Mick James

How important is it to be first and/or unsupported?

My visit to Ireland last week gave me a lot to think about. How does one define who is an explorer versus adventurer? And who have the right to call themselves explorer? What does it mean being unsupported? And how important is it to be able to have a CV or an Expedition where one can claim to be first in the history of humankind? And, at the end of the day, does it matter if one´s Expedition is unsupported or a first?

I get loads of emails about these issues. It is obviously questions that tends to create debate, opinions and which many in the business talk about right now. In my opinion though, this is kind of an extra class at school, maybe not necessary for most, but important for some. Because I am for all kinds of adventures, no matter what! But since I have received so many emails and thought about it a lot since Ireland, and I have written about it earlier and it is kind of growing by the day on me, well, maybe we in the world of adventure and exploration have to find ways to set up some guidelines to define. It is normal evolution and development. With this article I kind of want to make these issues more clear and possibly more understandable. Let me than first talk about the subject of:

1. Who can call her- or himself an explorer?

The organizers of the 1st Adventure Filmfestival in Killarney made a quite clear distinction between what they see as adventurers and explorers. Basically, if you deal with people, cultures, animals, scientific or un-scientific research and anything else than yourself on an Expedition, you are in the business of exploration. If you, however, either ski to any of the poles or climb a peak like Everest, which basically is a personal thing where the essence of it all is oneself against nature, than you are in the business of adventure. (If you don´t do research in these areas) So, the organizers, the  Explore Foundation, wanted to concentrate on what they see as the exploration part and therefore hardly any of the films dealt with mountaineering or polar skiing.

However, everyone seem to start out as adventurer as a youngster, hoping to get into exploration, where the self is less important and the values of the world and life is a greater pull. This applies to me. I saw myself as a new Indiana Jones, but ended up today, wishing I could be Karen Armstrong (See film below) There´s no doubt that age defines. I guess the older you get, the more you understand, the less important one realizes that one is.

How do you define what is an explorer? Anyone seem to get away calling themselves an adventurer, because at the end of the day, that isn´t a chosen title that appeal to the world as much as calling yourself an explorer. Whatever that is. I have seen, especially in Britain, as quick as you have taken the diapers off and start to travel, you call yourself an explorer. It has a grand appeal in Britain especially. Which is fully understandable, since the UK, in my eyes, is still the worlds biggest exporter of adventure and exploration. But also the main part of the exploring world who use the words record breaking, unsupported and being first more than the rest of the globe.

But how do you define what an explorer is? Well, I call myself an explorer, because I have been doing this job since 1986 and I don´t know any other word which summarizes all I do.  Soon I will take it away.

However, I have talked to a lot of people involved in this business and it seems like if you are a Fellow of the Explorers Club and the Royal Geographical Society, have featured somehow with National Geographic, have carried the Flag of any of the clubs, you have a reason. But, things have changed lately. To appeal to the Explorers Club, you need to have done years of work and have a scientific base to your explorations/adventures. Makes sense. The RGS seem to have lowered their standards a lot. Being a Fellow there isn´t as much an honor as ten years back. I think it is due to that explorers/adventurers are not wanted as much as geographers. The debate is still going on, see here. Check here what it takes to get in.  The word explorer is deleted and the high standards dead. Maybe the president Michael Palin can sort things out.

Others, like for example the important ExplorersWeb, who make a living out of the name explorer, has no clear distinction what defines an explorer, but have set up important guidelines on other important issues which deals with this odd world. They do focus primarily on climbers and polar skiers, though. They also go against the stream and Tom and Tina Sjögren have no interest being part of any clubs I mention in this article. Even if they´re more than qualified.

The Long Riders Guild have a long list of guide lines which has to be met to become a member of their guild. See here!

So, is there a definition? Not really. If you see yourself as an explorer, you are one!

This topic has been discussed and commented in this article, The need for debate on Expedition Arabia. And in CuChullaine O´Reilly´s excellent article on Ethical Exploration! And, of course, Arita Baaijens Exploration, an outdoor activity or not?

