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.

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.

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.

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Video: Eleutheromania

So this is it.

Four years of university. Four years in Edinburgh. Done.

Years of being broke, of trying to fit in, then trying to stand out. Years of craving to escape Ireland, then crying from homesickness and calling up Mammy on the phone to let me come home. Four years of crappy jobs, of acne, of tears but also four years of making the most brilliant of friends, of dancing, of surfing, of laughing. Four hard but brilliant years. And it all comes down to this. It is decision making time.

Where do I go from here? Here I sit, yearning for freedom, for the life of an adventurer, but been held back by two empty bank accounts,  by the fear of sleeping wild in a tent alone. By the fear of failing and having to start again. The fear of mean people. The fear that the people who keep telling me, that as a girl I must beware of certain things, will be proved right. The fear of rejection. The fear of not being good enough. The fear of always wanting more. But most of all, the fear of taking the easy way out and shoving all those dreams down for the comfortable life, just for now, in the hope that one day I won’t be afraid. The ever elusive one day.

I leave you with my final university assignment, a ten minute documentary entitled; Eleutheromania; which denotes an irresistible desire for freedom. It is far from perfect, poor Alastair Humphreys looks a little blue due to my failure to check the white balance, and the brilliant Em Bell is a bit blurry at times and Jamie Bunchuk is looking at the camera instead of at me (again my fault). But bear with me, I am still learning, I am still raw and unpolished, still finding my way, still tripping up regularly, but I am on the way. Be kind, I know my faults. Just bear with me on this journey, I only promise that it will be worth it.

One day…

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Interview with Sidetracked Magazine founder John Summerton

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1.What made you start up and commit to Sidetracked?

I’d been working as a freelance web designer for about 10 years, mainly doing promotional and e-commerce websites. I’ve always had an interest in travel and exploration through history and spent a lot of time immersed in Outside magazine, NG adventure etc. The issue for me was that the online presentation of these stories was a bit mediocre to say the least. I wanted to create a site that did the stories and the photography justice. Sidetracked was created 2 years ago as a personal project and experiment to see if this was possible. Originally it was a bit of an escape but it grew into a an obsession. I love working on it, speaking to people about it and hearing the feedback from those that discover it. I still do.

2. How did you expand the brand and gather the Sidetracked team?

The Sidetracked brand is growing naturally. The whole point of it is communication. Sharing amazing experiences through stories, photos and videos. It’s a base for ideas and inspiration. Some of us will get out there and take on our own daring adventures. Some of us just prefer to sit back and enjoy the experience that others provide.  We aim for Sidetracked to be the place to share these journeys.

The Sidetracked team is made up of people with the same passion and enthusiasm. We’ve either met over a beer, or email or both. A friend of mine called Eddy helps with the development of the site. Jamie (Maddison) and I got chatting after edition 5 as he was keen to work on his writing and his enthusiasm and knowledge exploration throughout history made him a natural fit. Andrew Mazibrada runs journeymantraveller.com and got in touch to see if there was a way we could collaborate. And then there’s yourself of course!

3. How has the adventure industry changed since you have been a part of it?

I think it’s more accessible to the masses and that has perhaps made it a little overcrowded. With the opportunities now available online to tweet, post and update websites, we seem to be hearing about more and more adventures. This is brilliant but there are now more and more people vying for the same sponsor deals and the same spotlight. This leads to more unusual angles for expeditions in order to gain publicity and funding. This was one reason why we set up theadventurefund.com as a way of trying to help one or two individuals on their way.

4.Has dealing with peoples stories of adventure and expeditions made you embrace adventure more in your own life or turn away from it, so as to get some normality and get a break from the ‘untraditional lifestyle’?

I embrace it more for sure. I still love to watch, listen or read up on everything happening within the community. There’s so much great stuff going on, here in the UK and worldwide. I guess the only thing that frustrates me a bit is so much of the hard sell – folks that bang on or preach about the need to do this or do that etc. Everyone has a choice of what they want to do in life and no one has the right to force their opinion on anyone else.

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5. A BBC article once proclaimed something along the lines of ‘Adventure is dead’, (http://www.alastairhumphreys.com/adventure-dead/) what is your opinion on this?

