Sunday, 29 June 2008

RGS lecture online

The lecture I gave at the Royal Geographical Society is now available for members to watch online here.

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Advice for the Antarctic

"Courage alone will not take you far in the Antarctic as we knew it in its old man-hauling days. The lady gave the bus conductor a penny and said "how far will it take me?" "To the door of the Ritz," was the answer, "but it will not take you far inside."
Courage or ambition, or love of notoriety, may take you to the Antarctic, or any other uncomfortable place in the world, but it won't take you far inside without being found out; its courage: and unselfishness: and helping one another: and sound condition: and willingness to put in every ounce you have: and clean living: and good temper: and tact: and good judgment: and faith. And the greatest of these is faith, especially a faith that what you are doing is of use. It's the idea which carries men on." - Apsley Cherry Garrard

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Thursday, 26 June 2008


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Ever since I lived in Africa for a year I have been awed by the presence and character of Nelson Mandela. One of the highlights of last year was seeing him in the flesh as he unveiled his statue in Westminster (I also enjoyed the crowd's refusal to let fawning Ken Livingstone and Gordon Brown seize the limelight, though they both shamefully (and predictably) tried to).
Now he's back in London and the rich and the powerful are grovelling in his presence. Good old Madiba - he's here to party, and also to promote the foundation named after his old prisoner ID number, 46664. What a wonderful example to Africa, and to the world.


Some serious training...

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Fingers crossed, Ben and I are off to Utah in August for a training camp. It is important for us to be fit and strong (of course), but it is also important that we have some shared experiences of pain and suffering and the techniques required to push through that.
To that end, I think we have chosen well.
("it doesn't have to be fun to be fun") us a world class mountaineer who does not tolerate weakness or mediocrity. He has set up an extraordinary gym and that is where we hope to train. Here is a
from the
that makes me a bit scared about what we are getting ourselves into!

Gym Jones is not a cozy place. There's no AC, no comfortable spot to sit and there are no mirrors. Stressors are intentionally designed to cause discomfort and apprehension. Effort and pain may not be avoided. Physical and psychological breakdowns occur. The support of a like-minded group, dedicated to The Art of Suffering, provides a safety net. An individual will push harder and risk more in the company of trustworthy peers and that's one reason the gym is not open to the public.

Twight's writing is worth a read too. You may not like it, you may not agree, it may raise your hackles. But you've got to applaud him for having the courage of his convictions. I love this piece below. I read it when I'm tempted by complacency.
(Twight would no doubt disapprove with my meddling, but I've removed his well-placed expletives)

What's your problem? I think I know. You see it in the mirror every morning: temptation and doubt hip to hip inside your head. You know it's not supposed to be like this. But you drank the Kool-Aid and dressed yourself up in someone else's life.
You're haunted because you remember having something more. With each drag of the razor you ask yourself why you piss your blood into another man's cup. Working at the job he offered, your future is between his thumb and forefinger. And the necessary accessories, the proclamations of success you thought gave you stability provide your boss security. Your debt encourages acquiescence, the heavy mortgage makes you polite.
Aren't you sick of being tempted by an alternative lifestyle, but bound by chains of your own choosing? Of the gnawing doubt that the college graduate, path of least resistance is the right way for you - for ever? Each weekend you prepare for the two weeks each summer when you wake up each day and really ride, or climb; the only imperative being to go to bed tired. When booming thermals shoot you full of juice and your Vario shrieks 7m/sec, you wonder if the lines will pop. The risk pares away life's trivia. Up there, sucking down the thin cumulus, the earth looks small, the boss even smaller, and you wish it could go on forever. But a wish is all it will ever be.
Because the ground is hard. Monday morning is harsh. You wear the hangover of your weekend rush under a strict and proper suit and tie. You listen to NPR because it's inoffensive, PFC: Politically F***ing Correct. Where's the counter-cultural righteousness that had you flirting with Bad Religion and the vintage Pistols tape over the weekend? On Monday you eat frozen food and live the homogenized city experience. But Sunday you thought about cutting your hair very short. You wanted a little more volume and wondered how out of place you looked in the Sub Pop Music Store. Flipping through the import section, you didn't recognize any of the bands. KMFDM? It stands for Kill Mother F***ing Depeche Mode. Didn't you know? How could you not?
Tuesday you look at the face in the mirror again. It stares back, accusing. How can you get by on that one weekly dose? How can you be satisfied by the artifice of these experiences? Why should your words mean anything? They aren't learned by heart and written in blood. If you cannot grasp the consciousness-altering experience that real mastery of these disciplines proposes, of what value is your participation? The truth is pointless when it is shallow. Do you have the courage to live with the integrity that stabs deep?
Use the mirror to cut to the heart of things and uncover your true self. Use the razor to cut away what you don't need. The life you want to live has no recipe. Following the recipe got you here in the first place:

Mix one high school diploma with an undergrad degree and a college sweetheart. With a whisk (or a whip) blend two cars, a poorly built house in a cul de sac, and fifty hours a week working for a board that doesn't give a damn about you. Reproduce once. Then again. Place all ingredients in a rut, or a grave. One is a bit longer than the other. Bake thoroughly until the resulting life is set. Rigid. With no way out. Serve and enjoy.

"You see your face reflected there in a sweating brow, you hate what you see, but what can be done when there's no way out, no way out?" 

The Chameleons, "Intrigue in Tangiers"

But there is a way out. Live the lifestyle instead of paying lip service to the lifestyle. Live with commitment. With emotional content. Live whatever life you choose honestly. Give up this renaissance man, dilettante bullshit of doing a lot of different things (and none of them very well by real standards). Get to the guts of one thing; accept, without reservation or rationalization, the responsibility of making a choice. When you live honestly, you can not separate your mind from your body, or your thoughts from your actions.

"If you really want to hurt them and their children not yet born tell them the truth always". 

Henry Rollins, from the book See a Grown Man Cry

Tell the truth. First, to yourself. Say it until it hurts. Learn the reality of your own selfishness. Quit living for other people at the expense of your own self, you're not really alive. You live in the land of denial - and they say the view is pretty a long as you remain asleep.
Well it's time to WAKE THE F*** UP!
So do it. Wake up. When you drink the coffee tomorrow, take it black and notice it. Feel the caffeine surge through you. Don't take it for granted. Use it for something. Burn the Grisham books. Sell the bad CDs. Mariah Carey, Dave Mathews and N Sync aren't part of the soundtrack where you're going.
Cut your hair. Don't worry about the gray. If you're good at what you do, no one cares what you look like. Go to the weight room. Learn the difference between actually working out and what you've been doing. Live for the Iron and the fresh air. Punish your body to perfect your soul. Kick the habit of being nice to everyone you meet. Do they deserve it? Say "no" more often.
Quit posturing at the weekly parties. Your high pulse rate, your 5.12s and quick time on the Slickrock Trail don't mean anything to anybody else. These numbers are the measuring sticks of your own progress; show, don't tell. Don't react to the itch with a scratch. Instead, learn it. Honor the necessity of both the itch and the scratch. But a haircut and a new soundtrack do not a modern man make. As long as you have a safety net you act without commitment. You'll go back to your old habits once you meet a little resistance. You need the samurai's desperateness and his insanity.
Burn the bridge. Nuke the foundation. Back yourself up against a wall. Have an opinion one way or the other, get off the fence and rip it up. Cut yourself off so there is no going back. Once you're committed the truth will come out. You ask about security? What you need is uncertainty. What you need is confusion; something that forces you to reinvent yourself, a whip to drive you harder. 

"I never try anything - I just do it. Want to try me? 

White Zombie, "Thunder Kiss"

In Dune, Frank Herbert called it "the attitude of the knife,” cut off what's incomplete and say “now it has finished, for it has ended there.” So finish it, and walk away, forward. Only acts undertaken with commitment have meaning. Only your best effort matters. Life is a Meritocracy, with death as the auditor. Inconsistency, incompetence and lies are all cut short by that final word. Death will change you if you can't change yourself.
“If I can change one, then I can change two. If I can change two, then I can change four. If I can change four, then I can change eight. If I can change eight, then I can change.”

One Minute Silence, "If I Can Change"

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Great cities attract ambitious people

Great cities attract ambitious people. You can sense it when you walk around one. In a hundred subtle ways, the city sends you a message: you could do more; you should try harder.


Saturday, 21 June 2008

Stonehenge summer solstice

Rain, mud, druids, drunks, sleep deprivation. And no sunrise.
Summer solstice at Stonehenge. Wonderful to be able to get up close to the stones. Shame it was raining. Pics
. I'm tired. Bed.



I have just discovered
, what seems to me to be a superior version of YouTube.

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Wednesday, 18 June 2008

The Bicycle Diaries

My books began life as raw, spontaneous blog entries. In many ways I think they are better than my finished books. If you are interested you can browse them, unedited, here:
The Bicycle Diaries

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