Here’s the thing about birthdays, if you treat them as figures you’re just encouraging life to pass you by. If there’s a suggestion that maybe you haven’t used the last year to its full potential then a birthday can be ever so depressing, especially after you nudge into a new decade. There’s no more of this ‘ah it’s okay, I’m in my early twenties, plenty of time to do stuff,’ because frankly when time has gone there’s no getting it back.
If a birthday comes and you’ve used the last year well, all is good. Time to start all over again, how exciting is that?! Apart from my younger days when my parents actually remembered my birthday, I’ve never really made a huge deal out of the Big Day, that’s like waiting for New Years to make resolutions.
Once upon a time I was a child. My ambitions were years from forming, I had no responsibilities or cares. In fifty or sixty years time, all being well, I’ll be too tired to form new ambitions. If anything, I’ll be someone else’s responsibility - although I hope I never become a burden to anyone.
The years in between are mine. The early thirties, where I sit now, are still the early phase of my ‘doing years’. If once I was too small to make a difference and eventually I’ll be too old to make a difference, what is stopping me making a difference now?
32 today: just had the best, most productive year of my life. Two speaking tours around Australia. Two splendiferous expeditions. Two world records. Learned to paraglide. Defeated vertigo. Started making a living through Adventure.
I’d like you to help me plan my 33rd year. Below are some options, challenges and ideas - I’d love some cheeky feedback, let’s make sure my 33rd isn’t a glum-fest riddled with worries about deeper wrinkles and receding hairlines.
1) If someone finds me one of those brilliant vintage bathtubs and confirms it before 11:59pm tonight, I will float 1000 miles down a river in it. 2) On my Amazon wish-list there is a unicycle. It’s a cheap thing, but perfect for beginners. I’ve never been on one before, but very soon I’d like to unicycle 1000 miles. If someone buys me the unicycle, I will call it whatever they want - it can be named after you, your favourite cat, one of your children, anything, your choice. At some point I’ll replace it with a unicycle with a bigger wheel, perfect for a journey. I’ll name that Unicycle after the first one, just with a ‘2’ afterwards. 3) I’d like to swim 1000 miles along a river. Suggest one, please. 4) I’d like to run 1000 miles on stilts. Where? 5) I’m trying to raise £1 million for charity throughout Expedition1000. If you decide to do a challenge to raise money towards my total I’ll help you put your challenge together, check out my Adventure Consultancy 6) On Friday I’m going to list a number of potential expeditions for next year. This is your chance to add one to the list. Leave a comment below and follow these simple rules: Non-motorised method of transport. At least 1000 miles in distance. Simple!
Imagine running a river, turbulent white water boiling up on all sides. And you’re without a paddle. Or a boat, for that matter. Instead the only thing between you and swimming is a small bodyboard and a pair of flippers. Welcome to Riverboarding.
A small but global team led by Huw Miles is planning to take Riverboarding to new heights in November. This intrepid crew will don wetsuits and funs and take on the Sun Kosi, 173 miles of Nepalese river boasting rapids ranging from Grades 3 to 5. If successful, this will be the first descent of the mighty Sun Kosi by Riverboard, it’s an expedition worth keeping an eye on.
I first heard about Squash in Pokhara, Nepal. I’d paraglided in for lunch at the Maya Devi Village, where the concept of Parahawking now attracts people the world over. I got chatting to a lady who worked there and it wasn’t long before Squash’s name came up. ‘I found it funny,’ said the lady, ‘that this Squash was so adventurous, and her name was Falconer, yet she hated birds.’ Brilliant.
So, you might be asking, who is this woman? I have a feeling you won’t be in the dark for too much longer. She’s just back from a quick pedal from Lands End to John O’Groats having scaled an impressive collection of mountains, amongst them Aconcagua, Cho Oyo (she bum boarded back down!) and, erm, Everest. Squash was hoping to be the first woman to paraglide from the top of Everest but bad weather put paid to that. She was the first British woman to paraglide off Mt Blanc’s summit, mind…
I’ve been moping around for a little while, dragging my feet, waiting for me to come back.
