How To Plan An Expedition: 8 Checks to Make Before You Start Exploring

Each and every expedition you set off on is exciting. Regardless of whether you’re planning to haul an anvil up a mountain, or circle the globe in under 80 days, you’re going to need to do your homework before you finally pull the trigger and cross the start line.

Over the years I’ve had the pleasure of visiting and travelling through many countries, in particular some far-flung destinations where few humans live or have ventured. From the jungles of South East Asia, across the Sahara Desert and through to the barren beauty of the Greenland icecap – every venture has required different skills, equipment and considerations.

Rather than attempt to make this a guide to every possible environment I’m going to stick to the basics of expedition planning. In later posts we can explore more specific requirements e.g. how to plan a successful trip to the North Pole.

Know Where You Want To Go


Usually we start the analysis process with a question of why we’d want to go on any kind of expedition. Having a solid foundation in place means you’re more likely to put in the required planning and preparation as well boosting you drive. For now, let’s stick with the question of where to go.

Many factors affect this decision and I’ll go into them later in this post.

Realism forms an essential part of this step in the process. Thinking huge, ‘moonshots’ and living your dreams are great ways of motivating yourself, but, without a firm plan (and, quite frequently, money) you’re going nowhere fast.

Know Why You’re Going

Do you remember the moment your expedition first came to mind? Did it come as a flash of inspiration – maybe a desire to support a charitable cause? Or, like the first major journey of my life, did you choose your destination based on only an urge to do something different, to travel to a place that for some reason was lodged in your mind?

The ‘why’ is important, very important as it will be a key component of your drive towards completion.

Over the years I’ve used a number of different ‘why’ motivators. Here’s a few examples that will help you build a solid foundation for your plan:

1.       Self development. This is a buzz phrase that pretty much the whole world has become excited about, and for good reason. It’s fair to say that we all aspire to be something more than the sum of our parts, to achieve the ideal image we set for ourselves. And part of this voyage of self-discovery requires a degree of confidence which will receive a huge boost from knowing you are capable of testing your limits and pushing your mind and body to new peaks (sometimes, quite literally).

2.       For a cause. An old favourite and one many people choose as their why. Rather than talk about how to pick your charity, I’d like you to think about why other people should care about what you do. That’s not to say you should seek out popular organisations to support (statistics seem to indicate that 20% of the top charities receive 80% of public donations, which is grotesquely unfair as far as I’m concerned). When you’re building a plan to support your chosen cause you need to ask yourself why donors would be inclined to give via you.

3.       Because you can. Some of you might think this isn’t the best, most altruistic approach and in most cases I agree. Tweaking the idea a little can make it work and provide all the motivation you require. As an example: many years ago I volunteered for a course in the Army. The base phase was 3 months long with ongoing training and development that lasted my entire career. My ‘why’: because it was, and still is, a very hard course that I wanted to pass (my parents had always encouraged me to challenge myself). You could say that many other factors are at play here and you’re likely to be right, although ‘just because’ can work when you bolster the idea with a number of other motivators.

Building the Right Type of Fitness

Dragging tyres up and down hills is a great way to become accustomed to working in a harness, but is my least favourite way of getting fit.

Dragging tyres up and down hills is a great way to become accustomed to working in a harness, but is my least favourite way of getting fit.

If you’re going to fat bike to the South Pole, then you need to be out on a bike and putting in those miles on two wheels. Likewise, if you’re going to be trekking over hill and mountain then you’ll be putting some serious legwork whilst carrying weight. Want to the ski to one of the Poles, or many other exciting destinations around the world (such as Ash Routen’s 2017 journey across Lake Baikal)? Cool, then work on your cardiovascular and also get to know the joys of hauling tyres for mile after monotonous mile.

Although fitness is very particular, a healthy heart and lungs are essential to sustaining your body during your expedition. The old days of putting on huge quantities of fat to fuel your body during an Antarctic ski are dead (as I found out when I crossed Greenland).

Based on my own experiences and research, here are a few training programmes and tips to help you prepare:

Polar Expeditions


Eric Larsen shows you how to get into zone in this video showing one aspect of his Arctic training regime.

General prep.

Some advice on how to keep your training plan fresh by mixing it up with a number of different forms of cardio and weights.


Rather than read the whole article, I’ve extracted a key training component (bullet 3 in this Telegraph interview of explorer Ben Saunders that I use and is recommended by the likes of Dixie Dansercoer (polar exploration legend, in case you’re not sure who he is).

Trekking  Expeditions

Like polar journeys, the focus of your training will be on building up your legs. The suitable difference being that most treks require you to carry you equipment on your back (unless you’re travelling across terrain that allows you to haul a wheeled pulk.

The best resource I’ve found are the training plans available on GoRuck and I have incorporated their 50 mile rucking plan into my schedule.

The GoRuck plans are tough and if you have to reduce the intensity you can either increase you minutes per mile to suit your pace, or use something a little less intense. The Girl Guides trek training PDF is intended to be utilised by pretty much anyone, but if you find the training sessions too easy you can also ramp up the pace and weight carried.

