Born Too Late To Be Explorers
We were born too late to be explorers. To be real explorers. To be one of the hard men (for they were always men back then) fired by such curiosity, such desperate yearning to cross the next horizon, that they were willing to set off for years on end with slim chance of returning, with absolutely no contact with Home. To sail out into a sea risked falling off the edge of the world. To seek new lands meant encounters with dragons, if the only maps available were to be believed.
With the honourable exceptions of deep oceans and caves, the odd jungle or desert, and the vastness of space, there is little chance of encountering dragons on today’s expeditions. Almost everywhere has been mapped. So we are not really explorers, at least not in the traditional sense of marking new territory for Queen and Country.
Some modern explorers are exploring what it is physically possible to achieve. They are effectively elite athletes, highly skilled professionals pushing the limits of what is possible. I put a lot of climbers in this category, those who seek out ever more arduous, contorted routes up ever steeper, increasingly dangerous rock faces or peaks.
You can even get chocolate ice cream at the South Pole, and yet ever greater numbers of people are pitting themselves against the poles, chasing speed records, doing journeys faster and faster. The record breakers are exceptional people in their niches; stronger, fitter, faster, and more determined than the others.
I too call myself an Explorer or an Adventurer though I am not particularly comfortable with either word. But I am not pitting myself against the world, questing to tread where no man has trod before. Nor am I breaking records. I am no athlete. I have never won a race in my life, let alone notched a ‘World First’ on my bedpost. So what do I do, and what do I have to say that may be of interest if I am so vociferously average?
When I was at university I became very conscious that life was passing me by. Days and weeks and months were building towards years. Years that I could ill afford to allow to drift by. And so I decided to start using my days, wringing them dry, squeezing every drop from them. The medium I chose for that was travel and adventure. Others may turn to music, or to poetry, or to algebra. It does not matter. All that matters is that you find your passion and feast on it greedily.
I humoured my parents and remained at university until I graduated. But then I was off! In the last few years I have cycled 72,000km through 60 countries, a journey that took in extremes such as a Siberian winter and a Turkmenistan summer. I have sailed oceans, run through the Sahara, walked across India and rowed to France with a paralysed soldier. I feel truly fortunate to have had so many adventures and to be busily planning more all the time – to Iceland, the South Pole, the Empty Quarter… I have done so much. But that is not a boast. For I really believe that absolutely anybody could do the things that I have done. And if everyone can do it then it is nothing much to shout about.
So why am I shouting about it?
I have done things that seem extraordinary to ME. I have accomplishedd things that seemed beyond ME. I have pushed MY physical and mental limits and I have continually surprised myself at what I am able to achieve. I am aware now, more than I ever was before I began my challenges, that I am capable of so much and that life can be so full.
I have nothing really to offer except my average-ness. I am a very ordinary person. And that means that if you are an ordinary person then you too could do all that I have done and will do, if only you choose to do so and then begin doing it.
Most people who become professional adventurers specialise. They develop a passion for one aspect of adventure, be that sailing, climbing, caving etc. But I am deliberately steering away from that model. I am not very good at any one thing, and I don’t care. What excites me is to try new things, to learn new skills, and to work hard to become competent at them. I do not have a particular favourite country or continent. I am not drawn to deserts more than jungles. I love crazy third world cities as much as empty mountain tops. I see myself as a curious person. I try to remind myself to gaze at the world with the puzzled fascination babies give every new experience. I am interested in any expedition that is physically, mentally or culturally challenging. I veer towards non-mechanised, low budget projects, either solo or with one companion. I relish periods of time when I see no other human or sign of life, yet the greatest, most lasting travel experiences invariably arise through the people you meet on your journeys. You learn a lot about yourself and your own life when you are by yourself; you learn a lot about the world and about life in general when you spend time with people in very different environments to your own home town.
If I was a millionaire I would spend far more time away on expeditions. But I would not spend all my time away, for I enjoy “normal life” too, and you need doses of that to help you appreciate how fortunate you are when you get away on an adventure. But I am not a millionaire. Or at least, not yet! So I devote a lot of my time to earning money and saving up for the next project. I write books, articles, and a regular blog. But most of my income is generated through giving talks, to school children and to businesses. I share my experiences so that people can travel vicariously through me. I try to convey the lessons I have learned – that the world is an essentially good place, that the only hard thing I have ever done is having the guts to begin doing what I loved doing, and that adventure is only a state of mind.