2. Unsupported.

I have to admit I had no idea really what it meant, when I planned my Arabian Expedition and I called it unsupported. Mainly because I had the idea, if you don´t have air drops or similar, but do all by yourself, it is unsupported. Than I talked to a legend at the RGS, Shane Winser, and she rightfully said:

“Hogwash! If you carry a satellite phone, how can you call that unsupported?”

So right, as always, Shane. ExplorersWeb has set up a great guideline on rules and definitions to be able to claim this and that, see here! It is almost perfect, but again, it deals with people who go for mountains, poles, oceans and nothing with Expeditions dealing with cultures, people and animals first hand. If you do that, it is impossible to call anything unsupported. However, they do think it is ok with a satellite phone and GPS to be able to claim an unsupported. So who is right?

This topic has been discussed in these two articles, Am I a fake and cheat?

3. To claim to be first.

This is a tag that follows many in the field. I have done those mistakes. You think it will give you more attention. You say; This is a first, unsupported and record breaking. Even if your idea is to photograph relatively unknown tribes in Africa or elsewhere, you still throw in those tags because you think it will draw more attention to what you do. Something I fully can understand. But is it needed to get the attention one obviously wants? And can one really claim to be first today in a way that actually makes a difference now when all the major (except the depth of oceans) geographical prizes have been taken?

I think so, if you choose to do something as challenging as Matvey Shparo and Börge Ousland by crossing the whole North Pole from one side to another in winter darkness. I think that is extra ordinary and historical.  So is Ed Stafford´s 2 year walk along the Amazon. Otherwise, to claim that you have been where no other white person has been or you have crossed Greenland in a shopping cart, it is just not true. And it isn´t worth trying to claim it. We live in a world of massive information possibilities and if it isn´t true, it will eventually hit back at you. Look at The Long Walk series.  And this article I wrote earlier called Fakes and Cheats.  And on top of all this, people are exploring and travelling more than ever.

So, do you need to use these massive words like unsupported, record breaking and the first ever to make a living?


I hope not. I think that in the future, more interest has to lie in matters dealing with the well being of others, building bridges between cultures and creating understanding globally, and less with being first and unsupported. It has pretty much all been done. However, the world is forever changing, so new knowledge is always needed. And always will be. Do we need self occupied adventurers?

Yes, we do. We all have to be reminded that everything is possible. But, I hope, much less.

Initially, when you start a career in this genre, you do claim this and that, you are so full of yourself, I am talking from my own experience here, and possibly it can be a short time winner, to be able to claim that you have done this unsupported and it is a first. One or two sponsors can buy that.  But in the long run, if you need to live on it for the rest of your life, it needs to involve matters how we look upon this world and what we can do to sort out the problems we have created for futures to come. There´s only a few who can live on being the one who did the first. Whether it is true or not. So for most people, there has to be something more.

As an example, I had a general email from SVT (Swedish television) yesterday that they have absolutely no interest in self promoting adventures.  They get tons of emails from people all over the world who wants to do firsts and unsupported. It is of no interest to them anymore. Just as an example of the changing winds of society.

Maybe Killarney and Explore Foundation could become a hub of exploration and define?

As a final note, see this extra ordinary TED talk with one of my favorite scholars.

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  1. I think the piece is OK, Mikael. It asks a few of the good questions. But then?

    I think this line: So, is there a definition? Not really. If you see yourself as an explorer, you are one! Is a total cop-out. It does not even ring true with all of what you have written above. It just seems thrown in at the end. It’s an easy way out and does not really take the debate further in any direction. Killarney at least put it out there what they think and acted accordingly. What do YOU say Mikael? I think you need to examine the definitions and the claims more to say whether or not they are worthless. You’re just tip-toeing around the edges. You need to distinguish between that little old lady on the cruise, for whom stepping out of a foreign airport is an adventure, and someone blogging dispatches from some base camp in the language and style of the ‘World Class Adventurer’.

