There are many great ways to travel - ways which offer a wonderful perspective for seeing the world and for exploring landscapes and cultures and everything inbetween. My pick has always been for the non-motorised ways; for the slower, more intimate journeys that occur when the power to move forward must be generated by one's own body. Over the last few years I've developed a love of walking, the slowest and most natural method of all, and most recently I also experimented with travelling by packraft (an inflatable boat that folds down to the size of a two-man tent.) My first ever adventures, however, all took place on bicycles and as I found on a recent trip by bike in Iran, it is still hard to beat the joys of cycling.
When I was 15 I set off to cycle around the UK with a couple of friends. I remember buying my first ever bike less than a week before we left. It took us four days to get out of Northern Ireland (we'd figured on one) and we spent much of that first trip making terrible navigational errors, complaining about how big the (small) hills were and apologising to policemen for accidentally cycling on motorways. It was brilliant! I loved it so much that the next summer I cycled with a friend from Northern Ireland to Germany for the football World Cup. It was another poorly planned escapade with more wrong turns than right, and in the end we only got there because Germany is so big that we couldn't help but run into it eventually. Needless to say, that adventure was also life-enhancingly wonderful. It didn't matter that we got lost, or weren't sure how to fix our bikes, or that we didn't speak any German (or French or Dutch) - all of our shortcomings seemed to add to the fun.
As readers of this site will know, a couple of years ago I walked 3000 miles from Mongolia to Hong Kong with my friend Rob Lilwall. The intention was to see China at ground level; to watch how a country, people and landscape change at human speed. Moving so slowly undoubtedly offers a unique (if occasionally miserable) insight into a place. I have since become quite a fan of exploring on foot (see more thoughts on that here.)
The idea for the journey came from Rob - he and his wife Christine had just moved to Hong Kong, and part of his motivation for exploring China in such a way was to forge a deeper connection with their new home. Rob, clearly, was also just someone drawn to the wilds of the world, to adventures and travel and challenges and everything that lies therein. He had lived for three years on a bicycle, pedalling from Siberia to London, and had spent countless days and nights on dusty roads in foreign lands and in tiny tents tucked away in unknown landscapes. He had an enviable wealth of experience 'out there' in the world, but still wanted more.
Rob wasn't looking for passing, transitory incidents to form the basis of future anecdotes at dinner-parties - he wanted to really dig deep and learn what he could about China. The culture, the history, the language, the humour; every piece of knowledge gleaned would be a deepening of the relationship with his newly-adopted country.
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.)
What is achievable in the space of 10 weeks?
I'll cut straight to it - I've decided to enter a 100km (62.5miles) trail run at the start of May. This in itself is not particularly extreme. There are many, many people who can (and do) run this sort of distance with relative ease. I however, am not currently one of those people. In fact, in the last 3 years, I've rarely run further than 15km in one session. The last time I did any running with a purpose I had an Olympic Torch and a six-month beard to keep me company. By way of a somewhat feeble excuse, I can only offer that I have spent a lot of my last few years either cycling, trekking, or cart-pulling (or resting inbetween said exertions!)
All considered though, I now have quite a challenge ahead of me to get ready for this race. The idea of trying to run 100 kilometres in a single day (or rather, in 10-15 hours) is rather a terrifying one. But, as a strong believer that fear should never be given license to take hold of us, I have decided to cast aside doubts and commit to it.
I am currently trying to write a book, and also keep up to date with all of the other admin and desk-bound work required to be a self-employed writer and speaker. It's still a very foreign world to me, and if I'm honest, I have a hard time being productive when I'm at my desk. My mind wanders, jumps from taks to task, and inevitably ends up back in some wild place on an expedition, free from all the emails and paperwork.
One of the biggest differences I notice on an expedition is that I have clearly defined goals - each day I wake up knowing my purpose, and the path to achieving that is much simpler than mapping out a day in my 'office.' So I've tried to apply some of those experiences from the adventure world to the one which I currently inhabit. I've also been reading a book called 'Your Brain at Work' by David Rock, which does a great job of condensing a lot of neuroscience to explain why it requires training and effort to achieve a high level of productivity. That it's hard work is the bad news...the good news is that a little hard work never did anyone any harm (and it is very feasible!)
So below are five tips for productivity. I write this as much for myself as anyone - I have by no means mastered them. But, I'm getting better. And the quicker I achieve these, the faster my work will be done, and the sooner I can head back off into the wilderness without a desk in sight...
New Years Resolutions are surely one of the most popular topics of conversation at this time of year. And why not? It’s a fantastic opportunity to make an advantageous change or adjustment in life – a reason to finally get around to doing that thing we’ve been meaning to do for a long time.
The catch is, however, that most of us fail. Around 88%, according to a National survey done in the UK a few years ago. That seems to me to be an astoundingly high failure rate. What’s more is that most people I talk to now seem to be almost expecting that they too will fail – there is an impression that succeeding is very unlikely, so while it’s worth giving it a bit of a go, we shouldn’t worry too much when it falls apart. This seems to me utterly daft, although I’ve fallen into the trap often myself.
Last year was a busy one for me. I started 2012 in China; six weeks into a seven month, 3000 mile walk across the country from the Gobi desert to the South China Sea (www.leonmccarron.com.) I completed the journey and was back in the UK by June, and in November I set off again to trek 1000 miles across the Empty Quarter desert in Oman, finishing just before Christmas. I was delighted to have had the chance to undertake two great expeditions, yet I still fell short on some of my other goals for the year. I had wanted to write my first book, but only got a few thousand words into it before I lost motivation. I also failed to keep up my pursuit of becoming fluent in Chinese So one of my New Year’s resolutions this year has been to keep up my New Years resolutions. For the purposes of transparency, here is what I have vowed to do in 2013:
Who would have thought that typing things into a computer could be a bigger challenge than riding a bicycle half way around the world? Nevertheless it seems so, at least in the early stages. After a couple of months of planning and procrastinating (in unequal measure) I've finally started the task of effectively gathering and ordering the stories, adventures, lessons and philosophies that 'The Cycling Reporter' brought into my life.
Right now the thought of authoring an entire book with any sort of coherence terrifies me more than slightly, but if I learn one thing from cycling it was that by chipping away at something day by day and ignoring setbacks then just about anything is achievable. Practice what you preach they say, and 'they' are rarely wrong.
In other news - it's a bank holiday next week in the U.K. I'll be having myself another lovely little mini-adventure - I encourage you to make the most of that extra weekend day as well!