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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Midnight in the hills

Ben and Al, originally uploaded by averylongwalk.

High in the Beacons, with the lights of Brecon far below. I've never had such a calm, clear night on those hills. Fabulous.

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Camping on the summit of Pen y Fan

DSC_1632_2, originally uploaded by averylongwalk.

Ben, Andy and I trekked (post-curry), up Pen y Fan last week and got some great midnight pictures up there. So good to get out of London.

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Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Anything is possible in this world.

P1000314.JPG, originally uploaded by averylongwalk.

I receive quite a few emails about my books, journeys and so on. Occasionally I receive one that makes me realise that the whole thing has been worthwhile, if only to pass on the spark to somebody else. "You can't start a fire without a spark." This was a wonderful email to receive:

Having recently purchased a bike to get about town with (I detest the London Underground, constantly being herded around like cattle) and having some problems with the chain I headed to Waterstones to find a book on fixing ones bike. There, I stumbled upon 'Moods of Future Joys'...and it has left me in limbo! As soon as I finished it I of course purchased the sequel, struggled to put it down, and now having completed the two I am left unsure of what to do...
Well I know what I want to do. I want to wander back to Australia my way...slowly be it by bike or whatever. Your books have re inspired me. For the last year since I left Sydney I have been working in London. Hospitality really doesn't excite me. Nor does a desk job. The only thing that makes me smile is photography...and wandering where I want when I want to. I watch people and listen to what they say. I am scared of one day waking up and being boring. No longer having anything left to talk about...nothing exciting me.

I don't like the materialism of the world I live in, how people pride themselves on having the biggest 'everything', the most expensive 'everything'. I doesn't feel real. It all feels so...fake.
I hate that being 22 I am expected to want to party all the time...drink myself into oblivion constantly. I did that when I was 18. Young and dumb partying in Sydney, chain smoking, trying new 'exciting' substances, sleeping with as many people as possible. I grew so tired of it! I left and discovered London is very much the same.
I'm rattling shit I know. Your books have just got me to thinking again. About how much happier and content I feel when I am wandering, carefree...existing rather than just living. Doing what I want, not what is expected.
Thank you. I am sure this is one of thousands of e-mails you have received but thank you. Anything is possible in this world.

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Looking to start riding?

Beginning riding in a big city is a daunting prospect. But once you're converted, it really is the only way.
I tried to take the Tube today (I had a massive pack on my back as I'm off to the mountains tonight). Two trains arrived. So busy that I couldn't get on. Tube rage descended, I thought "sod this", walked home, jumped on my bike, rode instead, and still arrived far quicker than the Tube would have got me there.
If you're feeling daunted, have a read of this article. Lots of good stuff for newbies.


Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Fitness is about living at your peak, no matter what stands in your way.

hawaii, originally uploaded by

"Forget what the mags with the shirtless, six-packed dudes on the cover tell you. Fitness is not about 20-inch guns and 10-minute full-body workouts. Nor is it about miracle diets or flashy sponsorships. And it's certainly not about looking good at the gym. Fitness is about living at your peak, no matter what stands in your way. It's about obeying the alarm clock, peeling yourself out of bed, and finding that extra hour most people think they'll never have." - Outside Magazine


Grasping at Glory

"Have you suffered, starved and triumphed, grovelled down yet grasped at glory, grown bigger in the bigness of the whole?”
- The Call of the Wild – Jack London


The Worst Journey in the World

'The Worst Journey in the World' is accepted as the greatest polar book of all time. Now the wonder that is Radio 4 have produced it as a play. It's fantastic and you can listen to Episode 1, for the next week, here.

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Ups and Downs

It's a funny old world this expeditioning malarkey.
In the last week I have set up two meetings for Ben and me that I thought could be real openings to sponsorship for SOUTH. Both were disasters, with people who simply did not 'get' what we were doing. I came out of them despondent and thinking "what the hell are we doing?"
Then last night Andy and Ben went to watch 'Farther than the Eye Can See' (trailer below) and got fired up and motivated again. And this morning we have had the Brecon Beacons map out to plan this week's training route in the hills. Camping on top of Pen y Fan tomorrow, chat about Panda suits and Gorilla outfits in the Welsh hills, and a dream filming location in a village called Three Cocks. Suddenly it's all looking fun again.