    So nothing means anything, eh? Maybe time to shut down your website and get a job in an office 😉

    If definitions are so useless then why do people insist on using them as they do? They have value, hence their attraction. It is hypocrisy. And their misuse is devaluing them. If it all doesn’t matter, if it’s all just semantics and word-play, who cares, right, then why use the term ‘explore’? Why not say ‘holiday’ or ‘trip’? Oh, but they’re not as sexy are they? Not as cool. Not as impressive. So words matter and to say otherwise is a fucking lie plain and simple.

    Exploring has been about the unknown, not just the thrill of adventure. It has been about doing something not yet done – with or without some claim of ‘First’ – or going beyond what has been done, adding something new to something old. It is the untrodden, the unknown – not the hardest, highest or coldest. Those adjectives are incidental to the act of exploration.

    Many modern adventurers are shameless. They should be embarrassed for dressing up their weakness and incompetence as ‘adventure’. We already know that Everest will make you short of breath and that Antarctica is cold. We have known this for a century. Failure to plan, train for and deal with these elements is incompetence and stupidity, not exploration. Amundsen told us all this 100 years ago. Tolerance of modern adventure pretenders is just willful ignorance on the part of the so-called ‘adventure community.’

    It is manufactured hardship, an indulgence for those lucky enough not to be born in a Sudanese refugee camp or outside the Green Zone in Baghdad.

    So I say to the modern ‘world-class explorer’, if you must indulge yourself and sell it as something of worth to anyone but yourself, please tell us what you learnt? You want our eyeballs on your website, our hard-won dollars directed to your sponsors. WHAT HAVE YOU GOT? You have nothing but ‘hits’ and page-views, a thousand Facebook friends you’ll never know and a few photos to impress the dinner party guests.

    There are so many liars and frauds and pretenders that are FRGS or Explorers Club that I see those things as a HUGE WARNING SIGN whenever I look at someone’s credentials. For the last 20 years – and yes Mikael, 20 years, not 10 – they are meaningless. The ExClub is more about business and image, resting on the laurels of 50 years ago. The RGS was severely compromised in its membership strategy nearly 20 years ago and many people complained. They talked about fixing it but I can’t see that they have. Nowadays FRGS after your name just means you don’t have any real, obvious exploration to speak louder than those four letters. For too many people, they are a prop to impress the ignorant.

    You make a show of ‘denouncing’ yourself, Mikael, and admitting you made mistakes. But you know as well as I do that you are milking that ‘coldest expedition’ bullshit tag on and on. If it is wrong, stop using it. Simple. But you know it gets attention, so you keep putting it out there. You are using a lie for self-promotion, are you not? If so, then I think you need to work harder to explain that lie and it is not good enough to say ‘if you see yourself as an explorer, you are one.’


  2. My comment on this would be, it is important to separate “marketing” from “science” when it comes to exploration. There has always been controversy and counter-claims in exploration. And in 50 years people will look back and lament there are no new “firsts” the way there were in 2010. Sometimes we forget how very hard it is for someone to get into exploration. Few have the luxury of personal wealth. Almost all need sponsors.

    So I would encourage explorer’s to market themselves, and to use superlatives like “first” and “unsupported”. If they are able to do the trip, it is a success for them and for exploration in general. When it comes to the record books and posterity, we know that history isn’t accurate anyway.

    This controversy reminds me of buying a lake house on a very nice lake north of the city. Our new neighbours commented, everybody here was desperate to join the community … but once they were owners, they do everything they can to close the door to others. Exclusivity makes people feel special. And losing it, is hard for some. Young, new explorers represent an upheaval and often don’t respect the ones who went before them. But, isn’t that what exploration is? A healthy disrespect for what is thought possible. And that is quite opposite from science, which is concerned with precisely measuring and carefully working within the systems of possible. Science is informational. Exploration should be inspirational.


  3. Some say adventure is everywhere, at the corner of your street, you don’t need to go to the other end of the globe and be first or get into superlatives to live an adventure.

    Myself, I like to go to faraway hidden places. I am not satisfied until I approach something remote and unknown – then, unsupported is almost impossible for me because the costs of travelling are rising very fast. Maybe I am not wise enough yet : I can’t get satisfied with the smallest slices of adventure that the day is bringing me, at the corner of my street.

