of water that I have to psych myself up to put my head under. Highs and lows. Cambodia you have not been kind to my body but you have freed my mind. I think if I shimmy a few steps left of paradise I could find an oasis of real life that is more my style and while away my days here contently.

But I can’t stay in paradise forever. A trip to The Killing Fields see’s to that, pulling us back to reality, shaking us into the present after one by one we succumbed to tiredness and grumpiness with the passing days, with the constant company. Opening our eyes to real suffering, real problems. What Cambodia went through, genocide and now poverty and my utter inadequacy or inability to do something about it. Am I who I want to be yet? Still I disappoint myself. It’s all so fake, white people’s paradise, the white’s working the easy jobs in the bars etc, while the local people unclog the booze and drug induced puke smeared toilets, clean the rooms, man the boats, collect the rubbish left behind by the white partiers as they continue to blaze a trail of destruction though their chosen holiday destinations.

The world is a funny place. It both baffles  and awes me frequently.

So much still to do. So much still to learn.

But I’m starting to grow weary, I’m starting to miss home. My family, my old friends. I have turned the final corner in my journey, but I can’t pack it in yet, I’m so close. Home is in sight, three more months, three months brimming with so much potential. The preparations are under way, two more weeks of work, of selling the last of my possessions, of having a routine, of lie ins and a steady income.

Da is coming… two more weeks until we cycle the length of Vietnam…

“You can’t fall if you don’t climb, but there’s no joy in living your whole life on the ground.” – Unknown.

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Interview with Adventurer Nick Hancock

“There can be no place more desolate, despairing and awful.” – Lord Kennet (1971)

Last summer Nick Hancock landed on an isolated rock in the North Atlantic Ocean in pursuit of two records, the longest solo occupation of Rockall and the longest occupation of Rockall in history, after 45 days in solitude he achieved both, earning himself a nomination for Adventurer of the Year. I got the opportunity recently to discuss the incredible expedition with the man himself.

Credit: Simon Wright

Credit: Simon Wright

1. Where did you get the idea from?

I was made redundant in 2008 and moved to Scotland. There was no work in property, so I took a job in an outdoor clothing shop. Whilst there, and bored at the till one day, I decided I needed a challenge and started to research the possibility of sea kayaking from mainland Scotland to St. Kilda, via Skye and the Outer Hebrides. In doing that I came across a story about some Spanish sailors being ship wrecked on Rockall and making it safely to St. Kilda. That drew my attention West. I read a lot about the rock and quickly became aware of the existing group and solo occupation records. I decided then that I wanted to visit and hopefully break the records.

2. What gear did you bring with you?

I had to take all of my food and water for two months as there’s no fresh water supply on Rockall and nowhere to prepare fresh food. I also had to take a method of generating power in order that I could charge the communications equipment and electronics I took with me, so I built an Ampair wind turbine on top of Rockall, which provided more than sufficient power, and I was loaned a BGAN satellite unit by Inmarsat, via which I could blog and Tweet. In addition to these key items, I also had a laptop, from which I blogged, and which had hundreds of ebooks on for passing the time.

3. What item proved the most useful?

It was probably a combination of the laptop, BGAN unit and my satellite phone, all of which I used to get up to date weather forecasts, so I knew what weather was coming and the sea state to expect, and also, after the storm, they were critical to communicating and planning my exit strategy.

4. What was your day to day routine like for the 45 days?

In order to eat into the time I tried to slow everything I did down and take as long as possible over tasks. There was no concurrent activity out there. I’d generally tried to not get out of my sleeping bag before 0900 and would then take an average of around an hour to have breakfast and complete daily ablutions. Then, depending on the forecast, I would either read, if the weather was poor, or I would get out of the RockPod and exercise, collect samples, measure features, or generally try and enjoy being there by watching the wildlife. Lunch was around 1400, and I would eat again around 1900, after checking the forecasts online, before more reading and bedding down around 2200hrs.

  1. Was there even a decent piece of flat to set up camp on?

The summit is properly flat, as it was blown off by the Royal Engineers for a light beacon to be fitted. Unfortunately it’s too small to live on and most of it is taken up by the light housing. A few metres below the summit is Hall’s Ledge, named after the first person recorded to have landed on Rockall. It’s generally level although not particularly flat, nor big at around 11’ by 4’ at the widest points, but it offers the best place for a shelter and is where I and the previous occupants set up camp.

  1. What did you see while out there…marine life, seabirds etc?

There were lots of birds all the time, mostly gannets and guillemots, but also puffins, shearwaters and even a couple of lost racing pigeons and a starling! In terms of mammals, there were often two or three seals about, hunting in the shallower water around Rockall and Hasselwood Rock (about 100 metres to the North). The most spectacular sight though was the minke whales, of which there were at least three if not four or five around at any one time. It was amazing to be able to watch them hunt and blow at the surface, and I spent a lot of time just sitting and enjoying the privilege.

Credit: Michael Schofield

Credit: Michael Schofield

  1. What kind of training was involved?

Physically it was just a matter of being fit and strong enough for the initial climb, the descent at the end, and hauling and lowering kit up the rock. Apart from that, I had to learn quite a few new skills relating to winching and hauling the RockPod, for which I trained with the local Fire and Rescue team instructors. Mentally, I’m pretty self-reliant anyway, and am able to entertain myself, so it was just a matter of setting enough tasks to stave off any boredom.

  1. You managed 45 days, but had planned for sixty, what happened?

I had originally planned to stay for two months as the existing records were 40 days solo and 42 days as a group; I wanted to beat these records and push them out far enough that they wouldn’t be broken for a while. Two months was a good round number to aim for and fitted within the tight weather window that summer in the North Atlantic allowed. Early in the morning of day 28, I was hit by a Force 9 storm which dislodged my shelter, the RockPod, and also ripped away four of my barrels of food and equipment. This left me with around fifty days’ worth of food if I was frugal, and I then had to strike a balance with the weather forecasts, food reserves and when the charter boat was available to get me. This all came together at forty five days, which is why I left the rock then.

  1. The planning and logistics of this expedition must of been a nightmare? How long did it take to get it all together?

I had originally thought that I would be ready to go in two years and the expedition was christened ‘Rockall 2011’ as I hoped to land in the 200th anniversary year of the first recorded landing. In reality, it took five years hard work to design and build the RockPod, find a suitable boat (the one I used wasn’t even launched until 2012) and to raise the funding to pay for the boat fuel and charter. That included a reconnaissance trip and a failed attempt to land in 2013 due to bad weather.

  1. What safety precautions had you in place in case of an emergency?

The coastguard knew I was on the rock, and I was just on the outer limit of helicopter rescue; although it would take several hours and a refuel to get to me, and then they would have less than half an hour on site to search for me. I took with me an EPIRB, and SPOT location beacon which I set off every morning to say that I was OK, and my satellite phone also had an emergency beacon built in. In terms of living on the rock, whenever I was out of the pod I wore a climbing harness and was tethered to Rockall with a life line clipped into various anchors around the summit and Hall’s Ledge. I didn’t want to slip off!

