What drives the world’s greatest living explorer?

Sir Ranulph Fiennes

Sir Ranulph FiennesI was up and out of bed early this morning (*cough*forasunday*cough*) because — of course — Sunday mornings means training with the Dragon Boat team. Yesterday, there had been a message that it was possible training would get cancelled today because of weather conditions. We can’t go out on the dock if it’s too windy. But this morning my alarm went off at 8.45 and there was no word to say training was cancelled, so I showered, dressed, layered up, packed my rucksack with clean, dry clothes to change into, and headed out to the dock which is about a 10 minute walk from my flat, if that.

Yes, it’s December, and yes a lot of the time at the moment it is bloody freezing out: but that’s no excuse not to go out in a Dragon Boat on a cold Sunday morning when you have been out the night before, drinking and bowling. When I stepped outside into the Sunday morning air my first thought was that it actually wasn’t all that cold. That could have had something to do with the long thermal underwear, two t-shirts, a hoody, jacket, and hat I was wearing — but it was a nice morning, and when you’re paddling in the boat, you tend to stay quite warm anyway. There was also not a very strong wind, so I could see why the training was still on.

Except on the way to the dock, I began to have doubts: crossing a small footbridge between Royal Victoria Dock and Royal Albert Dock, the wind was quite strong and the water on the docks looked rough. And I was right: when I arrived I was told we might not be able to go out, and we were waiting for the final word: it didn’t take long for us to be told “No”.

While we were waiting, I picked up a copy of the Docklands newspaper “The Wharf”, and read an interview with Sir Ranulph Fiennes, wherein he talked about how he will lead a team across Antartica during the winter. I’ve mentioned before how this expedition is being described as the last adventure open to be had (which I disagree with).

It was interesting to read Sir Ranulph Fiennes’ own words, since I describe myself as an aspiring or freelance adventurer. What struck me most was where he was asked if he was “excited or scared” by the prospect of his winter adventure in the Antarctic. Apparently, Sir Ranulph’s teams for his adventures are chosen on the basis of the individuals being “someone who hasn’t got much emotion”. Being a former British Army officer, Sir Ranulph is described as “emotionally detached”, which is something I can imagine is important in the Armed Forces (and probably one of many reasons I didn’t get very far when I once tried to join the Royal Air Force).

I can’t imagine contrasting with Sir Ranulph much more than I do. Adventures both excite and scare me, and I think emotion is important to my adventures. I don’t do things just because they’re there, I don’t do them to beat someone else (like wanting to beat the Norwegians to a trans-Antartcic winter adventure), I do them because they excite me, I do them for the people in my life I care about, I do them because I get to a point where I can no longer imagine not doing them.

There were times during the Inca Trail I was scared: the morning of Dead Woman’s Pass I remember feeling very confronted by what lay ahead, since not everyone is able to make it — often due to altitude sickness, a lack of fitness, or under-estimating the mountain and trying to do it too quickly. There was times during the Arctic Adventure that I was unhappy: I was hurting from falling off the sled and being dragged behind it, I was cold, and I felt I just wasn’t good enough. I would never make it onto one of Sir Ranulph’s teams: finding something exciting would immediately preclude me. A history of depression would also not count in my favour. Being sometimes so excited and inspired by everything there is in the world to see and do and experience and share and wanting to do it all now, at once, without delay, all of it certainly are not the qualities of the man the Guinness Book of World Records describes as “the world’s greatest living explorer”.

I wonder what motivates Sir Ranulph, if these adventures don’t excite him? Does he get that same wanderlust that I do, that it’s been a while since a big adventure and there’s a siren call just outside of hearing? Does he unexpectedly one day think “I want to travel the entire distance of North and South America in one trip and by any means necessary“? Or does he approach everything with a detached, scientific outlook? “This has not yet been done, and so I should do it before someone else does”.

I write about my adventures because I write compulsively, and I like to share my adventures: I hope that they will inspire people to have adventures of their own, in the same way I am inspired by adventures I read, and for people who prefer to read than adventure I hope to give a vicarious adventure. What drives Sir Ranulph? I’d like to ask him myself, but I don’t think he’d approve of me.

36 hours in Dublin

One of the things I enjoy about my job is that it feeds my passion for travel — and with travel comes my passions for writing and photography.  It might not be “adventure” like the Inca Trail was adventure, but it’s an adventure all the same when you’re travelling alone.

Dublin was a very short business trip.  I aim to visit all of the user groups I look after in EMEA, and there is a burgeoning user group in the city.  One of my colleagues was going there to present, and it made sense for me to pay them a visit since my company has an office in Dublin that I could work out of while I was visiting.