    Exploration is getting to the fringes. Testing the limits of the body, going to the blank area of the map. I don’t know if I am an explorer as I no man of firsts. But I liked the idea about exploration as a mean to build bridges between culture.

  4. Jeff,

    I agree to some extent with your club analogy, though in my case I’m old enough now to be over that and, as Mr Marx famously said, I don’t want to be a member of any club that would have me 😉

    I don’t agree with your divisions of exploration, science, marketing and (?) adventure. Exploration need not have a hard scientific component, though traditionally it has. Marketing can be fine, and necessary for most, but it need not take the form it so often does now, which is to distort the truth, to mislead for personal gain, to omit facts that do not flatter. Not only is this unethical in a general sense, it is often disrespectful to those who went before and who will come after. Misleading claims rob future generations of opportunity, if only in a marketing sense.

    So I don’t agree with you that ‘exploration in general’ benefits from people successfully marketing themselves and their ‘firsts’ or ‘unsupporteds’ like you advise.

    It also degrades understanding of broader issues, such as Antarctica or the Himalaya, within the mainstream community. ie. not all Antarctic explorers are on Discovery Channel, not all Himalayan climbs need to step over dead bodies to be worthy.

    True exploration does not need a marketing first as, if it is a genuine step into the unknown then being first is all part of it, not an enhancement to impress. The real value is in what you should bring back to us as a result of having been first to do something, go somewhere. The mere fact that you were first is not really enough. Using ‘first’ willy-nilly for all sorts of conditional achievements – First American, First Westerner, First Amputee etc – is souring the general community against both explorers and adventurers, as Mikael has noted elsewhere (SVT etc).

    I don’t see exploration as something you ‘get in to’ like a career – Indiana Jones aside 😉 – or a club. I know some people see it like that now, but usually their ‘exploration’ is nothing of the sort, more like adventure – not that there is anything wrong with adventure in it’s popular form. Adventure as sporting progression, in terms of solo, unsupported, fasterst etc are fine if they are understood in context. They are adventure sport, not exploration, so should not be marketed as such. The minimal crossover that may sometimes exist is not enough to warrant doing away completely with separate definitions.

    Exploration is something you do, maybe in the course of something else, and may or may not be the main aim. The scientists, and support crew, and pilots, spending time over the years at CTAM near the Beardmore Glacier in Antarctica over the years are exploring, but they have no marketing and no commercial sponsors.


  5. Exploration’s Future – Commercialism or Community?

    While many valid points have been raised in response to Mikael’s blog entry, allow me to present additional material for your collective consideration.

    To begin with, a glance at last Sunday’s Times of London would have provided disturbing evidence which confirms why a dialogue regarding the future of exploration is overdue – but perhaps not fully understood.

    The main news section of the Times carried an advertisement wherein the famous tennis star, Boris Becker, agreed to be photographed with fans. The only catch was that in order to obtain the photo, each person had to pay £2,000 to be admitted to the champagne reception at Wimbledon.

    Further along in the same paper, the business section lamented that an Icelandic supermarket boss had been inconvenienced during his attempt to summit Mount Everest.

    “One of the lorries carrying the equipment crashed into a ravine, taking with it his personal heater, and other essentials, such as beer.”

    With stories such as these circulating widely, is it any wonder that a dispute has arisen regarding the terms explorer and adventurer? In an era resembling a ethical vacuum, wherein former Prime Ministers become overnight millionaires thanks to shady dealings, who can express surprise that an addiction to personal glory and the worship of obscene wealth has resulted in exploration being besmirched as well?

    Thus, I believe this is not a debate confined to the definition of words. That question is only part of a larger premise. What we should be asking ourselves is what is the future of exploration? What values will it embrace? Who will represent us to future generations?

    As the publisher of the Classic Travel Books Collection, I’m very familiar with the quotes and events which define the difference between a valid exploration versus a badly conceived publicity stunt. Yet for the record, allow me to state that according to the Oxford Dictionary, an explorer is “a person who explores a new or unfamiliar area,” while an adventurer is “a person who enjoys or seeks adventure.”