  1. Did you experience any fear, putting that much trust in the elements and also being completely reliant on the gear you bring to survive?

The only time I was scared was during the storm I mentioned. I was on my own, 250 miles out in the North Atlantic, in a Force 9, in the middle of the night. I couldn’t see anything it was so dark, and I couldn’t leave the RockPod for fear of the high winds and waves. Around one in the morning, after a lot of spray and few small waves had hit the pod, a large wave came and shunted my shelter across the ledge. I didn’t know if the straps holding me down were still attached, and couldn’t check because of the weather conditions. I just had to lie there and hope that was the worst of it. The pod quickly slipped back to near its original position, but in the morning I saw that a number of the straps were slack and an anchor bolt had bent under the force of the water that hit. It was not an experience I ever want to repeat.

  1. Can you describe what the Rockpod is?

The RockPod is a converted water bowser like the ones you see at road works. It’s a rigid plastic capsule that would have held around 2.5 tonnes of water, so it very strong, but light too. I added an access hatch, port hole and deck vent from Lewmar in order to provide light and ventilation, and bolted fourteen 1 tonne rated lifting points to the shell so that I could tie it down to Rockall with ratchet straps. I then levelled the floor with plastic sheeting and insulated it with spray on expanding foam insulation. The only other thing I did was to screw a plywood sheet on the bottom to level out the concave base in order to assist with the initial winching up the rock at the start of the expedition. It was perhaps more an evolutionary process then direct design, but I had certain requirements that my shelter had to fulfil, and what resulted was a strong, light weight, water proof shelter that floated and could be relatively easily winched.

  1. Will you return for an attempt at sixty days or are you done with it for good?

No, I won’t go back to try and extend my record, even if someone does beat it. I am hoping to go back to Rockall soon though, perhaps next year. The place just gets under your skin.

  1. What was the highlight of the trip?

That’s hard to answer, there were so many highlights: the minke whales, watching an amazing sunset and knowing you were the only one seeing it, the solitude (a rare thing in the world these days), surviving the storm, speaking to passing vessels over the VHF, and then seeing my ride home coming over the horizon. All were fantastic in their own way and went together to make the expedition an amazing experience for me.

Follow Nick’s future adventures on Twitter @RockallNick or his website.

“Those that ask the question will never understand the answer. Those that understand the answer will never ask the question.”

I am still not fully satisfied.

Why is it that I can’t be content with a 9-5, with good friends, good food, a great family, an income. Why do I want to suffer? Why do I crave mud, sweat and tears above all else? Why do I want to feel hardship? Why do I think this way when so many others don’t?

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This constant search for adrenaline, this search for freedom is exhausting. Nothing I do blots out this scalding desire to be more, to do something reckless, scary… something epic. I don’t have a concrete plan, I don’t have any money. But I don’t think I ever will. I am 23, I have no commitments, no offers of jobs or internships, no credit card debts, no loans, no boyfriend, no kids. Therefore I have no excuse. No reason to be doing nothing. Technically I am free, yet I have never felt free, all I hear are rules, rules rules, how to act, how to dress,… so much bullshit. This is why I need an adventure.

I know I’m not alone, others like me are out there, others that get it. Sir Ranulph Fiennes once said: “Those that ask the question will never understand the answer. Those that understand the answer will never ask the question.” That is it. That’s the best explanation I’ve ever gotten as to why I am this way, why I live the way I live. It can’t be explained in words.

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My life is by no means boring. I spent Christmas abroad in a country that doesn’t celebrate Christmas. I ate a curry for Christmas dinner and skyped my family while they opened their presents and narrated the humdrum of goings on, of who got what. I rang in the New Year with three brilliant Canadians in Hanoi. The next day I boarded a plane to the Philippines for my cousins wedding.

I stayed in a four and a half star, gem of a resort with its own private beach, two pools, an all you can eat breakfast buffet but all I felt was eerily concious of the people who are living mere yards away on the breadline in galvanised sheds with dirt floors. And they were the most polite and kind people I have ever met. I was uncomfortable, I felt guilty as I gorged myself. This is not me, this is not who I am. I like lying on the ground when I’ve eating too much, sitting on the edges of pavements, wearing out a pair of boots so much that my mam has to throw them out on the sly, eating seven bowls of cereal in a day so i won’t have to buy food.

But I got to see the grown ups, the Irish, my brilliant family. Some who I never felt quite in sync with before to discover a common interest; a bid for the Seven Summits, a recklessness to backflip off a banana boat, to rent jet ski’s, to parasail…A family all hailing from rural Ireland, flying in from their adopted homes in New Zealand, Australia, Doha, and London to celebrate the unification of two family’s and two cultures, the Filipinos and the Irish. Seeing my Mammy and my auntie Ann after months. The two of them halves of a whole, black and white, providing comfort and a good kick up the arse when required. Snorkelling, kayaking, jet skiing, hobie cat sailing in the luke warm waters of the South China Sea. Finally letting myself relax and be content to laze away a day or two on the beach, drinking and stuffing my face.

But it was a temporary respite from my ever restless consciousness, it came to an end and I had to return to Vietnam upset, tired of flights and layovers and crappy buses. So I handed in my notice, just so as I could feel like I was in motion, like I was making progress and I began the countdown.

Four weeks until the Lunar New Year and Cambodia.

Eight weeks until Da comes and the pedalling begins.

Thirteen weeks until the cycle ends and then who knows what…

It’s all figured out until April 17th, the date Da fly’s home. After that I have no further plans, no nuggets of knowledge or ideas, no money, no return flight, nada. And it really is a scary feeling.

I’ve always had some vague, fuzzy idea of the next step but this time the horizon is blank, scarily blank. I chose a year of teaching abroad to put off the inevitable decision. I thought within a year of bought time, surely I will have figured it out by then… but maybe not knowing the next step, what I will do or where I will be a week from now or even a day from now is the key, that is after all the very essence of adventure, and that is exactly what I keep saying that I am seeking.

I leave you with an extract from an article by journalist George Monbiot, something I reread every now and then when my resolves are starting to sway and I’m tempted to pack it all in and go home.”When faced with the choice between engaging with reality or engaging with what Erich Fromm calls the “necrophiliac” world of wealth and power, choose life, whatever the apparent costs may be. Your peers might at first look down on you: poor Nina, she’s twenty-six and she still doesn’t own a car. But those who have put wealth and power above life are living in the world of death, in which the living put their tombstones – their framed certificates signifying acceptance to that world – on their walls. Remember that even the editor of the Times, for all his income and prestige, is still a functionary, who must still take orders from his boss. He has less freedom than we do, and being the editor of the Times is as good as it gets.” (From: http://www.monbiot.com/career-advice/)

Just think about it.

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Ten short adventure videos that you should watch

These ten edits are some of my favourite from the past year. They will make you think. They will make you smile. They will make you so jealous that perhaps you will re-evaluate some things. They may also force you to look on life, the world and the people in it a little differently from now on.