I had a flight out of London City Airport early on Wednesday morning.  City Airport is a short walk from where I live, and since European flights only need an hour’s check-in time, it made sense to book a 7am flight.  Until I worked backwards and found that I’d still need to be out of bed at 4.30am.  Just the same, I wanted to have two full days of work in the Dublin office — and I’d just sleep on the plane.

Except from my paper journal:

“As the plane idled on the tarmac, in some deep part of the engine I could hear a singular note. High and clear, for all the world it sounded to me like a jazz musician’s trumpet — like that first note in ‘Stella by Starlight’.

Awake since 4, I quickly fell asleep with the sun shining on my face. A thought passed through a distant part of my brain, “Wasn’t it supposed to rain today?” and I smiled at the idea. It’s always sunny above the clouds.”

After landing and collecting my bag, I checked my wallet to see if I could scrape together enough Euros for the bus, and I was briefly excited when I thought I had 5 Euros more than I’d expected, but on closer inspection found I’d got Australian Dollars mixed in with my currency.  I took a taxi from Dublin airport to the city, instead — it would go on expenses anyway, but I still don’t like spending money where I don’t have to.  On the radio in the cab the DJ was making jokes about how the wind was going to blow, the sky was going to fall and the earth would crack open.  Despite it being quite a bright and sunny morning, apparently there was the tail-end of a hurricane expected to hit Ireland later that day.  “Here I am without an umbrella,” I commented.  My driver laughed at me and told me that an umbrella wasn’t going to help.

I got the office without event, my colleagues made me welcome, and from there it was apparently just business as usual — a normal working day in the office, except in a different office.

By lunchtime the storm had arrived — a short walk to the shops meant battling against gale-force winds and driving rain. It wasn’t really a hurricane, though, more what I was used to from Ireland’s weather (I visited Cork several years ago, and have enduring memories of standing by myself on the top of Blarney castle in the wind and the rain).

Mid-afternoon the rain and wind stopped, so I took the brief window — what could have just been the eye of the storm — to check in at my hotel.  These are the kind of moments I enjoy when I’m travelling alone, just a quiet walk and a chance to enjoy the scenery of the city.  People in Dublin seemed friendly in the way that only drunks and crazy people are in London: as I walked down the street, a lady on the other side of the road, walking in the opposite direction, shouted across the street to me to comment on the weather.  She’d got drenched this morning, she told me, now look at it!  The sun was out and you’d never have known.

I grabbed  a quick shower at the hotel, changed my clothes, and went back to the office.  I walked in just in time — my colleagues were sat around the office “virtual water cooler” because Mayor Bloomberg was visiting our New York office, so everyone was gathering around to join in from their various locations.

The user group on Wednesday night was in a company called Engine Yard, in a part of the city where Google have several offices and a stone’s throw from Facebook’s Dublin office.  Engine Yard was a big, airy loft space — surprisingly large for a small number of people working from the office, so either they are expecting to expand or space is cheap in Dublin.  Either way, it was an impressive place.  The group’s turnout was good — about 45 to 50 people from 60 registrations, and the talks seemed to go well.

I was back at my hotel before midnight, and slept soundly until my normal alarm the next morning.  I considered resetting the alarm and going back to sleep — after all, I was much closer to the office here than I live in London — but in the end just had a slow start to the day, enjoyed my walk to the office and was the first one in that morning.  Another day in the office that was much like any other if you aren’t interested in the minutiae of what I do all day, until it was time to catch a taxi back the other way.  I walked with my colleague from London along the Dublin street as it started to rain again, and we caught a taxi the first time we tried — it was that that time of the evening, when every third car is a cab. We crawled for a while until we were out of the heavy traffic, where I wound down the window so I could smell the air and appreciate the passing sights properly.  Ireland often feels to me just familiar enough to be like home, and just different enough to feel like a foreign country.

Dublin airport was busy, there was scarcely any time between checking in and boarding for me — what little time I did have, I spent searching for something to take home to the girl.  When I was little, my Dad used to travel for work a lot and he always used to bring back European chocolate for my brother and I — I don’t remember how, but it became known as “Pilot’s chocolate”, and we believed that the pilot used to give my Dad the chocolate to bring home for us, which is a bit of a rough deal for my old man.  I wanted to find pilot’s chocolate for the girl, and couldn’t — even if you can buy 5 varieties of Milka chocolate in our local supermarket.  She has also almost accidentally ended up collecting Starbucks mugs from various cities around the world, but I was foiled again when the Starbucks in Dublin airport didn’t have any of that kind.

Then it was the journey home. Safety instructions in English and Irish, I close my eyes and drift in and out of a light sleep, until we are descending over England and London.  Through the low cloud I try to see the flashing light on top of Canary Wharf, but can’t work out where we are or what direction we’re facing — even when I can see a white light flashing above the clouds.  Arriving in England was a little disorientating, we landed, I picked up my bags, walked out the airport…and realised at no point had anyone checked my passport.  I don’t know why, maybe there’d been some kind of extra check in Dublin I hadn’t been aware of.  Either way, I walked out of the airport, snapped a picture of the entrance and labelled it “home”, and was once again back where I belong.Home: London City Airport

New Adventure Needed!

