Thursday, 23 October 2008

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Fixing my feet

Ben and I spent a useful hour this afternoon with John from Fulham Podiatry on the recommendation of our coach, Faye. We were very impressed with his expertise and came away with plenty of useful advice. I think he was less impressed with the state of our feet! Ben's are pretty minging as he's spent 2% of his life squidged into ski boots getting alternately hot/sweaty and cold/frostbitten. And I broke my foot in the Marathon des Sables (lovely picture above), so was eager to get it checked out as it's not quite fixed.
John put us on a running machine to analyse a gait. I was irritated to be told that Ben had a much better running style. Ben was irritated to hear that, with some coaching, I'll be able to run much (even?!) faster...

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Some slightly ashamed self-promotion

I saw my first Christmas tree yesterday. And so, comfortable in the knowledge that I am not the most shameless of the predators nibbling around people's seasonal compulsion to buy lots and lots of stuff, I thought that I would give myself a little plug.
I have put together a collection of images, available as greetings cards, prints, canvas frames, posters or framed images. Some of them are shown below. These are unusual, limited edition photographs at very reasonable prices; perfect for easy, interesting Christmas gifts! A full selection of all the available images is here.


A video to cheer you up

The old collapsing chair gag. Thirty seconds of entertainment.


Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Hill Reps in Richmond Park

"Oh God, what am I doing?"
A silent grumble for illumination as I climb wearily onto my bike in the cold darkness of 6am. I find it so hard to motivate myself to train. It's not something I've ever done before, nor something I particularly enjoy. I find it hard to justify the time it requires. It hurts. It's boring. I'd rather be in bed... So run the excuses of weakness as I pedal down the road. It is particularly difficult to dedicate so much blood, sweat and time to training when we do not even have a sponsor yet, following the withdrawal of Ernst&Young.
Thankfully dawn broke eventually and I cheered up.
After 5 hours of cycling, running, and hill reps, during which Ben and I covered 55km and burned over 3500kcal, I decided to dedicate the rest of my day to hobbling and eating. But there was no time for that; I spent the afternoon working on a photoshoot of Colin Firth (honestly), and in the evening went to a lecture by Saffia Farr about Kyrgyzstan. Now, as soon as I finish this, I'm off to bed! The 6am alarm for weights in the gym will come along oh too soon...
Here's a few pics of our morning. I particularly enjoy the one of me being ahead of Ben - a rare photo indeed! (I think he'd just stopped to tie his shoelaces)

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The 'rules' of polar travel

Antarctica 2006, originally uploaded by Agent_Cooper.

People often ask me about the so-called 'rules' of polar travel. What does 'unsupported' really mean?
With the caveats that I don't think expeditions and people should be judged 'better' or 'worse' because of a failure to adhere to these arbitrary details, that I don't know who made these up, nor who has the right to pass judgement on someone's dreams, plans and triumphs, here are the polar 'rules'.


Home from Home

The Guardian ran a fabulous feature at the weekend called Home from Home. They photographed, and spoke to, a child from every country in the world who is now living in England. It was sad, uplifting and fascinating to see my country through their eyes. Have a dip into it here: just double click on the photos to begin.


They can't both be right...

One, or possibly both, of these camps is categorically wrong. They cannot both be right:

The atheist bus is coming soon to London's streets. The Alpha Course have been advertising on buses for a while. The recruitment drive of religions, and of non-religions is hotting up. But thankfully not quite to the ludicrous levels of the Taleban shooting a charity worker in their country because she was a Christian.
I love the world, I find it fascinating, and I love being out and immersed in it. But at times it is so mad that four isolated months in Antarctica feels like the only option.

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Monday, 20 October 2008

A Portrait in the Interior

Self-portrait, originally uploaded by Ben Saunders.