Adventure is not dead – not even close! Yes many of the world firsts have been done therefore new, perhaps more convoluted ideas are needed to label your adventure a ‘first’. Whilst a first may be important for funding and status, I think adventure should ideally be on a personal level. If you want to go and do an expedition or have an adventure over a weekend then go and do it. Find a way and make it happen.

6.How do you feel about the hyperbole involved in a lot of the reporting on extreme sports/adventure. Do you think it is becoming too sensationalist and therefore out of reach to the ordinary man?

Extreme sports and adventure are needed for sure. There has to be a pinnacle in every industry; something or someone that makes the rest of us look on in awe and admiration. It’s inspirational – even if we don’t all want to be that person. To be honest, there’s plenty of opportunity for everyone to have a go and achieve what they want to achieve. What we do here at Sidetracked is offer some inspiration – through example.

8.Can you see yourself ever doing an expedition?

Ha! An expedition seems a serious word at this point. 21 years ago I met my future wife. Within 3 weeks of meeting, we’d binned off our university plans and flew to Australia with a one way ticket. Once there we bought a 1972 clapped out Mitsubishi for AUS$700 and a $30 tent and started driving clockwise from Sydney. We camped wherever we could, worked on farms and in local towns when we ran out of petrol. 12 months later we arrived back after a complete circumnavigation of the country. Was that an expedition? No way. Was it unique? Not even close. But we had one hell of a year of adventures along the way.  And that’s the way I prefer to do things. Currently we’re living and loving life with our kids. Through their eyes adventure can be all around us, from camping trips and mucking around in the woods to ordering ice cream in French. And they’re absolutely right. Just live life and enjoy it.  For me, an expedition suddenly seems quite serious in comparison, but reading some of the Sidetracked stories does give me itchy feet sometimes.

9.What is in the pipelines for the future of Sidetracked?

We’re always making improvements and looking at ways to share these stories. A high quality printed version, ipad app and more focus on video is on the cards for starters. We’ll get there. The most important thing is to keep doing what we’re doing and enjoy it.

10. Do you have advice for people attempting to get into the industry?

My background is in design so if you’re interested in getting into that then I suggest avoiding jumping straight into the Adobe suite and instead spend the time learning about typography and good graphic design principles. As for the publishing industry then expect a fair bit of hard work for little reward but if you believe in what you are doing then you will succeed. As for the adventure industry, I’m probably not the best person to ask. My answer would simply be get out and enjoy life and see what happens. For some more constructive and useful information I’d suggest reading ‘Expedition and Planning Advice’ from Al Humphreys (http://www.alastairhumphreys.com/more/expedition-planning-advice/) and ‘How to get into’ by Alex Hibbert (http://www.alexhibbert.com/blog/2013/5/27/how-to-get-into-truths-and-advice.html) for starters.

Check out the sidetracked website, or follow them on Twitter or Facebook.

Interview with Outdoor Enthusiast, OE Retailer and Mountain Pro Magazine Editor Phil Turner

This is the final interview with an Editor of a specialist magazine. Outdoor Enthusiast Editor Phil Turner talks about his role and gives advice to budding adventure editors.

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1.How did you get into the industry?

I had a fairly unconventional career progression – I started a  hillwalking/backpacking blog which was noticed by a publisher and effectively ‘bought’. I worked on their new website as Online Editor before becoming Gear Editor, and ultimately ended up as Editor of a group of three magazines.

 

2.Describe your role?

I work as editor for three magazines – one consumer and two trade – on a freelance basis. I work closely with the sales team to come up with a strategy for the magazines, appoint and liaise with freelance contributors to commission articles and work with the in-house design team to  formulate the overall look of the magazines. I also have an assistant who is a staff member within the publishing company and I’m responsible for setting her to work and critiquing her efforts!

 

3. What does your day to day work schedule involve?

The three magazines are currently quarterly, with slightly different schedules, so there’s quite a bit of time between issues. This allows me to pursue other freelance activities like guidebook writing or actually getting outdoors, only devoting significant time to the magazines when deadlines are approaching. There’s no typical day, but I work from home so on a ‘normal’ day I walk into my office at around 9am, working through to around 5pm answering emails or writing the odd article. Magazines are sales-driven – in the outdoor industry we almost totally rely on gear companies advertising , so I spend a lot of time talking to PR companies about new gear. I also go to trade shows, festivals and press trips. There are days when I’ll start later and only need to spend an hour or so in front of the computer, or even have a day off. I prefer to work over the weekend as I get far fewer emails, and the hills are quieter midweek!

