Posts Tagged ‘inspiration’

Rob Lilwall - Cycling Home from Siberia

Finished off reading another book the other day, this time by Rob Lilwall, Cycling Home from Siberia, and it was a pretty enjoyable read about a great journey.

Rob was a Geography teacher in England and decided to leave his job to go with his friend Al Humphries (who was on a round-the-world cycle journey) from the far east of Russia back to the UK, via Japan… though it ended up, for Rob at least, going over 30,000 miles through Korea, China, Papua New Guinea, Australia, China (again) and Tibet, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan…. to name but a few of the places! So quite an epic journey, and one that would take Rob a good three years to complete.

Rob's RouteAlong his journey he would face bitter and freezing temperatures and winds, jungles; highly dangerous and life threatening situations in some of the most hostile countries in the world; malaria… though at the same time, he shows how he met so many remarkable and fantastic people who would help him on his journey and show massive generosity to him so as to be of help. He even met his future wife along the route! While showing this, Rob also explores more into the spiritual side of things, particularly with his Christian beliefs, and it his interesting seeing his take on the various different religions that dominate the different countries he goes through. The way he respected and was open to learning about other beliefs – Islam, Buddhism, Orthodox Christianity, among others along the way, was also extremely interesting, especially as some of these subjects can be so sensitive these days.

The way that Rob just left everything behind to do this journey certainly attracted my attention – not even with any sponsorship; just life savings, and it’s quite inspirational in many senses. For anyone who is afraid of travelling around on a budget, the book is an eye-opener… he managed the three years on a total budget of about $18,500 (though his friend Al went around the world on about $11,000). He would camp and stay with people he met along the route and people he met through charities and organizations. Even in the most hostile of places, he was able to get support.

So yup, I would recommend this, even if you are not planning on going on a long distance bike ride like this – and who knows, by reading it, it might awaken ideas in you that might see you take off and get to know the world in ways you had never dreamed!

Aside from the book, check out Rob’s blog, – since completing his journey he has also been on a few other adventures including walking home 5,000km from Mongolia to Hong Kong. He has also a television series for Nat Geo Adventure and you can find on YouTube 0 definitely worth checking out!

The long road ahead...

Lately, we’ve been talking a lot about rock climbing on the 360Extremes Expedition blog. Ben, in his last post, highlighted some of the places we’ve been climbing and why we think it’s so important to learn strong fundamentals of climbing. I wholeheartedly agree and actually spoke with someone the other week that reinforced this thought. In turn, it sidelined my Farewell to Arms review…

I want to talk about Jim Wing. I randomly (as with most internet findings) found a blog post on Jim’s website about his climb of Mount Washington and how he planned on doing a solo attempt. Since that time, he’s returned to New Hampshire for a solo attempt of the summit and wrote about it in a couple different episodes. I myself am interested in climbing Mount Washington but not wanting to pay the (sometimes) high price of a guide, I contacted Jim and asked him about training, what he did to prepare, and how he feels about going back alone.

Jim turned out to be a fascinating man. A Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) coach at the age of 50, he only recently has gotten into mountaineering and has the passion to pursue it with great success. As we talked about his past and his future in terms of technical mountaineering he recalled to me something his Mt. Washington guide said about his pursuit of the high peaks of this world: “Jim, if you want to get into climbing mountains, you should really learn how to rock climb.” So he did, and currently climbs at a local gym when he’s not teaching MMA.

Mt. Washington on the horizon as seen from the summit of Mt. Lafayette

Rock climbing, on top of teaching us technical know-how of knots, belaying, safety systems and more – which also translate to a variety of other uses such as canyoning, mountaineering, sailing and more – provides the participant with a mental aspect of training that I can only compare to other extreme sports. To rock climb or climb mountains successfully (or even to swim long distances and dive deep on one breath) requires a level of focus and commitment that can sometimes be strange to people not accustomed to it. This is not to say they aren’t focused or committed! But when your hands are on a crimper and the next foot hold is only couple centimeters wide and the only way to reach it is to have your knee in your chest (also called a high-step), there’s a certain level of trust of yourself, your body movements, your belayer and ultimately the rock. Trust – you need enough to believe that you’ll be able to reach the next hold without falling.

While top roping, a slip is less precarious and detrimental to the climb than in trad climbing. Last Sunday, while seconding Farewell to Arms I didn’t have a choice for a fall – I had to make the traverse. But more on that later. For now, it’s good to reflect on the small progressions we make towards our next move and how that helps us complete the whole pitch. Our small moves today for 360 Extremes will help us complete this whole project.

How about you? How do you break a project into small, manageable parts? How do you plan for your big adventures?

As Ben and Natalia traverse their way through busy Sao Paolo streets, I find myself in a wintry suburban setting in northern New Jersey. Needless to say, it’s quite a different atmosphere and lifestyle than what they are experiencing in the Southern Hemisphere. The chaos that ensues during their commute everyday is palpable in their writing and pictures.