    Though semantics matter, what needs to be appreciated is that while we squabble over words, the foundations of modern exploration are shifting as we collectively drift further away from those events and heroes which previously defined the term “explorer.”

    No one would argue that there is a strong under current of discontent in today’s exploration community. What is seldom recognized is how the traditional voice and view of exploration was silenced two years ago at the Royal Geographical Society.

    The repercussions of that tragedy can be witnessed in a sense of growing global confusion, wherein an “everyman for himself” attitude has begun to take hold. These events, I believe, can be linked back to what was once the acknowledged home of exploration but is now little more than a hall of shadows.

    In May of 2009 an extraordinary ballot was held at RGS headquarters in London. Should the RGS continue to lend its name to expeditions, as it had done since its inception, or should it embrace narrowly focused academic research?

    The British journalist and Fellow of the RGS, A.A. Gill, was present during the highly emotional debate that preceded the vote.

    “The new proposal wanted a return to exploration, to excitement, to heroes and stories and adventure, while the committee of geographers wanted to box the globe up behind a wall of precise, dry, peer-reviewed research. …..The academics argue that the society’s past is colonial, politically incorrect, racist and occasionally murderous. Its motives were jingoistic, commercial and eccentric. We can no longer go to other people’s countries, stab a flag into something that was never lost and rename it after a member of the royal family. By contrast, the adventurers argue that discovery is always spine-tingling and hair-raising, and tumescently inspirational, that everybody who goes out into the world discovers it for the first time and plants a metaphorical flag,” Gill wrote in the Times.

    Despite the uproar, the academics won the vote. In a blistering attack, Gill denounced what he, and many others, perceived to be demise of this bastion of human courage and outstanding endeavour.

    The headline to his story ran, “Dr Livingroom, I presume? Once at the forefront of exploration, the Royal Geographical Society has voted to stop backing expeditions in favour of stay-at-home swotting.”


    The ruthless purge which Gill and others predicted has indeed come true. The RGS renamed its expedition advisory efforts, replacing it with the office of GOO, Geography Outdoors Office. Then, in a Stalin like purge of its past, the academics erased the words “explorer” and “expedition” from within the organization. In a final slap at its own regal connections, the empowered academics even removed the portrait of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, from the Council chambers.

    Thanks to a campaign led by the Fellows who belong to the Long Riders’ Guild, RGS President Michael Palin was persuaded to restore Her Majesty’s portrait to its rightful place in the Royal Geographical Society hall.

    Nevertheless, the damage to the organization’s international reputation was complete, and as one responder to this blog has noted, the letters which I risked my life to earn, FRGS, have been diluted and defiled.

    There are, of course, other events which influence the issue of exploration’s future. However what should not be underestimated is that whereas in the past we could collectively look up to heroes, we are increasingly bombarded by a bevy of attention seekers. This influx has, I believe, been tacitly encouraged by the abdication of leadership once held by those institutions previously regarded as our community leaders.

    As one writer noted, there are too many self-satisfied business lunches on one side of the Atlantic, and a total denial of exploration’s existence, on the other side.

    Is it any wonder then that in an era which cannot even define what we are, the public is urged to admire those who in previous eras would have been dismissed as cranks?

    One such example was seen a few weeks ago on British television. This involved a marathon runner, turned bicyclist, who came close to killing himself to appease the camera.

    A reviewer offered this observation on the program.

    “This was self-mortification of epic self-regard. He was, in fact, behaving like a vainglorious twit. This adventure, or expedition, or whatever they thought it was, wasn’t a race, or a sport, or the pursuit of a record, or the re-creation of a historic event. It was only a series of unpleasant, tedious and stupid endurance things done so that he could say, ‘I have endured a lot of painful and stupid things.’ Sadly, as has been noted, we are becoming increasingly bombarded by a steady stream of such stories wherein fame-driven individuals continue to blow their trumpets to an increasingly sceptical public.”

    In an earlier article I asked the readers of this forum to consider how, in an age of electronic media, instant news and the cancerous onslaught of reality-based television, do individuals maintain their personal integrity in the face of a world which is willing, nay even eager, to wink at exploration exploitation?