Ultra Marathon

I don’t run ultra marathons, but my training programme will incorporate many of essentials that can be found in any one of this fantastic ultra training plan (or this massive list of resources over at Fellrnr.

Choose the Right Equipment

Your choice of equipment will affect not only your performance, but also the ultimate success of your expedition, as I discovered during my Greenland crossing. I’d taken a pair of lightweight backcountry skis which, when moving across hard packed snow, or ice, allowed me to move fast and efficiently. My problems started early into the expedition when the snow started to fall… and fall.

Instead of gliding over, or through, the snow it felt as if I were kicking an almost immovable object – the wide tips of the skis became an impediment to fluid movement.

Every journey is different as are the considerations you’ll need to give when selecting gear. Here are a few broad tips that apply regardless of where you’re going:

1. Footwear. Make sure your boots, shoes, trainers, etc are broken in even if the manufacturer guarantees you’ll never suffer from a blister…


Brand new ski boots did this! My own fault for not breaking them in.

Brand new ski boots did this! My own fault for not breaking them in.

Above is an an example of blisters I developed as a result of not breaking in my ski boots (which I’d been assured had never caused anyone any issues).

2. Don’t scrimp on equipment. Pretty much any kind of event can be expensive and it’s easy to cut costs by buying cheap gear. One word: DON’T! If you can’t afford to buy the kit you need, then beg, borrow or… don’t steal! There are plenty of companies out there who be willing to sponsor/donate the gear you’ll need. Here’s a useful resource listing companies who are willing to donate equipment (and sometimes cash).

3. Research weather pattern information. Always seek to understand the weather regardless of where your journey is going to take you. It goes without saying that a ski to the North Pole will require you to dive headlong into an environment where extreme cold is the norm, but having an understanding of the shifts in temperatures and extremes will aid in planning which gear you’ll need to take. As an example, for my 2017 crossing of Norway I pulled about 10 years worth of data that showed showing temperature shifts and the occurrence of storms. This information prepared me for the severe weather I experienced during those two weeks.

Know Your Equipment Well

Understand how to get the best out of your equipment.

Lugging the best equipment money can buy won’t be of any use unless you’re familiar in both the use and limitations of each item. For example, if you know the area you’re travelling through is lashed by heavy rainfall and freezing winds, the it’s a good idea to be confident you can erect your tent to form an emergency shelter in a few minutes.

Learn how to fix your gear.

Be confident you can repair your gear because nothing will put a bigger hole in your plans than key equipment that becomes unusable. Likewise, there will be times when some maintenance is required – reach out to anyone who has embarked on the same, or similar, journey and seek advice regarding maintenance.

Most important, learn how to carry out repairs when under pressure – nothing compares to fixing patching a hole in your tent when the winds are gusting at over 100 Mph!

The poles of my tent (the mound in the background of this image) were snapped during a violent Greenlandic storm, but after a little patching the flysheet was made serviceable and became a backup for emergency situations.

The poles of my tent (the mound in the background of this image) were snapped during a violent Greenlandic storm, but after a little patching the flysheet was made serviceable and became a backup for emergency situations.

Be Nice

Overlooked by many, your relations with other team members are critical. Small irritations can, if not dealt with, soon become major issues that fragment the group and jeopardise your journey. Everyone in the team needs to be upfront and honest and disputes dealt with as soon as possible.

Bonding sessions – aka cramming 6 people into a tent at the end of each day and sharing some booze – is great, but it is vital important that every team member be prepared to both air their grievances as well as accept that, sometimes, we simply don’t get along.

Eat, Eat, then Eat Some More

Minion cake starter, three more courses to come!

Minion cake starter, three more courses to come!

Seriously, never try to get by on less than the right amount of calories you’ll need to complete your expedition. Not only will you suffer, but you’ll put your own safety, and that of the rest of your team, at risk.

If the recommended daily intake is 6,000 calories then eat that. And then some more. Don’t worry about weight gain – every expedition I’ve taken has ended with me weighing considerably less than on the day the trip started.

I’m going to wrap this up for now. There are more factors to consider, but this list will give you a sound starting point from which you can add your own thoughts to a list tailored to your unique requirements.

One last tip…

Don’t Fool Yourself

There will be bad days. Probably lots of bad days. Your body will ache and you’ll become accustomed to hearing that voice that tells you to stop, to throw in the towel and go home. Don’t! Don’t listen, don’t stop moving.

Go into your planning with your eyes wide open, understand there will be frustrations and hardship. Then remind yourself of what awaits at the end of your trip.

Now go and start planning.

A Guide To Crossing Greenland

Greenland – The Basics

Greenland is the largest island in the world and sits in the North Atlantic ocean, just below the ice cap of the North Pole. Covering about 836,000 square miles, the bulk of Greenland is covered in ice for most of the year. For a few months of each year the extremities of the ice – on the coast – melts and plant life explodes into a dizzying array of colours and scents.