1. This is Backcountry

2. 35

35 from ARC’TERYX on Vimeo.

3. Racing through the elements – Red Bull Elements 2013

4. Motion Reel

Motion Reel from Morgan Maassen on Vimeo.

5. Open Eye Signal – Jon Hopkins

Open Eye Signal – Jon Hopkins from AOIFE MCARDLE on Vimeo.

6. Adventure is a way of life, welcome to 2014

adventure is a way of life, welcome to 2014 from Laurent Jamet on Vimeo.

7. Cascada

CASCADA from NRS Films on Vimeo.

8.The North Face: The Explorer

9.The Joy of Air

The Joy of Air from ARC’TERYX on Vimeo.

10. North of the Sun

North of the sun teaser from weggebros on Vimeo.

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Interview with David of the 5000 mile Project

David and Katharine are 13months into running the length of South America. 5000miles through rainforest and mountains to raise both money and awareness for the environment. I got in contact with Dave when he emerged from the rainforest for a brief spell to hear about their amazing story so far.

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1.You ran to raise awareness and get people passionate about nature again, do you think it has been working?

Ha, that’s a tough one to start with! I think it depends on what level. Locally, when we stop at a school midway through our running day it is a fantastic opportunity to inspire – it’s easy! We are there with people, we are enthusing about the natural world around us, we have images and video and feathers we find by the road to identify and the feedback is immediate, people are psyched! From afar, who knows?!

People are used to sporting events been used to raise money for cancer or other human-related causes, not wildlife. The publics reaction can depend on class and country, but generally speaking most people are resistant to anything that they see as an attack on their current way of life – it’s the human condition. We are saying, “look out the window, the natural world is utterly amazing”, people are hearing, “these guys are greenies trying to make it more difficult for me to have a big car!”

Also, depending on the media,  feedback isn’t immediate, in fact with some forms of media e.g. radio, you never receive it! So its hard to tell.

2.What do people need to do to help?

It’s easy, have an affair with nature! People of any physical condition can do it – go out, be in the real world, be amazed by the complex natural systems that support human life, ask questions, investigate, learn that we are part of nature, not above it! We are passionate that so long as people know more about the natural world’s secrets, there is a chance that we can reverse the damage we are currently inflicting on out planets life support systems.

To help people find tangible actions that suit their lifestyle, we’ve set up a campaign with ‘DoNation’ which anyone can join and help do cool things for the planet. We’re also raising money for Birdlife and Armonia and Conservatcion Patagonica.

3.What running experience did you have before this?

We are both keen recreational runners, no more than that, with the odd longer competition under our belt. Kath has ran the 45 mile ‘4 INNS’ race several times. I have enjoyed the Scottish Islands Peaks Race, and Northumberlands Castles and Islands, both sailing/running events, but mainly we run for the fun of being outside in all weather.  Nothing better for de-stressing!

4.How are your feet withstanding this?

Really good, I haven’t had a single blister! We have a nice combination of shoes for running with the trailer and running free, plus we go barefoot about 10% of the miles now – its great for training your running style and hardening the feet a little.

5.What distance do you cover on average per day?

Our average running day is now 23miles. We used to find 20 was enough, given the 80kg trailer we run with, and given the fact an injury could end our dream, but now we can smell the finish we are looking to take a few more risks to squeeze a little more out!

6.How do you keep your mind focused and your spirits high after so long on the road?

It’s better not to consider the overall distance remaining – just deal with each shift as it comes, each half hour, each mile, each step if it’s a really tough climb! Each step makes a difference, and we have taken close to 10,000,000. It´s a nice metaphor for the steps people are taking to protect the planet too, 1 in 7bn is daunting, but there is no silver bullet, each small, seemingly insignificant step is making a difference!

7.Any stories of good deeds or amazing people you’ve met along the way?

Many! We are alone a lot, but never far from human kindness. One thing I would say is that the place in which we received the most charity by the roadside; food, drinks, shelter, banter, is Bolivia. What is interesting is that Bolivia is the poorest country in South America!

8.What advantage have the barefoot shoes given you?

They are great. The idea is always to run as naturally as possible at all times. On certain road conditions (or with the trailer!) you simply can not do it with bare feet. The gravel makes you wince or you have road debris, or the asphalt is so hot it sticks to your skin. We slip on the barefoot shoes and we are back on, running lightly with a quick cadence. We change our shoes a lot!

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9.Have you came up with an effective way to treat blisters yet?

Yes! Our INOV-8 race socks have basically all but eliminated them. We are not paid-up athletes so are not obliged to say this, but they work. They are single skin socks and with our INOV-8 and VIVOBAREFOOT. I  have not had a problem in over 5000miles of running in rain, wind, and snow. Barefoot running probably helps too as it hardens your feet.

10.How have you seen your fitness change?

I have no idea when these calves arrived, but they did! We have improved greatly fitness wise, but still there is never an easy 23-mile day running whilst pulling a heavy trailer, sandwiched between other longer running days!

11.How much food and water do you carry on you?

Good question, it varies wildly. We carry the minimum possible whilst making sure we never go hungry. In the more populated areas that could be 2 days worth, maybe 3kg. On the wild stretches (we have carried food for 21 days)probably 100kg! We eat local food and do not use bizarre packet foods which are expensive and unavailable, and seem to me to just taste of stock cubes.

Water, again depends on the territory. We drink a lot, usually 10L each per day, so that’s 20kg water per day on the trailer when we are in dry areas. Good to remember that dehydration is a major cause of running injuries so not to be messed with. In Chile and here in the rainforest we can carry very little as it always available. In Argentina water was the limiting factor, and at times we carried over 30 litres. We use a LifeSaverSystems water filter to pump and clean wild water where it feels like we need to, but this does take valuable running time (and calories!).

12.You have been running for over twelve months, when is the expected date of completion?

20th October 2013, not a day later!

Courtesy of Miky Dubrowsky of www.mediamza.com

Courtesy of Miky Dubrowsky of http://www.mediamza.com

14. What is the coolest animal you’ve seen on route?

I love Guanacos, it´s like a sexy version of a camel with long eyelashes! Best bird moment? An Amazona Parrot landed on Katharine´s shoulder a few days ago whilst we were running past the rainforest. Sounds silly, but we asked it what it was called and it said “Laura”. It’s true! Mind you, it said Laura to everything, whilst nibbling Katharine’s ear.

15. What are you using to navigate?

Garmin Forerunner 310XT GPS watch plus google satellite images. Each charge lasts us two days now, and we can charge it with the PowerMonkey solar panel easily in an hour. It’s very good, but I wouldn´t swim with it on as the seals are going, we are really using our equipment!

16.What are you finding the toughest to cope with?

Living by the roadside – it´s sort of a mix between local celebrity and being a tramp! We try to hide as best we can when we are not running but it can be really tough, not having somewhere to call home.

17.How are you getting on with each other after so long in each others pockets?

