Taken from an April 2013 interview with Cheaptents.com - read the rest of the interview here:
CheapTents: All of your Expedition 1000 journeys have / will be carried out using non-motorised transport. Would you like to see a future where the majority of travel is carried out with non-motorised transport?
Dave Cornthwaite: Naturally. Modern-day humans are so set apart from our ancestors. We rush around in fast, metal cages, fuelled as a consequence of plundering the Earth. So many people seem to live as fast as they can before they die and it’s an awful waste of time, it’s sad. Non motorised travel not only keeps us fit and healthy, but it allows us time to think and develop an understanding of who we are, and a greater connection to the world around us – people and planet. Healthier, happier people result, and I don’t think the wider benefits of that could be argued.
Three weeks ago Miguel Endara broke his ankle after slipping off his skateboard in Miami’s Coconut Grove. Just a few roads away and ten months earlier Miguel, his wife and two friends serendipitously walked across a junction as I pedalled up on a Bikecar. I was on top of the world, had just crossed over 1000 miles on a ruddy great hunk of aluminium and office chair, and had only a few hundred metres to go before the end of my 6th big journey.
I was in no hurry and the group were a by then typical mixture of curious and friendly. One of the guys said he’d been thinking of doing a big bike ride up the East Coast and I gave him my card. A week later he came to an event I was speaking at, and a few days after that he ended up taking the Bikecar off my hands. During that exchange Miguel told me he worked in advertising but was slowly pursuing a new career as an artist and a filmmaker. ‘If you ever need someone to film a journey,’ he said, ‘give me a call.’
So I did. A couple of months later Miguel flew into Sioux City, Iowa, to join up with my team for the first few days of Swim1000. Out of his own pocket he decided to fly in two months later as myself and my final three teammates covered the last 100 miles of the Missouri River into St Louis. And then we said goodbye.
Miguel didn’t have a huge portfolio when we first met but from what he showed me I had no doubt that he’d produce an incredible short film from the days he spent on the Missouri with us, and this is coming from someone who has an innate suspicion of anyone who holds a camera.
I woke up two nights ago for no reason. I never wake up in the middle of the night, I like dreaming too much. I couldn’t sleep. I checked my email, and there was a link to the film from Miguel. ‘Enjoy’ he wrote. That was it. I watched it three times, pumping my hands in the air countless times. Sheer delight. It was beautiful.
The first time I let someone else make a film about an adventure of mine it was a frickin’ disaster, so much so it put me off having anyone on board in that capacity for the best part of 6 years, but I’d work with Miguel again in a heartbeat. The guy is a true professional, a pleasure to spend time with, and he managed to put together an incredible film having shot most of it perched high on team gear in the middle of a canoe.
Personally, this journey was the hardest of my life. It was peppered with issues that made me sometimes wish I’d gone solo or made different choices. The resultant stress meant I was dealing with ulcers from the fifth day of the journey through to the end, and that’s even before swimming 1001 miles whilst dragging a raft tired me out!
Except for the countless times where we met incredible strangers (like the Feltmans in the film) I struggled to enjoy my time on the Missouri, for much of expedition I was unable to clear my head and I’ll admit, my inability to cope with the pressure meant it was rarely fun for myself or any of the team. They deserve a mention here, each person who joined me on the river took a leap of faith having never taken on an adventure of that scale before. It was with great relief that after everything we eventually finished happy. Beat, but happy.
We also fell vastly short of the initial fundraising target, which I found desperately disappointing, and I hope this can be rectified somewhat by the film’s success, but now there is something that creates a positive memory from the river. This film has made all of the effort mean something, this journey was unimaginably tough for everyone involved and it deserved to leave a legacy. Now it has.
Had Miguel not broken his ankle we’d still be waiting to see the Swim1000 film but I’m delighted to be able to share it with you now. I really hope you enjoy it and if you do, please send the credit Miguel’s way - it’s all down to him.
And please don’t let him forget that once his ankle heals, he has an East Coast cycle journey waiting for him!
