Interview with Adventurer/Photographer Chris Bray

Chris Bray grew up sailing around the world and then leading world-first cart-hauling expeditions across the arctic before becoming an award-winning Australian Geographic photographer, Lowepro ambassador and Canon’s Australian ambassador for five years. Chris’s work has appeared in National Geographic (along with Australian and Canadian Geographic) as well as TIME Magazine and Discovery Channel. He’s written a successful book ‘The 1000 Hour Day’ (now an award-winning documentary ‘The Crossing’), sits on the advisory committee for The Australian Geographic Society and is also founder and CEO of Conservation United, crowd-funding the world’s critical conservation projects. Besides running 1-day photography courses and photo safaris to the world’s most wonderful places, Chris and his wife Jess recently became the first people to sail a junk-rig boat through the Northwest Passage over the arctic.

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

 I am basically just driven by a need to experience new things, to be challenged, to fulfill my potential, to feel like I am getting the most out of this one life that I have. You mention freedom, adventure, health etc – I think these are just factors that need to be in place for me to achieve my broader goal of maximising my life. No one can experience new things without freedom, or be challenged without some adrenaline, or be at their best without being healthy. I certainly don’t go looking for adrenaline though – that’s a common misconception. I always do my best to identify risks and plan how to mitigate them, so as to be as safe as possible. I enjoy life too much to take irresponsible risks.

 2. Are there a few key pieces of gear you take with you on every expedition?

I’ve almost always got some kind of camera with me – because I enjoy sharing the experiences almost as much as having them. Anything from a little GoPro right up to my beast of a Canon EOS 1DX DSLR. I usually have a Leatherman handy too, and if I’m in the middle of nowhere, you can’t beat having an Iridium satellite phone just in case things go wrong.

3. Have you ever experienced fear on an expedition? If so, how did you overcome it?

Oh yeah, often! If you’re not at least a little scared every now and again, then it’s not really an adventure – you’re not pushing yourself far enough! Hopefully though, you’ve done all your research and planning, and are properly equipped mentally and physically to deal with any of the possible outcomes. Then, even though you might be scared that X is going to happen, at least you know what you’re going to do if/when it does so that it’s not Game Over. I’ve been in situations (for example in a nasty storm in our little wooden sailboat half way between Canada and Greenland) that have rapidly escalated beyond what I expected to need to prepare for, and in a scenario like that, I think the best thing to do is just constantly think ahead to visualize all the various disasters that could be about to happen, think them through, plan what you’ll do and how to react, and identify things that you could do right now to either prevent them, or if unavoidable, to maximize your chance of survival if it does. This way not only do you keep yourself busy which helps you not to worry, but all this mental and physical preparation will help prevent disaster.

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4. You have an engineering degree, yet you are a photographer, a public speaker, an author and you run your own company, where did you pick up all these skills?

I grew up sailing around the world with my family for 5 years so I was always taught to be practical and independent, but to be honest, I was quite a shy, nerdy little kid. At school I feared public speaking more than death, generally had very little self-confidence, especially around other people. It was the effect of going on my first major adventure that started to transform me. Finding myself way outside my comfort zone, learning how to make decisions and live with the consequences, having to be responsible, learning to overcome fear and hardship, the importance of determination and enthusiasm, learning how to break seemingly impossible challenges down into more manageable portions and tackling each in turn until at the end, you come out having seemingly achieved the impossible. The self-confidence & problem solving abilities I gained through my adventures has really opened up all my horizons. I think all skills come slowly though, with practice & patience – and I’m always still improving. Every time I speak in public I feel more comfortable with it, every year I feel like my photography improves, my business skills get better etc.

5. You are a busy man, do you ever have free time to just relax, or are your hobbies now your job so you don’t need time off?

I’m very lucky to be working for myself, in a job that’s my passion. I love it. However that does also mean there’s no escape from it – when you own your own company, especially one where you’re so completely absorbed inside it (eg: away overseas running photo safaris) for 10 months/yr, the brief times when my wife and I are ‘home’ is the only chance we get to work ‘on’ the business instead of ‘in’ it. There’s no such thing as ‘after hours’ or ‘weekends’, it’s just non-stop from when you open your eyes until well after dinner at night. Of course we schedule in time to catch up with friends or go somewhere, but our calendar is usually pretty crammed about 18 months out, so life is a little bit too hectic all the time. To be honest, at the moment, no, I don’t get enough time to even catch up on the backlog of emails, opportunities and chores, let alone catch my breath and take-stock, or plan properly for the future. Jess and I are working on trying to re-shape the business to allow a bit more me and us-time though!