Can you imagine it?!  We are friends as well as husband and wife, and running partners, but at times we flare up!Sometimes the whole of South America wouldn’t be big enough, and we yell in the wind! Naah, like all relationships we tend to focus our angst on the ones  closest (especially given there is nobody else who speaks your language within 5000miles!), especially when hungry and tired, but we are normally too tired to remember what the thing was all about! What normally happens is some wildlife moment or other gets in the way of our mood, and we end up saying ¨wow, what the hell was that?!¨.

18. What’s the best piece of gear you have brought?

INOV-8 wrags! It is a little piece of fabric that we cannot live without! They protect us from the sun, wind, dust, rubs in a myriad of places best left undisclosed!!

Follow the pairs journey on their website, twitter or facebook page.

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An interview with Simon Reeve

Check out my interview with adventurer and TV presenter Simon Reeve on Sidetracked online.

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Over the last ten years, author, adventurer and TV presenter Simon Reeve has travelled the world with a camera in tow to record his extraordinary experiences for shows such as Equator, Tropic of Cancer, Tropic of Capricorn and Indian Ocean and now his latest adventure ‘Australia’, is showing in the UK on BBC 2. We spoke to Simon about his past, current and future adventures.

Sidetracked: Hi Simon, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us. Author, adventurer and presenter: which do you think best represents you?

Simon Reeve: An adventurer would be one of the descriptions I might use if I was feeling really poncey along with author. I like calling myself an author because I wrote a book and I’ll be trading off that for probably the rest of my life. Also now, probably my most important title is dad and that’s the hardest one to live up to.

So tell us a little more about your book, and how did you go from writing to presenting?

I really don’t know how that happened to be honest. It’s really bizarre. I wrote a book on al-qada that came out in 1998 which warned of a new era of terrorism and nobody took any notice whatsoever and then 9-11 happened and it became a best seller, I went on the telly to talk about it quite a lot and that lead to discussions with the BBC about making TV programs for them. I had my own hair and teeth and I had written this book that had given me some experience and legitimacy and so I set off on a journey for them around central Asia which was interesting. It was an area in which I was really interested in and I thought BBC viewers might like to learn a little bit more about it and so that was my first TV gig. That was around Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan for a series brilliantly titled Meet the Stans and I’ve been going ever since. I can’t believe it. Here I am now ten years later. Don’t tell anyone.

Read the rest of the interview on the Sidetracked website here.

Credit: Sonya Looney

Interview with Pro Mountainbiker Sonya Looney:

Credit: Sonya Looney

1. What is the difference between a pro women mountain biker and a pro man mountain biker?

There isn’t a huge difference!  The men are usually quite a bit faster, but there are a few pro women who tend to beat up on some of the pro men (not me!)  There are less pro women than pro men.

2.What is it that appeals to you about the sport?

I love that you can get on a trail and ride way out into the middle of nowhere in a relatively short period of time.  You can get places cars can’t go, and places it would take days to hike to!  The adventure and being in the trees is my favourite thing about mountain biking.  Also, with trail riding, it forces you to be present and focus on the moment because you are trying to navigate a trail.  It’s harder to space out and it’s mentally relaxing.  Everything else seems to fall to the wayside and I can just be on the trail.  I love racing because it gives me opportunities to ride different places, meet new people, and of course – challenge myself!

3.What has been the highlight of your career so far?

I’ve been so lucky to have a lot of great moments in my career.  The coolest thing I’ve done is the Yak Attack Stage Race in Nepal – a 10 day race across the Himalaya that I was the first woman to ever finish!  Racing Marathon World Championships in my USA kit, winning a couple of 24 Nats titles, and winning the Breck Epic twice have been really huge for me too.  I’m excited about future growth and adventure in my career. I’ve really been pushing myself the last couple years to think outside the box and try races that are considered to be the “hardest” in the world, and in exotic places!

4.How many bikes you have and what are they?

Oh wow, lots!!  I have 2 road bikes, a CX bike, 2 Canyon mountain bikes, a Misfit SS(it’s new!), a beater bike for a commuter, and a Canyon 6inch trail bike.  Next, I want to get a fat bike!  The Surly Moonlander looks sweeeeet!

5.Which is your favourite one?

Right now?  My 29er Canyon HT…I am dying to get a 4” 29er full suspension.  I should have one this year!

Credit: Sonya Looney

6.What do you find is the best brand for gear?

It depends on what you want to use it for!  I am really excited about my Primal sponsorship this year because they not only make great clothing that fits me (think women specific), but they are involved with a lot of events I go to and really give back to the community.  I love my Hestra winter riding gloves!  I’m also a fan of Maloja (I don’t own any yet, but I always admire it) and Capo for clothing.

7.Where is your primary spot to train?

In the summer, I head up to Summit County as much as I can and ride CO Trail sections around Breck.  I live in Boulder, CO and most of my go-to rides are dirt road climbs are 1-2 hours in length, or trails up the mountain!

8. What are next big competitions coming up on the calendar for you?

This is going to be a big year!  I’m so excited at the opportunity!  I just won the first mountain bike race across Haiti called the MTB Ayiti Ascent Stage Race.  I’m heading back to race the Yak Attack in Nepal for my second time in a couple weeks!  After that, I’m looking at a few one day events like Whiskey 50, Breck 100, Pisgah 111K, and Leadville… which will revolve around the Transylvania Epic, 3 day Breck Epic, and one of the  most exciting – Mongolia Bike Challenge at the end of my season.  It’s going to be a huge year for me, it’s hard to believe it’s all going to happen!

9.Whats your diet consist of to keep on top form for the season?

I don’t change my diet all that much throughout the year.  My diet consists mostly of fresh foods.  I normally eat granola+berries or oatmeal for breakfast, almond butter sandwiches for lunch, and various veggie/fish/whole grain dishes for dinner that I’ll cook. Throw in some dark chocolate, beer, and Michael David wine for treats and there you have it!

10.Who is your main competition?

Myself!  I try not to focus on my results on who is there.  I try to focus on performing to my best ability and usually the cards fall into place.

Credit: Sonya Looney

11.You have a job as well?! How do you balance both? Is it because there’s no money in women’s mountainbiking?

It is extremely difficult to get paid to ride your bike as a female mountain biker.  I work for Ergon full time doing sales and marketing which involves some weeks sitting at the computer, and some weeks travelling to various spots in the USA to do dealer visits.  Additionally, I work as a freelance journalist with about 5 different magazines I contribute to.  I stay very busy!  It’s all about time management.  I sit down at the beginning of the week and schedule everything including my training to make sure it all happens.

12.Your favourite distance to race is the 75-100mile range. Why is this?

I like covering more ground because you get to see more!  Also, it doesn’t cost you the race if you make a mistake or have a mechanical.  I also simply love just riding my bike, so the longer I get to ride, the better!  I love the challenge.  I always feel like it’s over too fast if I do a shorter event and want more.

13.How does it feel to represent your country in your sport?

It’s a great honour to wear the USA jersey!  It’s something I never imagined doing, and something I will never forget.

14.How do men in the sport treat you?

