Thursday, 29 November 2007

What next 2?

So I was on the Tube tonight. Even more painful than usual as I was on my way to meet some people for dinner, only to arrive and discover that nobody had turned up. So I turned round and went home again.
But that compulsory sitting still has its benefits. I have been dashing round chasing my tail in recent months, but my book is finally finished, my wedding's over and a sense of sanity can return. So it was good to sit and to think. And the thinking was not comfortable for I am worried that I am not being true to myself any more. I am not doing exactly what I think is the best thing to do with my life. I am compromising, settling for mediocrity and the easy option. And I am not happy.
So I am trying to think what I can do about it! I cannot really do a journey that will top my last one, and anything less is not going to attract any interest for future books and money-making activities. Besides, I'm married now - I don't want to bugger off for 4 years any more!
So should I turn to expeditions? Mountains? Polar? Rowing? They are short and sweet and glamorous and are probably the key to me continuing with a career in this game... But, apart from the fact that I would be beginning once again at the foot of a very competitive food chain, I am not sure how much they appeal: years of fundraising and office admin in exchange for a few months of adventure? I think that perhaps I was spoiled on the bike: so cheap, so simple, so good.
And if journeys are out, and expeditions are out, then what, what, what am I going to do? As autumn leaves twirl and spin brightly in the wind and then land and settle and rot, I am watching them with concern...

What next?

I saw a magazine advert this evening that caught my eye. Tiger Woods is about to play a difficult shot. A simple bar chart states:
What you did - 10%
What you do next - 90%

It's what we do next that counts.

Thunder and Sunshine

ThunderCover My new book, Thunder and Sunshine* is finished at long last! There has been a fair amount of sweat, stress, late nights and espressos involved to get it done, but done it is and happy am I. Relieved anyway. I'm looking forward to having a life again.
People talk about that 'tricky second book' so I'm interested to see how it fares compared to my first book. It's a big book, but it could have been so much bigger. We've chopped 60,000 words out of the original draft to get it down to a size that stops it being classified as a dangerous weapon. I hope you enjoy it. You can buy it here, read the whole thing for free here or look for something more interesting to do with your time here.
As for what I do with myself now for the next 50 years... Well, that's my problem, really, but I'd love some ideas.

*'Thunder and Sunshine' (taken from
) is the new title for the book I originally called 'Blue Mountains'. I felt that 'Blue Mountains' sounded as though the book was about mountains and its allusion to Elroy Flecker's Golden Journey poem was a bit too obtuse. I hope that 'Thunder and Sunshine' conjures up impressions of hard times and good times... It trips off the tongue a little easier than the much-maligned '
' too!

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Food Shortages Survey

Recently a worldwide survey was conducted by the United Nations. The question asked was, 'What is your opinion about the food shortage in the rest of the world?' The survey was a huge failure:  

· In Africa they did not know what 'food' meant.  

· In Western Europe, they did not know what 'shortage' meant.  

· In Eastern Europe they did not know what 'opinion' meant.  

· In South America they did not know what 'please' meant.  

· And in the U.S. they did not know what 'the rest of the world' meant.  


Round the World - the hard way

You may have read in the papers a few weeks ago about
completing the Expedition 360 project: a 13-year, human-powered circumnavigation...
I was privileged to have dinner with him and his girlfriend last week after the
at the RGS where Jason and fellow team-member Stevie Smith gave one of the best lectures I have ever seen there.
It was great, at last, to be able to talk to someone who not only knew how I felt about so much of my own ride, but who had done it for so much longer than my own measly four years! Keep an eye out for his book: I predict that it will be superb.

My free Sport

Those of you unfortunate enough to travel to work on the London Underground will be familiar of the scourge of the free newspapers that have no news or comment and nothing but photos of drunk celebrities. These are the major point of information-gathering for an alarming number of people...
But, there is a saving grace. Each Friday a magazine called
is available free on the Tube. It has interesting articles, great photos and - each week - an article about something adventurous. Here's mine:
myfreesport article

I am what I am

I Am What I Am

The thoughts and philosophies of
, an impressive ocean-rowing adventurer.

