Traversing Costa Rica

Costa Rica. Adventure is out there.
Image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/53197929@N00/6641930801/

I’ve been talking about a new “big” adventure for a while. It’s been more than three years since I was in the Arctic Circle, and while moving to Australia and completing the country’s highest urban abseil have kept me occupied, I need a real adventure like drop bears need warm human blood.

The good news is, I know what the adventure should be. The bad news is, there’s a high barrier to entry.

First: the adventure. The Costa Rica traverse is a 12-day journey crossing the Latin American nation on foot, by kayak, on bicycle and by raft — distinguishing it immediately from my hike to the lost city of the Incas, and a world apart from driving a pack of huskies across Norway’s frozen tundra — making it easily my most ambitious adventure yet.

sea kayaking

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a expedition for the faint-of-heart. There are full days of hiking, days of nothing but cycling, and days split between activities — such as rafting and cycling, or cycling and sea kayaking.

I haven’t cycled anywhere in years, haven’t hiked seriously since I was in Peru, have never set foot in a white water raft, and my one and only experience with sea kayaking was a recent trip to penguin island [aside: it’s opportunities like that I live for in Australia].

These days, I keep myself in something vaguely resembling a state of fitness, even without a specific adventure to train for — on a good week I visit the gym several times a week in the mornings before work, and add on a couple of trips to the rock climbing wall. To get myself to the required level of fitness for this adventure I am going to have to add at the very least swimming and cycling to my weekly routine.

I’m presuming lack of experience kayaking and rafting isn’t good to be an issue, like a lack of experience with a rickety wooden dog sled wasn’t in Norway. This kind of training is all part of the adventure, though — it’s not fun like the adventure itself, but feeling yourself getting fitter and stronger and knowing what you’re training for is almost an adventure in itself. Almost.

There is a dark cloud hovering over the whole adventure, however, and why I haven’t yet registered.

While there is a fundraising element to it, this is quite modest and something I could achieve without too much hassling of friends and family for donations, a bigger barrier to entry is not having the funds to pay to sign up. Without even including flights from Perth to San Jose, or additional costs, I need $3,600. And I don’t know how to find it.

Costa Rica Traverse

In previous adventures when there’s been large sums needed to be raised, the full amounts were going to charity — making it slightly easier, because I could spend entire days standing in train stations with collection buckets, or organise fundraising quiz nights. This doesn’t work when all the money is going to you: or to the trip organisers, via you.

I have considered crowd-funding the adventure through the usual websites, but get stuck on the question what’s in it for anyone else? I’m taking suggestions here, and welcoming feedback: how can I raise this money, or what can I offer sponsors in return for donating towards it?

A new year for adventure

The Aurora Borealis over Eielson Air Force base, Alaska
U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Joshua Strang

It’s a brand new year, Adventure-seekers! And do you know what this means? No, not New Year resolutions — but that the Great Arctic Fundraisng Adventure is now a matter of weeks away! No longer is it “next year”, but instead something like 8 weeks away.

Am I crazy to be swapping a nice warm flat in east London for some basic cabins in the Arctic Circle, and exchanging my days of social media marketing for sledding across frozen lakes and Arctic forests?

People ask me “Isn’t life an adventure on its own?”. So, maybe I am crazy, because the answer for me is no. When I am looking up at the Aurora Borealis, or speeding across the Arctic tundra with a pack of huskies I will know this is why I am doing it.

Not forgetting the other reason why I am doing it, either — raising £6,000 for Macmillan Cancer Support.

The new University College Hospital Macmillan Cancer Centre will open this year, and cost £100 million to build. Macmillan Cancer Support will be making its biggest ever contribution, of £10 million, towards the centre. The University College Hospital Macmillan Cancer Centre will be the first of its kind in the NHS and will redefine the ways patients are treated, using the best diagnostic and treatment techniques to improve survival rates.

Macmillan will provide a Wellbeing Centre within the building where people affected by cancer can find the best information and support, including advice around coping with personal and financial impact of cancer and returning to work.