Where can you place him - among natural species?
There are precisely none in the hinterland
away from the qualified society of the littoral
- the stink of guano, the litter of penguin feathers,
whole colonies of raucous innocents massacred
or protected at will, flapping their impotent rage
at the skuas' tricks and thievery. You come to
a high plateau, the sink and mirror of Antarctica,
existential terrain - photograph him here.
Each day he grows heavier with the ice,
his breath cracking out and freezing,
a ruff of accumulating crystals around his neck.
His dry-shod fathers approve the struggle
- that company of prim-mouthed adventurers
who watch him now and for old times' sake
avert eyes and memory from natural deeds
that spring upon him like small jealousies:
the faeces he shakes frozen from his trousers,
the liquid in him resisting its natural flow.
How savage his face grows, tanned to leather
by wind and sun: the stinging glare off the ice
will not melt his carapace or loosen
the frosted helmet encompassing him
like a model hemisphere and pole.
His goggles have ghosted a pale moonscape
around his eyes; aqueous humour
admits the passage of light, marks out
the planetary stillness at his centre.
Picture him at the moment of temptation:
there's nothing to draw him back - no memory
served or inflamed by a temperate scene,
no water moving, no shrub to cast its shadow.
He gazes on the linear imperialism
traipsed by sledges and his own layered feet
across the plateau. A scraggy reckoning
is spun out by the pinioned wheel behind;
the summary horizon draws him on,
neutral, mineral, into his own terrrain.

- Chris Orsman

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Friday, 17 October 2008

Thoughts from a geriatric

On the news yesterday was an interview with a self-styled 'geriatric'. I felt he deserved a mention on my blog too. His prolific YouTube bloggings -musings on his long life- are well worth a watch. Here's one:

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Thursday, 16 October 2008

The difficulties of writing

I spent a couple of hours yesterday helping a friend edit the book he is writing. It reminded me how exasperatingly difficult writing a book can be at times.
Reading my friend's latest chapter I had the sense that something was not quite right. However it was difficult to put my finger on exactly what the problem was. I felt, in the end, that it was simply a little bit flat. My friend had begun to just write down everything that happened, rather than writing only what adds value to the story.
Then last night I came across these words from TS Eliot, and they seemed to sum up what I had been trying to say:

...every phrase
And sentence is right (where every word is at home,
Taking its place to support the others,
The word neither diffident nor ostentatious,
An easy commerce of the old and the new,
The common word exact without vulgarity,
The formal word precise but not pedantic,
The complete consort dancing together)
Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,
Every poem an epitaph. And any action
Is a step to the block, to the fire, down the sea's throat
Or to an illegible stone: and that is where we start.

Easier said than done!


The Call of the Wild: Robert Service

Have you gazed on naked grandeur
where there’s nothing else to gaze on,
Set pieces and drop-curtain scenes galore,
Big mountains heaved to heaven, which the blinding sunsets blazon,
Black canyons where the rapids rip and roar?
Have you swept the visioned valley
with the green stream streaking through it,
Searched the Vastness for a something you have lost?
Have you strung your soul to silence?
Then for God’s sake go and do it;
Hear the challenge, learn the lesson, pay the cost.
Have you wandered in the wilderness, the sagebrush desolation,
The bunch-grass levels where the cattle graze?
Have you whistled bits of rag-time at the end of all creation,
And learned to know the desert’s little ways?
Have you camped upon the foothills,
have you galloped o'er the ranges,
Have you roamed the arid sun-lands through and through?
Have you chummed up with the mesa?
Do you know its moods and changes?
Then listen to the Wild -- it’s calling you.
Have you known the Great White Silence,
not a snow-gemmed twig aquiver?
(Eternal truths that shame our soothing lies).
Have you broken trail on snowshoes? mushed your huskies up the river,
Dared the unknown, led the way, and clutched the prize?
Have you marked the map’s void spaces, mingled with the mongrel races,
Felt the savage strength of brute in every thew?
And though grim as hell the worst is,
can you round it off with curses?
Then hearken to the Wild -- it’s wanting you.
Have you suffered, starved and triumphed,
groveled down, yet grasped at glory,
Grown bigger in the bigness of the whole?
"Done things" just for the doing, letting babblers tell the story,
Seeing through the nice veneer the naked soul?
Have you seen God in His splendors,
heard the text that nature renders?
(You'll never hear it in the family pew).
The simple things, the true things, the silent men who do things --
Then listen to the Wild -- it’s calling you.
They have cradled you in custom,
they have primed you with their preaching,
They have soaked you in convention through and through;
They have put you in a showcase; you're a credit to their teaching --
But can't you hear the Wild? -- it’s calling you.
Let us probe the silent places, let us seek what luck betide us;
Let us journey to a lonely land I know.
There’s a whisper on the night-wind,
there’s a star agleam to guide us,
And the Wild is calling, calling. . .let us go.