    Yet, thanks to this much needed forum, what is finally on view is an overdue discussion on the values which will define us as an international community. With our former institutions reduced to rubble, will we allow Hollywood to depict exploration by offering up cartoon characters whose claim to fame is based on bug-eating or face painting? While we may disagree among ourselves regarding fine points, is it not counter-productive to denigrate our host, whose courage is confirmed and whose hospitality we have all benefited from?

    There are instead encouraging signs that a new spring is emerging, one which we can all take encouragement. The on-going exposure by Ex Web and the Long Riders’ Guild of fraudulent claims has had a chilling effect on those who believe they can mislead the media and misuse the public’s trust. The launching of the new exploration film festival in Ireland promises to provide an exciting meeting ground for all. And the new Voices of Exploration project is enshrining the journeys and sharing the knowledge of our wise tribal elders.

    This is therefore a time of hope, not despair.

    If those to whom we formerly entrusted our collective hope have proved to be unworthy, then it is thanks to dialogues like this one that a new collective conscious is being formed. Every voice is needed. Every thoughtful article and response is critically important. Every expedition is treasured.

    We are bound to have disagreements. Yet what ultimately matters is that there is at last a new wind blowing through the stale halls of exploration.

    CuChullaine O’Reilly (who is still proud to add FRGS to his name)

  6. Mikeal, I read your blog every Wednesday and it is inspiration. I wanted to write to you for a long time, but life to fast, my family big and I forget. But after reading this report today maybe a perspective from a person who is not explorer or adventurer can help.
    I have a family and I have never been possible to accomplish my dreams of becoming a explorer, so instead I have been reading about others who accomplish their dream. In Spain we have many accomplish mountain climbers like Edurne Pasaban and Josune Bereziartu which I admire and have been inspired me for many years. But now I feel I want to read something else, not only personal greatness, combat nature and inner thoughts. I think the mind need a evolution. When I read in El País, I think, that you come to Segovia last year, I thought maybe this is for me. So I go to your interview with the dean of the University and I was surprised that you talk nothing about yourself, combatting nature, only about Siberia and how much you loved the people. And other cultures. With much compassion and you are humble. Since than I have started to read other things, like Bruce Chatwin you suggested when we talk afterwards and it has inspired me to go to Patagonia for 3 months this summer. Because of your presence in Segovia, Mikeal.
    I see this unfriendly comment and I think, this is a young boy who wants to best. When I see his webpage, he look old like you and me. I think maybe he have no family and only think about himself?
    Mikeal, a person like you inspire many people by talking about other cultures and other people. It is evolution. We have to develop everything in life. For me, I like the articles about other people who travel in cultures, your guest writers, and I understand you with the same job have to discuss, but it is of no interest to most of your readers I think.
    Mikeal, remember I said I have two tickets to Bernabeu if you want to come back to Madrid and Segovia.
    Thank you, I hope this help and sorry for my bad english. I can talk but not write.
    Say hello to your beautiful wife and daughter. She must be big now?

  7. I agree with CuChullaine O’Reilly that it is a time for hope. I’d like to add that it’s also a time to forge a new path.
    It’s time to inspire, to illustrate and to interact with the world.

    Ripley Davenport (who doesn’t have FRGS after his name but is still proud)

  8. Hi Mikael,

    I have been part of the Club scene for many years and after reading the comments by Mr Gildea claiming there´s only fraudsters and liars who are members and that it is meaningless to be part of them, I would like to ask: How can he know, if he has never been part of them?

    I think we all want to work for a better world and create opportunities for everyone to learn about this great globe of ours. And isn´t it better to be part of a system and try to change it within than to criticize it when not being part of it? I personally think it is.

    I think your words have offended everyone who is part of these clubs. And looking at your home page, what makes you think you are so much better than everyone else? It is as self centered as anyone within the business.

    I like the words of Mr O´Reilly and Mr Davenport. Time to develop what we have in a hopeful and positive manner.