The start of a new year can be hard when you have lost loved ones. You wonder what their plans might have been for the year ahead. It can also be tough on anyone living with cancer, or caring for someone living with cancer. Macmillan Cancer Support are there, providing help and support. If you want to find out more about Macmillan, or would like to contact them follow the links or visit http://www.macmillan.org.uk/

So far I have raised £3,359 towards the Great Arctic Fundraising Adventure for Macmillan — and this year promises more pub quizzes, more station collections, and the Aurora Borealis.  You can help support the Arctic Adventure with a donation here or by buying a fundraising calendar here.

Adventure is out there

Preparations for the Great Arctic Fundraising Adventure have got into full swing this week — and hardly a minute too soon.

Donations via the Just Giving page have reached £220 this week. It might seem like a slow start, but that’s 5 donations — including one from someone who is a little bit a personal hero of mine, Peter Lubbers.  The man does it all — ultra-marathons, bungee-jumping, skydiving — and still finds the time to be an expert on HTML5.

Corporate requests for sponsorship have so far been met with polite declines.  From a sports marketing perspective, I also approached several brandsto see if they would get behind “The Flat Footed Adventurer”, with much the same level of success.  Adidas have told me that while Macmillan Cancer Support are one of the charities they are supporting this year, they can’t support me “due to resource & budget limitations”.  Animal — without a doubt one of my own favourite brands — agreed that Macmillan Cancer Support are a great cause, and like so many others the friendly press office contact had seen first-hand their work, and said on a personal level he “supported” any charity fundraising for them.  However, like so many others, Animal have to draw a line somewhere.  In this case, I was told normally they offer goods to raffle off or to support in any event that ties in with their core of surf, board and bike sports.  However, dog sledding doesn’t count as one of their core board sports — although it involves snow.  As they say, there has to be a line somewhere.

Among the other responses I have had included a no from the office of Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London.  As a publicly funded organisation and a strategic body for London, I am told the Greater London Authority is not in a position to assist individual causes, no matter how worthy they might be.  As “sorry, no” responses go, while it may be entirely copy/pasted, there’s very little you can argue with in it.

I have not had any kind of response from the press offices of London’s various transport services, nor from my local MP.

In a more positive light, the organisers of the Hacker News London Meetup made an announcement to their members about my Arctic Fundraising Adventure ahead of this month’s meeting, and I was given a very kind donation by the organiser of the London Java Community.

Outside of fundraising, I was generously given a free personal training consultation by Matt Wolstenholme this week — Matt has a variety of fitness qualifications and bags of experience under hsi belt (as well as being a talented sports writer), so I considered myself very fortunate to get an exclusive consultation with him.  Although I am sore today, and noticeably out of shape, I found I’m not nearly as disastrously unfit as I had thought I was — but this could just be as a result of Matt’s motivational style.  If you’re in London and want a personal trainer, Matt comes highly recommended by me — and hopefuly, if finances allow, I will be able to see Matt on a regular basis for more personal training. With his help, I have no doubt that in no time I will be fit for chasing huskies and pushing sleds uphill.

So , where does this leave me?  I consider this some of my first steps along the road — I have made a start on fundraising, but there is an awful lot more to go.  I have also had one personal training session, the first of many more hours of fitness training.  From here, we can only go up.  There needs to be more donations, which will surely come as a result of more effort to find the donations — so there must be more emails written and more contacts made.  I also need to start some traditional supermarket collections.

I should also get a proper press release written, since all contact with the Docklands newspaper was met with a resounding silence.

In the news his week was a report that Four in 10 Britons will get cancer.  According to the Guardian, “Figures obtained by Macmillan Cancer Support show that 42% of Britons had cancer before they died – compared with around 35% a decade ago.  The study, which analysed data from 2008, also revealed that 64% of cancer sufferers will eventually die from the disease.”

It reminds me of why I am doing this trip in the first place.  You can donate to my Great Arctic Fundraising Adventure here.  Adventure is out there!

Warning: road block ahead

Image source: http://www.roadblockdnb.co.uk

We left the flat-footed adventurer last time trying to find support from adventurer-turned-Gardener’s-World-presenter Ben Fogle, as well as financial help and press coverage from the Docklands newspaper.  So, what is new?