6.Whats the most difficult thing you’ve ever done?

There’s been various physically challenging moments on some of my adventures, but actually, the trickiest thing I’ve ever done was having just graduated as an electrical engineer with a first class honors, awards and great job offers, to decide to turn my back on all that and instead try to follow my passion of adventure and photography and attempt to make a career doing that instead. 

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7. Have you experienced Type 2 fun? The idea that expeditions/challenges are miserable while enduring them but the fun and the pleasure comes in hindsight, once completed, perhaps in recounting the adventure afterwards?

Oh absolutely, all the time – that’s one of the great benefits of always having a camera with me, so I can laugh about terrible moments later on, and share the experience. It’s the same with wildlife photography, there’s a lot of Type 2 Fun going on there – often I have to endure a lot of annoying waiting, or miserable conditions etc but I do endure them, because I know that the end result, a beautiful photograph of some amazing animal that I can admire later in all it’s fine detail and share with everyone, will be worth it. If you need instant gratification, I would avoid both expeditions and wildlife photography!

8. If you could make money solely out of adventures alone would you give up running the photography courses?

It was a conscious decision I made to stop earning a living from adventure alone. I did live off sponsorship and adventure related incomes like speaking, selling articles etc for years. But after my second arctic expedition, completing the Victoria Island traverse which was a fairly epic, five year project costing more than $250,000, I realized that for adventure to be a career, in order not to go backwards, I’d have to keep somehow doing bigger, bolder, more dangerous expeditions, and eventually I’d either end up totally burnt-out, or more likely dead. Also, it’s very hard to raise enough money to even embark on an expedition, let alone make enough on the side for a decent living – it’s a lot of hard work.

Instead, I decided to devise a business model that would still let me travel to the world’s most wonderful places, get paid for it, and still be able to take chunks of time off to go on personal, more hard-core adventures, such as over the last five northern summers where my wife Jess and I rebuilt the little wooden sailboat and sailed it in stages up over the top of Canada and Alaska through the Northwest Passage. We took four months off work each year for a while there. I do enjoy good friendships with many of the interesting photo safari guests we meet, and I also love the challenge of running a successful business, and expanding it. Even if I won lotto, I’d still keep running my business – I might just employ more people so I could take longer holidays and more of them.

9.Would you say it’s a harder path you have chosen rather than an easier one, by choosing lets say an office job over your lifestyle? 

Harder in that it’s required some difficult decisions, hard work, dedication and risk yes, but personally, I’d find it way harder – too hard in fact – to spend my life sitting at a desk with an office job. So it depends what you define as being ‘hard’. I should point out though, that despite seeming from the outside like a glamorous, perpetual-holiday lifestyle that Jess and I enjoy, it is a HUGE amount of work, and without meaning to sound arrogant, I really don’t know anyone who works as hard, or as long as Jess and I do.

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10. Do you think having partner changes things, makes you have to reconsider the risk factor involved in some of the things you take on, perhaps say no to something you would have otherwise said yes to? 

Yes, and of course your choice of partner has a huge bearing on how much influence it has on your ideal lifestyle I’m super lucky in that Jess is very adventurous also, she’s always up for anything, and together I think we achieve more than we could apart, that’s why I married her. But still, it’s true that when you’re going on (or considering going on) a trip with someone you care for and genuinely feel responsible for, it does affect your decisions but probably for the better. There are things I’d probably have risked myself, but with Jess onboard, who’s depending on me to make the right decision for both of us, I’d opt for the safer one. I don’t see that as a bad thing in the end. Sure, there may be times when I’d like to be able to just set off solo, or do a trip that Jess wouldn’t be keen on, but I actually think if I was keen enough, she’d let me go anyway, and the fact is I’d probably just end up missing her, or making the wrong decision without her input.