I’ve shared with you before that I’ve been a little empty. Having spent my summer paddling down a river day after day, camping on sandbars, dodging barges, existing in great heats. I returned to the UK and didn’t encounter so much a culture shock, as a lack of one. The contrast between America and the UK isn’t great, which I’ve realised just makes for a slow-burning reality check. I thought I’d beaten it. For a week I was hop, skip and jumping. Great! I’ve escaped the slump! I’ve nailed it! All I needed to do was keep moving, thinking, doing.
And then it hit.
Well, it didn’t quite hit. It just crept up quietly in the night and sank into me when sleep rendered me defenceless. I woke up one morning and felt lost. I knew what was happening before the kettle had boiled. I stood there in my kitchen in shorts and a hoodie, looked at my feet which were buried in wooly slippers, and said out loud, ‘bugger.’
It’s natural. There’s no need to complain, it just happens. Of course it does. When life swings back and forth violently the door is going to edge off its hinges. My identity had shifted. I’d been immersed in an alternate reality for three months and now here I was, back where all is familiar but seeing it differently from a subtle new angle. It’s like being a dream where you’re tacitly aware of discomfort, that sense of knowing that this isn’t a good dream and something negative is preparing itself. I had that hollow feeling. My heart-rate was increased, something was wrong.
Having been flung off-kilter, I just needed to regain my balance. Previously, it’s taken me months. I didn’t know how long it was going to take this time but I felt like I needed to address things and set myself straight again. There’s no skeleton key to unlock post-expedition depression, but the idealogical route to recovery is to develop new habits and become comfortable again in your habitat. The new habits serve to indicate a new era. I began reducing my addiction to email and Facebook, bit by bit. I had a book to write, clicking back and forth between Gmail and News Feed just in case I’d received a little bit of online love wasn’t doing me any good. It was wasting my time. I was wasting my time.
But I didn’t feel like writing. I didn’t feel worthy of it. I didn’t respect myself for feeling this way because by nature I’m positive, I’m a doer, I say yes to things. And here I was saying no, don’t feel like writing, I’m lost.
I slept one afternoon. I never do that. I barely sleep at night, there’s way too much to do, so kipping in the afternoon screamed out that there was a problem here. Or maybe, I was solving the problem. There is nothing more important than rest. Grumpy? Overworked? Had an argument? Sleep on it. Calm yourself down by making yourself absent and letting your body recharge.
And then I broke the habit of a lifetime. I prepared for a talk. I’m a privileged man, I make a living by standing in front of other people and they give me the platform to tell them stories. I can’t imagine a greater honour than being given others people’s time and ears. I have an ongoing debate with myself about whether I should feel grateful or embarrassed at what I do, but each talk seems to go well and I feel good up there and the feedback is rarely tepid, so I keep doing what I do. Which, usually, is to select some slides and ad-lib as they come up. Sure, I have a rough structure to my talks and I re-hash the good jokes and funny anecdotes, but no two talks are exactly the same.
Yesterday I was on a train to Bristol and I started writing a script. A script for a brand new talk. I was to be speaking at an event where other, very good speakers would also be presenting. Each one of us had 20 slides, and each slide was to move on after 20 seconds. You have to be disciplined, your talk needs structure, otherwise it falls apart. If you’re still telling a story and the slide moves on and you haven’t finished, the second-count on the next image is diminishing. Panic sets in.
In front of 400 people you can’t afford to lose yourself. Lost composure manifests itself into ‘errs’ and ‘umms’ and ‘you knows’, there’s nothing worse than paying for a ticket to sit there and watch someone who can’t articulate themselves. The Night of Adventure is designed to be entertaining. The non-stop Pecha Kucha format is designed to enthrall. Sharing the stage with others isn’t easy for any speaker, it’s just a chance for your own talk to be shown up. It’s challenging and my pulse raced from the moment I woke up yesterday morning. I had to sit through four talks before mine and I could hear my heart beating through my chest. I was sweating, gulping down water, glancing at a printout of my slides, drumming in the brand new script that I’d written that day.