The bulk of the island’s inhabitants, 88% for the stats buffs, are Innuit – descendants of the first North American explorers who travelled across ice and sea hundreds years ago to colonise Greenland. The majority of the population lives in the coastal regions, their lives a curious mix of hunter and everyday jobs that would not seem out of place in any modern city.

12% of the population consists of people of Danish descent – Greenland’s parliament is located in Nuuk, whilst the head of state is Margrethe of Denmark.

In total, there are about 57,000 thousand islanders although this figure was recorded in 2013 and has probably increased. This number is boosted every year by a few hundred explorers, researchers and prospectors who descend upon the island in search of adventure, knowledge and the promise of mineral riches!

If, like I once thought, you’d fallen for the idea that Greenland is a barren wasteland devoid of pretty much anything of interest, then think again. There is a wealth of history and culture waiting for anyone interested in seeking out new destinations. Even at the frigid heart of the islands (or possibly ‘islands’, as research now seems to suggest) there are remnants of recent Cold History that will have the average military buff salivating with expectation.

DYE 2. Former U.S Advanced Early Warning Station in Greenland.

DYE 2. Former U.S Advanced Early Warning Station in Greenland.

The Environment

When the Vikings first arrive on Greenland their leader, xxx, was pretty unimpressed (which is rather surprising considering part of his homeland sits within the Arctic Circle and temperatures regularly plummet to minus 30 C in the winter). What may, or may not, be a myth still circulates that xxx gave the name Greenland to the island as a means of encouraging his fellow countrymen and women to strike out and expand the colonisation of this supposed paradise. Given the sheer number of Innuit living there it would be fair to say his plan failed.

So what’s it really like?


The image that springs to mind is one of a vast, barren chunk of ice with little in the way of life. And you’d be right… to a degree. Yes, Greenland is cold. Half of the land mass sits well within the Arctic Circle and winter temperatures can drop as low as minus 42 C. Don’t be fooled - summer temperatures on the ice cap can dip into the mid to low minus 20’s (during our crossing the lowest temperature we recorded was about minus 25 C).

Temperature fluctuations can be equally brutal. On some days the ambient temperature reached as high as +5C. A balmy day in the tropics and one you’d think we’d be glad of. No! When the heat rises, the snow melts and hauling a 100+kg pulk through deep, soft snow suddenly becomes a more interesting experience (imagine dragging a rock filled bath behind you. Every now and then the tub will snag on a rock, or some other immovable obstacle, and you’ll be jerked to a halt. Painful and frustrating!).

I’ll give you a detailed breakdown of gear later in this post, but two really essential items you will need are sun block for your skin and some form of lip protection. The sun will hit you from two directions: reflected off the snow and from overhead when the clouds inevitably clear and the temperatures rise.

If you’re really unlucky the snow will start to fall. Great if you enjoy festive scenes, not so much fun when the precipitation starts to melt on your clothes and gear, soaking you and your equipment in the process.

Near the coast the snow and ice covering is thin and transport is required to get to the edge of the ice cap.

Near the coast the snow and ice covering is thin and transport is required to get to the edge of the ice cap.

Cold as it may be, in many places the extent of the snow and ice does not reach to the shores. Expeditions and tours starting at Kangerlussuaq normally hitch a lift the 30km to the official start point.

Fauna and Flora

Although covered in a thick layer of ice for most of the year, Greenland supports a large number of plants as well as animal life.

Plants of Greenland

Here’s a fact that many people probably won’t believe (until they check it via Wikipedia): Greenland is home to 310 species of plant life (15 of which are unique to the island). The vast majority of this greenery is seen in the coastal regions, or when the ice recedes far enough for the plants to burst into life.

There’s also a myth there are no native trees; that really is a myth. A small, natural forest exists the Qinngua Valley. The forest consists of mainly of downy birch and grey-leaf willow.

Animal Life

The plant life scattered across Greenland might be pretty uninspiring, unless you’re researching the effects of global warming. What most of you want to hear about are the animals, in particular the creatures that might just eat you.

Polar bears live on the coast of Greenland. They hunt on the pack ice, nibbling on their favourite food – seals. From time to time, where the borders of the human race and polar bear overlap, there have been fatalities on both sides. The good news: plan the dates of your trip to coincide with the period in which the polar bears are hibernating (xxx to xxx). All expeditions should be armed, as a precaution.

Reindeer thrive in Greenland with some herds being found as far inland as xxxkm. Although they shy away from encounters with humans, it’s wise not to approach them as some males will attack and you will forever be known as the person who was beaten up by Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer.

Musk Ox are one animal I find both amazing and endearing (if only because they remind me a horned version of Dougal from the Magic Roundabout). Huge and shambling, they manage to sustain a bulky body by foraging on only hardy grasses growing at the fringes of the ice.

Arctic hares are a common sight. In fact, they so common that my first morning in Greenland, I walked out of the accommodation and saw this little chap nibbling away on the grass…

Arctic Hare: I had crawl about 20 feet and take 30 photos to get this one good image!