11. Do you have any advice for people wanting to break out of their comfort zones?

Just go on an adventure somewhere, anywhere! It doesn’t have to be epic, lengthy or expensive – it’s just gotta be further along some path than you’ve ever been before. Grab some friends, think of something you like doing, and then come up with some crazy exaggeration of that same undertaking. If you like kayaking, pick somewhere on a map and work out how to kayak from A to B. Whatever.

 12. Can you tell me more about your conservation work and why you do it?

I’ve always loved nature, wildlife and the outdoors. Initially as a kid watching David Attenborough documentaries while growing up sailing the world, then going on my own adventures to so many beautiful, remote and unspoilt corners of the world, and now every month on my photography safaris it’s the same. It’s all so wonderful, so perfect and often so delicate, and it crushes me to see how quickly so much of it is being damaged or lost, forever. It’s true that on a personal level my business profits from the beauty of the natural world and so I feel it’s only fair that I give back, but more than that, I feel that humans as a whole are being grossly unfair to the natural world, and I feel it’s important to at least do my best to come up with a way to mitigate the losses. So having come up with an idea to attempt to re-structure the rather erratic way the world tends to donate to countless charities, I hope that ‘Conservation United’ will soon be able to start channeling funding to actually start solving some the world’s most critical conservation projects. If I can help prevent just one species from slipping into extinction, then I’ll feel like my effort, my life, was worthwhile, and meant something – made a difference. 

13. I hate asking people this question but alas it has to be done, what’s next for you?

More photography courses around Australia and photo safaris all around the world! This year we have a few new destinations too, including Iceland and Greenland, so that’ll be fun! Check out www.ChrisBraynet – I’m also looking into starting up a little eco-lodge, hopefully finally launching Conservation United, trying to sell our sailboat so we can start thinking about upgrading to a bigger, metal one so that we can go back into the arctic, perhaps with kids even! A family might be the next really big adventure I suspect, but we’ve got a bit of re-organizing to do of our current lifestyle before that would work!

Find out more about Chris Bray’s adventures via his website.

 

 

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.

Review: Born to Run

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This is a book that I will henceforth carry with me forever more, stuffed in the side pocket of my backpack. It will be worn and creased, the spine having long gave way, the pages all dog leafed marking the spots where I pause and re-pause. It will stay in my backpack as I roam, as I run, as I explore the world. It will be my pocketbook manual for all things running, all things journalism, and all things life.

A beautiful tale by Christopher McDougall about a culture and a way of life. At its most basic, it is a history of ultrarunning, the toughest of endurance sports. It is about barefoot running, that feeling of power beneath your feet. It is about the Tarahumara  people who have long excelled in the art of long distance running. At its deepest it is about camaraderie, friendship, and freedom. It is an ode to a sport that is accessible to all.

It started slow, and proved difficult to get into at first. I got distracted by life but one day, about a quarter of the way through the book, it caught me and took hold. Within two days I finished it and wanted more. That day I went for the longest run I have done in a while, no complaints, no faffing about, I just ran. I corrected my posture, I smiled and the difference it made was astonishing. I ran harder, I ran faster and for once when I smiled at passerby’s, they smiled back at me.

The book is intense and memorising, you can hear the pulsing of life through its pages, hear the feet padding the dusty earth beneath, the panting of their breath, their heart in their ears, feel the beads of sweat forming , the tightening and relaxing muscles and a smile will inch its way slowly across your face.

The secret to happiness lies within its very pages.

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Review: North of the Sun

I have no more excuses left. These two youths have robbed me of them all. The incredibly talented Inge Wegge and Jørn Ranum have created this forty six minute documentary ‘North of the Sun’ of their nine month adventure to an Arctic island by the coast of Northern-Norway. They build a cabin out of trash that has washed up on the shore, they surf, they paraglide, they snowboard, they film and honestly it took my breath away. No more excuses to postpone the adventures twirling around in my mind. If you only have $5/£2.96/€3.60 left in your bank account and the choice is between a microwave meal, a pint of Tennent’s or a night in watching this. Please choose this, it will save your day, perhaps change your life. Absolute magic.

Rent or buy it here.

If you aren’t convinced, watch the trailer below:

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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 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.