, 23 April 2006]

o Don't waste mental energy asking yourself if you CAN do something. Just do it. You'll surprise yourself. I did.

o Be clear about your objectives. Ignore others, stay true to yourself and measure success only against your own criteria. I was last to finish the race - big deal. I went out there to learn about myself, and I did.

o The only constant in life is change. So don't get depressed by the bad times, and don't get over-excited by good ones. Accept that things are exactly as they are, and even bad times have something to teach us.

o Life can be magical, but magic only gets you so far. Then you need discipline, determination and dedication to see it through.

o Hope can hurt. The danger is that you hope for too much and set yourself up for disappointment. Be optimistic but realistic. Nothing is ever as good or as bad as you expect it to be.

o Be mindful of the link between present action and desired future outcome. Ask yourself: if I repeat today's actions 365 times, will I be where I want to be in a year?

o Decision-making: act in faith, not fear, and don't worry about making a 'wrong' decision - the way you implement it is more important than the decision itself.

o Be your own best friend. The more you rely on other people, the less control you have over your destiny.

o Be proud of your own obituary: a few years ago I wrote two versions of my obituary, the one I wanted and the one I was heading for. They were very different. I realized I needed to make some big changes if I was going to look back and be proud of my life. I am making those changes, and now I have a life worth living.

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Powerful, horrifying

This is a really gripping, unsettling account of the Vietnam war that I found captivating. Click here.


An interesting interview (for once)

I recently had a long and interesting chat with an artist named Brit Hammer. Her really interesting website has lots of interviews and I was fortunate enough to do one of them. Read more here.

Labels: ,

Marathon des Sables race report

A thorough report from one competitor's MdS experience. No punches held... Daunting, but exciting!
Marathon des Sables report 2000


Stay away from politics

Very silly. Very amusing...

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Home thoughts

Through a miracle of public transport I have arrived two hours early at a school where I am due to talk. Through the miracles of modern technology then I write this on my laptop sitting in a field in the Oxfordshire countryside, killing time before my appointment (can you kill time without injuring eternity…?). My fingers are cold and the screen is dimmed by the dazzling light of a blue-skied November day. This is the England I love, and that I built up in my mind over four absent years to being a nostalgic shrine of comfort. I have been home for a year now. I am 30 years old. Cycling round the world has defined my life thus far, and it still dominates everything I do today. I learned lessons and had time to reflect on how I wanted to live my future. It will be a part of me forever. But the past is a foreign country; I did things differently there, and I am determined to keep striding forwards without looking back -regretfully, nostalgically- too often. The tree I am leaning against trails silver strands of spiders web, frail and drifting in the breeze like the strands of my life.

I have earned (and spent) around three times more this year than in four years of travel. I have taken a fraction of the photographs and made few new friends.

What will the next year hold?

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Cycling and Society

Screenshot_2A friend of mine, Dave Horton, recently treated himself (as his 40th birthday present to himself) to cycle from Land's End to John O'Groats. He has turned this into a fascinating, and important book asking lots of big questions.

How can the social sciences help us to understand the past, present and potential futures of cycling? This timely international and interdisciplinary collection addresses this question, discussing shifts in cycling practices and attitudes, and opening up important critical spaces for thinking about the prospects for cycling. The book brings together, for the first time, analyses of cycling from a wide range of disciplinary backgrounds, including history, sociology, geography, planning, engineering and technology. The book redresses the past neglect of cycling as a topic for sustained analysis by treating it as a varied and complex practice which matters greatly to contemporary social, cultural and political theory and action. Cycling and Society demonstrates the incredible diversity of contemporary cycling, both within and across cultures. With cycling increasingly promoted as a solution to numerous social problems across a wide range of policy areas in car-dominated societies, this book helps to open up a new field of cycling studies.

Buy the book


Wednesday, 14 November 2007

24 hours in pictures

Screenshot_1 This is always a site worth dipping into: a selection of photos from round the world every 24 hours from the Guardian.


Marathon photography

Screenshot_1 I am a regular visitor to the Magnum Photos website as it is absolutely fascinating. People who had my dream job gather here. So when I saw a photo essay about running a marathon I jumped at the excuse to put a link here.

Labels: ,

Bikes for Hire in Paris

A cool story from the

The humble bicycle has been given a boost in Paris with the launch by the city council of Velib, a free bike scheme to encourage people to give up the motor in favour of pedal power.

