The weeks and days leading up to any expedition are riddled with potential pitfalls. There are jobs you can do yourself, like prepare web pages and social media strategy, go shopping for those last-minute camping pots and ensure that your mode of transport is roughly in working order.
And then there are the bits out of your control, the bits when you have to rely on folks who aren’t invested in your project: the bits where you sometimes get let down.
If I need something doing and it’s in my control, I just get it done. And living a fairly self-sustaining life it’s quite rare that I’m open to the frustrations of having to spend time dealing with being let down by others.
Sometimes, though, you need to order a product that eventually gets lost in the mail, or a sponsor you were looking forward to working with keeps you hanging until the last minute and then withdraws, forcing a scramble of epic proportions.
It’s always important to remember that however much excitement bubbles up inside you at the idea of it, your expedition will never mean as much to anyone else than it does to you. Keeping it simple and reducing the moving parts will hopefully protect against too many stressful moments.
Once you’re out on the road there is little else to worry about. The hard bit, always, is getting to the start line. After that, whatever you encounter, it’s just part of the adventure.
It doesn’t matter how much experience you must have, the niggles will always remain. The things I mention above; they’ve all happened in the last week. I’ve had to rejig my entire communications plan. I’ve spent extra expedition budget on replacing goods I’ve already paid for but never arrived (forget the added niggle that a refund has been refused because the system says it was delivered, and the only option we’ve been given to deal with this is to start a criminal prosecution, seriously!! [and also quite difficult now we’re in Chile]).
Oh, it’s been worse. Like ten days before my Mississippi River descent in 2011 my paddleboard sponsor pulled out. I mean, that was quite important! Or when the Bikecar didn’t turn up in Memphis for ten days with no word from the courier. Or getting accused of being a cult leader in South Dakota before my Missouri River swim began (secretly I took this as a compliment, hehe!!)
Whether these challenges are hurtful, time consuming, stressful or just plain frustrating, you can deal with them either with a bit of foot stomping (which actually makes me feel better, I don’t know about you) or you just make alternative arrangements (this isn’t always possible when you’re a cult leader) and grin.
After the Bikecar eventually arrived in Memphis my friend Rod Wellington and I perched upon her and rode out of town, with our friend Dale Sanders (pictured above) driving behind us with flashing lights. A couple of hours later a speeding car crashed into Dale, then us, sending the Bikecar down into a field.
Nobody was hurt, but the whole thing was a big shock. Later, preparing to leave the scene, Dale wrestled with his driver’s door, which wouldn’t shut because it had a rather large car-sized dent in it. Eventually he turned to the camera with an enormous, delightful smile.
'Still Smiling,' he said.
And that’s the message. It stayed with all of us. Whatever happens, take a breath, keep working at getting the door shut. And smile.
The clear road out of Santiago
'Sorry, man,' groans Injeet, as his elbow rakes down my back. It's a relief, feeling empathy from a man whose fingers could snap me in half if they wanted to; his words give me comfort. At least he knows his own strength.
I’ve had a couple of aches and pains spreading down my leg recently, a knock-on effect from the back injury I sustained during my last expedition, so Injeet is executing a deep tissue massage, book-ended by some quite delightful foot and head reflexology, in the hope that the first five minutes of every future day don’t see me hopping around like a pogo stick.
And no, I’ll never do one thousand miles on one of them.
In one week’s time I’ll be on the road again. These last few days in Santiago have been fruitful. A backlog of work pushed aside during four weeks at sea has been reeled in, and all the little jobs needed to be ticked in order for a successful expedition to start…well, they haven’t all been completed yet, but bit by bit…
Our expedition t-shirts. YES!
The brilliant Ariel Body knocked out some cool designs for our expedition t-shirts, our Whikes arrived safely with no apparent damage, a road trip determined that there was indeed a route out of Santiago that we could take without much risk of repeating the beginning of Expedition No. 6, and I’ve watched this video enough times to make a beer can stove with a blindfold on.
For the rest of the week I’m going to go more in-depth with the build-up to this journey, including idea conception, publicity, raising funds, gear selection and dealing with all of those fears that naturally come along no matter how many bleeding’ expeditions you’ve done.
The Whike Atacama expedition begins on April 2nd
And if you want to see what I’ve been up to before, this website is the best place to spend some time.
'Have you had a good day?' I ask Victor as he squeezes the juice out of a bowl of oranges.
That’s what I like about this place. Despite southern Spain experiencing increasing economic hardship the definition of a good day to the owners of this young business has no instant relevance to their takings or how busy they are.
I found El Ultimo Mono on my second day in Malaga, exactly one week ago. I would have walked straight by were it not for the words scrawled on the window: ‘Happiness Available 7 Days a Week.’ In the corner was a table painted with a Union Jack. A sign.
The name translates as ‘The Last Monkey’ but it means more than that. ‘The last option’, perhaps? Brave, to call a new company that, especially when there’s no shortage of other cafes in Malaga. But I read more into it,completely exchanging formal translation for
the story Victor and Sergio shared with me. Once there is no other option you are freed to do the thing you want to do.
A man with friendly eyes and a well-trimmed grey-white beard dashed slides past my right side. ‘I am sorry for my English, it is very poor,’ he says, introducing himself as Sergio’s father-in-law.
'Your English is better than my Spanish, I am the sorry one,' I reply, hand on my heart. The man nods towards Sergio, who is busy creating some Cinnamon and Muffins,
'He tells me your story, I want to say thank you for coming here.'
They change the Wi-Fi code every morning, today it is ‘DOITWITHPASSION.’ Yesterday it was ‘HELLOMRSUNDAY’. From the furniture (no two items are the same) to the music to the lego bricks in the wall to the messages of motivation stamped on the coffee straps, this place is my paradise. I have found a temporary soul mate in a cafe. Unexpected.
I don’t need to ask for coffee any more. Sergio places it on the counter with a smile, my liquid happiness, my fuel, my energy. ’It is our honour that you are here,’ Sergio tells me. ‘We will look after some of the cost…’ He waves a thin hand at the drink between us, we fist pump.
That first day one week ago Sergio and Victor told every customer about me, eyes burned into the side of my head endlessly. My business card was made available for photographs. The upshot of this has been an invite to a surprisingly delicious Vegan breakfast by the lovely Emma Fry, and an interview with a local culture magazine named Staf. ‘There is a TV show in Spain that you would be perfect for,’ Sergio tells me, ‘do you mind if we call them?!’
Beyond everything, after almost two years of drought, I am writing again. I have found my place on a table beneath a lamp, words flow each day by the thousands. The book I began writing has turned into something else entirely. I have found my peace. Two years of almost non-stop movement has led to these ten weeks in southern Spain. I’ve had little time to process my last five expeditions and each meeting, project, train ride and decision in between. I’m a different Dave to the one who turned 30 on the Murray River in 2009 and I’m only just realising why, right here in El Ultimo Mono, Malaga.
My writing desk.
I’ll leave you with a post the boys posted on their Facebook page last week. Thank goodness for Facebook translation!