Just thought I'd share a sentiment I read recently on the topic of discovery. I think the idea, the hope, the need for discovery lies at the heart of every great adventure. In fact, I reckon the notion of discovery dictates most of the excitement in our lives, whether we acknowledge it or not. From the banal discoveries of a new type of pasta sauce (don't knock it, it brightened up my dinner this evening) to a thrill with slightly more longevity such as all those new species found on the recent BBC2 series 'Lost Land of the Volcano' - discovery is everywhere.
It's certainly a key factor in my wanderlust, and one of the catalysts in my decision to finally get on my bike and hit the road. But what can I discover? Taking cliched responses with little real meaning like 'I'll find myself, man' out of the equation, what is there really for me to discover? Surely everything worth noticing has already been found, studied and probably had a TV show made about it. Well, in a way, yes. But, assuming I don't discover a new Grand Canyon somewhere in the middle of the USA that everyone else has somehow just missed, I think there's still plenty to search for. For me, I'm fascinated by people and what they have to say. Listening to folk talk about themselves and the environment they live in, well, I reckon that can unlock a whole store of information about a place, a time, even a feeling. This idea is perhaps losing a little of its focus as I stray away from tangible discoveries, so I'll leave you with the words of the Nobel Prize winning Scientist Albert von Szent who said:
"Discovery consists of seeing what everyone has seen and thinking what nobody has thought."
Couldn't have put it better myself. In keeping with this blog post theme, here's the famous picture of 'Bigfoot.' I'll try and get a clearer one.
So since last time I blogged, what's been happening? Well, on Thursday night I attended Rob Lilwall's launch party for his book and DVD series 'Cycling Home From Siberia.' It was a great evening, with an inspiring talk and slideshow from Rob about his trip. I'm halfway through the book already, and enjoying it thoroughly. These events are fantastic at bringing together like minded people, and it was really good to have a chat with folk that have 'been there and done that' (even though they'd never put it like that themselves) and others who, like me, are in somewhere the dreaming/planning/holy-crap-this-is-really-happening! stage.
On Friday I spent the day in the US embassy waiting for my visa, but the hours flew by as I was still on a high from the night before. It's at times like this that I realise just how lucky I am to have the resources and time to go on this expedition. I find it's easy to spend too much time worrying about all the problems that inevitably arise with the planning and prep required by this sort of trip. How silly though! This is the opportunity of a lifetime and I'm sure anyone else who has done/is doing anything like this would agree, as soon as you make the focus a little wider, everything becomes relative. The hurdles to overcome are really incidental, inconsequential inconveniences, whereas the positives of the trip promise so much more on a larger scale. It's worth a few days of stress, endless emails, phone calls, late nights, whatever it might be that is required. Listening to Rob's talk I was transported to a moment in the future on my own adventure, away from the trials and tribulations of everyday society. I had no work to get to the next morning, no deadlines to meet. I was my own boss, and life was good. I can't wait! New resolution - don't worry (be happy!)
The other good thing about Friday was that I was successful in my visa application, so I'm good to go. Next stop, New York! This week I'll continue to work on a potentially exciting sponsorship opportunity, and finally deliver on that long-promised video blog.
A few dates for your diary, from mine.
9-11th October - The Cycle Show, in Earls Court. (This promises to be amazing, although probably more for those who like bikes because, well, its a bike show.)
30th October - Will Gow, Polar Explorer and descendant of Ernest Shackleton is talking as part of the Canterbury Festival, can't wait for that one
13-15th November - Explore! Expeditions and Fieldworks Planning Weekend, can't speak highly enough of this, I went last year and it's probably the main reason why I've finally got my butt in gear and am heading off on my bike. Pure inspiration, and a lot of fun to boot.
One more thing for now, UNICEF are working around the clock providing aid for kids affected by the Asia-Pacific disasters, namely the Sumatra Earthquake, Typhoon Ketsana and the Samoan Tsunami. They urgently need funds to help the displaced and injured children in that region. More info is available here
If you're in a position to donate anything please visit the link, or donate via my site.