And then it was my turn. The script went out the window. I hadn’t had a chance to run it by anyone - not that I’ve ever done that, anyway - but bang, when you’re up there feeling like it’s interrogation time because of the bright light that means you can barely see anyone out there in the darkness, wow. Something strange happened to me. I’d been nervous all day. I don’t get worried about these things because I do them all the time, but this was different. Combined with the unspoken comparative competition of the other speakers and the stresses of such an unrelenting format I felt under considerable pressure, because I wasn’t on my game. I wasn’t feeling myself, I’ve been down in the dumps, glum, displaced. So on the face of things I wasn’t really in the best situation to go out there and entertain, or motivate, or tell stories.
And then I was the guy at the front. Al passed me the microphone and clicked his button and my first slide was on the screen (which is huge by the way, we were in a cinema screen and there I was twenty foot tall with a sombrero on, quite disconcerting) and I began to introduce it and then, all of a sudden, I felt like me again. I’d chosen the opening slide for the simple fact that it wasn’t serious. I’m no macho explorer. I have no muscle-bound frame, I’m a bloke who feels most at ease wearing a straw hat and pulling a quizzical face. It comforted me, remembering that. Accidentally, my first slide reminded me who I was, and I was off. Me. Happy. You beauty!
The only problem is that now I need to prepare for an hour-long talk tomorrow, which after 400 seconds last night seems quite daunting!
With a book to write and more expeditions to plan I’m not speaking as much as I usually would for the rest of the year, but as I can’t completely keep my mouth shut here are the events I’ll be speaking at over the coming weeks, and also there’s one TV appearance to watch out for, too….
Wednesday 19th October Event: Union Bar, Chiswick. Lecture My first public London lecture since returning from a descent of the Mississippi River. I’ll be using the Mississippi journey as the basis of this talk, as well as sharing anecdotes from other projects big and small. If you need to get motivated, this is for you! > Details here
Saturday 29th October Event: TV. Live n Deadly, BBC2, 9am I’m the guest on the show for a WHOLE hour. This episode will be filmed in Plymouth and will feature a couple of little interviews as well as a challenge against the mighty Steve Backshall. But what will be racing, an Aquaskipper? Or Stand Up Paddleboards? You’ll just have to tune in to find out… > Details
Wednesday 2nd November Event: Plymouth Explorers, Lecture An hour-long talk for the adventurous folks of Plymouth. Always good to speak in the South West.
Thursday 3rd November Event: Bristol Explorers, Lecture Always a great night and a chance to chat to other adventurous souls. I’ll be discussing the essence of what adventure is for me, showing some slides from the Mississippi Expedition to try and back it all up! > Details
Thursday 17th November Event: TEDx Youth @ Bath TED is the foremost lecture platform in the world, bringing together motivation, humour and thought into a colourful mix designed to inspire. I’m delighted to be opening Bath’s first ever TED conference and am especially excited as the audience will be in their late teens, all preparing to burst out into the real world. There are no tickets available for this event, but it will be streaming live on the website > And here’s the website
Wednesday 30th November Event: Escape the City, London For the first time I’ll be joining Ben Keen, founder of Tribe Wanted, in delivering a joint lecture all about how to make a living from a passion. Exactly what it says on the tin. If you’re in London and thinking about making a change, don’t miss this > Escape the City > Tribe Wanted
Sunday 5th February 2012 Event: Destinations Travel Show, Earls Court This one is still quite a way off, but I’ll be interviewed in front of audience as part of the Meet the Experts panel at 1pm on the penultimate day of the show. There’s nothing like a live interview, keeps you on your toes! > Website
I cried watching Dragon’s Den last night. Big fat uncontrollable tears while listening to a young single mother’s story about how she managed to get Tesco interested in her allergy-free yoghurty ice cream. I had to take the dishes out and wipe my face with an oven glove.