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A bit of troop-rallying enthusiasm for a sleepy Thursday afternoon

Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs. - Henry Ford

Whatever you do, or dream you can, begin it. - Goethe

Look, if you had one shot, one opportunity, to seize everything you ever wanted, Would you capture it or just let it slip? - EMINEM

Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go. - T.S. Eliot

There’s only one rule: the guy who trains the hardest wins. - Floyd Landis (except, for him, sadly, it seems there are two rules...)

Our greatest battles are with our own mind. - James Frank

Everything is in the mind. That’s where it all starts. Knowing what you want is the first step toward getting it. - Mae West

Eighty percent of success is showing up. - Woody Allen

It is better to live one year as a tiger than one hundred years as a sheep. - Buddhist saying

The longest journey starts with a single step. - Lao Tze

Years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. - Mark Twain

I don’t know if I can do this. Then again, I don’t know that I can’t do it. - Ffyona Campbell

If think you can’t, you can’t. If think you can, you can.

This is your life, and it’s ending one minute at a time. - Fight Club

We all have dreams. But in order to make dreams come into reality, it takes an awful lot of determination, dedication, self-discipline, and effort. - Jesse Owens

Failing doesn’t make you a failure. Giving up and refusing to try again does! - Richard Exely

Life’s journey is not to arrive at the grave safely in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting: “Holy Cow.. What a ride!”

To be a champion, fight one more round. - James Corbett

Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans. - John Lennon

It is better to be a little over-bold than a little over-cautious. - Apsley Cherry Garrard

That which does not kill us, makes us stronger - slogan for Egyptian Stella beer

Life is too short for second-class ambitions. - Sir Ranulph Fiennes

Pain is temporary. Quitting is forever. - Lance Armstrong


Wednesday, 15 October 2008


Vietnam, originally uploaded by

Today's Blog Action Day is devoted to the issue of poverty. The day encourages bloggers to do whatever they see fit to remind people about global poverty. One billion people still have to exist on just a dollar a day. Over one million children across Europe still live in state institutions. The charity I have supported on my recent projects are doing superb work with poor, vulnerable children worldwide and you can learn more about their work here. Thank you.

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Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Morning running

"Man's greatest journey is the long step between the warm bed and the cold floor."

The alarm crushed my dreams at 5.20 this morning.
It was dark, my bed was warm. I did not care about Antarctica, or getting fit. I wanted to sleep.
But I made it out of bed, and out onto the black London streets. Cycling through the dark to Richmond Park my spirits rose and I enjoyed the smugness of having made it out of bed before almost everyone else.
The full moon was majestic. In the park I heard deer, saw the moon through the mist and the trees, and it felt good to be up. I met Ben and we started running. The sun rose, the miles passed, and home for breakfast. It was a great start to the day. The real value of mornings like this is that they cement in my mind the awareness that I am serious about SOUTH, and that I am willing to set the alarm at 5.20 if that is what is needed for success. The only problem is that Ben and I now have to head to the gym to be beasted by Faye. Wish me luck...

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Friday, 10 October 2008

An interesting week.

, originally uploaded by

A nice picture to begin this entry, courtesy of Andy, to stop him complaining about my narcissistic tendencies to self-promote my Flickr pics on my own website and therefore demolish him in our nerdy contests to see whose pictures get the most hits each day...