When you've seen how big the world is, how can you make do with this?
Image source: http://www.seoco.co.uk/blog/set-geographic-webmaster-tool-works/

“We were brought up on the Space Race, now they expect you to clean toiletsWhen you’ve seen how big the world is, how can you make do with this?”

Pulp “Glory Days”

With the Arctic Adventure truly over, and the notebook exhausted, we take a break to bring you this important message.

I need a new adventure.

I’ve explored North America on Greyhound buses and slept on pavements in southern California. I’ve hiked the Inca Trail to the “lost city” of Machu Picchu.  I’ve driven a pack of huskies across the frozen lakes and hills of the Arctic Circle and gazed at the Northern Lights.  Now I want to know what’s next.

You think about an adventure.  You play with various ideas until one sticks, and you tell people about it.  Maybe they’re admiring, maybe they think you’re crazy, maybe they’re envious — but it all excites you.  After too long of thinking about it and telling people about it, it becomes time to put your money where your mouth is and actually sign up.  Having dreams is one thing, but you don’t want to be the person that dreams and never does anything about it.

Once you take the plunge, it’s serious.  There is now a finite space of time between you and the adventure, and a seemingly infinite number of things to do.  But there’s the other end, too — this end of the adventure when you’ve already been back a month, and you’ve got nothing to train for, nothing to dream about or talk about, nothing to have mini freak-outs about on the way to work.

I signed up for the Arctic Adventure last July, and that was several months later than I ideally wanted to (because I was a bit dense and was looking in the wrong section of the website for the type of event I wanted). Now I have been back for two months, have completed the fundraising, and long for a new adventure.

I took on John Williams and Selina Barker’s “Screw Work, Let’s Play” 30 Day Challenge — after all, these two were influential in getting me to actual sign up for the Arctic, and last year were instrumental in getting me to start writing “Atlantic City” my zombie novel.  I thought great, this will get me started on a new adventure.  After many discussions with Selina, she encouraged me to focus less on the big ideas and to instead find adventures in the small things, every day.

Away I went.  I knew I wouldn’t be able to do, or afford, 30 adventures in 30 days but would do what I could and blog about it.  Have you noticed any of those blog posts? That’s because there have been no adventures.  I didn’t think the idea out carefully enough, and even some things that I thought I would do — go to a martial arts class, learn latin dance — didn’t happen.  Things seem less like “every day adventures” and more like…just doing stuff.

Now I’m in a kind of limbo.  I still want the big adventure, I still want to save the world — I want to help people after natural disasters or in war zones, even if it’s just picking up the rubble or painting walls — and be able to help further by inspiring others to help by writing about it and taking pictures.  As strange as it seems to me, there are also people out there who see no appeal at all in hiking the Inca Trail or dog sledding through the Arctic Circle — but these people like the opportunity to live vicariously through blog posts and stories about adventures.

There’s still so much I want to do, and no practical way of doing it.

As for the every day, since the Arctic I’ve struggled a little with a lack of purpose.  Nothing to train for, no big “adventure” to look forward to, to tell people about or sometimes worry over. My fitness has taken a nosedive, and I’m now taking on the challenge to better handle my depressive moods.

In the every day, things can be a struggle sometimes — but I’m trying to resolve that while there are some things I can’t change, I can take responsibility for how I react, and what I do about it.  This week, I have taken to Tribesports to give me challenges and an excuse to get some endorphins flowing — while I try and get a handle on what adventure means to me, and what I can do, while balancing it with all the things I love so much about being at home.

Extra! Extra! Read all about it!

What’s the latest with the Flat-Footed Adventurer?

Having drawn a blank on corporate sponsorship, and come away empty-handed from any recent sharing of this blog, I have stepped my campaign up a gear. This trip is not going to beat me before it has even begun.

On the advice of a gentleman by the name of Nick, I have contacted the legendary Ben Fogle — who as an adventurer is perhaps best known for his participation in the inaugural South Pole Race. Will Ben Fogle be able to give me any advice on preparing, fitness, publicity or raising even the paltry sum that is the trip deposit? Will Ben Fogle even read my email, let alone respond? You, dear reader(s), will among the first to know.

I have also been advised that I should seek medical opinion on if it is even advisable that I make this trip, given the accident I had before my Peru trip. One should always consult a doctor before embarking on a new fitness regimen, but how many of us ever actually do? I certainly never do, and don’t recall when I last saw a doctor — other than the recent trip to see one in France when I broke my collarbone snowboarding. Yes, I am accident prone and clumsy. Yes, these two things plus dog sledding in the wilds of the Arctic Circle might lead to calamity. But will that put me off? Hells, no. Just the same, I feel I should at least tell my doctor of my plans and give him a chance to object.