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Monday, 22 September 2008

Project Harar Ethiopia

Today I had a very inspiring lunch with Jonathan Crown, founder of Project Harar Ethiopia. He was passionate, ambitious and determined to make an impact in the lives of young people with severe facial disfigurements in the poorest areas of Ethiopia.
Here are the key points of their work:
• We treat patients with a facial disfigurement no matter what the cause of their illness, injury or disability.
• We go to the people in need. We save our patients the ordeal and expense of travelling to a big city, where they may not even be suitable for treatment.
• We support a guardian to accompany our young patients and give moral encouragement to the children.
• We work in partnership with Ethiopian and European medics to ensure our work leaves a lasting positive impact on the capacity of the Ethiopian healthcare system.
• We give long-term after-care, ensure that secondary procedures are carried out and that our young patients thrive at home.
To learn more about their work please do visit their website.

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Saturday, 20 September 2008

Seize the day - as night will fall before you know it

I came across a really good piece in the Times by Richard Morrison. It includes this sentiment:
Want to do good in the world? Do good today, rather than putting it off till you “have more time”. Want to create something beautiful? Create it now. Want to mend bridges with an old foe? Mend them this instant, while both of you are able to totter over them together. Want to tell someone you love them? Seize the moment. It may not come again.
Read more.

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Friday, 19 September 2008

Hour by Hour resolve firmly...

Mind the Gap, originally uploaded by

Hour by hour resolve firmly to do what comes to hand with dignity, and with humanity, independence, and justice. Allow your mind freedom from all other considerations. This you can do, if you will approach each action as though it were your last, dismissing the desire to create an impression, the admiration of self, the discontent with your lot. See how little man needs to master, for his days to flow on in quietness and piety: he has but to observe these few counsels, and the gods will ask nothing more.
(Marcus Aurelius)

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Thursday, 18 September 2008

Award Winning Photographer!

Bicycle Belles, originally uploaded by

It would be hard to underestimate the size of the competition, but I can now boast of being an "Award Winning Photographer" for this picture in a contest to promote female cycling in London. I'm impressed with all that the government is doing to push cycling in London.
If you don't hear from me a while I will probably be hanging out with celebrities from the Magnum agency somewhere glamorous....

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Tuesday, 16 September 2008


CCTV, originally uploaded by

Think of your many years of procrastination; how the gods have repeatedly granted you further periods of grace, of which you have taken no advantage. It is time now to realise the nature of the universe to which you belong, and of that controlling Power whose offspring you are; and to understand that your time has a limit set to it. Use it, then, to advance your enlightenment; or it will be gone, and never in your power again.
(Marcus Aurelius)

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Monday, 15 September 2008

Some day, if you are lucky, you'll return from a thunderous Journey

Some day, if you are lucky,
you’ll return from a thunderous journey
trailing snake scales, wing fragments
and the musk of Earth and moon.

Eyes will examine you for signs
of damage, or change
and you, too, will wonder
if your skin shows traces

of fur, or leaves,
if thrushes have built a nest
of your hair, if Andromeda
burns from your eyes.

Do not be surprised by prickly questions
from those who barely inhabit
their own fleeting lives, who barely taste
their own possibility, who barely dream.

If your hands are empty, treasureless,
if your toes have not grown claws,
if your obedient voice has not
become a wild cry, a howl,

you will reassure them. We warned you,
they might declare, there is nothing else,
no point, no meaning, no mystery at all,
just this frantic waiting to die.

And yet, they tremble, mute,
afraid you’ve returned without sweet
elixir for unspeakable thirst, without
a fluent dance or holy language

to teach them, without a compass
bearing to a forgotten border where
no one crosses without weeping
for the terrible beauty of galaxies

and granite and bone. They tremble,
hoping your lips hold a secret,
that the song your body now sings
will redeem them, yet they fear

your secret is dangerous, shattering,
and once it flies from your astonished
mouth, they–like you–must disintegrate
before unfolding tremulous wings.
(Geneen Marie Haugen)

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James Caird

James Caird, originally uploaded by

The James Caird, at Dulwich College. I was so excited and thrilled to see this iconic Antarctic boat. If you don't know Shackleton's tale I recommend you check it out:

What an amazing thing to have in your school! You would learn more by staring at that boat, and thinking of Shackleton's story, than in a year of classroom lessons...

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Sunday, 14 September 2008


visited 79 states (35.1%)
Create your own visited map of The World or determine the next president

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Friday, 12 September 2008

Ian Hibbell's obituary. A life well-lived.

IN A man’s life there comes a time when he must get out of Brixham. He must leave the boats bobbing in the harbour, the Devon cream teas, the holiday camp and the steam railway; he must bid farewell to the nine-to-five job at Standard Telephones and Cables, up the A379 in Paignton, and hit the more open road.