It's been an unusually (if reassuringly) busy week for me. I spoke at the TravelPlan awards on Monday, a reassuring reminder that big corporations are beginning to take cycling seriously for financial, health and environmental reasons. On Tuesday I spoke for Mars in Stratford-upon-Avon. 'Wah'* of the day, and source of much personal amusement, came when I asked the local taxi driver what river Stratford-upon-Avon was on. He fell for it perfectly. The Mars talk went really well, especially as I broke from my normal spiel and experimented with a new corporate talk called 'Lessons from the Road'. My corporate talks go down really well, with excellent feedback, yet I am having zero success in convincing any speaking agencies to make an effort to get me engagements. Cycling round the world, sleeping in ditches, living cheap: they seem to feel it's not as glamorous or relevant to corporations as an Everest climb. So, as seems to be the norm in my life, I am just ploughing a lone furrow and doing it by myself. 
Wednesday I spoke for RBS, trying to cheer up some credit-crunched bankers, then on Thursday I spent an interesting day learning from a photographer. Richard Foster and his team are still-life whizzes and I spent the whole day watching them not quite manage to take one complete picture of a phenomenally expensive watch. Their attention to detail, high standards, and extremely high skill levels were really interesting to watch. They also sat down to eat roast chicken for lunch which was an unexpected bonus!
In the evening I watched a photography lecture, including this excellent short film about the sad demise of the Walthamstow dog racing track.
And today I was back in the SOUTH office wondering where we can look next for sponsors. Ben was hard at work geeking away at the new SOUTH website (watch this space!) and sadly I was too inept to be much use to him. So I made a few cups of tea.
This afternoon, as opera played through the sunshine from over on Parson's Green, Richard from Mountain Equipment came over to the flat to deliver some SOUTH branded training kit (pics here). Top quality equipment which will be well-used in the months to come, smart-looking logos to help convince sponsors that we are serious, and a nice present to send me encouraged into the weekend. I'll be back to the sponsorship-chasing-coalface withe enthusiasm on Monday morning. But, until then, I'm spending the weekend with some friends from Kyrgyzstan. Enjoy your own weekends.

* defines a 'Wah' thus:
Used within the British Army as response to an answer to an obvious question that you have set the other person up to answer. Can become quite frustrating as you become paranoid answering any question in case it is a 'Wah'!
Steve "Is that a can of beer in your hand, Bill?"
Bill "Yeah!"
Steve "Wah!"
Bill "Bugger, been Wah'd again!"


Wednesday, 8 October 2008

City cycling

Whilst I am a huge advocate for people cycling in London, I am aware that there are risks involved. If you're aware of these risks, however, you can take action to minimise them. This BBC article is useful reading.


One less car

Every bike is one less car...


How SOUTH got credit-crunched...

British sports events and expeditions are facing delays and cancellations this year amid a severe shortage of corporate sponsorship (wrote the Sunday Telegraph).
The credit crisis has led to companies slashing their marketing budgets, with dismal consequences for many sporting events. Richard Gillis of SportBusiness, the marketing and research firm, said straightforward brand exposure was no longer enough to attract corporate big hitters.
"Sponsorship budgets are the first thing to go in a downturn," said Gillis. "These events are going to have to start lowering their expectations on price or generate more compelling business opportunities for companies."
This analysis of the £5.3bn industry comes as an unprecedented number of major sporting events seek backers for 2009 as one in five firms cut sponsorship budgets.
The worst affected is snooker, with cancelling its sponsorship of the World Championships and Saga Insurance terminating its contract with the Wembley Masters. The World Snooker Association told players: "Both companies have stated that the current economic climate is affecting marketing budgets in all industries."
Tennis is also under pressure. The Queen's Club Tournament, once known simply as the Stella Artois, has been renamed after the 30-year association was not renewed. Even within Premiership football, West Bromwich Albion was forced to start the season without a shirt sponsor.
"Companies don't have money to splash around at the moment, so they are going for the big events," said Ben Speight, the head of research at SportBusiness. "The middle tier really are struggling to come up with new sponsors."
Among the events currently suffering setbacks, the Cowes Week regatta has come to the end of its deal with Skandia and the Epsom Derby has lost Vodafone, its sponsor of 14 years.
The Wentworth Matchplay golf tournament will be scaled back or cancelled entirely this autumn after a replacement for its sponsor, HSBC, could not be found.
Explorers Ben Saunders and Alastair Humphreys have been forced to postpone plans to journey to the South Pole on foot after their sponsors Ernst & Young pulled out, writes Sarah Butler.
The accountancy firm backed out of a planned three year deal in which it would also have provided £850,000 for the expedition.
Saunders said the firm had told him it would not back the trip because it was “cutting back on any non-core marketing activities” in the current economic climate.
The 1,800 mile return trip to the South Pole, which was intended to start in October, will now be postponed until next year after four years of planning.
The four month expedition would have been the first since Captain Scott’s ill-fated venture to attempt an unsupported return journey to the South Pole. It will now begin in October 2009.