A Snow-less Winter

For those of you who have been around the northeast of the United States this winter, you know how mild it’s been. If we’ve gotten snow, it’s stuck to the ground for a day before temperatures shoot past freezing and melt it all away. It’s a bit unfortunate as this was the winter I really wanted to practice winter backpacking, camping and snow travel skills. As a result I’ve been spending a tremendous amount of time at the climbing gym either working or training and climbing.

The Gravity Vault Bouldering Wall

Tucked away on a small highway in Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, the Gravity Vault is a hidden gem among rock climbing gyms. Most people who enter for the first time end up telling me, “I’ve lived here my whole life and never knew this existed!” They are even more surprised when I tell them it’s been in business for about seven years. A couple years ago the owners opened a second location further south. I can only hope that they are looking for a third and that rock climbing is taking off in New Jersey.

For the past 4 years I’ve been in and out of my current home, a place where suburbia seems to go on forever, to various places around the world, though Peru and India in particular. Each time I arrived home I would walk into my familiar kitchen with its familiar red chairs and look out the same window to see my neighbors familiar expensive cars in their driveway. It was always then that that culture shock hit me the hardest. As if seeing all this luxury and easy living for the first time. Almost as if I didn’t want to believe suburbia existed. Yet, it does.

If I keep typing about suburbia, I will without a doubt start to sound overly negative. I’m still unsure what it is about this place that leaves me yearning to see the rest of the world. Finding my climbing gym and my new job however, eases that yearning into something manageable. The Gravity Vault has been a little oasis amidst all the culture shock. Through the Gravity Vault I’ve met people like Todd Asher Bergstein, an athlete for Endure to Cure, who is currently on the ridges of Aconcagua looking to summit the mountain in support of pediatric cancer.

Bouldering Support

I’ve also met a community of climbers so supportive it scares me. On-lookers yell beta to the climber as he or she crimps to the wall looking for the next move on that hard V5 problem. The setters at the gym are coaches as well and say “Hi!” to everyone they see. The coaches just sent a bunch of their youth climbers to national climbing championships. The assistant manager of the gym came in first in the last competition. The staff regularly takes walks around the gym to talk with clients about beta, bouldering problems and routes, outdoor climbing spots and any trips people are taking. The Gravity Vault is also the psuedo-home to the Torne Climbers Coalition, a group of young and old local climbers fighting for access at a nearby crag.

The influence and enthusiasm of this place is inspiring, and while I haven’t dropped the news on the climbing community at this gym yet, I can only hope for their support as I train more seriously for 360Extremes. In all this, for those of you who struggle with your own home life and surroundings: keep the faith. In the suburban sprawl of expensive cars, huge mansions, and designer brands, I am elated to know that I have a diamond in the rough and a community to boot. You will find yours too. Keep searching.

A Climber

Both Natalia and I have always been interested in wildlife and another of the main aspects of this journey will be looking at wildlife and biodiversity as the environments change the further north/south we get.

We were in British Columbia, Canada at the end of autumn and we saw about six or seven big brown bears in one day. One was ambling along a road in front of us; a couple of others were happily fishing away, most likely aware of our presence though far enough away to feel happy enough to accept it. In a tense moment, one stopped and stared at us from the other side of a stream as we stood absolutely still, sniffed… and then just walked away…

Towards the end of the day, we found a mother grizzly bear and her two-year old (most likely – we decided that it might be a bit unwise to check up close and personal) cub. The mother was teaching her cub how to fish, and the cub was following its mother, navigating the tree trunks and enjoying the salmon he/she was being given… Beautiful!

Each of the bears had their own personality, tied in with their natural instincts, and it was possible to see this even during the short time we were there. Each have to survive in an unforgiving environment the best they can. We hope that our journey will let us explore this more as it takes us through more such environments.

One of the questions lots of people have asked us as our project has moved forward is why Mount Everest as well as everything else…!? Isn’t life going to be hard enough and surely you need years of experience to be able to climb this mountain? Isn’t it incredibly dangerous? Is it really essential for us to complete it in order to complete the full circle of the world? – indeed, once we are in Nepal at Kathmandu, we will need to head north-east in order to get there and we will go back to Kathmandu once we have completed the journey.

What is more, by attempting to climb Everest, we are going to make the who journey last about a year longer than if we just waved hello to the people going up, because of the seasonal climbing windows for timing the North Pole, the South Pole and the Everest aspects of the expedition.

No, from the point of view of completing the circle, Mount Everest is not essential. Yes, it is dangerous and yes it is a bit out-of-the-way. There are all sorts of challenges with climbing it – not least is that of altitude sickness, with decreasing oxygen pressure as we go higher up: the world’s highest peak stands at 8,848 metres above sea level, and we generally start feeling the effects at around 2400+ metres. Exhaustion is a problem and at those heights, it takes much longer to walk even the smallest of distances. The weather on the mountain is also a massive challenge – with the cold, the altitude and the wind… you get stuck in a storm when you are exposed and… well that will be the end of your story, and you might keep in mind that there are about 150 bodies on the mountain that have never been recovered.

