Interview with adventurer Andy Campbell

Eight years ago Andy Campbell fell from the cliff face he was scaling. When his body collided with the ground beneath he was immediately paralysed from the waist down and henceforth confined to a wheelchair. Since then, he has relearned to ski, paraglide, kayak, mountain bike, SCUBA dive and rock climb without the use of his legs. His expeditions have taken him to Alaska, Africa, India’s Spiti Valley, the peaks of Colorado, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, the forests of Croatia and the plains of South Africa. This July he is set to take on his biggest challenge yet, travelling 30,000 miles around the world in a wheelchair in order to raise money to provide people with disabilities the equipment to live and explore.

1. Your blog is called “Pushing the Limits” and your tagline reads “…and what we should all be doing”. Why should we all be doing this?
I just think it’s human nature, to never be satisfied and to push forward to see what’s next. Pushing the limits isn’t about being crazy and living on the edge or permanently running on adrenaline, it’s about just enjoying life. Just because you’re comfortable in life doesn’t mean you’re satisfied or enjoying it all. Get out of your comfort zone and push yourself a little, the worst thought in the world has to be “If only I’d…”
2. You have a great story to tell, do you think you would be leading a similar life if you hadn’t had the accident?
It’s interesting; my accident was definitely life-changing in so many ways. Some negative and some positive. I’ve always loved adventure, until my accident I was in the Army and getting a pretty good amount of it too. For me, what I do now is the same but different, I’m just replacing one form of adventure with another. I remember seeing my insurance forms, noticing they classed it as a ‘catastrophic event’ and thinking “Well, come on. It’s not all that bad surely?”

3. 30,000miles around the world in a wheelchair- what a brilliant challenge. How have you being training for it?

There’s so much to train for! Obviously a lot of it is hugely physical and you can’t do anything to prepare other than to rack up the miles and try to simulate everything as much as possible. But there is a lot of skills training too, kayaking, paragliding, rope techniques etc. I’m using whatever methods I can to cross terrain and environments that are otherwise completely inaccessible to a wheelchair so practising for every eventuality is as important as the physical stuff.

 

4. Who does your support team consist of?
At home I have people helping with the logistics and planning side of things, thevisamachine.com and tourdeforce.co.uk are handling a lot of the bureaucracy for me. On the road the support team is a two man crew, driving the support vehicle and following me along the route.

 

5. How long has the expedition taken to plan?
It’s been my brainchild for almost two years now. Going through different stages from “yeah, that’d be cool” to “I just set a start date, this got real!”

 

 

6. Tell me about your chosen charities influence on your life?
Obviously becoming paralysed completely changes your life, I’ve always been really aware of how fortunate I’ve been to not only survive and stay healthy but have the equipment that lets me do all these things. I think it’s easy to understand how difficult life can be for people with paralysis in developing countries with no healthcare or support at all. It’s not an exaggeration to say that people who are essentially left to slowly die can be directly saved with a £135 wheelchair. Motivation.org.uk is a UK based charity that provides wheelchairs, equipment and training that I’ll be working with and raising money for. The other charity, The Chutkara Initiative, is one I’ve set up myself to provide adaptive outdoor sports equipment to wheelchair users around the world.

 

7) It is expensive equipment, how do you afford it all?
That’s my main reason for setting up The Chutkara Initiative. If you’re not paralysed then it’s easy to see all the things people in wheelchairs can do and think it’s pretty simple to have fun or get outdoors if you’re paralysed. But in reality it’s a nightmare, wheelchairs are great but they’re made for wheelchair accessible places and struggle to go anywhere more wild than the supermarket. If someone in a wheelchair wants to go skiing or hand cycling, or even something as simple as a walk through the woods with their children then they need another piece of specialised equipment. A sitski can cost over £7000, an off-road wheelchair up to £5000. When you’re paralysed, you may endure higher living costs and possible lower income after losing your job that becomes an unobtainable luxury. So people become restricted to the supermarket or concrete, physically and financially. I was lucky to have the support and resources to get equipment myself, but a lot of people simply can’t.

 

8. Where is your favourite place in the world?
No idea, I’m still looking.

 

9. You are redrawing the lines of possibility, how does that feel?
I’m not really. I’m not doing anything that anyone else can’t do or anything that was impossible before. There’s definitely other people who use wheelchairs that are better skiers or kayakers or paraglider pilots than me, and even more who could beat me around the route quite easily.  That’s a big part of my motivation for this expedition; to show what everyone has the potential to do but often can’t because they just don’t have the equipment.

