Some alternative, tough-love style inspiration for walking, from Henry David Thoreau's essay, 'Walking' (It is a wonderful piece of writing, and I strongly recommend you to read it in full here)
It is true, we are but faint-hearted crusaders, even the walkers, nowadays, who undertake no persevering, never-ending enterprises. Our expeditions are but tours, and come round again at evening to the old hearthside from which we set out. Half the walk is but retracing our steps.
We should go forth on the shortest walk, perchance, in the spirit of undying adventure, never to return, prepared to send back our embalmed hearts only as relics to our desolate kingdoms.
If you are ready to leave father and mother, and brother and sister, and wife and child and friends, and never see them again—if you have paid your debts, and made your will, and settled all your affairs, and are a free man—then you are ready for a walk.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
This project is my attempt to inject a small dose of adventure into every day (more background here!)
DAY 1 - Make the most of a 'business trip.'
I was due to give a talk in Sevenoaks. Instead of getting the train there, followed by a taxi to the venue (and then repeating the process to get home) I took my bike, arrive a few hours early and went exploring. A full morning of pedalling backroads and lanes around Kent was just the ticket. The UK is just full of these public footpaths and through ways - I'm ashamed at how few I have explored to date. I arrived at my destination a few minutes early, feeling very ready to give a talk about adventure! (Lesson learned for next time - perhaps go exploring AFTER the talk. Sweaty and muddy isn't the best look...)
DAY 2: Read a book in a day.
I was on and off trains constantly on Day 2. I also needed some literary inspiration for my book writing, and for once I had time on my side to read. So I read. I love the idea of covering an entire book in one day (even a short and abridged version like this one!) What greater writer to choose that Sir Wilfred himself? "Hunger, thirst, heat and cold: I had tasted them all in full..."