Arctic Hare: I had crawl about 20 feet and take 30 photos to get this one good image!


Organising a crossing of this vast island requires more than simply pitching up with your gear and then skiing the huge expanse. Rather than list every option, I’ve based recommendations my recent experience of following the 600km Nansen route across Greenland. If you choose to ski a different route the basics are near-identical, only you will likely finish your journey at a different point.

Getting to Greenland

As this is a post about crossing Greenland, we first have to get there. The island (ignore research for now, let’s assume it’s one, big happy lump of frozen love in the Atlantic) is served by a large number of airports. In the west are main airfields of Kangerlussuaq and Nuuk, to the east is Kulusuk. There are more, but the three I’ve highlighted are the likely entry and exit points expeditions will take in the first steps of their journey.

Freighting Your Gear

Getting all your gear to Greenland can be a major headache if you’re not travelling with a guided tour – all bar your personal gear should be waiting when you arrive.

In the event that you plan your own expedition you’ll need to find a reliable company to freight your pulks, food and the rest of your equipment. The key here is to travel light when you fly to Greenland, take only the essentials and ship your heavy gear via one of the many freighting companies out there.

The are many providers to pick from and I’ll let you select the one that fits with your budget and expectations. I have run into some issues with a couple of suppliers and if you want my thoughts then feel free to email me.


Treat your crossing of Greenland as any other extreme expedition by training for a skiing trip to the North Pole. Here’s a link to the list of gear I took to the North Pole (which is pretty much identical to what I used on my journeys to the North Pole and across Norway).

A couple of additions you will need to consider:

Spare Tent Poles

The weather in Greenland can turn on a sixpence and brutal storms frequently lash the ice cap. Violent storms can easily destroy a tent (as I discovered when our protective snow wall collapsed and started a chain reaction that resulted the destruction of the tent).

Worse, the weather can be so extreme that visibility drops to mere metres which makes it all the harder to find your team mates tent when you have to crash out of your own.

Short Climbing Skins

Skins are clip on strips of material that provide extra grip when climbing slopes and hauling pulks that weigh more than your own bodyweight! During my 2017 ski to the North Pole we used only full length skins, which was fine for an environment where there is very little snow.

A few seasoned veterans of Greenland told me that, once you’re up on the icecap, you’ll glide along the 600km route. This year we ran into deep, wet snow that clung to the pulk runners and the skins. Another factor that made the journey more arduous was the friction created by the full length skins – more drag equals more calories burned and higher levels of fatigue.


Back in my days in the British Army, my instructors were always ready to remind us that we should, “Train hard, fight easy!”

And to prepare for a Greenland crossing you’re going to need to train HARD if only to make the trip as pleasurable as possible. And you will be fighting – mainly against the elements on those days when temperature dips and rises are erratic and frequent; when your pulk accumulates soft snow on the runners and jars your body with every step; when you’re tired and sleep whispers for you to forget putting up the tent and lay down and close your eyes. These are the kind of battles you’ll face.

The Route

As you’d expect, there are a number of routes you can take to cross Greenland. The classic that many teams follow is the one that runs from about 30km outside of Kangerlussuaq in the west to Isortoq in the east. The total distance for this crossing is about 600km and ends when you quite literally step off the ice cap onto rock spewed out by now extinct volcanoes. This is the route my team took.

An alternative is to ski from East to West Isortoq to Kangerlussuaq. The only real difference with this second option is that you’ll be skiing with the wind to you back… most of the time. Getting up onto the ice cap is hard work, no matter which direction you travel in.

Other Routes Across Greenland

A number of other routes exist, but the one you take will depend on how you intend to cross (self-guided, or guided) and getting the necessary permissions from the Greenlandic government.

Our journey took us from Kangerlussuaq in the West to Isortoq in the East.

The Classic Greenland Crossing Route.

The Classic Greenland Crossing Route.


As blockers come this is a big one for most people. The average cost is about 24,000 euros and that doesn’t cover flights from your home country, accommodation, etc. If you run into any kind of delay (e.g. violent storms) you may miss your return flights which will result in a greater outlay for hotel costs (I’m guessing you’ll be tired of sleeping in a tent by the time you’ve finished skiing 600km!)

But there is a cheaper alternative: an official expedition which is a different classification to a tour as the latter is organised by established companies with a permanent presence on the island (even if it is only a store room full of gear).

Running a self-guided ski across Greenland is far less expensive that using a tour company. The cost of our expedition was about 6,000 per person – over 18,000 euros less than using a guide.

If you want to organise your own expedition, you’ll need to consider the following points:

·       Every member of the team should have some experience in polar regions and be able to navigate.

·       Ideally, one or more of the team should have led an expedition prior to your journey.

·       The Greenlandic authorities will require you to deliver a monetary bond that can be used in the event that a helicopter has to lift your team off the ice.

·       Seek route advice from a number of people who have skied Greenland at least once.

·       Be under no misgivings that you may be required to use a rifle in the unfortunate event that a polar bear attacks.