 

4.What skills do you think are required to do your job?

Subject knowledge is essential in a specialist magazine. As an editor I need good organisational skills to be able to set and meet deadlines and keep track of what I’ve commissioned. I need to manage a budget and field complaints from freelancers who haven’t been paid for some reason. There’s a fair amount of leadership required – magazines are collaborative efforts so I need to keep  a subeditor, designer, assistant editor , marketing and sales team happy and deal with any issues that arise. As I work remotely and 99% of the production work flow is computerised, IT skills are essential. We do a lot of planning via collaborative documents like Google Drive/Docs which we can access from wherever we happen to be.

 

5.Do you think a journalism degree or work experience/internships are more important?

I don’t have a journalism degree and never did any work experience or internships. From my experience of working with journalism graduates I’d prefer someone who can write well! I guess a journalism degree might teach some of the industry knowledge that I had to learn through trial and error when I started?

 

6.Best part of the job?

It’s the dream, isn’t it? Making a (small) living from something that you enjoy doing. As a freelance editor I can work from home, set my own hours and do other work on the side. If it’s sunny I can usually drop everything and head outside. There are opportunities to travel all over the world on press trips. I also never need to buy equipment as I get mountains of samples sent to me.

 

7.Worst part of the job?

Like most jobs that are fun, there are plenty of amateurs and hobbyists that are happy to work for very little money, meaning professionals can’t attract the money that they should. As a freelancer I also have little job security – I can be out of work almost instantly. Also see my answer to question 10…

 

8.How would you describe the job market for this area of work in the UK?

Limited for an editor– there aren’t many outdoor magazines around, and there can only be one editor for each. I’m not really a feature writer – I don’t really write that much content myself – but I know that freelance writers and photographers are having a tough time at the moment. But as an editor I’m lazy – I prefer to work with writers that I know are good, so if a writer performs well consistently they’ll generally get more work.

 

9.Any advice for people wanting to break into the industry?

Editors like at least two characteristics from the following: Good, Punctual, Friendly. If you’re getting copy in on time and you’re nice to work with I’ll tolerate a lot more than if you’re always late and grumpy!

I got to my position at a relatively early age (I’m 29) by saying “yes” a lot – I took any opportunity that came up rather than holding out for a better offer. But don’t work for free – that upsets the rest of the industry, and if you get a reputation for selling yourself short you’ll get screwed over forever. So temper your “yes” with the ability to say “no” if someone is undervaluing you.

 

10. Does working in an area that you love and was once perhaps your favourite hobby, take some of the magic away from the outdoors, because your surrounded by it all the time.? As in you can no longer use it as an escape? (It’s just something I worry about.)

YES! This is a real issue. Getting a free trip abroad to write about climbing a particular mountain only to find its clagged-in for the week can cause a lot of stress. It’s hard to switch off, as you’re always looking for an angle, wondering if it’ll make a good article, slowing down to take the perfect photo, choosing  holiday locations around research needs – you get the picture. I write guidebooks, and find myself rushing around trying to cover as much ground as possible rather than lingering to enjoy the walk.

It’s important to be able to strike a work/life balance, and that becomes hard if your hobby is also your work. But compared to a normal 9-5 job I can’t really complain, can I?

For more information check out the magazines website or follow Phil on Twitter.

Interview with TGO Magazine Editor Emily Rodway

The second interview with an editor of a specialist magazine, offering some information and advice on breaking into the industry.

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1.How did you get into the industry?

I took a rather unconventional route into publishing. I studied at the University of Leeds and while I was there had a part-time job in a small commercial art gallery. When I graduated I was offered the position of Manager at the gallery. That role involved a fair amount of liaison with corporate clients so when I subsequently relocated to London, I took a job as an Account Manager with a specialist PR company. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my career but the company I was joining published a number of magazines and I had edited my school magazine as a sixth former and was interested in writing and editing. Soon after joining the business I was offered the opportunity to try out for the magazines by taking home other journalists’ interview tapes and writing them up. I subsequently progressed through the department, eventually becoming an editor. When I then moved to Glasgow I took a job as Editor of a small publishing company that published three specialist magazines. I edited all three magazines and managed the small editorial and production team. But the main reason we had moved to Scotland was to be near the mountains and I was spending a lot of my spare time hillwalking, so when the job as Deputy Editor of The Great Outdoors came up, I was able to offer both hillwalking and editing experience. I was promoted to Editor of The Great Outdoors a couple of years later.