All day long I stare at my screen, daunted. Writing a book about an endurance journey is harder than doing the journey itself. Barely am I back from three months on the river before the whole process is being re-lived, and not only that, the build-up too. I’m still in 2010, roughing out the birth of Expedition1000, trying to be personable and even funny amidst a solid desperation to start writing about the Mississippi. But if the beginning of the book falls flat then so does the synopsis I send out to publishers, which kind of defeats the object.
Forget the book. I’m flat right now. Part of me wants to jump on a bicycle with a hammock in a pannier and ride off around the place, writing this book in cafes and pubs. Part of me suggests I need to rest. Part of me cries out for a cuddle, for someone to push me for more words and then coo coo softly about them.
It’s not easy writing without a book deal, without the comfort of an advance and the knowledge that people might someday at least have the choice to read all about it. It’s not easy, it’s bloody hard, but I’m also being a hypocrite. Yes, I failed at this hurdle before, stumped at 50,000 words about my Murray Expedition because life was running away with me as I stabbed at my keyboard. But I’ve also managed to write an entire book without a book deal. In fact, I was offered a deal for ‘Date’, but turned it down; ‘sorry, it’s worth more than that, I’m looking for a publisher to match my belief in this book.’ (What I really meant was: ‘if that’s all you’re willing to offer then you have no belief in me, my writing or the book, and that lack of commitment doesn’t fill me with glee. Cheerio.’)
So what’s the difference? Writing in a post-expedition slump involves much more than writing. I don’t feel comfortable in a bed. I’m displaced, a little depressed, it’s like I’ve lost all my powers. I need to grow Sansom’s hair back and it’ll take a little while.
5383 words down. Who wants a look?
> Any suggestions for writing in a post-expedition grump? > Any volunteers to coo coo even if they don’t mean it?! > Anyone willing to offer me a slap around the chops?!
I don’t believe in writer’s block, I believe in patience. Manage to make the time to firmly affix your butt to a seat that just happens to be close to a computer and there’s a fine chance you’ll solve the crux issue of your writer’s block.
Here’s my problem; making the time. I’ve been back from the Mississippi River for a month and a day and I haven’t yet written much at all. So focussed on keeping busy in order to avoid the dreaded post-expedition slump I’ve been, that the slump has gone and snuck up on me. Apparently it had some chloroform on a rag, too. I’m bloody knackered, I’m a little depressed, I feel strangely lost. It’s crap, if I’m honest.
Last Thursday I spent the evening with the Bristol Explorers, speaking about my recent river trip. So nice, to look back at some of the happiest days of my life, rabbiting on in my usual breathe-if-you-dare style, spewing out unplanned anecdotes just after the images had fired them into my mouth. It was nice to have a reminder, a burst of energy (even if it did knock me out for the ride home and much of the following day) and an open door to the memories.
So, I’m taking this little tired body to bed. And then tomorrow I’m going to rise early, brew up some coffee, switch off the modem, ensure I don’t have a view, and I’m going to start writing a book. Because, frankly, that’s the only way I’m going to start writing a book.
One month ago today I woke up at 6am in Venice, Louisiana. The night before I’d arrived after dark having paddled a few metres short of 60 miles in 15 hours. Tired but exhilarated, it felt like I’d passed an exam. For 82 days the Mississippi River had grown, pulling me with it, and suddenly I was there, less than 30 miles and one day’s paddle from the Gulf of Mexico.
It’s a large chunk of a year to spend on the move; living out of dry bags, camping on sandbars, learning every day how to negotiate fast-flowing water and sharing an industrial navigation channel with barges and ships that always threatened to draw me under their bow.
And then, all of a sudden I was there. Paddling into the Gulf, jumping on a boat and zooming back upstream, crawling into bed, up early to catch a flight, two days later landing back in Heathrow to a greeting from my Mum and a homemade sign. Boom, I was home. It was done.
