A to Z of Adventure
* A. Attitude. Adventure isn’t all about rowing oceans or climbing mountains. Adventure is a way of thinking. And to start any adventure you need the right attitude. Remember if there is no risk of failure or peril, then it’s not an adventure, it’s just a holiday.
* B. Blisters. Whether these be on your feet, hands or backside, make sure you tend to them asap. When I swam the length of Britain I got the smallest blister on day one and didn’t take any notice of it. Within a week it was a gaping wound that took over two months to heal. I even gave it a name. Stuart. Stuart the Scab. I still have the scar to this day.
* C. Camping. Most of my adventures are solo where I need to camp wild, on my own. This can often be daunting but as long as you set up camp late, get up early and don’t leave a mess, you’ll soon realise that no axe wielding psychopath is going to come and find you in the middle of the night. At worst a badge may pee in your tent.
* D. Dogs. As you will know, dogs find cyclist very confusing. Apparently, it’s because they think we’re animals or something. When cycling around the world dogs were chasing me constantly and I often found their owners happily let them do it. I decided to invent a game called ‘Chasing Dogs’. The goal was to see how far I could make a dog run away from its owner. Cycle too fast and the dogs gives up too early, cycle to slowly and you inevitably get bitten, as happened to me in Peru. It’s a great game.
* E. Eat. EVERYTHING. Often when you do long days and feel pretty knackered at the end, you think it’s down to lack of fitness. But more often than not you’re just not eating enough. Getting food in your system fast is super important. So much so that I once ate dog food and also asked a pub to blend my roast dinner so that I could get the calories quicker. Less digestion the better.
* F. Frame. I have tried touring on everything, (almost) aluminium, carbon, and even bamboo but I keep coming back to steel. Just writing the word ‘steel’ gives me a warm fuzzy glow inside. I love riding steel bikes, 853 is my favourite. There is something magical about it, the comfort, the skeleton like design and the fact someone needed a hammer to make it. It also makes me feel like my cycling hero; Tommy Godwin.
* G. Gnarly. When things get tough that’s when you feel alive. They call it ‘Type Two’ fun. When its cold, wet, gnarly, and miserable, you’ll hate it at the time, but years later you’ll look back and love it. That’s what you want. Make it gnarly.
* H. Heatstroke. When I cycled across The Outback I needed to drink 15 litres of water a day, roughly a litre an hour. I could only carry 6 litres on the bike so I had a three-litre bottle I’d fill up and then wave drivers down and ask them to leave the bottle 100km ahead for me on the side of the road. (Bear in mind I was cycling 250km per day) This worked a treat and helped me cross the outback.
* I. Imagination. This is something I feel will make your adventure so much better. Trying to imagine what life is like for the people past and present. Your mind will swirl with ideas and questions and this will in turn make you appreciate your adventure more and fully immerse yourself in the culture.
* J. Journal. Trust me. You may think you have the best memory in the world and no matter how amazing that unique and daring experience was at the time, you will start to forget the details so it’s important to document your journey. I do it with voice notes now. It’s great to listen back to what I was going through at the time.
* K. Keto. The nutrition debate rages war online it seems. Keto this, paleo that, high fat, grain free, etc. My advice is to try different things. We are all different and our bodies need different things. The only dietary advice I give is to eat food that has as little human influence as possible. So if you can dig it out the ground, pick if off a tree or catch it, cook it and then eat it, that’s what I like to eat.
* L. Luxuries. I remember when I cycled Land’s End to John O’Groats back in 2008. I took everything with me. A pair of jeans, trainers to cycle in, and a separate pair for the evenings, books, prayer flags I got in Tibet, hand cream, a smart shirt, and the ist goes on. I had so much stuff that on one occasion when I had to lift my bike over a barrier, I had to take all the panniers off. It was too much. You definitely don’t need as much as you think. When I bikepack nowadays I can get my entire kit down to around 15kg’s (including bike). I even go as far as only taking one pair of socks. I wash them in a river and then wrap them around my thighs overnight to dry them out.
* M. Mascot. It started out as a bit of fun but when I got Little Flying Cow (I’ll agree he’s not very creatively named) back in 2008 in a charity shop for £1, but in the past decade he’s travelled to over 40 countries with me. We’ve had the most incredible conversations and I’m certain we’ve discovered a solution for world peace in the process, then immediately forgot it due to extreme fatigue.