Without further ado, please watch the film at www.swim1000film.com
And check out Miguel Endara’s art @ www.miguelendara.com
We wanted to share the film for free so as many people get to see it as possible. If you enjoyed it and appreciate the effort behind its creation and the expedition itself, please do make a small donation to CoppaFeel! Now, go and enjoy it! And please share the Swim1000 Film website with your friends!
I’ve become accustomed to physical and psychological challenges in the past few years. Managing the ongoing drone of monotony required to complete a slow journey is part experience, part innate stubbornness, part understanding of the worth behind the goal.
My most recent expedition, a 1001 mile swim down the Missouri, has changed me. Unlike many of my other projects fun was sadly lacking throughout chunks of last summer, and despite having a team in close proximity I felt very much alone in my exact experience. The surface of a river is a thick wall, sometimes.
I didn’t write much during the trip, not for public consumption, anyway. My physical strength was removed with each day in the water and there was little space in my mind for creativity. The months following our arrival in St Louis have been darker than any other post-expedition experience I care to remember but finally, recent weeks have allowed my usual self to return and slowly begin to gain perspective on what happened last year.
For now, I thought I’d share a few words about the closing section of the Missouri River swim. The expedition was bloody hard for everyone involved but writing about it has made me realise I didn’t really focus too much on what was going on at the time, the only way I was going to reach the Arch at St Louis was to suck it up and just keep moving. One day, perhaps, this will make an interesting book.
Without further ado…
During those final three weeks spent immersed in the river I vomited countless times each hour, eventually almost once a minute as we moved into the last week. My body had reached its limit. It’s simply impossible to properly digest the calories burned during seven to fourteen hours of swimming and kicking each day, horizontal isn’t an ideal position for digestion at any time, let alone when you’re burning over 6000 calories between sunrise and sundown. At the start of each session I would lower my head into the water - by then so cold that each first plunge would draw a natural gasp - stay beneath the surface, and allow my skin to become used to the temperature until I felt acclimatised enough to swim. What was once a more natural habitat upstream was now uninviting, the slog had begun.
This was a constantly changing, foreign environment in which I became less at home with each fading pull through the water. The visibility was under three inches at all times and like an old man fond of reading small print my sight in the river declined with time. I entrusted my safety to the team, as I crawled downstream they were my eyes, scouring ahead for debris, wing dykes, barges and dead heads. In them I had complete and utter trust. This was a partnership, a relationship. They knew it, I knew it, it couldn’t be broken, not during the journey at least.
More vomit. I’m not sick as we’d normally know illness to show itself. I’m destroyed. Beyond beat. My body is telling me that enough is enough and that continuing isn’t wise. I live to test myself in order to understand my capabilities and I know from experience that as long as the mind is willing the body will go. But my body is now close to collapse.
More vomit; involuntary, instant and up my throat without warning. It burns. Fine, if my head is straight down in the water during the end phase of a stroke as it’s only a mouthful that can be expelled immediately, but when it comes during a breath I have no choice but to stop swimming, cough it up (because I’d breathed it straight back down), tread water, regain my composure and then set about swimming once more.
On the penultimate day we breached the Missouri’s confluence with the Mississippi River and rounded a bend familiar to me from my descent by paddleboard the previous Summer, the lights of northern St Louis guiding us home in the darkness. October had come and with it the trees reddened and the water lost temperature daily. Already once that day we’d all nearly succumbed to hypothermia, leaving St Charles at sunrise on request from the Fox TV chopper that was subsequently foiled by poor weather. The clouds sped in, the rain began to fall and my world transformed into a waterscape of delicate, minute sploshes. In between gusts when the surface had calmed my vision was filled with indentations created by each falling droplet of rain and the following perfection of ripples. With my earplugs in everything was silent and still, sight was my only fully operative sense. Only the top half of my head was out of the water, a unique, blissful eye level that confirmed yet again the falseness of a past assumption that I wouldn’t take on a long swim because, simply, I wouldn’t see anything.
The team were shivering uncontrollably above the surface and I wanted to get them to warmth, yet there were no buildings nearby nor dry firewood to take advantage of. My own body fat had left me weeks earlier and my wetsuit, thinned from hundreds of miles of protection, was offering little resistance to the cold. I chuckled to myself with the realisation that the only way I could stay warm was to ‘think warm’.