They are actually really great –fun and encouraging for the most part. I love kicking their ass too. ;)   They also keep me humble.  I ride with a lot of pro guys and am constantly getting dropped.  Sometimes it really messes with my confidence, but on race day it’s always, “Oh, I’m not as slow as I thought I was!”  That’s a good thing!

15. How did you go from it been a hobby to you turning pro?

I just sort of raced into it.  I find that if you work hard and have a vision, things work out.

16.What do we need to do to grow the sport?

Our sport is actually growing rapidly.  The racing scene maybe not as much. I think lower entry fees and fun, challenging courses with a festival atmosphere are key!

Credit: Sonya Looney

Follow Sonya’s Adventures:

Website: www.sonyalooney.com

Twitter: @looneysonya

Credit: Alastair Humphreys

Interview with Adventurer Alastair Humphreys

Credit: Alastair Humphreys

Credit: Alastair Humphreys

Published on OutDare Adventures, read the full interview here.

Q: Did you ever drink and party and live the ‘student life’?

A: Ya definitely, I was a completely normal student; I did all of that stuff!
Q: You’ve never received sponsorship; you just save up and then do cheap trips. That’s freedom in one sense but does it mean you’ll never be financially free because you have to spend so much of your own money?

A: The row the Atlantic was a sponsored trip so I am starting to head down that way. But if I can possibly afford to do it myself then I like to maintain the independence, the simplicity and just to be my own boss and that’s worth quite a lot of money. Most of the trips that appeal to me really aren’t very expensive, so I just save for it.

Q: Do you think it’s just as safe for women as it is for men to go on solo adventures/expeditions?

A: I think that 99 percent of the time yes it is or perhaps even safer because people are nicer to you, but I also think there is that slight, elemental, potential risk that at times you’re a women on your own in the middle of somewhere, it can get a bit scary.
Q: What do you look for when choosing a suitable place to set up camp?

A: Running water, so near a river would be good and nice soft grass.
Q: Do you get any criticism over not having a traditional job? – How do you prevent that from disheartening you?

A: A little bit, people often say things like oh it’s alright for you, or you’re lucky, or it’s easy for you. Mostly I think, well I chose to do this, I’m no superman, I’m not a genius. Anyone could have done what I have; it’s just a choice I made. It slightly annoys me when people sneer a little bit and say oh when are you going to get a proper job. I’m earning enough money to live the life I love. So it doesn’t really bother me, mostly I think it’s just envy.

Read the full Interview here.

Me on Ben Nevis, courtesy of George Byrom

I shall climb Ben Nevis.

Me on Ben Nevis, courtesy of George Byrom

In a pair of Doc Marten boots and Primark gloves, with no training done or experience under my belt and only a Tesco sandwich in my backpack, I decided today was the day I would climb Ben Nevis. At 6am, I boarded a minibus tottering with strangers and gear and off we set on a three hour journey across Scotland to the base of the UK’s tallest mountain.

At half past nine I put one foot in front of the other and began what I thought would be a pleasant stroll up a big hill. Three steps in and I was peeling the clothes off me, sweating and nervous about my tendency to assume that I can do anything as long as I keep moving. After the uncomfortable pleasantries of introducing oneself to the group, I fell into a thoughtful silence and shuffled onwards. It is never until the going gets tough that boundaries break down and people start to open up and share their stories. An hour and a half into the hike, the snow appeared, the hats came out, the gloves came on and we talked to break the monotony of our thoughts and to forget the twinges of our muscles as they began to protest.

One German, four French, one or two English, one Swiss, several Scots, and one Irish hiked our way upwards, single file, mostly in silence, lost in our thoughts and the blissful scenery that held us in place.  One hour to the summit and all we could see is white; snow and fog embedded us. If our leader didn’t know the route off by heart, we would be lost forever and all I had was a Refresher bar for nourishment.  The group split, with the latter one slowing and ready to potentially turn and head back to base. I was stubborn, I could keep up with the speedy fuckers. But as time elapsed, I felt my body slow. I was not keeping up, I was tired, I wanted to abandon, to turn back but if I did everyone would have to. So I dug deep,  it killed me to do so but It would forever haunt me to make others abandon due to my weakness, so in my boots that were built for fashion not for climbing I dug my way onwards. Falling often, sliding backwards on the ice, frustrating the group with my pace. But they were kind and patient and they encouraged me onwards. And eventually, when all I could see was vast whiteness I stepped upon level ground and one of the hikers turned to me and said “Guess where we are?” “Where?” I replied, sagging on the precipice of defeat. “We are on the summit.” he smiled and hugged me.

Blissful glee rocked me for a moment, a quick photo by the marker and then a plea to move quickly back down before daylight fades. The descent was rapid, six of us took off at the front, I fell many a time, some scarily close to the edge. But once my boot touched gravel I was free and solid, and I moved quickly down the mountainside. Six hours after setting off, I had returned to reality. A quick call to my overprotective mother to tell her I was still alive. And then the usual thought popped into my head; “Hmmm, what shall I do next? Perhaps a surfing trip on Tuesday?”

Me on Ben Nevis, courtesy of George Byrom

Interview with Adventurer Sophie Radcliffe, aka Challenge Sophie

I have wanted to interview this person for quite a while, as she epitomises what I want to be like, in the way she lives her life. Cyclist, mountaineer, Ironman, she is the fearless Sophie Radcliffe, living her life in the mountains, challenging herself and others perceptions every day.

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1.What is it about endurance sports that has you hooked?

I love the challenge of it all, really putting yourself to the test and seeing what you can deliver. Finding the drive and persistence to keep going when everything has been screaming at you to stop for hours. Maintaining that drive in bad weather, when you’re tired, lost, hungry or just would rather be anywhere else. Feeling at one with the world and with nature, leaving everything behind and focusing purely on the now to get yourself through the challenge. I love that you can always do more than you think, that your body and mind are an indomitable force if you want them to be, and if you fuel, train and reward them properly. I love the adventure of it all, the people you meet and experiences you share. The way it shapes me and drives me forward to want to achieve more.

2. At what point do you think your adventures became a way of life rather than a hobby?

Recently, in the past 6 months. You have to make decisions that you are going to focus on certain things and make time and space for that. If you keep doing what comes easy, what pays the bills, what you are good at and what people recognise you for, you will always succumb to doing that first and never have time for doing what you want to become. It’s a process of transition, I focus on the long game. I couldn’t move from one day doing a full time job in my career in London to the next day living in Chamonix and making money from adventure. It’s taken years to retrain, build my brand, open doors and create opportunities…

3.What’s your main motivation for what you do, what are you seeking? Fitness, adrenaline, freedom..?

Fitness, and freedom for sure. I seek freedom to live in a way that makes me feel happy, fulfilled, challenged and free. Away from the restrictions I placed on myself and I believed to be true from society. I’m seeking the feeling of pride and satisfaction in blazing my own trail in life, in leaving footprints in this world by helping people and giving back. I love everything else that comes with it; adventure, friendship, travel, challenge, love and smiles…

4. “When I left university, I loved the graduate lifestyle. I was in the pub after work having fun with colleagues and there was always an excuse not to go the gym or for a swim. Too tired, not enough time, weather is too good, weather is too bad…”

This is me to a T. So many people fall into this trap, how did you get yourself out of it?