* N. Ngicela amanzi. This means ‘Water please’ in Zulu. Something I have written on laminated cards wherever I travel. Other useful phrases to translate onto cards are: Hotel please. Where can I get some food? Which way is Kathmandu? Where can I charge my phone?
* O. Order. Before you depart on any adventure make sure you get your life at home in order. It’ll be the little things like council tax bills, or your car running out of MOT while you’re gone that’ll annoy you. You don’t want these worries to get in the way of your adventure. Before I ran the length of Britain my car developed a tiny fuel leak a few days before I started. I couldn’t get it fixed in time so I had to drive the car as much as possible around my village and the eventually when the fuel light came on I drove up and down my road until it conked out. I then pushed the car into a park space. I knew now that I would only leave a tiny bit of fuel on the road instead of a full tank. I then put some cardboard under the leak and covered it with a bucket of sand. So make sure you sort life admin out in advance.
* P. Pistons of endurance. Remember, in order to make good progress and feel on fire make sure you concentrate on my ‘6 Pistons of Endurance.’ Planning, Food, Water, Sleep, Muscles & Mindset’ If all these are firing, your engine will run sweet.
* Q. Quitting. There will be times when you want to quit. That’s normal. In fact if there isn’t a time when you want to quit I would argue you’re not on an adventure. Try and put as many things in place to stop you from quitting. I call them ‘Dangling Carrots’. These could be raising money for charity, beating a personal best, or for me, trying to impress my wife and son. The more ‘Dangling Carrots’ you actively put in place, the more likely you’ll continue.
* R. Recovery. The more exercise you do, the worse of an athlete you become. It’s only in the recovery that you get better. Give yourself some good recovery time, eat well, hydrate and you’ll notice a huge improvement in your motivation to improve.
* S. Spontaneity. Someone famously said. ‘With enough planning, you can successfully take all the adventure out of your adventure.’ I fully stand behind this. If every day, every meal stop, every night’s accommodation is planned in advance, then where is the adventure. You’ll miss out on spontaneous opportunities like playing rock, paper, scissors in a library that turns onto a bar at night with a Mongolian throat singer and a Salvador Dali lookalike in Lhasa’s Old Town in Tibet. This genuinely happened to me. Don’t over plan. Be spontaneous.
* T. Trolls. What a bunch of simplistic halfwits. And that’s exactly how you need to think about them. When you have a big idea, for the most part, people will be very positive and supportive. There will however be one or two that decide your idea is stupid. Please remember that more often than not, their negativity towards you is stemmed from jealously. They wish they had the gumption to give it a go themselves.
* U. U-Turns. Sometimes the path or journey you’re on comes to a dead end. When I was going for the round the world cycle record, my dead end was getting run over in America. I had to make a U-Turn on the record and then concentrate on a new goal which for me was getting around the world in time for the Olympics. Yes, its wasn’t the plan but I had to make the most of my situation. Sometimes you will have to make a U-turn but as long as you keep pushing forward, you’re still having an adventure.
* V. Videos. A bit like journaling I think having videos from your adventure will become very precious to you later in life. I wish my grandparents had videos from their adventures, of which they had many and were far more perilous than anything I have done.
* W. Wind. Of all the terrible days I’ve had out on the bike, I’d say 8 of the top 10 involved wind. Whether it be tornadoes in America, being sandblasted from the side in the Atacama or the constant barrage of vortex wind created by huge road-trains in Australia, wind can really affect your adventure. Take time to research wind-roses, times of year and overall direction of travel . . . and don’t cycle around the world in a westwards direction like I did. Go east!
* X. X marks the spot. This is another brilliant memento from your adventure. Using a proper paper map and putting various ‘X’ on them while writing a bit about what you saw or did there along with the line of the route you took. It’s great to look back on in years to come. Who knows. It may one day be framed and put up in the RGS.
* Y. Yoga. Stretch, stretch and stretch again. As I approach 40 I feel the benefits of this even more. Stretching falls under the ‘Muscles’ piston too. Keep your muscles in good order and you’ll feel much better, go further and faster.
* Z. Zombies. This happens every time you get back from a big adventure. It seems the rest of the world are like zombies, walking down the street, heads down, usually staring into their phones. It’s depressing. You’ve just had the adventure of a lifetime where you engaged with people, eye to eye, and now you want to come back and share your stories but everyone seems caught up in their own little bubble and no one seems to care. This is normal. Don’t let it depress you. To relive the stories, I often turn my journal onto a novel. I like the format of a novel, but you may prefer a blog, or an editorial.
Here are a few bits of writing I have done in the past.