 

10. After the accident , were there any thoughts of defeat?
No, obviously it’s a heavy blow to take but the Army teaches you to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. I took it on like a challenge and didn’t let myself get down because I knew it’d get worse later on, so far it’s not though.

 

11. Have you ever returned to the scene where it all happened?
Yes, I went back and climbed it again with the help of the Edale Mountain Rescue team that saved my life. It doesn’t hold any mythical or superstitious value for me, it’s just a place.
12.You say you will have to learn, “Can you give me a push” in 24 dialects, that was probably a joke but can you do it, show me?!

I’ve since revised this to be a more realistic goal of being able to mime “give me a push” in 24 dialects, charades style!

 

13.You have been on some incredible adventures, how did you stop dreaming about them and actually start doing them?
I don’t. I’m always dreaming of them, constantly. I’ll never be able to do all the things I dream of. I’ll be dreaming of so many at once that I’ll eventually just tell myself “Shut up and actually do one”. Mostly I impulsively just head off somewhere and do something.

 

14. Your sports include skiing, paragliding, diving, mountain biking and kayaking, how did you perfect this quantity of sports when most people just concentrate on one or two?
I’m too greedy. Everything I do isn’t for the sake of the sport itself but as a way to go where I want without using my legs. I started off just skiing as a way to get into the mountains again, but then got greedy and wanted to go into the mountains during the summer too and started paragliding. Then I wanted to still go into the mountains when the weather wasn’t good enough for flying, so I got into biking. I tried to focus on one or two but that just meant I was restricting myself to certain places, so I end up with a garage full of gear for just about everything.

 

15. Your arms must be huge, any idea of your biceps/triceps measurements?
No idea at all. I’ve never really worked out or been a gym rat at all; I exercise by just doing what I do. Arms and shoulders just aren’t designed for all this work, so if I’m going to wear them out and ruin them then I prefer to do it outside going somewhere rather than in a gym.

 

16.Was there a period of simply getting use to living life in a wheel chair, going back to the basics or did you skip that phase altogether and just get stuck in to the adventure side?
My plan after leaving hospital following my accident was to take a year out and travel around to get use to life in a wheelchair before going to university and settling down. I jumped straight in and organised a trip to Sweden to learn how to ski sitting down before I’d even left hospital, I had to forge the doctor’s signature on the consent forms. Eight years later and I’m still on my ‘year out’. I still haven’t got used to it yet.

 

17. Sometimes, only sometimes I think Life is a bitch, do you agree or disagree?

Oh hell yeah, life can suck. But you need the lows so you can appreciate the highs.

 

> Andy Campbell is speaking at the Night of Adventure on 20th February in London’s Leicester Square Theatre, in aid of Hope & Homes for Children. Ticket information

> Follow Andy on Twitter
> Visit Andy’s website

Advertisements

Arriving in Memphis – Dave Cornthwaite’s Mississippi Paddle

First published in Sidetracked online adventure magazine 19 January 2012

“Board. Paddle. Bag’s on top. That’s it.” What a simple way to travel. 1,600 miles already stashed away under his belt and only the growing muscles in his arms revealed hints of the incredible adventure in process. The expression on his face was not to be expected for the man who undertook the challenge to paddle the entire reach of the Mississippi river. His face showed no sign of the weariness that must have existed in the monotony of the routine he had been following for the past 58 days. Instead, his mouth was etched in a crazy grin. He was on a high, but I guess no one in Memphis was surprised, it was Dave Cornthwaite after all, he was always on a high.

The start of his great Stand Up Paddle of the Mississippi had been a constant test of stubbornness. The first sixty miles involved battling through undergrowth, shallow waters, mild rapids, and narrow river’s. The weeks to come would see him pushing through Baton Rouge to the Gulf exhausted as he endured big storms and attempted to weave through the onslaught of traffic.

