1. You will move slowly. This gives time to appreciate the world around you; to feel how a country, a culture and a landscape changes and develops beneath your feet.
2. It will often be miserable. This is good! Adventures are all about misery - enduring and then retrospectively enjoying. No-one wants to go off and have a lovely time all the time, right? Misery is brilliant. Walking provides it in bucketloads.
3. You are at your most vulnerable. This, too, is mostly a good thing - it will encourage people much more inclined to be kind and hospitable towards you, and will immediately break down many of the barriers of the 'rich foreigner' should you be travelling far from home.
4. You can carry everything you need on your back. The old 'tortoise effect' - your life upon your shoulders. With no more than a 15-20kg load you can carry a tent, sleeping bag, gas stove, spare clothes (even for cold weather) and all the expedition knick-knacks we tend to accumulate (notebooks, compass, penknife, map, whisky etc.) There's something deeply gratifying about being so self-sufficient. For remote journeys you can try pulling a large cart filled with worldly possessions and food/water supplies (just try making a better one that Al and I did in the Empty Quarter...)
5. You can get to places impossible to reach by any other method of transport. I'm not just talking about plane or trains or automobiles here; even my all-time favourite, the bicycle, has limitations. On foot you can scramble up a hill, over a hedge, swim across a river (maybe), through a shopping mall, into a sewer...the possibilities are endless!
It seems only fair that I also include:
This morning I was gathering together some photos to accompany an article I had written about walking across China. Just as I was about to send the pictures off to the magazine publisher, I came across one I didn't remember. Next to it was another I had no recollection of - not until I stared at it for nearly 30 seconds, wracking my brain for a memory hook. It's amazing how some of these experiences get away from us. I suppose that is one of the nice things about taking photos on a journey, and especially making a film of these types of expeditions - a visual memory bank, freezing a spot in time and space and capturing it as it was then and may never be again.
Before I knew it I'd spent the next couple of hours drifting off down memory lane, flicking through photographs. Lots of them made me smile, or shiver, or just bathe in the nostalgia, but what I always find time and time again is that the most evocative pictures are always those of people - the characters that really make these trips such wonderful and unique experiences.
In the last 3 years, I have gone on two quite similar adventures. Both were done with a skeleton team of two people, both involved walking quite a long way. Both were often miserable, yet I think back on them now with great satisfaction. I filmed both extensively using the same camera, but, subsequently, have now made two very different end products.
The first journey began in November 2011: a 6-month, 3000 mile epic of a walk through China, from the Gobi desert in Mongolia down to Hong Kong. I went to accompany Rob Lilwall, a Hong Kong-based adventurer, and together we had a wonderful (if hard) journey south through the Middle Kingdom. One of the most exciting things about the trip was that we got a commission from a big broadcaster (National Geographic) to make a 4-part TV show. As a fledgling adventurer and cameraman, it was a bigger break than I could ever have imagined.
Skip forward a year, and in November 2012 I set off into The Empty Quarter desert with Alastair Humphreys to try and walk from Salalah, Oman to Dubai, UAE roughly following a route taken by the British explorer Wilfred Thesiger. We trekked for 1000 miles, and a major goal of the journey was to make a film of the adventure. The difference this time was that we had no broadcaster behind us - we funded the trip ourselves and had no guarantee that it would ever get made or seen by anyone except us and our mums.
This time three years ago, I was cycling the Desert Road in New Zealand, en route to Wellington with 7000 miles of pedalling on the clock (and, unbeknown to me, another 7000 to go before I would make it home.)
Al and I are delighted to announce that, after a year of hard work, our film 'Into The Empty Quarter' is finally ready to be shared with the world!
The movie will have its world premiere at the wonderful Royal Geographical Society in London on Saturday 16th November at 6.30pm.
After that you can catch it on DVD, as a digital download and (hopefully!) at a selection of film festivals over the coming months.
