Thursday, 31 July 2008

Struggling for impetus

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Motivation and inspiration are elusive things. At times I feel an urge to get out and train, to push my body to its limits and, through that, push those limits just a little further away. This stretching towards the rainbow's end is the addictive, invigorating aspect of training.
At the other extreme are the turgid, listless days. The days I'm grumpy and want to kick pigeons on the street. I mope around with a small knot in the stomach and a faint air of unease and dissatisfaction. I fidget and cannot settle to anything, even to accepting that I'm not going to train and enjoying the relaxation. These are the days when I would most benefit from getting out there, sucking in some fresh air or battering myself in the gym. But for some reason on those days I just can't be bothered. It's not as though I do anything else useful with my time. I just feel myself getting irritated with myself and the world at large. I know I'll be glad if I do the exercise. But it is as though there is some unseen force gluing me down, clogging me up and clouding my thoughts.
On days like that I do pointless things, like writing this blog entry. What I really need to do is stop wasting my life, turn off the bloody computer, put my trainers on, stop being all that I despise, and get down to the gym. After all, I'm going to be murdered at Gym Jones next week.
There, that's done it. I'm fixed.
Off to the gym!
(You too...)

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Wednesday, 30 July 2008


I am fortunate, this week, to be in Vietnam for a speaking assignment. The theme of the conference is 'Reflect, Learn, Grow'; three very worthwhile actions. My week in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh) has been a good opportunity for me to reflect back on my ride round the world and to learn a couple of things about myself. For this is the first time I have been back in the developing world (discounting the Sahara) since I cycled out of it on my way back to Europe and home.
Arriving in the city I was interested by how happy and comfortable I felt to be back amongst the whirling madness of the world again after too long in the ordered routine of Europe. I was grinning as I wandered in the warm electric air; the lingering smell of drains and motorbikes, the beeping of the most motorbikes I have ever seen, the lunacy of crossing the streets (simply trusting that the waves of motorbikes will part around you like a shoal of fish), life being lived in the streets, families eating beneath naked white light bulbs on low plastic stools outside on the uneven pavements, men squatting on their haunches smoking and spitting. The constant, though pleasant enough, solicitations for motorbike rides, zippos, fake Rolexs' and very good sex with very beautiful ladies. I smile and keep walking. I slurp cheap noodles at a street stall and feel invigorated to be back. I eat bizarre things I have never seen before, a giggling girl shows me how to eat them, and I look back with amazement that this was how I lived my life for over four years.
I stare, mesmerised as a lady skins still-wriggling, decapitated frogs with a pair of pliers, her action as smooth as pulling off a wet rubber glove. I peer at desiccated squid, stinking yet apparently delicious with chili sauce. I wrinkle my nose and a lady in a conical hat laughs at me. The sky is grey and moist and the storm breaks through the heat. Motorbikes slosh their way homewards, ladies hide their hair in plastic bags, dashing through the downpour, and I wander warm through the gleaming reflecting streets, all the oily colours of electronic billboards. Motorbike lights look like stained glass lanterns, translucent and multi-coloured. It took me a while to realise that this was because everyone's ponchos were hanging over their headlights.
And though I love being here I realise also that I have moved on. It answers a question that has haunted me intermittently ever since I stopped riding. I don't feel the urge to get on a bike and follow my nose out of the city, riding on and on and on to discover more of the country or the world. I'm no longer self-contained enough to exist solely on my own, in the silence of my thoughts. My days of loving the squalor, the daily chaos, the feeling of being utterly alien appear, after all, to have been satiated by my four years on the road. It's an important thing to have discovered, something that can only help me begin to settle to my new life, to the more ordered stability of SOUTH.
The opulence of my 20th floor hotel room is fun and lovely, but here it seems even more grotesque than it does in England where we can ignore our rich bubble life. I make the most of the hotel though, watching the England cricket Test match live via South African cable TV, then up at 5.15 with the first greying of the sky and silvering of the Mekong river between the black skyscrapers shining with lights. I swim 80 lengths, hit the gym and then -feeling smug- consider that I have earned the right to eat fruit, miso, pho, 8 pancakes, steak and eggs, a croissant and a pot of coffee for breakfast (even I pass up the chocolate ice cream on offer). Even in Vietnam the daily intense training for SOUTH must continue (I swim also at lunchtime and again before bed), as must our search for sponsors. So I spend most of each day here in Saigon sweating in internet cafes amongst smoking, yelling youngsters, chasing a dream that will take us to the frozen silence of the South Pole. It's a hell of an interesting planet we live on!