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Sunday, 5 October 2008

Desert Island books

Imagine you were stuck on a desert island for 18 months...
What books would you take?
This is the sort of delicious quandry I can daydream indecisively about for ages.
But a friend of mine, Olly Hicks, is departing in a few weeks to row round Antarctica. This lunatic, courageous, epic solo expedition will take about 18 months to complete. A while ago I promised I'd help out with his on-board 'library' (makes it sound like a relaxing cruise!). And so, in a bit of a rush last week, I delved into Amazon and ordered these books:

- The Penguin History of the World: JM Roberts
- Withnail and I; the screenplay (Andy's choice as this kept him entertained as he walked from London to Istanbul)
- For Whom the Bell Tolls: Ernest Hemingway
- The Unequalled Self: Samuel Pepys (Ben's choice)
- Blackadder, the whole damn dynasty
- East of Eden: John Steinbeck

I wanted books with substance, to keep Olly entertained and curious for those long, lonely months. What would you have chosen?

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A 12,000km skateboard journey ends at People's Square, Shanghai, China

The title says it all.
A great journey, and some really good pics to check out (click on the photo).
Well done, Rob!


Saturday, 4 October 2008

Learning from Photographers

I've had a really useful this week as four very different, but all talented, photographers were kind enough to give me their time and advice.
Thank you to Patrick, Sam, Greg and Nikole...


Thursday, 2 October 2008

Daunted by Greatness

tate modern, originally uploaded by

Yesterday I was at Loughborough University. Our coach, Faye, was launching her new business, Oracle Elite Performance management., with an impressive conference aiming to encourage people to think more widely and openly about their own specialist niches.
Faye began by showing a video of staggering power, flexibility and athleticism from a Chinese acrobat/dance troupe to encourage us to think beyond our own particular sports.
The first speaker was Ben. I have never heard him speak before, and I was very impressed. As well as a polished delivery, I was really impressed by his achievements and began to get quite scared about my capability to keep up with him in Antarctica.
Up next was Matt, a genuine expert who made me realise how little I learned at university and how much I have to learn about efficient expedition nutrition. (No banana sandwiches in this new world!)
After lunch came Vern. An enormous hulk of a man, running a multi-multi-multi-million dollar America's Cup campaign, working on his PhD, an ex-professional rugby player who was also a very polished motivational speaker.
By now I was getting pretty daunted about having to take to the stage after all this lot!
To make it worse the next speaker was an Olympic gold medallist! Jason Gardener's humble tales of that 39 seconds was absolutely gripping.
By now it was five to 5. Everyone was meant to go home at 5. And I was still left to talk. What a nightmare to have to blurt out a talk when the audience all want to go home! What a nightmare to follow all those incredible people! I was sweating and feeling as out of place as the wonderful Guy Goma. This couldn't get any worse.
Faye, trying to be lovely, bigged me up in her introduction, saying all sorts of generous things about my speaking skills. As a speaker there is nothing worse though than getting the audience's hopes up before you've said a word!
Her introduction sealed my fate. I got up, did my talk as well as I could, and was very relieved when it was all over and we could escape to spend the evening watching a rugby match that many of Faye's clients were playing in.
Moral of the day: insist you speak first! Everyone loves you, they're still interested, and you can relax for the rest of the day!