Thankful for the September sun I spread sodden camping gear out in the garden, and then set to work. Writing, planning, lecturing. Past expeditions have ended without a plan and time passed without reason, what a waste! This time the only downside has been a lack of chance to digest exactly what has happened this Summer. I look at the pictures and it feels like someone else’s expedition, who is that man standing on that board?
One month on it still hasn’t sunk in. Several of my toes are still numb, the joints in my fingers still ache, I still miss attaching my hammock - my bed - to trees just metres from my river. I may have reached the sea but the journey isn’t quite over yet.
Yet again, my life has changed and I’m not sure how to keep up. It’ll be a few more weeks before I’m ready to announce a new expedition but in the meantime I’ll get back to work and trying to make sense of it all.
This morning the world woke up, turned on its MacBook, iPhone or iPad, and read that the man behind that very machine had died.
Steve Jobs was a visionary who changed the way we viewed computers, phones, portable music players and the 21st Century. Computers became fun when Steve came along, they gave us more time doing what we needed to do, and we spent less time stressing because the screen froze.
I was an ardent PC boy, unwilling to make the change because it seemed the world was split between PC and Apple. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to see without Windows, and it was easier for me to restart my computer rather than start all over again. It’s always easier to make no change, so I stuck with my PC and I wasted solid weeks of my life. iPC, iWasteTime.
I was a camel, lumbering along, and eventually my back broke during an expedition down the Murray River. Wow, editing video on a PC laptop, it destroyed me. Hours at a time I spent on the riverbank watching a screen that had decided what I was asking of it was too much. A video that would later take me 15 minutes to edit and render on a Macbook Pro would suck up half a day on a laptop.
Eventually I made the change, found more hours in a day, began to produce better-looking, better-feeling content in a fraction of the time. Apple changed my life, it really did, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do now without my MacBook Pro - it’s my office, my creative suite, my friend all rolled into one.
I just wanted to say, thank you Steve. And before I end this I think it’s best to ask you to listen to the thoughts of someone who knew Steve personally, Stephen Fry. Scroll down to the bottom of this article and listen to the audio clip. It sums up why the world is mourning the death of Steve Jobs.
"Steve was among the greatest of American innovators - brave enough to think differently, bold enough to believe he could change the world, and talented enough to do it." - Barack Obama.
I’ve been a proud Blue ambassador since I jumped into my kayak at the top of the Murray River in October 2009, two years ago this week. That 2479km descent took me two and a half months and began to help me define myself as an adventurer, and a person. Earlier that year I had been introduced to Blue through the remarkable freediver Sara Campbell, who is also an Ambassador, and instantly their aims began to solidify my own.
Live healthily, develop an awareness for the world around you through sport. Play, train and enjoy your sport and you will begin to develop a natural appreciation of the environment in which you’re doing your thing - caring for our Planet should be ingrained in us, but unless we see what we’re caring for our efforts, at best, are half hearted.
And be competitive, with yourself if not others. The Blue Mile - a mile travelled on or near the water by your own steam - is a concept I’ve taken with me on all of my Blue journeys, and it has encouraged others to join me on the way.
This year Blue’s efforts have been recognised on a global scale. As one of the three finalists for the Beyond Sport award for Sport in the Environment, Blue now have a platform from which they can jump higher, swim faster and paddle further. And most importantly, take others with them.
On 17th October the next instalment of Alistair Humphrey’s Night of Adventure lecture series will arrive in Bristol for the first time.
I’m delighted to be one of a number of speakers taking on the challenging Pecha Kucha format, 20 slides, 20 seconds per slide. It’s fast-moving, fast-thinking and fast-talking, easy to lose your train of thought as a speaker but superb to watch from the audience.
If you have easy access to Bristol on the 17th I highly recommend coming along to this event. It’s being held at the Showcase Cinema de Lux at Cabot Circus, with the first speaker kicking off at 7pm.