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(This website is not really an appropriate forum for this, but I spent yesterday at the Cu Chi tunnels and today at the War Museum in Ho Chi Minh / Saigon. Important, important stuff to keep in my mind. If you have the inclination, learn more here. Shocking. Awful.)

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The Bright Field - RS Thomas

I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it. I realize now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying
on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.


A prayer

My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following
your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope tat I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I knew that if I do this you will lead me through the right road though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore, I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me
To fact my peril alone
-Thomas Merton

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South Pole anyone?

Hmmm... The firm that has long pledged to back SOUTH in order to promote their values of
achieving potential, overcoming difficulties, pursuing passions, supporting the community etc etc etc has bailed out on us. This was not credit crunch belt tightening, it was just playing safe, taking the easy option and choosing to coast rather than striving to achieve their potential. I don't blame them for choosing this route, I just don't respect them for it. But there's no sour grapes in the SOUTH office at being led a merry dance for months and now left highish and dryish with just 3 months to raise several weeks' worth of John Terry's salary. We feel unleashed, galvanised, determined. We also realise that we are really up against it now if we are to pull this off. Any ideas, please do

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Tuesday, 29 July 2008

World Domination

There's a few helpful ideas here, in this guide to
world domination


Saturday, 26 July 2008

Scott Polar Research Institute

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On Thursday evening Ben, Andy and I went up to Cambridge to visit the Scott Polar Research Institute. Our friend, Martin Hartley, was exhibiting his brilliant polar photography. What makes his portraits all the more special is if you watch this very brief film clip that shows how difficult it is to operate at temperatures of -40. Impressive stuff. Shame about his taste in shirts. The exhibition is a big thing for him, and richly deserved.
Whilst at SPRI I took the opportunity to visit the museum. It was thrilling. Memorabilia from Scott's tent, final letters home when they knew their fate was sealed. The courage, the sadness, the pity of it all. Their stoic resignation and the lack of regret or recrimination. Powerful stuff.
From the poles to the orient: I'm off to Vietnam tomorrow for a speaking gig. Looking forward to being back in a mad, whirlwind sort of country again; it's been too long.

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Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Sled pulling

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It was our first session pulling a sled today, the first time I've ever done it. I was looking forward to giving it a go seeing as I have committed myself to 4 months of it. 30kg on the sled and then haul it round the running track. Repeat.
Ben said that the feeling with the friction was akin to pulling a heavily-loaded sled on the ice. So I'm pleased to have had a taste of that. My butt, groin and calves are going to be mighty stiff tomorrow! We did 8 minutes hauling, then 8 minutes jogging round a field and repeated it 6 times. Each haul we had to cover at least the same distance as the time before. To pass the time as I plodded round the track, sweat streaming on this most un-Arctic of muggy summer's days, I did a bit of mental arithmetic [that's what comes of being married to an accountant!]. Our trek is going to be 2900km... equivalent to 7250 laps of the track. We hope to have 110 days to accomplish this. So each day in Antarctica we have to haul our sledge round 66 laps of the track. Today I did about 10. I came home, had an ice bath, stuffed my face with pasta and thought "crikey, I'm pretty weary now." There's a long way to go. In every sense.
On the track we were in illustrious company, being at the England Institute of Sport in Twickenham. Mo Farah, one of Britain's Olympic medal hopes, was being put through his paces. Several lithe looking Kenyans were also hurtling round the track at amazing, languid speed. Ben and I hugged the outside lane, plodding our way through almost 2000 calories of effort and, for me at least, excited to be manhauling for the first time. It felt like proper training. I suspect that after 110 days the novelty may have faded somewhat...

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What does SOUTH mean to me? Why do I want to do it?