·       Don’t scrimp on gear or food! Yes, it’s heavy and you’ll probably grumble for the whole journey, but the difference between good and crap equipment is your life.


Crossing Greenland is a major undertaking and no part of the journey should be underestimated. Like any major trip the key to success is to plan, plan and plan some more! When your journey is done Omar Sharif will fly you to Tassilaq in his helicopter…


New Plans for 2018

Alternate plans are in place for the South Pole solo which is postponed until 2019/2020

Alternate plans are in place for the South Pole solo which is postponed until 2019/2020

It's been a while since I last updated the blog and now feel ready to get back into both blogging and adventuring. As most of you know, about six weeks ago I had to put the planned South Pole solo on hold. The full funding wasn't in place and there was no way I could afford to self-fund the journey.

Over the next few weeks I'll be blogging my thoughts on the matter both here and on LinkedIn. The idea is to provide a checklist or framework that others can use when planning their epic trips.

One idea I will be exploring is that of how to get sponsors, which seems counterintuitive considering I failed to secure the funds requited, but bear with me. Our the past 18 months I've learned a lot about who to speak to and how. More on that another day.

Existing sponsors, like Black Dog Communications, Mobile Solar Chargers and Natural Balance Foods, will get top billing for their continued sponsorship.

Planned Adventures for 2018

2017 is winding down and we are approaching year's end and the start of 2018. As we shift from one year to the next I'm going to let my disappointments fade. Lessons have been learned and dcoumented, with heavy, pen-jabbing emphasis at times. The remaining weeks of this year will be a time in which I continue to train and prepare for the next trip, which is...

...a ski across Greenland. The planning for this trip started shortly after the South Pole solo fell apart although it would be unfair of me to take credit of doing any of the planning for this journey. My good friend, and fellow adventurer, Ash Routen, let me know of a Greenland crossing, West to East, in mid-2018. The journey will cover about 600 Km and kicks off in either April or May.

Once I had the expedition lead's details I set off on a mission. The result? I'm now on the team. It's not the South Pole, but Greenland is classed as one of the 'three poles' and will be a useful, and tough, training trek as part of my preparation for 2019/2020.

Later in the year, and time permitting, I might try and sneak in an ultra-marathon (one of the two Spine Race events sponsored and run by Montane).

Both events should be good fuel for talks I've been asked to give to various organisations and schools (the Orion School will be my first port of call just before the Greenland trip).

Public Speaking GIgs for 2017 and 2018

Over a year ago, about the time I joined Toastmasters, I could have never imagined so many people would be interested in hearing the stories I have to tell. I don't mean tales of me; they come to listen to the reasons why some of us venture out in the wilds and extreme places; they come to learn something about human nature and the trials and tribulations that are a natural counterpart to endurance events.

Don't view me as an expert - that is something I am not. Instead, I like to see myself as a messenger and one whose narrative can either entertain or, better still, encourage more people to dip their toes into places where adventure still exists.

Two talked are pencilled-in for December 2017 and they will round off a pretty good year during which I've given about 12 talks, to schools and businesses. 2018 is ramping up and there are already 14 talks in my diary - for the first six months.

I need to seek permission before I post the names of companies and schools on the site - I'll link them from another page which will be added when this website is updated in January.

In the meantime I'll also be adding to my list of articles hosted on my LinkedIn account and other sites such as Medium.

Final Thoughts for 2017

The year isn't quite yet over. There have, as always, been some failures and successes: one huge failure taught me many lessons and from this has come a number of smaller successes (not the least the chance the speak in front of a couple of thousand people, which wouldn't have happened had the South Pole journey gone ahead).

You win some, you lose some. And then you win some more.

Lesson for 2017: keep going. 

Training, New Sponsors for the South Pole Ski


Yet more days of madness have passed. My training progresses well and now I can comfortably run over ten miles. My timings are nothing to write home about - I average just under eight minute miles - as the aim is to focus on distance, not speed.

I'm now also cycling for two hours a couple of times per week. I read some research that states cycling activates the same muscle groups used by cross country skiers and has been used to train a number of top ranked skiers. If it's good enough for world champions, then it's definitely good enough for me. Besides, running 5 - 6 days a week is a real slog at times.

As you may have seen on both my Facebook and Twitter feeds, the training rig has been built and tested. The first run out was over an area called the Ridgeway, a beautiful location covered in dense woodland which hides a hill created to test your lungs to the very limits of endurance. It's a tough haul to the top.

And I mustn't forget the sessions in the gym, which are nothing to do with vanity. The weight training is designed to combine muscle building with stamina - heavy lifts for a high number of reps. These sessions leave me toasted and the following day it's hard to even think about getting out of bed. That said, I'm seeing improvements in both my stamina and strength which is an excellent result.

A New Sponsor for the Trek

Now some great news: I've got a new sponsor. Black Dog Communications, a specialist comms company with offices in the USA and UK has kindly donated a sizeable sum of money to help make sure the ski happens. To say I'm overjoyed is an absolute understatement. There's still some way to go to meet the full cost of the journey, but the money given by Simon, the director of BDC, will make a huge difference.