It all starts with motivation. You have to really want to do something, especially if it involves change. I’m always intrigued by what’s beyond what i know, especially what i know to be certain. Changing behavioural patterns because you think you should, or have to, will be unlikely to end in the desired outcome, because the motivation is not there. If you really want to change something because you believe the outcome is worth it, you won’t even have to think about the motivation, it will always be there driving you forward.

5. What’s your current day job?

I’m a writer, blogger, model, inspirational speaker and events organiser. I run, climb and cycle in the mountains every day and I train to get me fit for adventure. I sometimes consult on commercial projects for technology startups, but I do this work less now as the rest has taken over.
Follow her adventures here on her website.

An Ode to Da

When I was born and you held me in your arms, you just thirty one years old then, did it cross your mind that one day we would be sitting on opposite sides of the world emailing each other logistics, moulding out plans for an adventure? I can picture you now sitting in your study on the battered PC in the backarse of Ireland, a V of a frown etched between your brow, typing painfully slow, one letter at a time. Me, thousands of miles away, lying on my bed scratching my insect bites typing a reply on my laptop, somewhere lost in Vietnam.

All those years, all those abstract ideas flickering to life in our minds but fading out before they really got a chance to catch fire. But here we are finally, me twenty three, you fifty four, and finally we have committed. It’s going to be so tough, you are going to drive me nuts trying to over plan everything, fretting about the gear and the bikes, and you will get frustrated with me, with my slow pace, when I moan that my body aches, and when I want to wild camp, or befriend the rabbis ridden dogs…  but holy shit what an adventure it will be!

How lucky am I?

Who has the time nowadays to even while away an afternoon talking with their Da, laughing with him, telling him about their lives, asking advice, sharing funny stories… just the two of them?

Who gets to do that?

Now, we have four whole weeks in front of us, just us two.

Did you ever think, I’ve got three daughters and no sons perhaps all is lost?

Did you ever think, when I was six sitting on the stairs in the middle of the night in hysterics because I couldn’t sleep in my own bed, that one day we would be considering doing this?

Or did you think when I was seventeen when you were carrying me home paralytic drunk from the Meadowlands after Ciara’s eighteenth that we would be undertaking something along these lines?

We’ve come a long way from playing catch on the bales of hay in the back field, from shooting hoops on the tarmac outside the house, from summer evenings spent whacking tennis balls back and forth in the golf links, from coaching my soccer and football teams, from walking Rascal in the long grass in the woods across the road, from running laps of the GAA pitch to train for triathlons, from bodyboarding alongside me while I tried to surf in the baltic winter swell off the shores of Achill Island. Sport has always been our thing. Sport has always brought us together.

And now, I get to quit my job. I get to throw all my clothes, make up and hoarded trinkets in the bin. And I get to board a bus to Hanoi to meet my Daddy after not seeing him for seven months and cycle the length of Vietnam with him.

And already I know it will fluctuate between moments of pure brilliance that we will never forget and moments of horror when we will question what the hell we signed up for, but regardless I must repeat… holy shit what an adventure it will be!

“Every day, life tempts and teases us to settle for mediocrity.” – Sophie Radcliffe, Adventurer.

But I will continue to resist and I will continue to defy.

Because I am your daughter, and that’s how you raised me to be.

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

A train of thought… a stream of consciousness…

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I packed my bag and moved to Vietnam.

Everyone said how brave I was, moving to Vietnam alone.

Hear what she’s doing now. Wild.

But this wasn’t bravery.

This was just another stepping stone in the big plan. The plan to test myself little by little to see my capabilities, to see if I was cut out to do a real expedition.

But here I am, not three weeks in and I couldn’t be more comfortable. Too comfortable. It was all too easy, people were too nice, too helpful. I thought the world was supposed to be scary. But already, here I am, stuck in another routine, just a different backdrop.

Yes, it’s a world away from home, cracked tarmac, pressing heat, scooters everywhere in place of cars, noodles and rice instead of potatoes and pasta, markets on the side of the roads instead of in shops.

Everyone stopping to stare at the blonde haired, white girl walking amongst them.

Definitely a certain rustic beauty to the poverty.

But it was way too easy to find my place amongst them, to settle.

That’s not what I wanted.

I wanted hardship.

I wanted sweat, tears, and failure.

I wanted laughter and triumph against all odds.

I wanted an Epic.

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But now I’ve glimpsed real hardship, in the lives that most live here and all I feel is selfish, so selfish for always wanting more, when what I have is already pretty great.

Yet, in poverty it seems they have found what I seek.

With poverty it seems there comes a certain freedom. People are happier, freer then those of us from the western world. They have nothing; a whole family squashed together in a tiny room with no panes in their windows, their bikes and animals lying in the same room as their bed and kitchen, no fan or air conditioning to cool them in the relentless heat. Yet all they have, they share, they give all they can to others, to me, the ‘rich’ foreigner.

It would appear that I have everything they would want/need, yet I am not as happy, not as free as them. I am restless, yearning to see a change in the world, to see a change in myself. I thought my life was difficult, but it’s all relative. My life is not difficult, not by comparisons.

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I think my desire for adventure is connected with money and trappings of it. If I have nothing and all my worries day to day are not of how bad my skin is, how fat my thighs are, or how people perceive me. Adventure is when all of that fades into the background, into insignificance and the worries are instead focused on survival. The days spent pushing your body, mind and soul to its limit, seeing what you are capable of, seeing the world as it really is, not the tourist flashy version, but the real world.

I am tired of being restless.

I’ve always known what I want to do, I’ve just always been afraid to go ahead and do it.

Perhaps I am finally ready to step it up a gear or two, to say fuck the stepping stones and throw caution to the wind.

I am already nervous of the decision I have yet to make, of the not yet fully formed  idea in my mind. But it is there. It’s always been there. Growing stronger each passing day.  I will commit to doing something or forever will I be exiled  to this incomplete state of yearning, of always aching for more, of always failing to live in the moment.

When will my soul finally settle?

I’ve known the answer for quite a while. I just never had that extra push that it takes to commit and initiate the process.

Maybe moving here was too easy, but perhaps it was exactly what I needed to do to get the wheels in motion, to make me take that first and hardest of steps.

I know now I have to do an expedition/ a big adventure or forever I will live with a regret weighing on my shoulders.

Now…”Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” – Mary Oliver, The Summer Day.

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#microadventure on the Saltee Islands

An opportunity seized. A bag quickly packed. A boat taken. Me and my big sister, all grown up and off on a little adventure together.

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Just eighteen months separate us, yet we have grown up to be two completely different people. Her, twenty four, beautiful and stubborn. Me, twenty two, ragged and determined.

We plied off a motorised pack raft onto the edge of the beach, totally alone for one night on the empty Saltee Islands to spend a night amongst the seabirds.

