Thursday, 28 February 2008


With less than a month to go I should be finishing off my training into a highly tuned racing snake. Instead I'm hauling up and down lengths of the local swimming pool, stewing and hissing with frustration like water droplets on a hot stove. My foot still hurts but the unforgiving minute will not wait and I just have to do what I can with the time available.
So I've been to the Doctor for my compulsory check-up (all clear) and am off to hospital for the ECG next week. I'm loaded up on dehydrated food and this afternoon I went to Profeet to get hold of some shoes two sizes too big to accommodate my soon-to-be swollen and aching feet.
I know that they are giving me stuff for free, but it is not in my nature to be a sycophant so please do trust me when I say how impressive a set-up it is. Real attention to detail and an expert's eye that makes you realise how vital your shoes are when running: all that weight pounding down through your feet for mile after mile...
Anyway, they've rebuilt my custom insole to try to help my tendonitis and I'm feeling more upbeat than I have for weeks. I truly believe that without Profeet my team and I would have suffered far greater injuries from the volume of training we have been doing.
All I can do now is resign myself to arriving on the start line in whatever condition I find myself in on the day, then doing my damndest, and not whinging or making excuses afterwards.
(And some inspirational tunes might help too...)


Wednesday, 27 February 2008

So you want to write about Africa?

You've travelled a bit? You've seen some of the world? You're smart and liberal? You're not naive, you're not idealistic? Sounds like you're the perfect person to write another book about Africa. I certainly cringed a little when I read this advice from Binyavanga Wainaina:

Always use the word 'Africa' or 'Darkness' or 'Safari' in your title.
Subtitles may include the words 'Zanzibar', 'Masai', 'Zulu', 'Zambezi',
'Congo', 'Nile', 'Big', 'Sky', 'Shadow', 'Drum', 'Sun' or 'Bygone'. Also
useful are words such as 'Guerrillas', 'Timeless', 'Primordial' and
'Tribal'. Note that 'People' means Africans who are not black, while 'The
People' means black Africans.

Never have a picture of a well-adjusted African on the cover of your book,
or in it, unless that African has won the Nobel Prize. An AK-47, prominent
ribs, naked breasts: use these. If you must include an African, make sure
you get one in Masai or Zulu or Dogon dress.

In your text, treat Africa as if it were one country. It is hot and dusty
with rolling grasslands and huge herds of animals and tall, thin people who
are starving. Or it is hot and steamy with very short people who eat
primates. Don't get bogged down with precise descriptions. Africa is big:
fifty-four countries, 900 million people who are too busy starving and dying
and warring and emigrating to read your book. The continent is full of
deserts, jungles, highlands, savannahs and many other things, but your
reader doesn't care about all that, so keep your descriptions romantic and
evocative and unparticular.
Make sure you show how Africans have music and rhythm deep in their souls...

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I really do mean it!

Screenshot_7 Screenshot_8
OK, so if you're not up for quitting, at least get out of the house, out of the city, out of the comfort zone and into the mountains for a while... These
should inspire.

You shall know the night - its space, its light, its music.
You shall see the Earth sink in darkness and the universe appear.
No roof shall shut you from the presence of the moon.
You shall see mountains rise in the transparent shadow before dawn.
You shall see - and feel! - first light, and hear a ripple in the stillness.
You shall enter the living shelter of the forest.
You shall walk where only the wind has walked before.
You shall know immensity and see continuing the primeval forces of the world.
You shall know not one small segment but the whole of life,
Strange, miraculous, living, dying, changing.
You shall face immortal challenges, you shall dare,
Delighting, to pit your skill, courage and wisdom
Against colossal facts.
You shall live lifted up in light;
You shall move amoung clouds.
You shall see storms arise, and, drenched and deafened,
Shall exult in them.
You shall top a rise and behold creation.
And you shall need the tongues of angels
to tell what you have seen.


I'm serious - quit your job!

How can you not quit your job* when the world looks as good as this:
*only if you hate your job! Don't quit if you love it!


Go on - quit your job!