Expect to see Black Dog Communication's logos all over my gear.

That's all for today. More over the weekend.

Racing Towards the South Pole

Some days it feels like life is a mad rush; a whirlwind that sucks away at my time and leaves me dazed and confused. Other days are sedate, more relaxed and productive.

Today was one of the latter.

Another sponsor dropped out today. I remember reading the email several times over, just to make sure I'd hadn't misinterpreted the words. And I hadn't. These days happen, they've happened several times before and all I can do is pick up the fumbled baton and rejoin the race. It's looking a little precarious right now, but that's the nature of this kind of challenge.

All is not lost as there are more people who want to talk to me. Onwards!

The Homemade Pulka, Or Sledge

The training rig is almost ready. I spent some time gathering up the components (thanks Thame Cars for those very chunky and outrageously heavy for their size tyres - perfect). I now have three tyres, karibiners, ropes and the ringed bolts needed for my homemade sledge.

The build work should have only taken a little time, but one of my drill bits broke (the one I needed to bore out the holes in the tyre rubber). It was fairly late in the morning and I was also due to give a talk to the Orion School in London. Decision made and I left the work until the following day.

Fast forward about 24 hours and here is the fruit of my labours (they tyres are called Bindi, Frentus and Ermie - the latter named after my recently deceased former battery hen, Ermintrude):

Meet Ermie, Frentus and Bindi the tyres.

Meet Ermie, Frentus and Bindi the tyres.


The Orion School

Located in Barnet, London, the Orion has around 950 pupils aged 5 - 11. Now these kids might be small, but they have big voices. The greeting they gave me was deafening! The theme of the talk was 'I can', an idea the teachers and pupils will be exploring this term.

I asked one simple question: Where do you want to go? And was astounded when one young lady said she wants to be the first person to travel to Venus. WOW! Now that's thinking big and I hope she one day makes it there.

The school also presented me with paper version of a banner they are creating for my voyage South. The final version will be festooned at the South Pole and photographed.


The finished version will be coming to the South Pole

The finished version will be coming to the South Pole

Training Day Near Miss

So I finally got the tyres out for a run through the Oxfordshire countryside. A beautiful day with the warm sun bathing the woodland and a soft breeze that helped maintain a comfortable temperature. On most training sessions I simple get my head down and go for it. Luckily today I didn't as this little guy crossed my path...

A slow worm!

A slow worm!

I haven't seen a slow worm since I was 9 year's old and this made my day. After spending some time watching it laze in the sun, I moved the worm off the track and watched slip away into the long grass.

What a great day!

I've had some doubts and wobbles recently. Now I'm back on top of it all. No matter what, this will be the most amazing step in my journey so far.

Back soon.

7 Reasons Not to Give Up on Your Dreams

Giving up. Quitting. Throwing in the towel. A tough option to consider, unless you've decided to stop smoking which is a good thing. It's probably fair to say that none of you like the idea of giving up on your dreams and ambitions, no matter what the reason.

But from time to time we find ourselves gripped by irrational fears and a deep sense of helplessness. Regardless of how hard you try, the fruit of your dreams - that chalice, or Holy Grail - seems just out of reach. At this point you start to question the value of all your hard work and you see only hardship and failure.

Something grates at the back of your mind. At first the sound is tiny, lost in the din of everyday life. Decibel by decibel it grows and it has a message for you. You recognise it as your alter ego - Doubt!

It doesn't take long for doubt to become a constant companion. The rhythm and soothing tones have weight and value. Your dreams are nothing more vapour filled images. You discard your plans. And why not? After all, there's someone else more capable who can get the job done - you might as well leave it to them.

I was there, right on the threshold of pulling the plug to my journey to the South Pole. And I'm not a man who gives up easily, ever.

A short conversation changed my mindset, brought me to back to why I'm doing this and who I am. After a lengthy and sometimes heated phone call I came away with renewed vigour. (Vince, have you ever thought about a career move into motivational speaking? You are a true friend).

Once Vince's attitude readjustment message gelled in my mind I took some time to think about 7 good reasons for not giving up on your plans. Let's go!

If We Give Up Nobody Else Will Make Our Dreams Come True



Yes, someone else might pick up the baton and make part of your dream come true, but they won't achieve every aspect of what you set out to do. When we dream big we're creating a story we want to see through to the end. That tale is personal to us and only we know the subtle variations and interconnected stories that make it different from any other.

Each and every one of us has desires. On paper they might look similar; the how and, more important, the why very rarely is.

We make dreams for a reason. And once you've crafted that image you'd better be prepared to make it come true because nobody else will do it for you.


Quitting Becomes An Accepted Route

Every path we choose is littered with debris. The route we take is sometimes winding and takes us a long way out of our comfort zone. That's fine because if we don't experience trials and hardship we will never learn new and innovative ways to achieve our aims.

And in the same way we learn from adversity we also learn from giving up. The constant use of the phrase 'I can't' creates what some describe as a hardwired neural path. I'm not a fan of this description - to me it's a habit and one that can easily take control of your life.