We walk, we explore, so long it’s been since we were alone in each other’s company, we eat the filled rolls prepurchased from a garage deli on the shores of Kilmore. We wander over the cliffs, caged in by a colony of gannets, jeering the silly ways of the puffins and seals. We gather whale bones strewn across the beaches floor, vertebrates to be used as future paperweights, light a fire in the empty grate of our little shed and roll out our sleeping mats for the night ahead, basking in the sheer simplicity and beauty of it all.

Look how far we have come, since those days a lifetime ago playing push off the bed with our Da, screaming at each other as teenagers and now full circle, coming to rest at a lilting easiness between us.

Both of us currently stand on the threshold of real life, when this summer comes to a close, our time will come to leave home for good and continue the dreaded search to figure out who we are, on our own. She’s looking at Canada, me at Australia. Worlds apart.

But for one more night, we sit on the cliff, side by side in an easy silence, watching the world from our patch of isolated paradise.

 

Interview with Angelo Wilkie-Page of Expedition 720°

An expedition of daunting magnitude, a time frame of eight years, this is a story that will inspire a generation of people who are already beginning to make their way into the wild, to venture even further, to worry less and rage against the limitations they have bound themselves in. Twenty nine year old Angelo Wilkie-Page’s is soon to embark on an expedition to circumnavigate the globe from East to West and Pole to Pole, crossing all lines of latitude and longitude, using only human power. I got the opportunity to ask him a few question before he sets off on Expedition 720° in just over a month’s time.

Courtesy of Expedition 720°

Courtesy of Expedition 720°

1. Eight years without a home, without staying still, without your family and friends around you. Is that an issue for you or are you looking forward to that escape?

Fortunately this is not a non-stop circumnavigation. The route is designed in 2 parts east to west and pole-to-pole, each part is broken up into 4 legs. I have no problem spending time on my own; in fact I enjoy it. I’m not married and don’t have kids. If I did have children I don’t think that I would attempt a project of this nature. I am looking forward to physically starting Expedition 720°.

2.You are 29 years old, what makes now the right time to embark on something like this?

I would say now is the right time for me personally at 29, as all my life experiences have led and partly prepared me for this expedition. I don’t think I would have been ready for this 3 years ago, and I don’t want to leave it till later in life. The timing is right for it now.

3. How is your head dealing with the sheer scale of the expedition? How will you keep your mind in check so as not to become overwhelmed?

I only concentrate on the stage or leg ahead of me; there is no point stressing about leg 6 when I’m on leg 1. I feel it’s important to be adaptable, as there are some many outside factors that can influence the expedition. Best thing I find is to look a few steps ahead but focus on the present.

4.The expedition will require a lot of equipment for it’s different stages, will it all be pre set up (boat, bike etc)?

Each leg is very unique and equipment will adapt as per individual leg requirements. At this point I am fully equipped for the first cycle leg from Los Angeles to Anchorage, but I will use a different bike setup for Siberia and Mongolia. The Atlantic rowing boat is currently being constructed, along with the ocean kayak that will be used for the Bearing straight crossing.

5. Aside from raising money for charity and conducting research, what is your motivation for doing this? Have you never found something to hold you in the 9-5 world?

I worked as a commodities trader for three years before leaving to work in the yachting industry. I can’t see myself going back to a corporate 9-5. Attempting a project of this magnitude one needs to be 100% committed, I can’t have any doubts about going to back to corporate. Expedition 720° is my 9-5! I’m all in.

6. I know this is a childish question but will it be any fun or all hard grit?

I hope it will be more fun than hard grit, I expect to meet, see and experience some wonderful people and places along the route. I will make sure to take time out for enjoyment and the odd beer. It’s a once in a lifetime expedition, doing what I love so to answer your question more fun than hard grit.

7. With it been a world first, is failure something you’ve considered?

I have been told that I can be rather stubborn, I don’t give up easily. The thing about an expedition of this nature is that there are so many external elements that could play a role in the success or failure of the expedition. Elements such as shifting ice, rough waves, being hit by a car, visa’s, consistent campaigning, extreme weather conditions, health these are a few factors that could get in the way of the project. My strategy is to complete one kilometer at a time and be as safe as possible.

8. The expedition could take up to eight years, that means you will be 38 when you finish. I know I am getting ahead of myself here but have you considered how will you adjust to normal life after that?

If I complete this project I would have achieved a lifelong dream. Ill cross that bridge when the time comes. Adjusting I’m sure would not be easy and might take a while.

Follow every step of Wilkie-Page’s expedition on his website, Facebook or Twitter page.

Courtesy of Expedition 720°

Courtesy of Expedition 720°

Interview with Derek Cullen – Cycling solo across Africa

Tired of the monotony of everyday life, 32 year old Irishman Derek Cullen mounted an old bike and began an epic unsupported cycle across Africa. It is a story with the potential to inspire the ordinary person, to break down the very shackles that we confine ourselves to.  I, myself really wanted to interview him, as I am well short of a few Irish adventurers to look up to. And he is every bit the stereotype (the good one) :  the pale skin, the ginger beard, the easy warm character, the sense of humour and of course he is much more modest than he needs to be. This interview, I hope, will make you smile, as it did to me,  and maybe plant a tiny thought into your mind; if he can do it, then why can I not do it too?

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1.What is your current location?

Arusha, Tanzania – exactly half way between the start point Cape Town & Cairo.

2.What type of bike are you ridding?

Trek820 – it’s nothing fancy, 13 years old, has 23 gears and god knows how many previous owners.

3.What have you packed in your panniers?

Clothes, cooking gear, sleeping bag, tent, cameras, water – anything you’d need to survive a wilderness area.

4.What books have you brought with you to entertain you in the evenings?

Arabian Sands, Adrift, Into the Wild, Into Thin Air – are you seeing the trend? Mostly adventure stories about ridiculously lonesome journeys!

5.How are you navigating?

Map and compass, to be honest it would be harder to go the wrong way – there’s not many roads down here. I’ve got the distance wrong several times but who cares, I just pitch the tent behind a bush and carry on the next morning.

6.What distance are you covering each day?

Usually between 60 – 100km. The most covered in a day was 160km, the least 20km (exhausted). I travel very slowly even against bicycle standards, I like to spend more time anywhere that’s cool.

7.What does your diet consist of on the road?

On the bike – bananas, chocolate, biscuits, water, water, water. Off the bike – two minute noodles, beans, rice, heaps of local food (god knows what some of the meat really is). You eat like a horse doing this and literally give up being fussy.

8.What was your cycling experience like before you embarked on this massive trip?

Believe it or not – none. I was never a fan of cycling as strange as that may sound – it’s just the mode in which I seek adventure! My brother likes to tell people about how I struggled to cycle to his house last year in Ireland, I barely made it home – it was a 10km ride.

9.Have you discovered anything about your character, about who you are as a person?

Yeah completely, I realised the world didn’t revolve around me for a start – that was disappointing! It has changed me in ways I never thought imaginable, facing fears and taking on such a big challenge has brought huge confidence and a lot of humility. I genuinely feel a much “better person” now than ever before.