Finally, as I was concerning myself the other day with the topic of 'Do I know enough about bike maintenance?' (which I'll come back to seriously at some point) I was reminded of this great clip from Monty Python. Anyone else remember ''Bicycle Repair Man'?! If not - enjoy!
A quick word on inspiration, and an update on my progress. So I'm now officially raising money for UNICEF during my trip which is great news. UNICEF really are a superb organisation, doing great work for kids in developing countries that really need their help. It's gonna be a pleasure to fundraise for them along the way, so I'm pretty psyched about that - I get a t-shirt as well! Details of my Justgiving site (where you can donate) and links to UNICEF can be found on my Charity page here.
So, inspiration. That's a pretty big thing to blog about, but what a great thing it is! I reckon everyone gets inspired in different ways. There's the obvious sources, such as when you hear about people really pushing themselves to do amazing things - recent examples that I've followed are things like this and this (Sarah Outen rowing solo across the Indian Ocean) and this (an 18 year old cycling across Canada.) I also find regular inspiration in travel writing, from fantastic contemporary accounts by the likes of Alastair Humphreys and The Hungry Cyclist, to the absolutely legendary, my favourite being Ernest Shackleton. If you've never read his book 'South' about his failed expedition to Antartica, I can't recommend it enough, its such a testament some hardcore endurance! There's some good content on the BBC site about him here. As you can probably tell, he's a bit of a hero of mine. And he's Irish too, naturally!
Anyway, inspiration! I've been finding recently that I'm finding it in the oddest of people. I think it's because I'm so excited about this expedition that I'm perhaps more receptive to certain things, but watching someone in a coffee shop today spending hours perfecting a sketch in their notebook really had me impressed. I was (probably overly!) fascinated with the dedication she was showing. I could list a lot more examples of silly places where I've found inspiration recently, but I won't, because that would be dull for you. I think the point is I'm seeing the importance of dedication and endurance in all activities, even the planning side of this trip!
Perhaps some of you, like me, find your attention drops after a while, and whatever the activity you're doing suffers even if it's quite an enjoyable one. Well, I'm slowly learning that it's really worth it to push myself beyond my normal capacity for concentration, as the rewards will be greater. Hopefully that will be the case for the work I've put in this week. I'm hoping to begin the press releases, and essentially the 'grand unveiling' of my trip to the world at large, so I hope I've got everything organised. Watch this space!
Planning is well and truly under way, and as I gradually get the word out to my friends and family that I'm heading off on this expedition, a common (and fair) response is 'Why?' Alastair Humphreys compiled some famous responses to the 'why go expeditioning' question on his site recently (here) which ranged from Ranulph Fiennes' "to pay the bills," to Robert Swann's "to impress girls at parties." I think the question as to why anyone would want to sell up and cycle off into the sunset is always going to be very personal. Sure, it sounds quite romantic, and I'm banking on the fact that some of it will be! I'm not kidding myself though, its gonna be a long, tough slog for a lot of it. First off, let me tell you how I initially got attracted to the idea.
It all started with Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman. Now famous, their 'Long Way Round' expedition blew me at away. At the time I was a young impressionable teenager, and it just seemed like the coolest thing - 2 guys heading off round the world, having a laugh and a good old adventure. Sold. But, there was a problem. I had no money or resources to emulate them - plus, theyd already done it better than I ever could. So, what to do? Go less distance, on less complex machines, with less risk of course! 3 years later I had completed two trips - Short Way Round, and Short Way Round 2 (inventive naming, I know.) The first was a corner-cutting tour of the UK, the second took me and my good friend David from Northern Ireland to Germany for the World Cup.