When we constantly give up on our dreams we are creating a default position. We forget to stop and think, to plan our path. It doesn't take long before we give in to the voice we created.

Because Believing in Unicorns is Fun


Do you believe in unicorns, or do you fall into the camp that says they're just a myth created to entertain children and adult alike? If you're in the latter camp my daughters might disagree with you. And so do I.

Some of my former colleagues might now be questioning my sanity - bear with me for a minute.

Unicorns are very real and for one simple reason: they were created by storytellers whose aim was to deliver a message. The unicorn is a merging of a couple of very real animals - possibly the oryx and a horse, or in some cases the Ghudkhur (an Indian ass).

And our dreams are the same - a union of different stories we make real.

Keep believing in unicorns - they exist!

Giving Up Can Destroy Our Self-Image

Who are you and why are you here? We've all asked ourselves that question at one time or another and most of us have an idea. Some of you probably have your life mapped. A friend of mine, a guy now in his fifties, created a rough plan back when he was in his late teens.

He saw himself joining the Parachute Regiment, moving on to the SAS and finally on to a new life outside of the Armed Forces. And he achieved nigh on everything he set out to do. His self-image is intact.

But when we quit too soon, or too easily, the view we have of ourselves becomes threadbare and transparent. The rich tapestry that is the tale of our lives unravels and soon there is nothing but pile of faded material that was once our dreams.

Because to Keep Going Won't Physically Hurt

We might fail to achieve our aims. It's also possible we could stumble at the very first hurdle. And there is no shame in that. We might feel frustrated or even angry, but at least we gave it a shot.

Look at the world around you - how does it look from where you are? You're reading this post which means you probably have a dream, or a plan, to make some lasting change. To me that means the world seen through your eyes doesn't look complete. And that is why you've started on a journey.

To keep going might see you lose 'friends', money or even your home, but it won't hurt. You'll probably feel the sting of failure and it's something to learn from. The raw weals caused by quitting will hurt you

deep in your soul.

Our Stories Will Never be Told if We Quit


We started on our journeys because we had something to say. The message might be an internal dialogue or a grand message to an audience keen to feel the rollercoaster through the words and images we craft. Pushing on the escape bar when there's no emergency in sight will rob us and our followers of a rip-roaring yarn.

I've been giving public talks for some time now (to both schools and businesses) and trust me when I say there are many people who want to hear about your journey, especially how you overcame seemingly insurmountable odds (like quitting...)

The moment you quit YOUR story dies.

Being Stubborn is a Good Thing

You know what you and want and you've chosen your path. Nobody is going to side-track you because you're decisive and this in turn drives your perseverance to new heights. Yes, when used in a sensible way stubborn can be an excellent tool for getting the job done.

When we make plans we need to know why we're doing it and where the journey is going to take us. We also need to be willing to make hard decisions along the road, when to glide around obstacles and roll with the bumps and hits we're going to experience.

When we practise being stubborn with our self-made plans we make ourselves accountable. And that's no bad thing.

If I'm Not Going to Quit, What Now?

Back to the plan. I have my good friend Vince to thank for nudging me back on track. Once his words had settled I realised that giving up on this current stage of my plan would have a massive and detrimental effect on the next steps I've envisioned.

Throwing myself in a corner and letting melancholy take over is not me. It's not you either

How to Deal with Frustration

Every now and then we run into that little thing called frustration. The thing about frustration is it can be minor or huge.

About six months ago I thought I was in a position to start wrapping up the last stages of the corporate sponsorship. On paper I had two companies who between them were prepared to sponsor me more than the full cost of the trip to the South Pole.

About five months ago one of them dropped out. A month later the second company pulled the plug on their involvement.

Some of you might think I was angry - I wasn't. There are two things to consider here; the first is that this is a lesson. And the lesson is this: never stop searching for sponsors until you have exactly what it is you need. The second is that, well, the stuff just happens. One of the companies saw a massive drop in profits and decided lay off a large number of the staff. Others within the business were made the reapply for their  jobs. The second company simply decided it could not commit to their original pledge. That's life, these things happens.

Seeing both companies drop out of the running did leave me frustrated. You see, I am now right back at square one. I have a few sponsors in place and I'm talking to more, but I had thought that by now I've been a position to focus purely on raising funds and awareness of supported charities.

What Have I Learned About These Frustrations?

First, never put your eggs all in one, or two, baskets. At the time things were falling apart, a friend of mine asked me an irritating question which went along the lines of, "Mate, why did you stop looking for sponsors?"  To me the answer was obvious - two had already come forward and pledged the full amount. I didn't need anybody else.

As it turns out that my friend was right and even having secured corporate sponsors I should have continued to look for others. Maybe I could have persuaded them to fund either of the two charities.

Lesson One: Never Stop Shipping

Ship the story! Always!

Promises are one one thing, money on the table is a completely different matter. I'd taken both companies at their word. The money was pledged and all I have to do is wait for them to send the cheques to  pay for the trip to the South Pole.