Cycling in Paris is not a sport for the faint hearted.
The traffic runs as smoothly as a snail in treacle and drivers' tempers are about as sweet as bitter aloes.
The local authority in Paris has deposited 20,000 heavy-duty bicycles in 750 or so special racks around the city and anyone who wants one simply swipes his or her ordinary travel card and pedals off wherever they want to go.
The bike does not have to be returned to the same pick-up point - you can take a bike from a rack near the Eiffel Tower, cycle to the Pantheon and leave it in the nearest Velib stand there.
Mathieu Fierling, the deputy director of the scheme, believes it will suit Parisians and tourists alike.
"We've set things up so that the same card can be used for public transport and for Velib. You can set up a subscription for just one day or for a whole week and the subscription fee is minimal - one euro ($1.38; £0.68) to anyone who wants a one-off go or 29 euros ($40; £20) for a year's subscription."
The Velib scheme is aimed at people who are making short journeys.
The first half hour of pedalling time is absolutely free but, if you fail to return the bike after 30 minutes, you get charged an extra euro and the penalties go up the later you are.
Car versus bike

While no-one can dispute that cycling is a one of the most eco-friendly forms of transport, Christian Gerondeau, the president of the French federation of auto clubs, says that while it is a fashionably green to use a bike, it is also green to imagine it will solve Paris's notorious traffic jams.
"It relies on a wrong idea, the idea that you can change a car for a bicycle. But it's not the case. These are two different problems. Bicycles will just be very useful for those people going to do some shopping or visiting friends, not far from home, but most of the time, when you use the car, it's for a long trip so that's the reason why it will not solve at all the traffic problem in Paris."
Paris city hall expects to have about 20,000 regular Velib users by the end of the year and plans to double the amount of Velib stations dotted around Paris.

The bikes do not come with cycling helmets but Mathieu Fierling insists safety is a priority for the Paris authorities.
"The city council has launched a big campaign on bike safety. Every subscriber to the Velib scheme will receive a leaflet with safety advice. There have also been big efforts over the last few years to set up cycle routes around the city. We hope that all this means there will be as few accidents as possible."
But can the Parisians be persuaded by pedal power?
The Tour de France marks out the French as a cycling-loving nation but in Paris, a city of two million people - and nearly 12 million in the metropolitan area - only 150,000 own bikes.
The Velib scheme has already worked well in Lyon, but in the capital it may be harder to convince Parisians to give up their beloved cars.

Labels: ,


"Every worthwhile thing has a price tag attached to it."

My book is ready! Phew...

After not very much sleep for too long, my manuscript is finally finished!
[this is the new name- a replacement for
] is finished, and will be published by
in time for Christmas! Come back next week to get your order in and solve all your tiresome Xmas shopping in one go...



The exciting line-up for the annual expedition planning symposium,
, has just been announced. This unique weekend – at which up to 200 members of the public get the opportunity to talk to over
50 experts
representing every facet of the expedition world – takes place between Friday 23rd and Sunday 25th November at the
Royal Geographical Society
in London.

Jason Lewis
, who recently completed a 13 year human powered voyage around the world, will kick things off with an
illustrated talk
about his odyssey on Friday night with expedition founder
Stevie Smith
. (Tickets for this lecture are also available separately.)

Advice on planning your expedition dominates Saturday’s proceedings: everything from raising money to choosing equipment will be covered. Sunday includes workshops dedicated to field research and communicating your discoveries.

Whether you’re travelling by foot, vehicle, bike, ski, canoe or even horseback to the poles, jungles, deserts, mountains, rivers or oceans, Explore will be able to help you turn your expedition dream into reality.

If you're not sure what expedition you want to do, you can even sign up for a free 'Inspire Me!' session on Saturday morning. This is the perfect opportunity to kick some ideas around one-on-one with an experienced expeditioner.

Why not take a quick peek at the
preliminary programme
? And if you want a flavour of what to expect during the weekend, check out an excerpt from the
that was made about the 30th anniversary of Explore last year. You can register
to book your place.

For the second year running, I'm in the privileged position of sitting on the panel for cycling expeditions. So if you are attending, do come up and say hello.