Two questions I was pondering as I plodded round the track this morning. (Another question I was asking myself was "what on earth am I going to think about through 110 days of this?") What I am looking forward to, and what inspires me to do all I can to get the expedition off the ground, is the moment when the plane flies away and leaves Ben and me alone, completely alone. Alone at the very edge of Antarctic. The bright sky and the silence of the ice all around and the moment when I think "wow! Antarctica! I am here.
are here." What a privilege!
I think that that is the biggest appeal for me of the entire expedition. Secondly, to walk alone to the pole: that's a big deal for me. And thirdly, to turn around, to walk back again through all the memories of the pain of those miles, back again to the very beginning: that's the icing on the cake for me, the thought that makes me want to laugh out loud at the sheer craziness of it all. If we pull it off, when we pull it off -no, it's certainly an "if we" not a "when we"- if we pull it off, I will feel deeply, deeply satisfied. But to stand on Antarctica for the first time and inhale a gulp of fresh, frozen air: that will be the whoop out loud moment for me.

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Good Friends

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Some people are just inherently decent. People I am reluctant to ask for favours because I know they will never say no and who will offer up far more time and energy than I have a right to take. A few weeks ago we were looking to print a nice, glossy brochure for
. When we were having no joy in finding a suitably priced printing firm I decided to email my friend
who works in
. Now, a couple of weeks later, 500 brochures have just arrived in the
. They are stunning, exciting, and if we don't entice a corporate sponsor now we ain't never gonna do so. Jim designed them all, unpaid, despite being very busy. He never muttered a complaint or a sarcastic aside as Ben and I sent back tweak after tweak. Thanks Jim, you're a star! Here's our brochure, in all its glory:
SOUTH brochure - compressed

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What's floating my boat at the moment

The main words from my recent Twitter activity:
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Monday, 21 July 2008

A new beginning

Riding over to the SOUTH office (Ben's spare bedroom) today marked a new beginning. I've left my job. I'm unemployed. I'm thrilled to bits.
It's my first day working full time, 9-to-5 and every hour before and after that on the expedition. I can't wait to get stuck into it. The river was beautiful, the sun was shining, I couldn't help but get competitive and overtake a guy on his road bike so I got to the office sweaty and hot. But I didn't care. There's so much to do. There's so much potential. It's going to be a mad, busy, colourful summer. There's cash to raise, flights to book, muscles to build and cricket to listen to on Test Match Special. Bliss.

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Sunday, 20 July 2008


Just home from a week in Andalucia and happy memories of true adventure; a mapless hike from Ronda to the coast that I did with Rob at university. We spent £5 in a week, walked south in a straight line up mountains and through valleys until we reached the sea. We swam in rivers, nicked apples from the trees and I slept in a sewage pipe for the first (but not the last) time.
This holiday I was eager to keep on with my training. I tried swimming but the hostel's 5m pool soon broke my resolve. Ditto aquajog. But I did begin running, tentatively at first, then sweating and puffing, then with relief that my foot was healed and exuberance at the pleasure of running up the dry-smelling dust tracks, up from a hermitage dating from 1537 up to the castle on the hilltop at Gaucin.
I'm enjoying getting fit, but quite worried about my strength work: I'm simply not very strong. I am new to gyms and gym mentality, I'm naturally scrawny, and I know I've still got a long way to go. I'll get there though.
What I'm most excited about though is that I'm no longer a teacher. I'm unconstrained and free (aka: 'unemployed') once again and able to dedicate 100% of my efforts to SOUTH (if I was a footballer it would be 110%). I can't wait for tomorrow morning: it's Monday morning and the expedition office beckons. Shorts, T-shirt and a fierce energy to get the show off the ground.

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Laurie Lee, Eric Newby, Patrick Fermor...

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A mouthwatering prospect: traveller extraordinaire Benedict Allen, has put together a TV series on three of my very favourite travel writers. I shall certainly be watching BBC 4 this week*. Here's what it's about:

This is a look at three outstanding British travel writers – from three very different traditions. Eric Newby, that very British thing the amateur traveller - someone who packs his bags and sets off (with little or no preparation) for the sheer hell of it. Preparation, he feels, rather spoils the fun. You might remember that Newby prepared for his attempt on a remote, unclimbed 20,000 foot peak in Nuristan by nipping down to Snowdonia (a hilly area in Wales) for a weekend, and was assisted by a waitress.(The adventure was immortalised in a self-deprecating book, A Short Walk In the Hindu Kush. Secondly, there’s the poet Laurie Lee – someone who meandered along playing his violin, in the tradition of a troubadour or wandering minstrel. He set out from home, walking off down the lane, and just kept walking – two years later ending his journey in Southern Spain. Better remembered for Cider with Rosie, his tale of growing up in the English countryside, this other classic account, As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning is my personal favourite. Finally, Patrick Lee Fermor, a man of action and also intellect. Once described as a mixture between Graham Greene and James Bond, he walked right across pre-war Europe, sometimes sleeping in haystacks, sometimes in castles; from time to time reciting from his copy of Hamlet (in German!). He recorded his experiences in two fine works of literature A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water. These three characters travelled during the golden age of travel - between the golden age of exploration and the present age of mass tourism, and mass exposure of the planet on TV. The world was now safe enough for a novice to set out alone – and he or she still might find exotic experience right on the doorstep. In Travellers Century, I examine the lives of these three characters, wondering what makes the British such inveterate travellers – is this a tradition left from the Empire Days? Or is it that we’re from an overcrowded, fairly suburban place that we need to escape? Perhaps we’re just a small island race and need to understand our more powerful neighbours!
* actually I won't be watching. I'm off to the
to be impressed by
photography that leaves me yearning to get
off the ground. But I'll watch the repeat!

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Travel Photos

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Some varied and inspiring travel photos here too, by Chris Jelf.

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Saturday, 19 July 2008

Training - what's the point?

“For what is the point of training but making pain seem routine? You work the body, yes, but the real point of training is to accustom the mind to endure discomfort: to know it, tolerate it and even, finally, to like it.” - Matt Seaton

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Friday, 18 July 2008

The vision for SOUTH

What is our vision for SOUTH and what do we hope to achieve, long term, from the expedition? My opinions:

SOUTH is an exciting, adventurous, enormously ambitious project. It has all the ingredients to inspire the development of a leading learning and quality culture, to promote the pursuit of the highest levels of integrity, quality, and professionalism.
We believe that the experiences of SOUTH can help other people achieve their potential and make a difference, personally as well as professionally. Though SOUTH is but two men, we are conscious that we are always part of a community, and that means a great deal to us. So this idea of giving back and driving change for improvement is critical. Every day is a new day, and every day we have the opportunity to become better; as people, to those we work with, and to what we are in society.
We are both motivated people, energized and enthusiastic, determined to pursue our passions and ensure that we maximize our abilities.
But achieving potential isn’t just about us – it’s about those who follow the expedition and our stakeholders achieving their potential too. SOUTH involves great teamwork, a great respect for difference, and a great respect for people who are looking at their own challenges and solving them.
Environmental awareness has changed corporate planning, organizations, corporate accountability, and accounting. SOUTH is a flagship for the imperative for changing habits and attitudes. Today corporate responsibility is seen as a business imperative. It’s not enough to think of profit and loss only. These are highly relevant issues and sponsors taking steps to make their organization more sustainable, and anything else that makes a positive difference, send an important message to their people and recruits. We know that young workers expect a level of commitment to these issues. And that commitment has to be credible, meaningful, and complete. When they see that kind of effort, it tells them this is a place where they can be part of solutions to problems they care very much about. It is a wonderful way to inspire them. Corporate responsibility includes the full range of doing the right things in the market, in the workplace, and in the community.
Where’s the payoff for sponsors? They get better people. Because when their people grow outside of the office, and they get a chance to make a difference, they achieve more of their own potential, and they become even more creative and thoughtful about every aspect of their work.
We have broadened our view of what it means to be part of change. We can get energy out of disappointment and build things despite setbacks. We are looking to create value in society, and to endorse nonprofit organizations. We want to celebrate that: it’s inspiring, and it underscores the importance of people willing to have a vision and go through all the barriers to achieve things, and make society better.
But we need to focus to ensure that we can make an impact. SOUTH sees corporate responsibility as an entire wheel, not just the environment, not just communities, and not just workplace issues. So SOUTH is focusing on three big areas - knowledge, environment and education.
The vision of SOUTH has tremendous potential. We need only to find the right bold organization to stride forward with us into an exciting future.

Now, if you buy all that, have a look at this
and you will see how I believe that SOUTH is applicable and relevant to so many corporate situations. It's a bit cheeky, but I feel it makes a good point.

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Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Nice pics

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Some really nice photos from round the world here.