    Best regards,

    G Clark

  9. Hope never arrives, hope is always tomorrow. its an empty word in my opinion. On to defining explorers.
    I think the thing that could set explorers apart is that most expeditions intend to document everything nowadays, yet it seems that no official documentation after any expedition is ever available. can anyone comment on this?

  10. Hi Chris!

    A reader sent me this, of which I know as well:

    If you go to Flag reports at the Explorers Club you will have all Expeditions who have had the honor to carry the flag, in detail here at http://www.explorers.org/index.php/expeditions/flag_expeditions/flag_reports.

    If you visit the Royal Geographical Society at http://www.rgs.org/OurWork/Fieldwork+and+Expeditions/Resources/Resources.htm you will find a database for more than 5000 Expeditions.

    The Cycle Touring Club have similar resources for cyclists at http://www.ctc.org.uk/DesktopDefault.aspx?TabID=3332

    Am sure there are more out there. I know La Rahla, a French Sahara organisation have pretty much everything anyone needs to go to the Sahara. http://www.larahla.com

    Please help me out to find more resources.

    And this is of course, where clubs like The Explorers Club and The Royal Geographical Society makes such a big job.


  11. Dear “G Clark”,

    If you are going to refer to me please do not misquote me, it does you a disservice and further weakens your argument.

    I never said, “..there’s only liars and fraudsters who are members.” I said, “There are so many liars and frauds and pretenders that are FRGS or Explorers Club.” Those are two quite different statements.

    I have no doubt there are many accomplished members of undeniable integrity in both organisations. I know this because some such people are friends of mine. However I reiterate my point that these organisations have been increasingly used to bolster the image and marketing of some whose accomplishments are somewhat less noteworthy than the traditions of either organisation may indicate. I am far from alone in this questioning of the direction these organisations have taken, many members of each have similar reservations.

    Your question, “how can I know …” is absurd. I see people making overly conditional or outright false claims to primacy or superiority in ‘exploration’ or ‘adventure’ and see that they are members of the EC or have the FRGS after their name. That is how I know. I do not need to be one of them to recognise them. I judge them on the facts of the matter, which always exist regardless of titles, spin or sponsors.

    As to my website, it is mostly a statement of fact, low on hype and with minimal superlatives, other than those stating those facts. If you believe those facts to be inaccurate, please detail such errors. As to thinking I am “… so much better than anyone else”, that is your juvenile expression of your reaction to my post – nothing more. Nowhere did I claim superiority for myself over others. I expressed opinions and asked questions. Questions you clearly can not answer.

    As Chris has said above, enough with the long-winded sermons about ‘hope’, ‘inspiration’ and the usual vacuous rubbish. Deal with the question Mikael asked. Sttick to facts, pose questions that matter. Save the platitudes for your next club meeting.

    Damien Gildea

  12. To my readers,

    I am so surprised about the amount of evil emails coming in attacking explorers and adventurers all over the world. If you attack me fine, it doesn´t bother me a bit. I know who I am for both good and bad. Aggressive emotions in this instance is just a case of some type of jealousy, but when you think you can use my site to slander other explorers, like Damien for example (but also many others not even involved in this debate), against who I have received dozens of pure hate mails so full of abuse I get scared, that is the lowest of human behavior. I started this discussion, because I have a wish that my site might become a forum for explorers to discuss things, for others to find interesting articles from all over the world about travel and adventure, but it seems always to turn into a lot of people with grievances and jealousy attacking others. And always anonymous! Don´t you have anything else to do but spend your life attacking others?

    Don´t even bother to write if you are anonymous, don´t have anything positive, hopeful or have opinions which might be negative, like to a certain degree Damien’s, but which actually tries to pinpoint some of the problems the world of exploration is facing. He is a brave young man who believes in what he is doing, defending his genre and offers opinions which might lead to actual development of the issues involved.

    And let me just say, from experience of having dealt with these touchy and emotional issues for quite some time now, that those of you who abuse, degrade and attack persons personally who are doing there best to make this a better world of hours, you are not taken seriously. And these attacks are ALWAYS, no exceptions, based on either political or ideological hate and/or pure jealousy. It is a historical fact of life, the one´s who scream and abuse the most, they get the least done and the least friends along the road. And life, according to me, is about having friends, socializing, family and living in peace.