The Forty Day Road


From Shadows in the Sand— Following the Forty Days Road

Elongated shadow of legs—one hundred camels, four hundred legs, slowly crossing and uncrossing each other’s shadows in the sand, swaying across the ever-changing ripples created by the unceasing north wind. A shimmering mirage of pattern upon pattern, a criss-cross image of icing on a cake, ripples of water on a lake. From the dawn of civilisation, the great trade routes across the Indian Ocean carried goods between Africa, southern Asia and the Far East. Along the east coast of Africa a string of ports, many established by Arab traders as they extended their influence south a millennium ago, funnelled goods into and out of the continent. Inland, camels became the bearers of spices, silks, gum, ivory, ostrich feathers and other prized goods. Humans too, were bought and sold; slaves from the area ended up in Egypt, Persia and Europe. Even in the late 1800s there are records of slaves being taken into Egypt by way of numerous camel caravan routes. The most treacherous of these was the Darb el- Arbein, the ‘Forty Days Road,’ so named because of the length of time it took to travel from Dar Fur province in western Sudan to Southern Egypt; although a good rider, with a strong camel and little in the way of provisions, could make the journey in as little as eighteen days. The caravans comprised as many as 5,000 camels and in 1782 one was recorded as having 24,000 camels. Because of the size of such caravans travel times were often up to three months, as the caravan had to be divided into several groups so as not to deplete water wells and pasture along the route. Slaves that were taken on this route sometimes went in the blistering heat of summer, as winters in the desert are cold and losses to bronchitis meant monetary losses to traders. A slave who walked from Dar Fur to Egypt in the 1830s recalled, “We had not food enough to eat, and sometimes we had not drink at all, and our thirst was terrible; when we stopped, almost dying for want of water, they killed a camel, and gave us blood to drink. But the camels themselves could not get on, and then they were killed, and we had their flesh for meat and their blood for water.”
From Shadows in the Sand— Following the Forty Days Road By

Read more here.


Dangers of city cycling


Everywhere you look London's skyline is changing – and that is even before the capital gears up for the 2012 Olympics.
Emily Thornberry MP is the chair of the Parliamentary All-Party Cycling Group, and she is very concerned about the number of deaths of cyclists caused by large construction lorries.
She investigates why the problem is so great, and what can be done about it.
Emily talked to Reg Wright, whose wife Emma was hit by a construction lorry in King's Cross.
"Her delight in life was really infectious, people loved her. It happened so quick, it is like a door slamming and then it's over."

The driver who killed Emma pleaded guilty to driving without due care and attention.
He was given just five points on his licence and a £300 fine.

Blind Spot
Sadly, this is not an isolated incident. In March, two young cyclists, Amelia Zollner, 26, and Rosie Wright, 24, were killed within days of each other.
Both had bright futures ahead of them. There have been 10 cycling fatalities already this year.
The problem exists because of a blind spot on the left of the driver's cab.
Although under current EU regulations all new lorries must be fitted with a wide-angle blind spot mirror, it is not yet compulsory for older lorries to be retrofitted with them.
Charlie Lloyd is a member of the London Cycling Campaign, working to make these mirrors compulsory on all vehicles.

"It is the most important thing to make cycling safer. Companies say it is down to cost.
"According to the EU it is approximately £100, the same as filling up with a tank of diesel."
Campaigner's success
Cynthia Barlow, whose daughter Alex was hit by a cement mixer truck from Cemex, bought stocks in the company and campaigned for higher safety.
Her work has been very successful; now all their trucks have the EU standard mirrors, and all the London trucks have additional warning stickers, and sensors to warn cyclists when the truck is turning left.
Now with London gearing up to the 2012 Olympics, there is a sudden growth of construction trucks on the roads.
Many of these do not have the proper mirrors. However, the Olympic Delivery Authority says it is down to the government to ensure construction vehicles are retrofitted with these mirrors.
Ministerial viewpoint
Minister for Road Safety Jim Fitzpatrick says, "When it comes to enforcing rules to vehicles on the roads, the ODA is not in a position to do that.
"That is for the government to make regulations and the police authorities to enforce those regulations."
Considering that heart disease and obesity are on the rise in London, it seems that encouraging cycling is the way forward.
Nevertheless, MP Emily Thornberry believes that until these trucks are fitted to EU standards in Britain, as they are in other countries, London's roads are not safe for cyclists.
With thanks to the