But this day was different to all the previous that had run their course and all that would follow. In an 82 day expedition this was the day that would swirl into focus whenever he reminisced on his great Stand up Paddle of the Mississippi. On the fourteenth of August 2011, he is floating twenty miles upstream of Memphis when an incredible sight materialises before him; a host of canoes, kayaks, stand up paddle boards, recreational motorboats and a news helicopter devour his line of sight. Each vessel is brimming with smiling people prepped to lead him in procession into their home town. These people are strangers there to play a small part in Dave’s epic tale, encouraging him to continue his voyage downstream with their smiles and their nods of admiration. But these strangers have also come for themselves because ironically it took a foreigner, an English man to show these locals what they had on their doorstep all along.

However, let us not be over sentimental, it was after all a party on water. An adrenaline filled kick up the behind to get Dave through the next leg of his journey. Hanging over the sides of the motor boats were the hung-over heads of the youth who had passed him the night before fresh faced and eager for a night on the beer. Beside them, lounging in the water were the grown ups, sober and alight with anticipation of the historic day ahead. The crowd that had assembled was a curious mix, one only found in the adventure world. It ranged from the 77 year old self employed businessman to the 14 year old child whose new hero is officially Dave Cornthwaite, bunking Batman off the top spot. A movement was bubbling, and Dave could feel it. The atmosphere was pumping, the excitement was tangible because no one knows how to have a good time quite like a 77 year old businessman. More importantly, It was the company after a long stint of isolation that made this moment worth celebrating.

The mighty river was bulging by this point, its rapid twists had morphed into thick winding strips, each loop stretching for up to five miles. Sand bars rose like private beaches on the inside banks, fitting for a day of 30 – 40 degree heat and just beyond the river sat a backdrop of cotton fields, dry farmland and miles of flat plains. This was the moment, the one that all adventures stubbornly chase. The hit that knocks them breathless and leaves them craving more. Dave knew it and he was revelling in it.

Every day he paddled between six to fifteen hours, then poured tirelessly over his videos, diaries, media engagements and lectures. It was not all lush pastures but a great deal of hard work. Days like this particular one were his reward, that extra chocolate digestive biscuit that your mother gives you when you prove yourself. The huge weaving path which the Mississippi river follows was a new part of the world for Dave to explore; “It would not be quite as fun if I knew where I was going, psychologically knowing that there are brand new scenes, people and experiences around every bend keeps up the incentive to paddle on.” In short, It was the grown-up version of a treasure hunt.

Dave Cornthwaite created this adventure on a sheet of paper that for a long time remained blank. Then one un-extraordinary day he sat down and faced it. He scribbled and sketched an idea on it and then on his own initiative he brought his creation to life. He built the expedition with his bare hands, then took a step back to watch the crowds flock towards it and watch as he lived out his dream. Credit has to be giving to the four organisations who worked together to make this day happen; the Wolf River Conservancy, Memphis Stand up Paddle Board Rentals, Ghost River Rentals and Outdoors Inc who since that day have continued to work together to improve the waterways in and around Memphis.

This fleeting moment in the life of Dave Cornthwaite made four organisations combine their efforts and rid a waterway of pollution, it made a crowd of locals realise their land and river’s potential and it made Dave Cornthwaite smile. Moments like these are the reason why adventurers do the amazing things that they do and why we, the ordinary folk read their stories in the hope that one day we will follow in their giant footsteps and embark on our own journey, even if it is only as far as our own backyard.

Row For Freedom – The Girls who took on the Atlantic

Published in Beyond Limits Magazine 4th January 2012

“THE WORLD RECORD ATTEMPT FOR THE FASTEST FEMALE TRANS-ATLANTIC ROW

Five Women

40 Days

3,000 miles

Two World Records

One Ocean”

They were strangers. Now, together they endure seasickness, peeing in a bucket on deck and traversing a boat while being permanently clipped on because at any time a wave could hit and toss their bodies into the ocean’s gaping jaws.

On 7th December these five ‘Row for Freedom’ women from all over the world set out to conquer an ocean. They are the first all female crew to attempt to row 3000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean unaided. They departed from the Canary Islands and will anchor in Barbados in mid January. Beyond Limits was able to speak with the crew on Day 23, half way through their quest to learn more about their journey so far.

The team consists of Julia Immonen, Debbie Beadle, Helen Leigh, Kate Richardson and Katie Pattison-Hart. This is a team in which bravery is a characteristic present in abundance.

“Sometimes there is an element of fear,” Debbie Beadle admits, “but you get over it.  We are doing this because we really believe in the strength of women.”