Well, we have the romanticism of childhood dreams; admiration of Mallory, Hillary & Tenzing, Bonnington and of course Ranulph Fiennes, and just the very thought of standing on the roof of the world. Also, after having been to base camp on the Tibetan side, and remembering how much in awe we all were of the mountain, it would be great to go back and make the ascent.

However, more importantly, one of the main points of this expedition is about facing the extreme environments that are on the Earth, and the challenges they present. This is why we are taking two and a half years to train for these challenges prior to embarking, and why we will continue training during the expedition with climbs of various mountains on the way, and why we will also work with experts who have climbed the mountain before. Also, whilst individuals have reached the two Poles and Everest, they have done so in separate projects – this will be the first to manage them all in one larger project… which would be incredible..! Just imagining the sense of achievement is quite a powerful factor. So whilst not essential for the whole 360 Extremes expedition, Everest is certainly a key point.

Ultimately, as with any climber going up Everest, we are going to have to really respect the mountain. If the weather is against us, we won’t make the ascent. One of the biggest challenges will be to know if and when we are beat, and it is the most important challenge. There will be no sense of shame in turning back as safety is the most important point and we won’t compromise this.

I guess I have written briefly about some of the inspiration behind this, but I think it is worth a little more on the subject…

The initial thoughts for this project have been growing for some time – with the early seeds set in childhood, reading about Scott, Amundsen and Hillary, and previous explorers going to then unknown parts of the world; one of my favourite books was Water Music by Tom Coraghessan Boyle, based loosely about a Scottish Explorer, Mungo Park, who went twice to try to find the course of the Niger; dying on the ill-fated second journey. Mungo Park was someone who became intoxicated by exploration and Africa in particular; so intoxicated he would give everything for his thirst for it. Those were truly adventurers, and I often find myself imagining what it would have been like to be an explorer from the west at those times when there was so much to know about the world and we didn’t have Google Maps and Earth to show us everything.

It all began to click further into mind when I lived in China a few years ago – a place which had, prior to my living there, been a complete unknown for me – the undiscovered country, as it were. Shanghai was (and still is, in my mind) a fantastic city to live and work in with so much happening… Going up to the north of the country in winter and experiencing the amazing ice and snow festival in Haerbin – where it was about -40C for the entire time I was there; the river was frozen over completely and there was an entire city made out of ice. I remember the stillness of the place walking back a few kilometres from the ice city to my hotel at 2am; quite beautiful. …

Travelling down along the North Korean border and seeing those security cameras looking over the iced-up river; climbing some of the sacred mountains in the country; and eventually going to Tibet and trekking through the Himalayas to Mount Everest Base Camp with the summit of Everest being revealed through the cloud for, according to the locals at a nearby monastery, the first time in a couple of months. So many spectacular places; interesting people, strange foods (fried silk worm was a particular favourite)… Then you get the massive history of the region, the fantastic stories (among others) of Marco Polo going along the Silk Road, and realise how the eastern and western civilizations have traded with each other for thousands of years.

One of the big parts of this expedition that I am really looking forward is being able to go back through China again, though part of this expedition is about seeing how the cultures, foods and peoples change as we go through different climate zones, and from my experiences living in different countries… I am certain that we shall meet many surprises that will challenge our initial ideas and preconceptions as the journey progresses…

It has been a nice three weeks for me here in London – catching up with friends and family over Christmas and New Year. Will be flying back to São Paulo later tonight so I will enjoy the last day – off to see the Wildlife Photography exhibition at the Natural History Museum and will find a couple of galleries.

It has also been quite productive as well. Saw the Scott-Shackleton & Antarctic exhibition at the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace and one cannot fail to be inspired by either of these two great adventurers. Went to the Royal Geographical Society and read a couple of expedition reports there – one regarding Michael McGrath’s Pole2Pole expedition in 2002 and 2004, and one regarding the Kaspersky Lab Commonwealth Expedition. Both projects were incredibly inspirational and further reinforced my desire to do this project.

The Pole2Pole project was conducted by Michael McGrath, a chap who has the rare muscle disorder, Muscular Dystrophy when, in 2002 and 2004 he became the first disabled person to reach the North Pole and the South Pole respectively. After having had Muscular Dystrophy for over 20 years by the time he completed his expeditions, Michael had very little physical strength and suffered from the cold much more than any able-bodied person due to a less efficient circulatory system – though he and his team managed to make it.

The Kaspersky Lab Commonwealth Expedition saw eight women from the Commonwealth countries of Cyprus, Ghana, India, Singapore, Brunei, New Zealand, Jamaica and the United Kingdom brave blizzards, crevasses and temperatures below -30C as they ski over 900 kilometres across Antarctica to the Geographic South Pole. Many of these women had never experienced anything like snow or sub-zero temperatures before!

Certainly, both projects inspire people to really reach beyond the expectations of others and I hope that the 360Extremes expedition can help reinforce this message – with hard work and determination, we can achieve so much; we just have to really push ourselves and try!!!