Six Billion Others

Bird in flight, originally uploaded by

Yann Arthus-Bertrand has created a profoundly impactful yet simple project, called 6 Billion Others, that challenges us to see "the other", our fellow human kind, in an apolitical, non-religious, non-terrorist, way. He simply asked people world-wide elegantly humane questions; What is Love? What did your parents teach you? Who are you? What is happiness? That's it. But watching the flash video for the first time filled me with awe, then looking at the close ups of those interviewed, listening to their voices, reading the translations of their statements, filled my face with a smile that I think challenged the small but growing deep-seated heartache brought on by the thought that living in a humane world is somehow slipping outside our reach.

Watch here.


Monday, 29 September 2008

One wish: the sun and a morning run

SOUTH, originally uploaded by averylongwalk.

Have you gazed on naked grandeur
where there’s nothing else to gaze on,
Set pieces and drop-curtain scenes galore,
Have you strung your soul to silence?
Then for God’s sake go and do it;
Hear the challenge, learn the lesson, pay the cost.
Then listen to the Wild -- it’s calling you.
Have you suffered, starved and triumphed,
groveled down, yet grasped at glory,
Grown bigger in the bigness of the whole?
The simple things, the true things, the silent men who do things
Then listen to the Wild -- it’s calling you.
Let us probe the silent places, let us seek what luck betide us;
Let us journey to a lonely land I know.
There’s a whisper on the night-wind,
there’s a star agleam to guide us,
And the Wild is calling, calling. . .let us go.
- Robert Service

If you squint your eyes real tight it's like being a kid and flying your imaginary spaceship. The dashboard lights glow red, the white cats-eyes flash past at warp speed. The headlights rake the curves, lighting them then throwing them back to black as the wheels rip round the corners. The music thumps my head and it's on nights like this that (when I'm alone) I wind down all the windows and see how long I can tolerate the freezing night air. This night though I just settle for enjoying the squirming excitement in my stomach and the anticipation of the mountains ahead.
Even leaving London had felt exciting. Ben, Andy (the exped manager) and I hurled our rucsacs in the boot of the car and headed for Wales. By sunset we were in Merthyr Tydfil's finest/only curry house.
Curry. Beer. Pause. Relax. Chat. Andy nips outside to phone his girlfriend. Ben and I stretch out and enjoy feeling full and unhurried...
We stir ourselves into action. It's dark outside. Back into the car, and the music's loud and soon we're in a deserted carpark at the base of Pen y Fan. We change, heave packs onto our backs, light up our headtorches and point our noses upwards.
We climb, steady but fast, away from the car, the road, London, civilisation, the world. The night is clear, still, starry and silent. We feel hot in the cold air. The night is ours.
We pitch camp on the summit of Pen y Fan. I've climbed the mountain many times, yet never have known it so still. It's as well that there was no wind; this was our debut night in the expedition tent and it took us an hour to put up!
Happy chat, whisky, a pipe, a good sleep then morning arrived shrouded in cloud. Pot Noodle for breakfast, packs on, and a good-paced day of yomping lay ahead.
By the end of the day the weather was glorious, sweat poured and we spoke of little but food and how good it felt to have escaped the clutches of London. The only irritation was that the video camera mysteriously broke; an inconvenience on a film-making and mountain training outing. Still, it was so much fun that I know we'll be back out there soon.
Back in the car, back into London and straight to the pub to meet a buddy who's just back from some crazy times in Afghanistan. Burgers and beer to offset all the goodness of the hills, but to perfectly round off a brilliant training trip.

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