10.Does the joy outweigh the suffering on the road?

Every. Single. Time.

There are pretty depressing times, especially the aspect of being alone so long, for so often – but you get over that. Three words – Cycling with Giraffes.  I can’t forget that people are living hard lives back home, I’m very lucky to be where I am.

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11. As you make progress, has the fear and anxiety you have mentioned before become more manageable or are you still dealing with it on a daily basis?

It may sound too good to be true but the anxiety has all but disappeared.  I spent a lot of time worrying at the beginning but the anxieties proved to be “false concerns” every time – I literally stopped bothering to worry about what never seemed to happen anyway! I still feel the fear of course, that’s a healthy concern to have and I don’t think I’ll ever get over the worry of having Hyenas or lions around my tent.

12. How are you finding using social media and a blog to document your trip? Is it a motivator not to quit or does it take away a little from the adventure?

A lot of work goes into it for sure but it’s worth it for the chance of sharing this experience with someone. Also, writing fills a lot of spare time that is usually spent alone.

13. I am allowed stereotype you here because I am also Irish, but how are you not burnt alive with the heat?!

Yeah it’s kinda hot alright, I got heat exhaustion in the lower Namibia Desert which involved not having the energy to roll over and two days of falling asleep. That was enough reason to be careful in the future. I wear a wide brimmed hat (which looks stupid, I know) and keep putting sun cream on the arms – everything else stays covered while cycling. Yes, I have a farmers tan.

Speaking of stereotypes, I’ve had less than 15 bottles of beer in 7 months – beat that Ireland!

14. How do you make yourself get up and ride again the next day after having a shit day (aka how are you keeping your head in the right place)?

That’s been difficult, I doubt anyone could properly understand just how hard this gets when you spend so much time alone. I keep mentioning being alone but it’s the most influential factor of the trip each day and for staying motivated. The answer is, some days I just do and some days I just don’t – I just stay where I am until the mood has passed.

In general, I keep my head together by finding meaning in everything that happens. No matter how bad it gets, there is always a positive way to look at it. Looking down from the top of a mountain with the bicycle is an empowering feeling but it never feels like that at the time of cycling uphill to get there.

15. Is the journey harder than you thought, or is it living up to your expectations?

Harder yes but not for the reasons I would have thought prior. Physically, it is tough but manageable. Mentally, it can be a right battle. The trip has exceeded anything I could have imagined, it is the single most profound experience in my thirty two years and has definitely changed my outlook on life.

16. Is the stereotypical image of Africa of a poverty stricken and dangerous continent holding true?

Poverty, yes at times but what many people don’t realise is that most Africans are happy with their conditions – they still live traditionally and get by with what they have. It’s wrong of the western world to think of Africans as unprivileged for not having the same standard of living. If you ask me, the simple life being led in these parts has resulted in a community that is much richer and far more content than the complicated world we live in. Mobile phones are everywhere you go now, it disappoints me to see this in Africa too.

Africa is no more dangerous than London, New York, Dublin or Rome. If anything people here are more friendly. The danger associated with Africa is derived from western media and peoples natural feeling to fear the unknown.

17. Why are you doing it, what was the trigger?

My life was crap!!

I was so bored, I wasn’t happy with work, my social life was average, I felt I wasn’t growing or doing what I really wanted to do. Nobody needs to feel this way, it’s a choice really.

I genuinely thought if there was any real meaning to life, it had to be out there to experience but I needed to “go out there” first in order to find out.

18. How are you coping with being alone for so many hours each day?

It can be quite depressing but mostly a great experience. You learn to be your best friend in a situation like this – I really needed that, to gain a better opinion and respect for myself.

19. You are obviously fit by now – 6,000km in. Is the actual physical cycle itself no longer the hard part?

Yes and no. Physically, it gets harder over time with the constant strain on the body but by then you have learnt to just get on with it so it cancels it out somewhat. Being alone and keeping a sane mental state is by far the biggest challenge.

20. What are the descents/downhill’s like?

Elation – to the point of feeling crazy and screaming random words before realising the locals are watching….and continuing on anyway!

Along with “being tied down” and having kids (thinking ahead!) I’ve already no doubt they will be the happiest memories I will ever have – it’s been worth the risk.

Follow Derek’s journey via his website, Twitter or Facebook page.

My First Time Wild Camping Alone.

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I picked a spot to head towards. Roughly ten minutes away. All uphill. But the trees deceived me, they looked a lot nearer then they were. Half an hour later I gave up, here will do. The sound of the wind kept tipping me over, the power of it mocking my unsteady feet. I sheltered from it as best as I could. People have this perception that away from the city everything is silent, but between the birds, the animals, the branches and the winds,the noise roared relentlessly around me. Apparently if the weather is nice in Edinburgh, it does not automatically mean it is nice up here. I pulled the contents from my red rug sack and began assembling my tent. I forgot my sleeping mat. I groan inwardly.

But alas, this is the life I have chosen. Now I must practise it.

Up in the Pentland hills I lie. Cold and lonely, I wait for the darkness to creep in, for sleep to drag me under, to take me away. I have given up on entertaining myself, and it is too windy to venture further and explore my surroundings. So I lie on my back and imagine what my family are doing right now, sitting around the fire, watching a movie? I laugh tentatively at the thought of telling my Ma what I did last night. She will kill me. Although if she knew what other 22 year old girls got up to, she would be delighted I am so into the outdoors. She’s a worrier though, which makes me worry. And when people unconsciously instil this unfounded fear into you, it can hold you back and make you doubt yourself. My flatmates are probably drinking beer, cooking dinner and watching reality TV. I laugh out loud again, I live with three boys yet I am probably the most macho of them all.

I think about who else is on top of a hill or in a field, cradled in a sleeping bag somewhere in the world right now? I salute them.

I zip up my tent waiting for the fear to come, but it doesn’t, I feel safe. I was scared of what the night ahead would bring, but deep down I know, there is nothing to fear but fear itself. I want to to shake the cobwebs off, to stop dreaming and start moving. Step by step, little by little, I will get there. Darkness has become my friend, hiding me from the outside world.
In my day to day life, as I have grown and worked and lived. I have become increasingly self concious. I have wasted so many hours stressing about my weight, my height, my face, my accent. I never wanted to be that person, and out here alone in the wild I am no longer. What does any of that stuff matter. My looks, my insecurities do not affect how well I pitch a tent, my ability to light a fire, how I read and write. The freedom to just be, is quite liberating.

I am braver and more capable than I think.
Next stop, a small expedition.
Little by little eh.

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WHAT TO BRING WITH YOU ON YOUR FIRST WILD CAMPING TRIP ALONE:

Travel light, take only the essentials.

  • A mat
  • A tent/bivvy
  • Sleeping bag
  • Flashlight/torch
  • water/food
  • towl
  • cooking utensils
  • matches
  • extra clothes for warmth – leggings, jumpers, hoodies, extra socks, buff, wooly hat
  • first aid kit
  • book/notebook to entertain
  • phone – just in case something goes wrong.
  • a map

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