My email to the editor of Docklands was met with an auto-reply: he was out of the office, please contact x in his absence.  Fair enough, I redrafted the email and sent it to the new news contact.  Two emails, two auto-replies.  This contact had actually left the newspaper some weeks before — and was now on an adventure of his own, in Africa.  You can follow his own adventures on the site It All Began in Africa.  It’s very inspiring stuff — doing good work, and finding positive stories in such an often-misunderstood continent.  This auto-reply gave me yet another contact — but I figured maybe the paper’s editor was just out of office for a day or two.

I called the newspaper the next day, using all of my own journalist training to sound expected, asking for the editor by name, and feigning surprise when I was he was out of the office.  What I didn’t expect, when I asked if he would be back in the following day, was to be told he was on long-term sick leave.  Often this is code for a nervous breakdown, but I wish the man well, whatever the circumstances.  I got from the receptionist a name for the news editor who was effectively in charge these days, but didn’t take the offer of being put straight through — people rarely appreciate cold calls.  The third email — to the news editor — ddn’t bounce back.  It also got absolutely no response whatsoever.  My offer to the Docklands newspaper for exclusive coverage of my dog sled adventure was as good as refused.

In a continuing theme, I have also not had a response from Ben Fogle.  That’s hardly a surprise, however — I get more emails than I can handle at work, I can’t imagine how many emails someone like Ben Fogle must get.  I doubt he ever even saw it.

But help has come from an unexpected place.  My work.

I deliberately didn’t ask them for any donation for financial support before now — not because I didn’t think they would provide it, but because I didn’t think it was fair to put them in that position.  However, when I was telling a colleague recently about the adventure and my struggle to get the money to sign up, he pointed out the obvious: I could earn it.  It was obvious: in exchnage for £500, I will work one evening a week for the next 10 or so weeks — on top of the day job.  Yes, it means that once a week I will be working 12 hour days or longer, but it’s worth it.

That was one road block stormed through: I’ll get the money in this month’s pay.  I am now free to sign up for the adventure.

I made contact with Cancer Research UK, to register to fundraise for them, to tell them my plans — and to get their permission.  This last part has thrown up road block number 2.  I am welcome to fundraise for them, and they will give me all the support I need: except for the option of the “minimum sponsorship” for the trip.  The charity does not have the facilities to pay Across the Divide for the trip, so if I want to take part and want to raise money for them, that’s all great — but it has to be self funded.

My early attempts at securing a corporate sponsor for this failed, and my more recent attempt to just get sponsorship for the deposit also floundered.  If I didn’t have £500, I certainly don’t have the best part of £3,000.  So, I have returned to the idea of fundraising for Macmillan Cancer Support.  It’s not a case of favouring one charity over another, I was planning to fundraise for Cancer Research only because my cousin requested for my uncle John’s funeral that donations go to Cancer Research — his illness had been too rapid for him to receive any support at home from Macmillan.  I like to think of cancer patients and their families getting the support that they need, and I think my uncle John would have felt the same way.  Naturally, my family have no objections to any choice of charity.

Macmillan Cancer Support have in a way given me a third road block in the process of helping me overcome the second.  They are absolutely fine with the “Minimum Sponsorship” option, and being invoiced by Across the Divide for the cost of the trip — except that they have a different cost to donation ratio than the organisers.  What does this mean? It means that I will have a higher minimum sponsorship — instead of £4,500 it will be more like £6,000.

Next week is the beginning of July. The trip will be in March.  I expect I will have to have raised the money by about January.  That’s roughly £1,000 a month.  Do we think I can do it?  I have to think about it and talk to Macmillan’s fundraising team.  I spoke to someone tonight who told me that his own experience of fundraising has shown him that recording your event and making it available afterwards can double your total raised — just in donations received after the event.  It’s worth bearing in mind.

The next wave of companies being contacted for help/sipport/collateral will be footwear companies — who better to support an adventurer with flat feet like myself — and perhaps electronics companies who would like to give or lend me a small camera.

But first, I should sign up for the adventure.