Some might get no farther than Bristol. But Ian Hibell went so far in one direction that his eyebrows crusted with frost and his hands froze; and so far in another that he lay down in the hot sand to die of dehydration (as he expected) under a thorn tree; and so far in another that the safest place to be, out of range of the mosquitoes, was to burrow like an alligator into black, viscous mud.

In the course of his 40-year travelling life he went the equivalent of ten times round the equator, covering 6,000 miles or so a year. He became the first man to cycle the Darien Gap in Panama, and the first to cycle from the top to the bottom of the American continent. He went from Norway to the Cape of Good Hope and from Bangkok to Vladivostok, wheeling or walking every inch of the way. Every so often he would come back, showing up at STC (from which he had taken, in the beginning, only a two-year leave of absence) with vague murmurings of an apology. But pretty soon the panniers would be packed, the brakes checked, the tyres pumped, and he would be off again.

His cycle, loaded with 60-80lb of clothes, tent, stove, biscuits, sardines and water, was sometimes a complication. In the Sahara it sank to its hubs in fine, talc-like sand. In the Amazonian jungle he could not squeeze it between the trees. Crossing the great Atrato swamp, where the track became a causeway over slimy logs and then a mat of floating grass, the bike would sometimes sink into nothingness. He became expert at feeling for it in the morass with his feet. Every tricky traverse in mountain, stream or forest needed doing twice over: once to find a way for himself, then to collect the steed, often carrying it shoulder-high through sharp palmetto, or water, or rocks.

Yet Mr Hibell’s love for his bikes was unconditional. He took them, muddy as they were, into hotels with him, and clung fiercely on to them whenever tribesmen robbed him of the rest of his things. His favourite had a Freddie Grubb frame of Reynolds 531 tubing on a 42-inch wheelbase, reinforced to take the extra weight of goatskins holding water; Campagnolo Nuevo Record gears front and rear; Robregal double-butted 14-16-gauge spokes; and Christophe pedal-straps. It was so lightweight, as touring bikes go, that a group of boys in Newfoundland mocked that it would soon break on their roads. Instead, it did 100,000 miles.

Bikes rarely let him down. Escaping once from spear-throwing Turkana in northern Kenya, he felt the chain come off, but managed to coast downhill to safety. He crossed China from north to south—in 2006, at 72—with just three brake-block changes, one jammed rear-brake cable and a change of tape on the handlebars. In his book, “Into the Remote Places” (1984), he described his bike as a companion, a crutch and a friend. Setting off in the morning light with “the quiet hum of the wheels, the creak of strap against load, the clink of something in the pannier”, was “delicious”. And more than that. Mr Hibell was a short, sinewy man, not particularly swift on his feet. But on a good smooth downhill run, the wind in his face, the landscape pelting past, he felt “oneness with everything”, like “a god almost”.
A teapot in the desert

Human company was less uplifting. His travelling companions usually proved selfish, violent and unreliable, unappreciative of Mr Hibell’s rather proper and methodical approach to putting up a tent or planning a route, leaving (sometimes with essential kit) to strike off by themselves. But there were exceptions. One was the beautiful Laura with whom, after years of shyness towards women, he found love as they skidded down rocky tracks in Peru. Others were the strangers whose kindness he encountered everywhere. Peasants in China shared their dumplings with him; Indians in Amazonia guided him through the jungle; and in a wilderness of sand a pair of Tuareg boys produced from their robes a bag of dates and a small blue teapot, which restored him.

In a career of hazards, from soldier ants to real soldiers to sleet that cut his face like steel, only motorists did him real damage. The drivers came too close, and passengers sometimes pelted him with bottles (in Nigeria), or with shovelfuls of gravel (in Brazil). In China in 2006 a van drove over his arm and hand. He recovered, but wondered whether his luck would last. It ran out on the road between Salonika and Athens this August, where he was knocked out of the way by a car that appeared to be chasing another.

At bad moments on his trips he had sometimes distracted himself by thinking of Devonian scenes: green fields, thatched cottages and daffodils. He would return to a nice house, a bit of garden, the job. But that thought could never hold him long. Although his body might long for the end of cycling—a flat seat, a straight back, unclenched hands—his mind was terrified of stopping. And in his mind, he never did.

(from The Economist)

Listen to a tribute show here.

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Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Lance is Back!

Lance Armstrong is coming back to race in the 2009 Tour! This is exciting news indeed: he is old, he has been out of action for years. But there's no way he would consider coming back unless he believed that he could win the thing. I will watch with interest!


