AD­VEN­TURES WITH ALAS­TAIR HUMPHREYS

So you've cy­cled around the world, com­peted in marathons across the Sa­hara Desert, rowed across the At­lantic, walked across In­dia and Ice­land, and been part of Arc­tic ex­pe­di­tions. I think that qual­i­fies one as be­ing a real ad­ven­turer. Alas­tair Humphreys h

Say Yes To Adventure - - Features - WORDS: Marty Jones IMAGES: Sup­plied LO­CA­TION: Ev­ery­where

Marty Jones

What would you say is your def­i­ni­tion of an ‘ad­ven­ture'?

I think that it has changed for me quite sig­nif­i­cantly over the last few years. I would say now, that my def­i­ni­tion of ‘ad­ven­ture' in­volves noth­ing at all to do with wilder­ness or any par­tic­u­lar ex­pe­di­tion. It's more about try­ing to live ad­ven­tur­ously, which is more of an at­ti­tude of do­ing stuff that is new, dif­fer­ent and chal­leng­ing for you in what­ever field that ex­cites or scares you.

Do you think that there is a con­nec­tion be­tween one's imag­i­na­tion and the abil­ity to have ad­ven­tures?

Yes! It's im­por­tant that you can imag­ine your­self do­ing some­thing dif­fer­ent to what you are do­ing now. I think a lot of peo­ple who are a bit bored with their lives strug­gle with that as­pect of it. I be­lieve that try­ing to come up with a good ad­ven­ture idea re­quires imag­i­na­tion.

It sur­prises me how fre­quently peo­ple get in touch with me and say some­thing like, I've got x thou­sand pounds, and

I've got six months free, but I don't know what to go and do; whereas I usu­ally have the op­po­site prob­lem. Imag­in­ing ad­ven­tures I'd say is prob­a­bly one of my favourite hob­bies!

What do you sug­gest to peo­ple who want to break down their own bound­aries and start ad­ven­tur­ing more?

I think quite a lot of peo­ple would like more ad­ven­ture and wilder­ness in their lives. I think the thing then is for peo­ple to look at their lives and work out what is stop­ping them from do­ing that. The most likely prob­a­bil­i­ties are; lack of time, lack of money, lack of ex­per­tise, and that you live in the city. And then the other one is the men­tal at­ti­tude, the state of in­er­tia that makes it dif­fi­cult for us to bother, or change, or do some­thing new.

Those first few things, time and money, you can't change, so there's no point wor­ry­ing about that. Just try to see what ad­ven­tures you can fit around the re­al­i­ties of your life. Start by do­ing some­thing so in­cred­i­bly small that the other as­pects, the lazi­ness, the ex­cuses, the in­er­tia, which all of us have, are eas­ily over­come. Then there's no rea­son not to get out the front door and start. Once you've both­ered to pack a ruck­sack, put your coat on, and walk out the front door, I think that's 90 per cent of the dif­fi­culty over­come. So the chal­lenge is just to find an ex­pe­ri­ence, so small, so sim­ple, and so lo­cal, that you have no ex­cuse not to do it.

The gen­eral ex­am­ple that I have is the idea of go­ing to sleep on your lo­cal hill for one night. So af­ter work one day, pack up your bag, head out of the of­fice, and in­stead of go­ing home to watch telly you head out and sleep on a hill for the night, un­der the stars. Then wake up in the morn­ing, run down the hill and back to your desk for nine o'clock the next morn­ing. In many ways that en­cap­su­lates a vast amount of ad­ven­ture but it's some­thing that is achiev­able for most peo­ple, even in our busy lives.

How im­por­tant do you think na­ture and the out­doors are for cre­at­ing the right en­vi­ron­ment for an ad­ven­ture?

I think it's re­ally im­por­tant be­cause you are so im­mersed in it. I don't think it mat­ters which wilder­ness you choose. Well, cer­tainly not for me. I'd be equally ex­cited to be dropped in a desert, jun­gle, moun­tain, ice cap, or in the mid­dle of the ocean.