Ben Stiff and Emily Bill with photographer Grant Hindsley, halfway through a bitterly cold penultimate day.
One of life’s best tricks is the arrival of a decision that leads to us proving ourselves wrong, keeping us humble, letting us fall in order to stand up taller. After 997 miles the cramps finally kicked in. The Missouri was less than a mile upstream and perhaps it was this new passage in familiar water that allowed the demons in. Utter agony. Imagine, it struck first as I stretched out my right hand to crawl. The vomit came, so frequent now it’s barely worth mentioning, and then a raking pain across the abdomen which doubled me up instantly. I reached for my raft and held position, curled up in a floating ball, shivering recklessly, groaning, totally lost in this new discomfort.
After a couple of minutes I stretched my legs straight down, breathing deeply, willing the pain away. It pretended to go but the mere suggestion of a breast stroke would bring it back. The last miles of any journey are the most crucial. Concentration is paramount, but this was the first time in my career that physical injury or pain was threatening the slow magnetism towards a completed journey. The remaining ten miles seemed hopelessly out of reach.
Someone came up to me the other day and said, ‘I loved your video about staying awake for 72 hours.’
I’d completely forgotten about doing that! The last few years have been a whirlwind of change and action, so busy and jam-packed with new adventures that many have disappeared unfairly down the pecking order of conversation.
So, here they are, written down in one place.
Included are expeditions, projects, books, TV appearances and even some of the most enjoyable talks from which I’ve learned a great deal. Each item on the list was a true adventure and if anything, the accumulation is simply an example of what we can achieve if we just decide to say YES more.
Let’s begin with the most recent. First, a quick list, then a more in depth look at each one further down the page
EXPEDITION: ElliptiGO Europe (starting May 1st)
TALK: Endurance Life, Anglesey
TV: Live N Deadly
TALK: TEDx in Bath
EXPEDITION: Stand Up Paddleboard Mississippi River
PROJECT: Hole In One News Reporter
TALK: PIS Planet Hollywood, Las Vegas with Seb Terry
EXPEDITION: Tandem Bike Vancouver to Vegas
PROJECT: Paragliding/ Defeat Vertigo
PROJECT: 1000 Photos
PROJECT: 72 Hours Awake
PROJECT: Australian Speaking Tour
PROJECT: Mototaxi Junket
SUP ADVENTURE: Bath 2 London
SUP ADVENTURE: Lake Geneva Crossing
EXPEDITION: Murray River Expedition
PROJECT: Living on a Boat
TV: The One Show
PROJECT: The Aquaskipper
PROJECT: Quitting the job
Adventures in full:
EXPEDITION: Swim1000 Missouri River
August - October. 58 days. 1001 miles.
I hadn’t swum further than 300 metres in one go before jumping into the Missouri at Chamberlain, South Dakota. Two months later my team (all paddling) and I reached St Louis, MO having accomplished one of the longest swims of all time. Read more
Expedition: Bikecar Memphis to Miami
April - May. 29 days. 1000.3 miles.
Getting hit by a speeding car and ending up 30 metres off the road is not a good way to start any journey but it gave rise to an important question: ‘Do we stop living simply because something bad might happen?’ I chose life, and a tough, rewarding journey on Priscilla the Bikecar was the reward.
SUP Adventure: Wolf River
April. 7 days. 89 miles.
A brilliant little challenge. Sadly I missed the first two days after being stranded in Honolulu airport, but once on the Wolf revelled in the obstacle course of fallen trees, shallow waters and the famed maze through the Ghost River section. A perfect example of how a challenging adventure doesn’t have to take months.
Expedition: Sail Mexico to Hawaii
March. 17 days. 3156 miles.
Expedition1000 Journey #5: This was a social expedition with a group of people who had signed up after I posted on social media channels. How would a group of 13 people change their mindsets after being at sea for three weeks, far away from the pressures of land, work, the commute, banks, supermarkets and daily stresses?