This mission required a six day week training schedule consisting of several 24 hour rows as well as individual work on both endurance and strength. Throughout the 40 days the crew will row two hours on, two hours off, trying to rest as much as possible when not rowing.

“It is tough,” Beadle said, “We are tired, but our bodies are adapting to it.”

Meanwhile their boat ‘The Guardian’ appears to be crumbling around them.

“We now have to hand-pump for twelve hours a day, use our feet to steer and ration our ever diminishing battery life.” Beadle said, “Then there is obviously the physical element of the row that is a challenge.”

Despite the many adversities, they endure as a team and the voice of Debbie  Beadle contains not a hint of fatigue.  Instead it is riddled with excitement as she giggles with pride in the knowledge that they will succeed in achieving this Guinness World Record attempt for the fastest Trans- Atlantic row.

Weather patterns will define their progress and ultimately their success. But the team has planned accordingly.

“December is just after hurricane season so it will be calmer and we can get the most benefit from the easterly trade winds and Atlantic currents,” Beadle said, “We expect to arrive in Barbados during its high season, where we will rest up for a week.”

Perfectly timed for a small holiday.

In an adventure marked by mishaps and hard work, the crew agrees that their greatest luxury onboard are the sun hats and soap they might take for granted at any other time in their lives. But, while the crew is grateful for these luxuries, the real beauty of the adventure lies in nature.

“The sky at night, seeing the ocean teeming with life,” Beadle said, “We have seen a turtle, loads of fish, and we are just waiting to see a whale. When I look around me right now, I can see the blue ocean, high waves, two of the girls are rowing and one pumping, the sun is beating down upon us.  It is like a sauna.”

Although the adventure alone would make the voyage a worthwhile trip, the crew is quick to remind us that, they row in aid of two charities; ECPAT UK and the A1 Campaign.  Both charities work to raise awareness of human trafficking. The public can help support the women by following them on Facebook, Twitter or signing up and donating online at their website.

Interview with Sean Conway – Next in line to attempt the G.W.R for the fastest cycle around the world.

1.What expeditions/adventures have you been on to date?

Not a lot really. Well not as much as I would have liked to have done. I have done Kilimanjaro (dressed as a penguin), competed in ultra endurance canoeing marathons and spent a fair bit of time in the Himalayas soaking up the mountains. Adventure is not all about rowing oceans and climbing mountains. Adventure, in its purest form, is simply a way of thinking. I think adventurously.

Courtesy of Sean Conway

 

2.What made you decide and commit to doing this?

I wanted to do some BIG in 2012. Something that I would never be able to do again. My bucket list has always been. Swimming the Channel, Climbing Everest and Cycling the World. Cycling the world is probably the most exhausting so I figured get that one out the way first.

 

3.What is your day job and how did are you getting time off for this endeavour?

I have been a professional photographer my entire life and as much as I still love photography, I became bored of the type of work I was getting. This was because I said yes to too many jobs 10 years ago that weren’t my passion and before I knew it 98% of my work wasn’t what I set out to do. It was a hard decision to say NO to my clients who, for the most part, are practically my friends now but I don’t regret it. I wish I had had courage enough to do it years ago.

 

4.What can people do to help?

There are loads of ways you can get involved from helping me with route tips, places to see, places to avoid and choosing songs for my iPod. Most of all I am looking for people to help me Solarise Africa by paying for a school to be solarised which is as little as £1000, or simply providing a family with a Solar Lamp for £6 so that they no longer need to use kerosene. Please help me banish the kerosene lamp.

 

5. Why did you pick Solar Aid as your charity? I am from Zimbabwe and have seen firsthand what life is like for 98% of rural Africa. Solar is such a simple and effective way to tackle global warming, increase education and save lives.

 

6. When are you set to embark on this challenge and where is your starting point? I leave Greenwich park, on the meridian, on February the 18th 2012. Please come down and show your support. Bring a banner too.

 

7.What is the current world record to beat and how many miles a day do you have to cover in order to beat it?

The current record is 153 days which is only 117 miles per day. This is actually quite an easy record to beat and it will probably be beaten before I leave. I hope to bring that record down by a few weeks raising my average mileage to about 130 per day.

 

8.What are your plans for the nights – hostels/camping/hotels?

