I took my place amongst the crowd in George Square Lecture Theatre. I was alone, as usual so I automatically tuned into the casual banter taking place around me. Common themes arose, travel, adventure, kayaking, cycling….. I looked around and unsurprisingly the words matched that of their owners. They all, myself included, had that rugged look that can’t be faked, the mark of a life outdoors. I realised that I was way too comfortable for an unfamiliar territory. I was settled in to my comfy chair, notepad in hand, listening to people talk about their adventures. I was home.
On cue, the room was plunged into darkness, the laughter stilled and the host Stevie Christie took to the stage. Sunday afternoons agenda at the Edinburgh Mountain Film festival included three diverse films and a lecture by the notorious (in a good way) Alistair Humphreys.
The first film,’ La Logia’, saw four adventurers kayak Norway, India and Nepal, riding the craziest drops I have ever seen, exploring unmarked routes and generally making up their trip as they went along. “The bigger the risk, the better the reward”, is what they were preaching and I quote; “it’s not a test of your paddling capabilities but of how big your balls are”, aka it is a head game. However the film was more than simply watching kayakers doing crazy shit, it was a documentary on risk taking. A successful one, converting the fainthearted into full on adrenaline junkies.
The next two films were composed by local men. The first, ‘The Fastest man in Kashmir’ dealt with skiing in Northern India. The second, Running Wild, obviously dealt with running. Pete Rennie made it about his wife Fiona who runs The West Highland way. Alot. Her message, “Just do what you want to do and don’t mind other people.”
The films were truly amazing but the finale, Al Humphreys lecture cycled away with the show. He made these grand expeditions accessible, proving that anyone can do them. The self pronounced loser dedicated the lecture to all his fellow losers in the audience. Then, with our guard temporarily down with laughter, he caught us and reeled us in, pulling us with him on his 46,000 mile bike journey across the globe.
According to Al, I think I can call him Al, the best bit of every trip is buying the map, sprawling it across the kitchen table with a cup of tea and imaging yourself as a hero in all these exotic locations.His tale is simple. During university, he scraped up £7,000 and after the four years, degree stowed in his back pocket he mounted a bike alone and left for four years and three months. It was his game, therefore his rules. Being free of sponsors meant he had the added bonus of spontaneity.
What did I learn from this? More than I have in a long time that’s for sure. The following thoughts are probably ridiculously obvious to your genius minds but they had failed to click with me before Mr. Al Humphreys said them.
- If you cycle all day, every day, you are going to get ridiculously fit. Therefore the actual physical activity itself is no longer the challenge but the mental aspect.
- The majority of the Middle East’s inhabitants are nice, nicer than us. So ignore what the media are telling us, man up and get over there.
- In Siberia, ice-cream never melts so you don’t have to bring a portable freezer with you!
- Don’t be in a hurry to reach the destination or get home, explore it all, enjoy it all. Chill the beans.
- “In cycling there is no such thing as a tailwind, there is only a headwind and the days that you are a bit of a legend” – Al Humphreys
- When you are away you will want to be home, you will crave a normal life, but when you are home, you will be bored. Fact.
- If you need help just ask. What you need to do is phone up local newspapers, radios or get a job in an obvious place (ie if you need a boat, work in a boat shop). Eventually someone, somewhere will help you. Persistence is the key.
At twenty eight years old he rolled back into Yorkshire, showered, ate and was bored. So he ran the equivalent of six marathons in six days in the Sahara desert, and then he canoed 500 miles down the length of the Yukon River, then he walked across India, and then he did a lap of the M25 motorway.