    I also want you readers of hate to note that you do leave your IP-address when commenting here, so you are not anonymous. And I will never ever publish anything anonymous. If you want to have an alias, fine, but I want you to send me your real name, real address and we will use that to discuss why you want to be anonymous. IF it deals with the issue. Anything else, forget it.

    90% of the really evil and nasty emails I have received since this article come from a bunch of different addresses in Australia.

    From now on, I will only publish comments which actually are developing this conversation.

    Sometimes I wish I would never have started this discussion, because it makes the lowest of creatures to appear.


  13. The “spine-tingling, hair raising and tumescently inspirational experience” adventurers talk about and A.A. Gill writes about, might be nothing more than excess of monoamine oxide in the brain – related to high sensation-seeking that is satiated in harsh experiences rather than emotionally moving ones.


    Adventure for sensation cannot reasonably be compared to tedious overland travel and endless days of isolation in remote places where pain – heat – cold and altitude overcome the emotions. The explorer has little to say about him/herself because his interior experience is too large and too personal. What he/she eventually shares from interactions with isolated cultures is a one world concept that can only be bridged firsthand. Ultimately, when this information is shared, the goal is met.

    I believe Mikael is correct when he infers that an explorer knows in his heart what he has accomplished. I was particularly inspired by Ricardo Acuna’s account of Mikael’s lectures in which Mikael speaks nothing of physical hardships but relates his compassionate embracing of other societies. Louis Meunier’s concept of building bridges between cultures speaks of a new generation of explorers.

    I have just one question for Damien Gildea. What is making him so sour? When he makes a stinging insult or comment – why the happy face attachment? What is the happy face trying to infer? That he is sorry for his insinuations?

    Serious confrontations like those made by Damien are not trivial and he needs to reconsider his objectives. Are they to destroy someone who has done so much good for the world?

    Bonnie Folkins, Long Rider

  14. Dear Bonnie,

    Thank you very much for your comments. It is one of few lately that is without some spite or hate, so I am very happy to publish it.

    Regarding Damiens comments, I wrote Damien, explained the situation and asked him not to continue replying every comment he found offensive and he replied very politely and added:

    If my writing has caused you to be the recipient of hateful, malicious or threatening correspondence then you have my sincere apologies, and I only hope that it will end with my absence from your site.

    I fully accept and embrace his apology and therefore, I see those words being the end of that issue. Damien is a good guy just trying to get his opinions across. However, the world of exploration needs more comments like Bonnies, which are free from uncontrolled emotions, aggressiveness and spite and actually tries to develop the matter or put forward explanations, without trying to cause harm to specific people who might irritate them for known or unknown reasons.

    At the end of the day, I believe we are all looking for ways to make this a better and more understandable world.

    I also by chance found this interview from Segovia and IE School of Communication where I lectured at, but doesn´t have anything to do with the festival and the on stage interview there, but I haltingly try to explain my view on exploration. Exploration and communication. Maybe that can be of some help.

    Looking forward to more positive mails and comments regarding the real issue, how to go forward and build a bridge between all of us who love a life in exploration?


  15. I was really distressed to read about the discussions on being an explorer or an adventurer. Does it matter what it is called? If you can communicate to other people like you do so well, everybody gains. It takes an awful lot of time, courage and strength to do what you do and the rest of us can read and learn.
    Thank you
    Ann-Marie Fenster

  16. Ann-Marie, I can understand for an outsider a discussion like this seems negative. But for us who are involved, a distinction is needed, because the kettle is brewing. Nobody wants to talk about it, many get aggressive, hurt and spiteful, but I want to thank Miekal for starting this debate. It is needed.

  17. Mikael, in the states we use the differential of “Natural Resources” and “Cultural Resources” as an interest area in place of Adventurer or Explorer. A third is “Heritage” which us more historical and research oriented for academics and the like. I think most Americans like myself feel cheated that E.U. or Commonwealth have more friendly borders with so many countries globally, and most Americans will only see another country as a member of the military. In fact, only 10% of all Americans hold passports.

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