To WIN a pair of tickets to the world premiere, please 'retweet' this link, or 'Like' on Facebook here. The winner will be selected at random.
'Explore' for those of you who haven't heard of it, is the ultimate indulgence event for the expedition/adventure lovers among us.
Each year hundreds of enthusiastic speakers and delegates gather together in the auspicious halls of the Royal Geographical Society and spend an entire weekend planning adventures.
I can't speak highly enough about the event, nor tell you how effective it is at providing inspiration and practical help for anyone who has ever dreamed of heading off on an adventure.
If you live in London, then you definitely must go. I'd also argue it's worth travelling from other parts of the UK to come to (I first attended when I was still living in Northern Ireland, and it was the catalyst I needed to set off on my subsequent cycling adventures.) It really is that good.
This year's conference will take place from the 15-17 November. Visit the website for prices and details on how to book.
Below are 5 reasons why you should be there:
If you haven't heard of it already, then I'm excited to draw your attention to one of the coolest adventure film festivals around - the Thrillseekers Adventure Film Festival.
The aim is to showcase the best in adventure travel and extreme sport filmmaking, and it's extremely successful. Go and check out the format and schedule for yourself via their website, but here it is in a nutshell: 15 films, organised into 3 programmes, screening at over 30 cinemas nationwide. It starts tomorrow, and runs through 30th November. If you like adventure films, this is something you shouldn't miss...
I'm very proud to say that a 20-minute 'festival' version of 'Into The Empty Quarter,' the film I shot with Al Humphreys in Oman and the UAE at the end of last year, will be screening in Programme 3 during the AFF tour. The venues and dates are listed below: if you live anywhere near any of these cities and cinemas then please do go and check it out (and tell us what you think of it!) Tickets available HERE.
Let's be frank - good travel writing can change your life.
There's no end to online lists and discussion about what may be the best travel book ever, but this blog post is not intending to wade into that arena. Reading (and talking and thinking about) good travel writing is one of my favourite pastimes.
Some of these works have changed the way I think about the world, others have sent me across the globe. Least Heat Moon inspired me to cycle across America with the warning-come-promise to "be careful going in search of adventure - it's ridiculously easy to find." (2010.)
Rory Stewart convinced me that walking a long way was a jolly good idea when he described how he had "...been walking one afternoon in Scotland and thought: Why don't I just keep going? There was a magic in leaving a line of footprints stretching across Asia" (2011.)
Thesiger sent me to the Empty Quarter in search of "peace in the hardship of desert travel, and the company of desert peoples." (2012.)
I quietly fear what the inevitable impact of Ernest Shackleton's epic tale will be...
The power of words should not be underestimated! Below, in no particular order, are my five favourite (or five of my favourite ) travel books.
Have you read them? What would you put on your list?
1- South - Ernest Shackleton (currently free on Kindle)
2- Arabian Sands - Wilfred Thesiger
3- Blue Highways - William Least Heat Moon
4- A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush - Eric Newby
5 - The Places Inbetween - Rory Stewart
"A cloud gathers, the rain falls, men live; the cloud disperses without rain, and men and animals die. In the deserts of southern Arabia there is no rhythm of the seasons, no rise and fall of sap, but empty wastes where only the changing temperature marks the passage of the year. It is a bitter, desiccated land which knows nothing of gentleness or ease...
No man can live this life and emerge unchanged. He will carry, however faint, the imprint of the desert, the brand which marks the nomad; and he will have within him the yearning to return, weak or insistent according to his nature. For this cruel land can cast a spell which no temperate clime can match."
Wilfred Thesiger - Arabian Sands
At the end of last year, Alastair Humphreys and I set off to walk across 1000 miles of the Empty Quarter desert, following in the footsteps of the late, great Sir Wilfred Thesiger. Al has cut the first trailer of our project - a sneak preview of some of the footage we shot.
I'll post more info when we have it, but for now, I hope you enjoy this high speed tour through the desert from Salalah to Dubai.
Please let us know what you think!
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