I'm always looking for new ways to persuade people to quit their jobs and actually do what they want to do with their life instead. Their could be some ideas at
I thought this list from their website had a couple of nuggets worth thinking about:

  • Living with Meaning
  • Attitude
  • You and Your Starting Point
  • Three Dimensional Living – physical, psychological and philosophical analysis
  • Experience Analysis - Map out and understand how experiences have shaped your actions, behaviours, habits, thinking style and emotions
  • Impact  - Your experiences. Why you act, think and feel the way you do now
  • The Importance of Choice
  • Purpose or Commitment – what do you want to achieve?
  • Adaptability – how to prioritise the behaviours, habits, thinking patterns and emotive changes your way
  • Meaning Action Plan – how to construct a realistic, meaningful plan
  • Humanity – your expectations of humanity and of yourself
  • Envisioning – how to visualise and plan for realistic achievement in your life
  • Epitaph Authoring – clarifying your own lasting legacy

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A night of Music

Fancy a night of African music in a very funky bar in London? All proceeds go to support sustainable development in rural Mali. For more details on the Joliba Trust click here.
To buy tickets or make a donation please contact Marisa Lassman on 07841 043906 or visit the link here.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

The Years Thunder By

To be truly challenging, a voyage, like a life, must rest on a firm foundation of financial unrest. Otherwise, you are doomed to a routine traverse, the kind known to yachtsmen who play with their boats at sea... cruising, it is called. Voyaging belongs to seamen, and to the wanderers of the world who cannot, or will not, fit in. If you are contemplating a voyage and you have the means, abandon the venture until your fortunes change. Only then will you know what the sea is all about.
I've always wanted to sail to the south seas, but I can't afford it. What these men can't afford is not to go. They are enmeshed in the cancerous discipline of security. And in the worship of security we fling our lives beneath the wheels of routine - and before we know it our lives are gone.
What does a man need - really need? A few pounds of food each day, heat and shelter, six feet to lie down in - and some form of working activity that will yield a sense of accomplishment. That's all - in the material sense, and we know it. But we are brainwashed by our economic system until we end up in a tomb beneath a pyramid of time payments, mortgages, preposterous gadgetry, playthings that divert our attention for the sheer idiocy of the charade. The years thunder by, The dreams of youth grow dim where they lie caked in dust on the shelves of patience. Before we know it, the tomb is sealed.
Where, then, lies the answer? In choice. Which shall it be: bankruptcy of purse or bankruptcy of life?

- powerful words from


A trip down memory lane

I was sorting out some photos for a talk I'm giving in a couple of weeks' time when I came across this old slideshow. And, if you're bored of my pics the link here has some great ones from a fellow bike tourer.

Olympics anyone?

I find extreme performance fascinating, particularly as someone who has always been a bit of a duffer and never won anything in my life. So I found this blog interesting: the account of the ups and downs of an athlete hoping to make it to the Olympic Games. Intense stuff!

A complete waste of time

My loo-reading of choice recently has been an absolutely absurd book by Robin Cooper: The Timewaster Letters. He writes to random, obscure organisations (the British Hamster Association etc.) and sees how many replies he can get out of them before they get fed up. Why do I never have ideas like that when I'm bored? So silly, very funny.

Roman Roads

I can't even remember what I was looking for on Google when I came across this map of the road system in the Roman Empire. Pretty impressive and some great potential for bike journeys.


Saturday, 23 February 2008

Buy a book, get one FREE!

My first book, ('Moods of Future Joys') about cycling from England to South Africa is now stocked in every Waterstones and Borders bookshop in the UK. This is great news. But what we really need to do now is to get some flow of stock through the stores. If a store sells their copies of a book they will be more inclined to get in more stock, put the book in a more prominent location on the shelf etc. etc. My Publisher, Eye Books, have come up with a very generous idea to get this rolling. So, for every copy of 'Moods' you buy at a UK bookshop, Eye Books have agreed to give away ANY book in their catalogue, absolutely FREE! They have also agreed that any subsequent books can be bought from their catalogue for just £5!

This means that, in return for buying my book at £7.99 you could also get hold of:
'Good Morning Afghanistan' (£16.99) – about setting up the first public radio station in Kabul after the Taliban fell. It has also recently sold its film rights.
'Baghdad Business School' (£9.99), the fascinating story of setting up a start-up business in post-war Iraq.
'First Contact' (£9.99), a 21st century discovery of cannibals by Bruce Parry and Mark Anstice which comes with an award winning DVD.
And many, many more … So it makes good sense to do even if you have already read ‘Moods’!

Once you have bought ‘Moods’, visit
and choose your free book from their website. You will be asked to enter the shop you bought ‘Moods’ from, your free selection (you will need to pay for P&P £2.95 for UK) and give them your contact details and address. Subsequent books (bought in the same transaction) are only £5 so stock up your reading for the year now.
This offer is only for the next 6 weeks in order to build awareness for ‘Moods’ so please act now, take advantage of this great offer, and pass the news on to any book-loving friends or family…

Thank you, as always for your support.


More than 3 weeks since I last ran. Fitness ebbing. Impending pain increasing.