Finally, I decided to turn down offers from Publishing Houses and self-publish my second book, a candid and unorthodox tale about trying to find a girlfriend. Bringing it all together - including researching, writing, formatting the copy, designing the cover and finding a printer - made this one of the most satisfying projects of my life.
Talk: Endurance Life, Anglesey
Another fun talk partly memorable for an 18-hour train journey home afterwards! It’s not easy making 70 people who have just run a mountain marathon laugh, that’s all I’m saying!
TV: Live N Deadly
Fresh off the Mississippi River Expedition I was asked to guest on the BBC Two children’s show, Live N’Deadly, where amongst other things I was to challenge presenter Steve Backshall to an unusual race.
Talk: TEDx in Bath
One of the best days of my life, opening the TEDx Youth @ Bath conference was a big test in the early days of my speaking career.
Expedition: Stand Up Paddleboard Mississippi River
June - September. 82 days. 2404 miles.
The 4th journey of Expedition1000, this became a new world record for the longest distance travelled by SUP and without doubt my favourite expedition to date. An unbeatable way to spend three months.
Project: Hole In One News Reporter
Seb was determined to tick off No. 18 on his list, to get a Hole In One. He tried on three separate occasions during this speaking tour, without success. I decided to chronicle his efforts via a spoof news report.
Talk: PIS Planet Hollywood, Las Vegas with Seb Terry
Well, we made it to Vegas just in time and cycled straight into the conference to give the talk. Here are the highlights.
Expedition: Tandem Bike Vancouver to Vegas
April. 14 days. 1396 miles.
Expedition1000’s 3rd journey. Seb and I had been invited to open an Australia company’s annual conference in Las Vegas, but accepted only on one condition, that we be flown into Vancouver so we could cycle to the conference. We hadn’t ever tried a tandem before flying into Canada.
Project: Learn how to Paraglide
It took me a while to agree to head to Nepal and face my fear of heights, but a paragliding journey was on the Expedition1000 list and I had to start training despite my fears. Thanks to Alex Ledger, it was one of the most memorable three weeks of my life.
Project: 1000 Photos
Life is a series of moments which become memories. I remember little of note from when I was a graphic designer, every day seemed to merge into the next. On 1st January 2011 I took a self-portrait, promising to take one each day for 1000 days. The places, people and situations in each shot give me a daily marker by which to retain my memories.
Project: 72 Hours Awake
Another speaking tour followed the tandem ride and throughout we ticked off a few items from Seb’s 100 Things bucket list. One of them terrified me, staying awake for 72 hours. Equally painful and exciting, we packed quite a bit into those three days.
Project: Australian Speaking Tour
October - November
Seb Terry and I again joined forces, this time on a speaking tour around Australia. We simply decided to try out speaking together and pulled this tour together in a matter of weeks. Jeep even sponsored us!
Project: Mototaxi Junket
August - September
The Adventurists asked me to manage one of the first Junkets in South America, a mad 4000km journey from Peru to Paraguay on local mototaxis. Although I wasn’t taking part it was a proud day, having spent six weeks working with the local team to bring all this together.
SUP Adventure: Bath 2 London
June. 7 days. 146 miles.
Having lived on the canals in 2008 I was joined by adventurer Sarah Outen in this cross-Britain Stand Up Paddleboarding challenge, which included portaging over 120 locks in a week.
SUP Adventure: Lake Geneva Crossing
April. 3 days. 53 miles.
My new friend Seb Terry and I paddled the length of Lake Geneva on Stand Up Paddleboards, a testing ground for a possible world-record journey by SUP.
Expedition: Murray River Expedition
October - December. 79 days. 1476 miles.
Journey #2 of Expedition1000. A source to sea descent of Australia’s largest river and my first taste of travelling on water and self-filming an expedition (not always successfully!). Formative, life-changing expedition.
Project: Living on a Boat
January - September
Following the publication of BoardFree I wallowed in self-congratulation and confusion for a year. Not knowing what I was meant to be doing anymore I spent most of 2008 slipping back into surviving in London. Eventually enough was enough, I wanted to move to the country, live on a boat and paddle every day. So I did!
A proud moment, seeing the first book on the shelf. Becoming an author was one of my dreams, magic moment.