I have no plan really. It all depends how well I am feeling. I will be taking a tent, sleeping bag and mattress and will camp whenever I need too. What I won’t do is cut my days short in order to stay in a hotel. Graveyards are a great place to camp as people tend to stay clear of them at night.

 

9.Who does your support team consist of?

Support???? What support? This is a solo and unsupported attempt. It will just be me, my bike and loads of maps. I can’t wait.

 

10.Why pick cycling as opposed to hiking, swimming…etc?

I love swimming and hope to swim the channel one day. Cycling is a great way to see the world due to the huge distances you can cover in a short period of time. The feeling of freewheeling down a long road after a long day is second to none. Although I love hiking, it doesn’t challenge me enough. TO do challenging hiking probably means running and that’s one thing I can’t do. I have never done a marathon.

 

11.Is this going to be your one and only challenge or are there more to come?

Oh, there are LOADS more to come. I have one in the pipeline for when I return. I can’t give it away but it is another cycling world record attempt. . . only this time a lot shorter.

 

13.What does your training schedule consist of?

I currently spend about 40hours a week on the bike and then another 10 or so in the gym. I am trying to vary my training with some short sprints, hill work and some long rides. Nothing can compare to the race but I can only hope to replicate some of the fatigue I am going to have to endure.

 

14. Besides raising money for charity, why are you doing this?

The charity side of it is a huge part but also testing myself, testing what’s humanly possible and achieving something that for many many years seemed only a distant dream that you read about in the paper once in a while.

 

15.How long have you been planning this and also training for this?

I decided quite late and have only been in training for 8 months. It can take years to get the stamina in your tendons. Training is only a small part of the preparation. Route selection, food, sleep, flights, visas, equipment, spares, navigation and loads more take up way more time that cycling.

Courtesy of Sean Conway

16.What bike are you using?

I am using a full steel frame bike with 2 small bags on the back. I want to be a lightweight as possible yet not sacrifice comfort too much as being uncomfortable is just as bad, if not worse, than having a heavy bike.

 

17. My mam wants to know how much sleep you will be getting and how you are going to eat?!

Sleep strategy is the hardest thing to work out. It’s such a fine balance between keeping the miles rolling vs recovery so that you cover more miles the next day. I don’t really know the answer to that and I guess only time will tell. Food is difficult too. Some countries will be easy but other like the Atacama Desert in Chile will be more difficult and I will have to carry what I can. I literally need to eat anything and everything I can find.

 

18.How can you plan flights and boats ahead of schedule if you don’t know exact arrival times at countries?

I have had to guess arrival times at airports but there may be times when I miss a flight so will just have to beg the airline to help me out. I haven’t booked boats yet as I figured I will just be able to jump on with my bike when I arrive. The plan is to get back to London before the Olympics so I can’t afford any delays.

 

19.What routes have you cycled in preparation?

I have cycled a bit in Ireland which was great. I am hopefully going to go to Spain to train for a bit too but most I have stayed near London as this is where I need to be for fundraising. I am getting a little bored of cycling London to Cambridge and back but that also part of my mental stamina.

 

20. Have you met any of the others that will be competing for the title?

I have seen them on Twitter and Facebook. There are a few really hard core guys. It’s great. It really pushes everyone’s game up.

 

21.How much do you estimate the whole trip costs and how much of your own money goes into that?

This attempt is really expensive with flights, visas, food, equipment, more food, gym etc. I had nothing when I started, not even a bike so have had to fork out quite a bit. I have put about £10,000 of my own money already. The rest has come from my sponsors. uSwitch.com who have been incredibly supportive in my attempt and can’t thank them enough really.

 

22.What is the toughest part of the preparation?

I would say route selection. It’s so hard to know whether the route you have chosen goes over a huge mountain or not. Everything else is the same for everyone. It’s the route that can make or break a record and that’s the thing keeping me up at night right now.

 

23.Do you know any of the languages of the countries you will be crossing through?

I can speak 2 other languages (Zulu and Afrikaans) and neither of them are helpful. I hope to learn Spanish along the way via audio books. That should be fun and keep me occupied.

 

24.Is being beaten an option?

No! It has never even crossed my mind. This race is as much mental as physical and I hopefully have both.

 

Follow Sean on Twitter: @Conway_Sean

or for his website and to donate click here.