Tuesday, 19 February 2008

"I'm going to the South Pole." "Ooh - lovely."

I told my department at school that I was leaving.
"Oh! Where are you going?"
"South Pole."
"St. Paul's?!"

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Great pics, crazy world.

I'd never been to Northern Ireland until last week. I found it fascinating to visit a country so synonymous with Troubles, whose stereotype is of violence and unrest, whose headline grabbers have spent the last decades howling and fighting and killing and dying. And what did I find? A nice, pleasant, affluent little corner of Europe, none too different from where I grew up, not too different from my memories of a fun weekend I once had in Dublin.
Pretty, welcoming, friendly: I enjoyed NI. Worth killing and dying for? It's complicated and sensitive, but if I was to be born again and I had to choose between growing up with all that Northern Ireland has and had, or growing up with all that Sudan has (another divided and troubled land), I know where I'd plump for.
All of which I had not sat down to write when I decided to share with you the odyssey photography site. But it's a wild and wonderful world out there, and I wanted to say that this site is provocative and beautiful. I suppose that it prompted me to ponder about the gradation of people's discomfort and injustice shows that well! Have a look here.


Bike it

I've just spent a rewarding, if exhausting, week giving 16 talks to help Sustrans encourage more kids to cycle to school through a fun idea whereby children receive virtual miles for every time they cycle to school. These are totted up and the progress plotted on a map of the route that I took round the world. Schools compete against each other, and teachers can help out too as they earn double miles each time they get on their bikes!
Millions of children want to ride to school, yet less than 1% do. Parent paranoia, laziness and busy roads are some of the many obstacles that Jill and William in Northern Ireland, and Kathy in Lancaster, are working hard to overcome. Sustrans are doing so many really interesting projects related to cycling, from cycle lanes, to getting kids riding, to artwork linked to cycling. Check them out here.




After almost three weeks brought down to Earth by a slightly sore toe I am not in the best of moods. I'm sick of swimming, I can't be bothered with it any more. No longer am I expecting to arrive in the Sahara as one of the fittest stages of my life. Instead I'm going to arrive there in the hope that I am simply just fit enough to get through the race, and motivated enough to not let my admin slip so that I fall apart and actually flop.
Sadly then I'm going to postpone my entry for the London Marathon: I'm not going to get my target time of 2.50 now so I'll settle for trying again next year.
Still on the cards though is the
(100 miles on Easter Weekend) which is one of those classic British events (like a
and the
) that just need ticking off in life. My partner, Lucy, is raring to go: all we need now is to find a canoe! And a date to practice together.


Sunday, 17 February 2008


Good morning Kosovo! A new country begins today. Great news for the Kosovans, a bad day for the Serbs. The EU, Britain and America are happy, the Russians are not. South Ossetians and Abkhasians look on with interest...
It's an complicated old world out there. Here's some really


Ignorance is the Mother of Adventure


"ignorance is the mother of adventure"

I tracked this down to being said by Hagar the horrible! Anyway, whilst hunting for the quotation I came across this

Sailing to Antarctica?

I received this very exciting email. Sadly I had to decline, but perhaps it may appeal to you? What an opportunity!

"Please help. Are you the person we are looking for? Do you know the person we are looking for?

In about one week the Blizzard is due to set sail from Punta Arenas in the south of Chile, 9000 miles across the Southern Ocean to the South Magnetic Pole.

The mission is the final leg of Rob Gauntlett and James Hooper's 180 Degrees expedition from magnetic pole to magnetic pole see

The voyage will take around two months and will end in Sydney in early April.

We are one crew member short. We are looking for a tough, fit, experienced sailor/adventurer to join the team.

This is very last minute and would involve being on a plane to Punta Arenas by the end of this week. All travel expenses will be paid and we can promise the trip of a lifetime.

If you are interested in getting involved or you know of someone who fits the bill and you think it would be worth us approaching, please get in touch, as it is essential we find our last crew person.

For more information on the Blizzard and her skipper David Pryce visit

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Racing round the world

Round the world in less than 200 days?
Good effort,

Sunday, 10 February 2008

A few quotations

I did a talk in Belfast tonight for Sustrans and one lady asked if she could get hold of some of the quotations I use in my presentation. Seeing as she asked so nicely...