Other than contacting adventurers-turned-Gardener’s-World-presenters, I also have made contact with the editor of a local newspaper. In exchange for their financial support — either of the trip deposit or a larger sum towards the fundraising total — I will provide them with content. How much content will be discussed with regards to how much help they can give me. Once again, I am filled with suspense. Will the editor read my email? Will he file it in the tray marked “bin”? Or will he think it’s a good idea and make contact? I have given first refusal to this particular newspaper — if I don’t get a repsonse, or get a response in the negative, then I will widen it out to other newspapers instead.

Until I can pay this deposit and sign up, I am kind of stalled — the usual recipes for charity fundraising don’t apply until I actually am fundraising for the charity. At which point, there will be requests to collect outside supermarkets, in Tube stations, and anywhere else I can think of.  But there needs to be action, so the first action is keep making contact with people who might be able to help.

Even if you’re reading this, you can help. You might not be able to donate money, or your services as a fitness trainer or native Norwegian speaker, but you can still help. I need people to help me organise events, I need people to help me get publicity. I need people to keep me motivated, to say “you’re doing great!” or “Must try harder!” (as all my school reports used to say).

In the words of John Hegley: “I need you like a lookalike needs somebody to look like”.

The Flat Footed Adventurer needs a patron!

Image source: http://tinyurl.com/44n294x

Next year, the big adventure is Dog Sledding in the Arctic Circle — courtesy of Across the Divide.

To self-fund the challenge will cost me £2,860, including the £500 deposit I have to pay on registering.  All fundraising money raised between now and the trip would be donated 100% to Cancer Research.

Alternatively, I can choose to raise a minimum of £4,720 in sponsorship for Cancer Research and pay only the £500 deposit from my own money.

I only need £500 to sign up with this option, but that’s money I don’t have lying around, going spare.  But I do have some ideas on what I can do about this.

What I need as “The Flat Footed Adventurer” is some kind of sponsorship, or support — in other words, I need a patron.  The idea is if this challenge and the resulting publicity is successful to turn “The Flat Footed Adventurer” into a Free Range Career.

But we need to focus on this challenge first, and my ideas need some explaining  I have made a list of as far as I can tell everything I need to make this challenge happen, and it looks something like this:

  • Finance: This is most important, as I don’t have £2860 — corporate support towards this target will allow me to register and begin the charity fundraising.
  • Fitness: This will be a challenge in the true sense of the word, and will require me to be dedicated to getting into the best physical shape I can be — and have ever been.  To do this I will need expert training, guidance and support.
  • Publicity: I am a talented writer, and I want to document every step of the challenge, from signing up and raising money for Cancer Research, to the days spent sledding through the Norwegian wilderness.  I will need help in getting my journals publicised — and later, hopefully, published.

I have tried making contact with several large financial institutions.  8 out of 10 did not give me the time of day to even respond.  One replied, curtly, that they do not support individuals.  One replied and was both warm and helpful, sadly they could not help but they wished me luck.  That was a bust.

The trouble is, I don’t know who to contact.  Surely, there are companies out there who could help and would want to help.  When I hiked the Inca Trail in 2009, it was largely due to the help of transport giant First Group who were very generous in their sponsorship — and they, in return, received a wealth of publicity, both in print and online.  There is a tremendous opportunity for positive PR for any companies supporting me with this — helped my own background in Public Relations.  I am hoping this will help me to at least find people who might know people who can help.

Without the finance in place, I can’t begin to find contacts for help with the other parts — because the trip can’t happen.  I can get as fit as I like, learn to speak Norwegian and have a stunning network of people eager to help publicise my writing, but it’s all for nothing if I can’t even afford to go.

Cancer has directly affected my family.  In 2008, my aunt Margie succumbed to the illness after a long battle — she had loved to travel, and loved walking, and she was my inspiration for the trip to Machu Picchu.  In 2010, my uncle John (my aunt’s — and my Dad’s — brother) was the victim of an aggressive brain cancer.  The illness took him so quickly that there wasn’t time to receive any nursing at home, but the family requested any donations to be made to Cancer Research UK.  My uncle loved dogs, and this seems like a fitting way to remember both my aunt Margie and my uncle John, who were my Dad’s two oldest siblings.  I want to be able to raise awareness as well as money for Cancer Research. In the UK alone, someone is diagnosed with cancer every two minutes.

To summarise, what do I need from you?  I need you to help spread the word.  Please share this post with friends, with family, with followers.  Please.  Take 10 seconds just to think if you work for, or know, a company that would be able to help me achieve this challenge.  But most of all, please help spread the word — or if you have a spare few grand, and want the publicity, get in touch!