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.

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