Filming at -40

Photography at -40 is tough, very tough.
Fortunately Martin Hartley is tough, very tough.
Here he is snapping Ben just prior to his North Pole speed record attempt in Spring 2008.

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two worlds

two worlds, originally uploaded by miss_kcc.

Sometimes two worlds meet and one just don't understand t'other!
This picture brings back so many memories of my own ride.

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The London Gladiator rides again...

salar-1.jpg, originally uploaded by

Well, he was the only cyclist in the race, but hey, a win is still a win!

On Monday 25th August 2008, after setting off from Tooting Bec almost exactly 3 weeks earlier on his bike and after pedalling almost exactly 2000 kilometres, my good friend Tootus Maximus finally arrived in Monaco to become the winner of the first ever Gladiatour de France.

I caught up with Tootus on a beach in Nice. Whilst eating an ice cream, an exhausted and emotional Tootus said: 'I've been in a few great battles in my time, but that was tough, really tough. The first 1000 kilometres to Lake Geneva weren't too bad as it was all pretty flat, but after that, it became pretty tough in the Alps. Some of the mountains were so high that it took almost an hour and half of non-stop pedalling uphill to get to the top.

What amazing views you get from the top of those mountains though! What amazing people I met on the way too! The French and all the other cyclists I met along the way were incredibly kind. I can't wait to organise next year's Gladiatour de France for other people to take part in as it's a really original and exciting challenge to complete.'

Two further things Tootus asked me to remind you about:

1) He rode in his gladiator suit for 3 weeks from Tooting Bec to Monaco for charity. If you would like to donate, just go to Thank you to everyone who has donated so far.

2) Every now and then Tootus would like to show you a photograph or two (like the ones attached) to keep you up to gladidate with what he is up to (his next challenge will be running the Great North Run with 25 other gladiators in October). Please go to Tootus Maximus' space on Facebook and add him as a friend
so he can keep you fully informed with what he's up to.

Best wishes and keep it gladiatoreal,

Will Hodson (on behalf of Tootus Maximus)

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Ten Random Acts of Kindness

gecko, originally uploaded by

1. Wave at a baby.
2. Leave a pound in the shopping trolley.
3. Wish a telemarketer Good Luck.
4. Buy an energy-efficient light bulb.
5. If someone's sitting on their own during a pub quiz, invite them to join your team.
6. Tidy the office kitchen.
7. Spend a few minutes leaving your house/office/school in a better state than when you arrived.
8. Give someone a lift.
9. Give a disposable camera to a group of people you see having fun.
10. Give a newspaper to a taxi driver.

(with thanks to Danny Wallace and his Karma Army)


Explorers: Geographical boundaries or Human Limits?

IMG_4687.JPG, originally uploaded by

Last night I spoke at the Arete Club at the very plush Oxford & Cambridge Club on Pall Mall. Thankfully YouTube taught me how to tie a bowtie in time. The discussion was titled "Explorers: Geographical boundaries or Human Limits?"
Unfortunately I came unstuck at the first word. Google Earth has removed the need for anyone to claim to be an 'Explorer'. I don't like calling myself an 'Adventurer'; it just sounds a bit daft and puerile. And 'Writer' gives the wrong impression: I write to ride, not the other way round.
But it was an interesting evening, and I was relieved to find that the very clever audience were still curious about the sore-bum suffered by cyclists, as well as fellow speaker Jake Meyer's concerns about peeing at -70C in Antarctica!


Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Most of what I know about writing...

Most of what I know about writing -says Haruki Murakami- I've learned through running every day. These are practical, physical lessons. How much can I push myself? How much rest is appropriate - and how much is too much? How far can I take something and still keep it decent and consistent? When does it become narrow-minded and inflexible? How much should I be aware of the world outside, and how much should I focus on my inner world? To what extent should I be confident in my abilities, and when should I start doubting myself? I know that if I hadn't become a long-distance runner when I became a novelist, my work would have been vastly different. How different? Hard to say. But something would have been vastly different.

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Monday, 8 September 2008

To succeed we need to rise above the greyness

punks, originally uploaded by

I wrote a while back about the need to rise above the rest. Success comes by standing out from the crowd, offering something different, being bold and having confidence in what you do. People may not agree with you, but that's probably just because they don't understand.
Follow your own path, with pride, and do it well.

(In other news: summer is truly over. I'm back from my summer holiday, and struggling to get back into getting out of bed at 6 to hit the gym. Yuk!)

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