TV: The One Show
Former England cricketer Phil Tufnell had a segment on BBC One’s evening magazine show in which he was challenged by the Olympic Hurdler Colin Jackson. This was one of a few occasions when the Aquaskipper was required for a TV skit, and as pretty much the only person who could make it work in Britain I got the call.
Project: The Aquaskipper
An article in the Metro newspaper sparked my interest in this extraordinary hydrofoil-based contraption. I determined then to win a competition to become ‘the face of Aquaskipper.’ Mum was proud.
Expedition: BoardFree Australia
August ‘06 - Jan ‘07. 105 days. 3618 miles.
My team (in vehicles) and I set off from Perth, WA on the 20th August and took the best part of five months to reach Brisbane. A new world record for the longest distance travelled by skateboard and the first journey of over 1000 miles I’d completed.
Expedition: BoardFree UK
April - May. 34 days. 896 miles.
A ‘warm-up’ which turned out to be the hardest challenge of my life. This was the first time that anyone had travelled the length of Britain by skateboard and the journey strengthened my resolve that crossing Australia was possible.
Project: Quitting the job
The first lesson of living a happy life. More is less. Don’t do a job or make any decision based on money, otherwise you put money before happiness. I quit and started living.
Once I’d overcome my deepest inner fears and decided that yes, I could swim a longer distance than a length of the swimming pool down the road, then I started thinking properly about things.
With built in buoyancy to enable even the most fatigued swimmer keep their form, the Orca 3.8 is one of a long range of world class wetsuits designed to help people swim further, faster.
As it was, I was always going to be fairly slow. But who’s quibbling?!
Although pulling on a cold, damp wetsuit at 6am every morning wasn’t the most enjoyable of experiences, I instantly felt at home in the 3.8. Having not trained at all for this journey I certainly needed the assistance offered by this suit in the early days in the South Dakotan lake system, but after 58 days in the water and 1001 miles swum I could probably swim quite well without the suit. Not that I’d want to.
After two weeks of the journey I was joined for a few miles by Alex Gerlach, 14, who swims for South Dakota and has his beady eye on the next Olympics in Brazil.
Alex was a lovely guy and as I had a spare 3.8 I decided that he should have the one I’d used for the first 75 miles or so. I washed it out before giving it to him, naturally.
Although it was undoubtedly the hardest challenge I’ve ever taken on, swimming 1001 miles down the Lower Missouri River was also the most formative for me, in many ways.
Being immersed in water day-in day-out is one thing, dressing as a batman lookalike for two months is another. The Orca 3.8 is flexible enough to accommodate the natural weight and size shifts of an endurance swimmer. Weight (and therefore waist) went down, shoulders and thighs went up. The 3.8 (I’m a size 7, in case you were wondering) stayed the same.
I wasn’t a swimmer, and then I was, and now I’m not again. It was a pleasure having Orca as a part of my identity for two, life-changing months. If you’re considering a long-distance swim, or even a triathlon or the odd weekend plunge, I couldn’t recommend the 3.8 more. Glorious.
Zoggs stuck with Dave every step of the way during Swim1000. His goggles of choice are the Predator Flex Polarised open water swimming goggles, which were essential to reduce glare and direct sunlight as he doggy paddled along.
They also come in a fancy blue, white and yellow combo…
With Christmas coming Zoggs make great presents. Dave gave the goggles he wore for the first two weeks to young Bear Gerlach, who was quite happy to say the least and even to this day wears them instead of sunglasses. What a star!
After much consideration Dave decided that he’d use a small pair of fins during the journey, to better aid him escape from obstacles, wing dykes and other dangers such as barges. He opted for the Zoggs Positive Four Stroke Drive Fins, which made people go ‘ahhhh, he looks like a Platypus’
With an everyday risk of picking up viruses and infection from the water Dave wore Zoggs ear plugs and a nose clip whenever he was in the water.
The Swim1000 ladies all boasted Zoggs swimwear, even when lifting tents…
Oh, and to keep hydrated guess where our water bottles came from…?!
Thank you Zoggs, it’s been a pleasure…