I think it's about peo­ple seek­ing out wilder­ness close to wher­ever they hap­pen to live. In the same way that of­fice work­ers are drawn to go and eat their sand­wiches in a park at lunchtime; that's seek­ing out a lit­tle bit of wilder­ness! I think that once you start to re­alise that wher­ever you live, even in a pretty ur­ban place, there is wilder­ness closer than you think you are your po­ten­tial for hav­ing ad­ven­tures.

How do you go about train­ing for big­ger trips, both in a men­tal and phys­i­cal ca­pac­ity?

The men­tal side is so mas­sive for ad­ven­tures. I've al­ways hugely un­der­es­ti­mated it, and I don't do any train­ing for it at all. I sup­pose the only train­ing I have is the ex­pe­ri­ence. The phys­i­cal stuff de­pends on what I'm do­ing. So for cy­cling around the world when I was go­ing to be on a bike for four years, I had plenty of time to get fit on the road, so I did no train­ing for that. I think if you're go­ing to do 46,000 miles on a bike then why bother do­ing any more? But for some­thing where I need to be fit and healthy from day one, I do a lot of run­ning, cy­cling and strength work in the gym, dead­lifts and squats, and things like that.

When you go on ad­ven­tures you have to live pretty sim­ply. Has this af­fected how you live at home?

Cer­tainly the bike trip was a defin­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. Four years of liv­ing out of lit­tle bike packs meant that I didn't buy any sou­venirs. I liked that I had noth­ing but mem­o­ries from that trip. So I try to live quite sim­ply. Also choos­ing to be­come an ad­ven­turer rather than a lawyer or a banker means I'm not rich and there­fore, there are two op­tions in life. You can earn lots of money or you can spend not much money. I've found that by liv­ing quite cheaply I can live pretty com­fort­ably just be­ing a bum ad­ven­turer. So yeah I think it's taught me to live quite sim­ply. Hav­ing said that, I do al­ways want more bi­cy­cles and cam­eras!

You've writ­ten books, re­leased a film and are al­ways post­ing lots of con­tent on­line. What would you say is your pre­ferred op­tion for chron­i­cling your jour­neys?

I guess if I could choose some­thing that would be­come a world mas­ter­piece, even though it's un­likely, I would de­cide to write. I'd like to write a bril­liant book more than I would like to do any­thing else. Hav­ing said that, pho­tog­ra­phy isn't hard to en­joy be­cause I do a lot of speak­ing work, and I do a lot of blog­ging, and pho­tog­ra­phy is nice to have for that. And then film I've started to love, be­cause that's the new­est thing to me and it's the thing that I'm the worst at. You know when you start some­thing new, you learn so quickly, and you can see your progress gal­lop­ing along. So at the mo­ment film­mak­ing is what ex­cites me the most.

Why do you think you like to chal­lenge your­self and how do you keep find­ing new things to do?

My life of big ad­ven­tures was fu­elled to a great ex­tent by me try­ing to push my lim­its and to see what I was ca­pa­ble of. I think that came about be­cause at school I was a pretty or­di­nary kid who never did any­thing too dif­fi­cult, and so I had a chip on my shoul­der. I wanted to go and show the world that I could do some­thing big, chal­leng­ing and tough. When I set off, I was driven by try­ing to prove my­self to the world. But af­ter a few years and hav­ing got a bit older, and hav­ing made a few more trips, it was less the need to prove my­self to others. But I was still very driven to prove my worth to my­self. The trou­ble with that is that ev­ery time you achieve some­thing, ev­ery time you fin­ish a trip, some­thing you doubted that you would do, you go "Wow

I've done that, what else can I do?" It be­comes a bit ad­dic­tive, a bit of a Pan­dora's Box!

So do­ing more and more chal­leng­ing things is in some ways quite point­less. I think in many ways a braver thing would be to go and do some­thing en­tirely dif­fer­ent with my life, try and chal­lenge my­self in new ways. It's al­most ironic that when I start do­ing big ar­du­ous ex­pe­di­tions, it in some ways be­comes the easy op­tion in life. If the aim for my­self is to do stuff that is hard, stuff that fright­ens me and puts me out of my com­fort zone, then what I should do is go and train to be­come a bal­let teacher. That would be far harder and scarier for me than cy­cling to China!

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