I Made My World Bigger by deciding to explore China on foot, walking 3,000 miles from the Gobi desert to Hong Kong (beginning in winter!)
A little while ago I entered a competition run by Discovery Channel UK called 'Make Your World Bigger.' I love the concept - it's exactly the sort of adventurous mindset I champion through my trips. I'm therefore delighted that they chose my photo and caption from the Gobi desert (above) as one of the 25 finalists!
At the risk of sounding like I'm begging (which is exactly what I'm doing...) please would you take thirty seconds to vote for my image? Here's the link -http://mywbcompetition.com/gal.aspx?og=2
All you have to do is click 'Vote' and then also select 2 other images from the 25 (they're all good!) If you also fancy sharing it via Facebook or twitter, that too would be wonderful! (You can copy the link direct, or click on the social media 'sharing' icons at the bottom of this post.)
Thank you - it's very much appreciated! #mywb
For the last 5 weeks I've been in Iran, attempting to follow the river Karun (the longest in the country) from source to sea.
Tom and I found all sorts of exciting, wild and madcap adventures in the mountains and plains of Southwest Iran. I'm very excited to share them with you in the coming weeks and months.
For now, here are a few very early pictures (the captions along the bottom will help orientate the images as a photo essay if you watch through from start to end.)
I'm also very hopeful that we'll be able to create a film of our story, so if you're keen to be updated on that then please pop your email address in the box below and I'll make sure you know when there's something to watch (no spam, I promise!)
Finally, I'm also very excited to let you know that after many years of pretending to write a book, I've eventually actually written a book! It tells the story of my very first (and still favourite) journey - cycling across America. The book will be published this summer, and as with the Iran film, there'll be more news to follow soon.
Enjoy the pictures!
With thanks to:
At the end of 2012 I went to Oman to pull a cart full of instant noodles through the largest sand desert in the world. That trip was very silly (and tremendous fun!), and one of the main things I took away from it was how much I enjoyed the region. Oman and the UAE were fantastic places, I discovered, full of great people. The Omanis and Emiratis looked after us well, when we saw them, but it was expat oil workers from other parts of the Middle East and Indian subcontinent that we encountered most frequently. Pakistanis brought us curry from their truck, Syrians gave us cake and Saudis offered to kill a camel and throw a celebratory party for us. Yemenis stopped to have a quick chat and wish us well, and Bahrainis gave gifts of more Pepsi than we could carry. It was my first visit to the Arabian peninsula and, aside from a brief holiday to Cairo one time, it was my first journey to the Middle East proper.
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.
Back in October I had the privilege of speaking at TEDxBelfast - a wonderful event with the theme of 'ideas worth spreading.' TEDx events are a bringing together of great minds and innovation, so I felt somewhat fraudulent to be sharing my stories of half-baked adventures...
Below is my talk on the topic of 'How to become an adventurer.' Be sure to also check out some of the other speakers from the event - there are some wonderful talks.
1 - For an adventure! I'd never been to the Arabian peninsula before and had a hunch I'd really like it there. The only way to find out was to go and see what happened.
2 - To follow, vaguely, in the footsteps of Wilfred Thesiger, who's books and journeys I've admired for many years. Following a hero is a great starting point for an expedition.
3- Someone (Al Humphreys) had asked me to come along - it would have been rude to say no.
4 - The Empty Quarter is the largest sand desert in the world. Even though the largest, sandiest parts are in Saudi Arabia where we couldn't go, the ridiculousness and challenge of trying to thrive in somewhere so large and desolate is appealing.
5 - I wanted to do a trip that would be new, challenging and rewarding. This fit all those categories.
6 - I wanted to make a film that would entertain, educate and inspire. This (I hope) fit all those categories.
7 - Although I swore that I would never again go on a walking expedition after my 3000 mile trek in China, I have since come to believe that walking is my favourite of all methods of human-powered transport. It's slow, miserable and inefficient - but there's nothing to match it for immersion and experience.
8 - Despite what it may sound like from the above points, I really had no idea what I'd find in the Empty Quarter desert - emptiness, happiness, oil fields, roads, Bedu, camels...I could only guess based on other people's accounts. I went to find out.
9 - A 35C desert is a great, if extreme, escape from the British winter. (We went during November and December.)
10 - Life is too short - it's worth filling the time we have with fun, silly and character-developing experiences whenever we can. I knew that however this trip panned out - good or bad - I would never regret having tried it.
Watch the film of 'Into The Empty Quarter' now by clicking here. If you haven't see it yet, check out the trailer below:
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:
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.
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.
It is now over a year since I returned home from Hong Kong after a 3000 mile walk across China. It was quite a journey! During the expedition Rob Lilwall and I filmed our experiences extensively with a view to ultimately creating a 4 part TV series for National Geographic Channels. I am now delighted to say that the show has aired in Asia, and will be available to buy on DVD in the rest of the world imminently!
If you would like information on how to see the show for yourself and when the exact release date will be, please fill in your details below and I'll send you an email with how you can view it.
I hope it's been worth the wait!