 

2.Describe your role?

I am responsible for the overall editorial content of The Great Outdoors – planning out issues of the magazine, commissioning freelancers and staff to produce features and photography, sub-editing, writing, picture research and proof-reading. One of my staff was recently promoted to Digital Editor so we work side-by-side on print and digital content.

 

3. What does your day to day work schedule involve?

Nowadays I don’t get out into the hills for work very often but I’m lucky in that the tasks I carry out at my desk are varied. However, keeping on top of my Outlook inbox can be a bit of a job in itself! I work remotely from the rest of the company so I spend a lot of time on the phone and on email, communicating with my team. I also spend a lot of time working on individual features and making them print-ready. I particularly enjoy that aspect of the job.

 

4.What skills do you think are required to do your job?

You need to be organised, creative and have good attention to detail. You need a fairly thick skin as people don’t hesitate to let you know if they disagree with something you’ve published!

 

5.Do you think a journalism degree or work experience/internships are more important?

I was lucky in that I managed to get into my job without either – although I did do some extra work at home for free in order to move from an administrative to a journalistic role in my first job in London. Sadly, nowadays things are a lot more difficult. When people approach me for work, I’m most interested to see evidence that they are keen on writing and interested in the outdoors. A good blog goes a long way! But obviously work experience, internships and a relevant qualification are all excellent experience too.

 

6.Best part of the job?

When a real gem of a feature lands in my inbox.

 

7.Worst part of the job?

Disgruntled readers – unfortunately you can’t please all the people all the time but we do our best.

 

8.How would you describe the job market for this area of work in the UK?

There aren’t that many outdoor magazines and most of them have very small teams. We use a lot of freelance writers rather than having a big staff.

 

9. Any advice for people wanting to break into the industry?

As I mentioned earlier, evidence of talent (good writing, good photography) and an interest in the outdoors go a long way with me. A great blog is a real asset.

 

10. Does working in an area that you love and was once perhaps your favourite hobby, take some of the magic away from the outdoors, because you’re surrounded by it all the time.? As in you can no longer use it as an escape? (It’s just something I worry about.)

It doesn’t take the magic away but it does mean that I’m sometimes drafting an article in my head while climbing a hill… I’m not very good at switching off work anyway – I’m sure some others are better at separating work and pleasure than I am!

Check out the magazine’s website for more information.

Interview with Editor of The Surfers Path, Alex Dick-Read

I carried out a series of interviews with people from the outdoor/adventure magazine industry recently to ask them advice on breaking into their world. They agreed to let me post up their reply on this blog to help others in a similar position.

The first is with the Editor of ‘The Surfers Path’ Alex Dick-Read.

Enjoy!

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1.How did you get into the industry?

Hard to know. When I was eighteen I went to the UK to work in a board factory and from that I met a load of people who, as the years went by, I realized were part of the core of the UK industry. So by the time I was asked to edit a surf magazine I knew a few people. Prior to starting the magazine I was working as a new/features journalist for AP and Reuters, so switching into the surf world again was strange but since I knew a few people, not too hard.

 

2.Describe your role?

I started the magazine, so my role has been everything from broad outline/concept creation to making tea and everything in between. In general it is all about soliciting, selecting and editing images and stories for each page. There is a lot of writing – even good contributors’ work needs editing simply to fit the page allocations etc. Plus captions, standfirsts, news stories, interviews, editorials, and all the elements within the broad architecture of a magazine. In recent years, website and social media have taken up more and more time. But overall, a huge portion of time is spent corresponding with contributors etc. and up keeping the web.

 

3. What does your day to day work schedule involve?

Starts with emails and that might not end until lunchtime or beyond. Website and social media stuff is integrated into that because so many emails involve links to films, stories etc that might work well on the website. So email and web stuff can take a lot of the day. If I’m lucky I get to start real editing work – writing, reading, choosing shots etc. – in the afternoon and I’ll do that until about an hour before dark, then go and surf.