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

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
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


Lost in translation

My first book is in the process of being translated into Romanian. It is funny to see the words the translator has struggled with, despite her excellent English. Strung together it sounds quite poetic:

Pull it off, tarmac, to run the gauntlet (among the Bulgarians), clarion , chisel-jawed, Take stock of, scrum, snogger - snog, quiff, brogues, wonky, gawpers, dump, I could not stick it out, bucking, jack it all in, beeping, I would be having a ball, hemmed, dodgy, con, mojo, prosy, in treacle, swanky, cringing at, bail out, bobbed, clime, swathe, overwhelmed, like some grave mighty thought threading a dream, uncluttered, clouting, think only this of me, to have a crack, to take a bearing on, blancmange, grotty, swilling, scrummaging, wangle, sod it, lee, Greensleeves, doing bugger all, taut, F***ed up!, woopee, mead, glugging, fledgling, tout, swill, excarpment, psyched himself up, gauntlet, jarred, Foofighters, all worked up, smoke joints, ganja, wiggling, red-hot cattle prod, joystick, King's Road (Maasai), been tipped off, Oh f***ity, sh***ing, b***dy, f***ity, f***ity, f*** , shambolic, from red herring to red herring, boaters, faze, succour, do over, fast-tracking, panel beater , wellington boots, pandemonium, spuming, “takeaway”, squirming, feistiness - feisty, Table Mountain

25 metres to the next horizon

I realised this week that I have been breaking one of my own cardinal rules.
I have always procrastinated doing an Ironman* event because I felt that there was no way I was able to swim far enough.
And yet I am also a firm believer that "you'll never know unless you try." Due to having tendonitis my training has all been in the pool this week (thanks to a reader, Brian, who reminded me not to sit around moping and to actually do something to keep fit till my foot recovers). I hate swimming. It's boring. Kids are noisy. Old people are slow. There's always been excuses...
But a few days ago I swam a mile. The next day I swam 2 kilometres. And yesterday morning, before a gigantic and voracious breakfast, I swam 2 miles and returned home excited to have been reminded how much potential we all have, if only we are willing to test it.

I'm off to Belfast tonight, doing some speaking engagements for Sustrans and trying to encourage more children to cycle to school. I'm looking forward to it: I've never been to Northern Ireland.

[*swim 2.3 miles, cycle 112 miles, run a marathon]

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Wednesday, 6 February 2008

The man in the arena

"It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood. He who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat." - Theodore Roosevelt

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"You are running, Mr. Humpriz, too much. Eighteen miles in one week is maybe not so good for you. For your knees, for your heeps..."
"No, not eighteen miles per week. Eighty. I'm running about eighty miles a week."
"Eighty miles?!"
"Yes, often with a 10kg pack."
"No, Mr. Humpriz. No. This is not good. You must rest."
"But I can't rest: I've got to run 150 miles in the Sahara in a few weeks time."
"In the where, Mr. Humpriz?"
"Never mind..."

I was one of the rare English speakers among the staff and patients at Chelsea hospital. I went along for an x-ray, desperately hoping it would not be a stress fracture that has put me out of action for the last week.
Thankfully it is just tendonitis. The cure (the same cure I am told every time I ever go to a doctor) is just to rest. No running, no cycling, just rest.
No running, no cycling? I've got the MdS in less than two months time... I haven't got time to rest!


What are your plans for next year?

I had my staff review with the Headmaster at school today. I told him that I would have to leave at the end of the year as I was off to the South Pole. There - I've said it aloud now. I told a couple of other colleagues as well. Tell enough people and it will be so.
I went to a polar talk at the RGS tonight. I've been to masses of these sort of lectures, but tonight I was trying to envisage myself one day standing up and telling similar tales. I still can't believe this is true.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

It started with a kiss

It started with a kiss. Years later I was married. As the plane hurtled my bride and me towards sunshine and a Hawaiian honeymoon I absent-mindedly looked out of the window. Through the mysteries of Great Circle flying routes, our flight from London to the sunshine was going via the Arctic. Below was a vast whiteness. Excited, I walked to the back of the plane to get a better view out of the bigger windows there. I was transfixed and I stared out at the unchanging emptiness for ages. Even thousands of metres detached from it all I felt humbled by its enormity, excited by its different-ness. I had never seen frozen ocean before and now I was greedy for more.
I asked the air hostess if I could pass through the galley to look out the other side of the plane. I was not deterred by her reply of "I wouldn't bother; it's exactly the same both sides."
Wow. I needed some of that. So the plane landed and the honeymoon began and all was lovely and sunny and warm and happy. And I sent my friend
a text message from my honeymoon.
And eventually in a crappy, deserted Indian restaurant a couple of months later Ben confirms that I'm part of his team. I'm very, VERY excited! Together we're going to attempt the longest unsupported polar journey in history. Absurd? Neither of us are in the habit of taking on things we consider absurd.

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