Since then, I have had the urge to do it again, except further, and better. I want to travel and see the world, but in a way that is conscious of the planet and it's precarious state suffering under humankind's steady destruction of it. I don't want to cause unnecessary damage to the environment - in fact I would like to leave little or no footprint behind. Biking is the ultimate 'green' vehicle. This, combined with my love of filmmaking and my desire to make a documentary that gives a voice (however small) to the 'common man' so to speak, led me to where I am now. When I think about it like this, all the fear of leaving disappears (and believe me, sometimes I really feel the fear!) Giving up my job was easy. Moving out of my house was easy. Planning the adventure is great fun. Sure money always causes problems, but it's just money. I'm privileged to have been born into affluent Western society where we can follow our dreams. I'm not from a rich family, far from it, but I have the most supportive family in the world (especially my mum, aren't mums great!) and a bank who will lend me money for my hairbrained schemes.
I'm gonna miss some home comforts, I'm definately gonna miss my family, my friends, my wonderful girlfriend. But these opportunities are there to be grabbed, and the things that matter to us at home will still be there.
So, why? To feed my wanderlust, to make my film, to meet people from diverse cultures, to enjoy hospitality from strangers, to experience what there is on offer out there. Hopefully I can raise money for my chosen charity along the way and help in some small way to make a difference, and maybe even my film can highlight some otherwise ignored issues. But at the base of it all is the spirit of adventure, the pleasure being not in the finding of anything in particular, but in the seeking.
Today Im sending off my booking form to attend the Royal Geographic Society's annual expedition and fieldwork planning weekend. 'Explore 2008' was definately of the highlights of last year for me, providing unrivaled lectures, seminars and chats on the logisitics of planning travel, plus just some great company of amazing people. Hanging around with explorers chatting about expeditions to remote parts of the globe over a beer or two - surely every boys dream! So I could barely be more excited about 'Explore 2009', and November 15th-17th cannot come quickly enough. Details on the conference and some info from last year can be seen here:
When I wasn't day dreaming of adventures that took me away from my life of working and packing my stuff to move house (surely theres few less enjoyable things) I found time to watch Michael Mann's 'Public Enemies' last night. What a film. Honestly, it was fantastic. I don't have a problem with Michael Mann - Heat was superb, Last of the Mohicans was a childhood favourite of mine, and Collateral, The Insider, Ali - they all have their plaudits. But I didn't enjoy Miami Vice at the cinema - I really didnt. Public Enemies however blew me away. Johnny Depp was inimitable as always, inseperable from his role as John Dillinger. In fact, all the performances were spot on, even if a lot of them didnt stretch the actors too much - Christian Bale's Melvyn Purvis for example. But the film just looked incredible. The colour, the depth, the framing - the atmosphere was created from the opening jailbreak scene and didnt drop till the end. The handheld camerawork kept us up close and personal with the characters, not allowing breathing space during the intense scenes. I felt physically tired after a couple of lengthy exchanges involving Dillinger. On top of that, there was the gunfights and car chases, which are most certainly Mann's speciality. 8/10 I reckon - some of the characters were a little undeveloped and there was a bit of confusion as to who was who in the supporting gangsters. However, the important things worked - great film. If you havent already - go see it!
So I've made it past my 23rd birthday, and inevitably dont feel any different. I try not to dwell on the fact that people such as Usain Bolt and Rafael Nadal are the same age as me, but I did think a lot about what Ive achieved so far - and what I still aim for. Sure, we cant all be the fastest ever human being ever recorded, and thats probably a good thing! But Im definately a believer in having goals to meet. My current ones arent particularly specific, they are generally wider aims such as 'break into the Film industry,' and 'make a documentary on something noone has thought of before.' Kinda silly I know, but it works for me, and drives me to keep going.
As I plan my upcoming documentary project I find it useful to draw on what others had achieved at my age - just not to dwell on it beyond garnering inspiration. Details on my new project will follow soon, hopefully it will help me hit some of the targets Ive set myself - or at least get a little closer.