 

4.What skills do you think are required to do your job?

Patience. Quick writing skills. Good communications, including politeness and respect to total strangers. A good eye for images and a good eye for synchronicity where ever it occurs. Sometimes you can be working on two things that seem totally different and suddenly you see a link or a theme that makes absolutely natural partners – perhaps shots on a page or stories you’re preparing for the page, or even parts of a story you’re editing that can unblock a piece and suddenly give it great flow. Things can become more than their component parts added together, if you can spot those lines.

 

5.Do you think a journalism degree or work experience/internships are more important?

Well, I did a post grad journalism diploma and intern work and they were both invaluable. Intern work is great because you’re in it, you’re meeting real people doing the real work and soon enough you know if it’s for you and if it isn’t. If it is, other people notice and you’re likley to get a leg up. Plus it just gives you real experiences to draw on. Degrees? They’re ok for some important stuff like law, shorthand, media theory etc. but not as essential as the job experience.

 

6.Best part of the job?

People. Waves. Perks.

 

7.Worst part of the job?

Low, low pay. Long, long hours. Super shitty, awful employers who treat you like dirt. They don’t surf. They don’t appreciate. All they want is a good bottom line and sometimes you end up fighting because of that.

 

8.How would you describe the job market for this area of work in the UK?

Is there one? It’s terrible all over. The surf media relies on surf industry support and the surf industry has been laying off hundreds of people and slashing budgets to almost zero. So the knock on effect to media is just brutal. The way to get work is to do good work and get it under the nose of an editor and keep doing it. But expect to be paid very little because that editor hardly has any budget.

 

9. Any advice for people wanting to break into the industry?

Keep the day job.

 

10. Does working in an area that you love and was once perhaps your favourite hobby, take some of the magic away from the outdoors, because your surrounded by it all the time.? As in you can no longer use it as an escape? (It’s just something I worry about.)

It works that way, for sure. But to be honest, the experience of surfing – of being in the ocean and becoming actively involved with it’s pulses – is such a visceral and powerful thing that it puts the job stuff into perspective. When you’re submerged in nature like that, the job stuff seems so minor and the here and now is all that matters. 99% of the time the act of surfing feels like a perk and actually makes the work side of it seem sort of … worth it.

Check out the website for more information on the magazine.

A quick interview with Tom Denniss

A minute with Tom Denniss who has just completed the fastest circumnavigation of the globe on foot.

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1.What was your daily routine while en route?

Wake up, breakfast, get dressed, run, finish the day, do the blog and other documentation, shower, dinner and red wine.

2.How do you plan to deal with the inevitable come down of stopping after that being your life for over 20 months?

Not sure – I’ll do the best I can.

3.What made you do it? Why not just keep running marathons and ultras?

It’s a great way to see the world. I am not interested in marathon or ultra races. I’m simply not capable of running them fast enough to be competitive (sprinting is my forte – 400 metre races). The world run was always at a slow and sustainable pace.

4.How did you convince your wife to commit to it as well?

She was keener than me.

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6.How many pair of trainers/runners did you go through? 17

7.Was there ever a moment while on course when you felt that you could not do it?

No, although it was difficult at times.

8.How much of your success was dependent on mindset and how much was physical?

Probably 50/50.

9.What did you sleep in each night, tents/houses…?

Mostly hotels.

10. Why did you pick Oxfam as your charity?

I had donated to Oxfam for years, plus they have a history of fund raising events involving running.

11.How was the final day?

Short, but very enjoyable.

12. 26,000 km –  622 marathons. How is your body, especially your feet now?

I feel stronger than ever, especially around the knees and other joints. My feet were the only part that ached a bit by the end of each day, but that’s normal for someone who spends eight hours at a time on their feet.

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13. Did you succeed in it being the “Fastest Circumnavigation of the Earth on Foot”?

Yes, although I need to submit my documentation for ratification before it becomes official.

14. How your perspective on life changed as a result of this adventure?

I think I’m pretty much the same, except I now have a fantastic adventure under my belt.

Follow Tom’s adventures through his facebook, Twitter or blog page.