I never expected either company to back out, but that is what happened and I had nothing in reserve. 

Keep looking for anyone who might be interested in investing in the journey and tell them the story (and the voyages you make are investments, for both you and your sponsors)

At the end of the day you need to have a plan for every possible eventuality, even if it goes something like, 'Panic and set fire to own hair'.

Lesson Two. Keep Pushing Until the Money is in the bank.

No money, do not pass go!

This goes hand in hand with the first lesson. Until you see cold, hard cash in your account then you need to keep pushing. Even having secured the verbal agreement of twenty sponsors, you still need to coax them into opening their purses.

Only when you have money in the bank should you relax.

A good guideline for securing funding is to engage as many people in the company as possible. Make it personal and get everyone involved.

Lesson Three. Planning this Kind of Event isn't a One Man Job

During the build up to this trip I have been training 5 to 6 days a week, looking for corporate sponsors, getting news out about the charities and what they do, working my day job and running the social media campaigns. Okay, the latter was sporadic at times, but I've now stepped up a gear and you'll see many more posts.

And I managed to burn out!

Learn from my mistakes and get help. Ask friends, family and even local businesses to help you push out news of your trip. Maybe some of them will help by taking on some of your workload.

There is one major frustration I do have one that is around companies approaching me with a view to striking up a partnership (sounds good, right? Bear with me...) A number of organisations have come forward and stated they would like to have their logos splashed all over my equipment (and naked body - more on that another time). For a time talks progress well and we share thoughts on how we can spread the news further and wider. The problem comes when we stop talking cash - a couple of businesses were surprised they would have to pay for and advertising slot. One suggested that having their log on my gear would be beneficial to me due to their huge customer base. I declined their kind offer!

Let me wrap up this post by venting my frustration: Yes, if you want your logo, or company name, on either my gear, or body, you'll have to pony up some cash.

I have now returned to a state of calm.

See you tomorrow.

How to Reach the South Pole - Step 1

About 20 months ago I was invited to a small music session being run for disable people. The idea in the words of Soundabout, the charity running these events, is that, "...people with learning disabilities should have a musical life that is interactive, that enhances their lives and learning". But what does this mean? On this particular day, I was granted access to a session being run for young children. Some of those boys and girls are severely disabled.

I'm not a cruel person, but I did wonder what value music could bring to the lives of these, a number of whom needed almost constant care and were unable to perform even the basics functions many of us take for granted. Scepticism is a useful addition to our mental bag of tools. On that day the sceptic in me was pummelled into submission (and not by the staff of Soundabout, who are a delightful group of professionals).

Today is not the right time for telling you the story of my first visit to Soundabout. The meeting did have a dramatic impact on how I view the world and I like to think I came away a better person.

Fast forward a few months and I was preparing to fly out to Norway in preparation for my Last Two Degrees ski to the North Pole. Charities had already been chosen for this journey, but my mind kept searching for ways to raise funds for Soundabout. And then it hit me: number two on my ten year plan is to ski solo to the South Pole. What better way to raise awareness and funds for those amazing people; the staff and the children and adults who take part in the music sessions.

It was at that point I realised I'd found a reason. It really was that simple.

Step one in my journey to the South Pole has been ticked off - I have a reason.

A short intro, back tomorrow.

No Matter What, Keep Smiling

As many of you will know, I have just returned from two weeks in Norway. The plan had been to ski from Finse, on the edge of the Hardangervidda, down to Hellevassbu and then back (distance of about 500 km).

Sadly, my skis were not loaded onto the plane at London, a delay that cost me two days. Worse, the region was hit by a number of storms which reduced visibility to almost zero and made travel dangerous. Coupled with thick mountain mists and very deep, soft snow I was forced to adjust the overall distance planned. In the end I managed to cover about 250 km in eight days and a half days.

To be honest, I am fairly happy with the mileage I got out of this small expedition. The conditions made the journey more draining than last year's trip to the North Pole (I mean that). Pulling a 70kg pulk through snow drifts, some knee deep, was hard work. Each night I slept sound in my sleeping bag (except the night i forget to zip up the fly sheet - a mistake I discovered in the morning).

And there's another reason for the big smile on my face - I found away to keep the loneliness and doubts at bay.

This is no big secret, but before I go on I'll explain a little about positive thinking (a practise I don't believe in).

For many years, gurus and scientists have produced books and seminars showing how you can propel yourself to success using only the power of positive thoughts. You know what I mean - visualise yourself achieving your goals, picture your perfect future, and it will all come to be. Once you've planted the seed in your mind those clever neurons will find a way to make it happen.

There's only one problem - it doesn't work!

And why not?

Because of this...

Our Lazy Brains

Really, I mean - my brain is lazy and so is yours. That lump of grey matter in your head will do all it can to find a way to make life a little easier.

Here's how it works:

Scientists have found that visualisation can be an effective means to motivating us to complete the challenges we take on. Imagining a desired outcome should motivate our brains to achieve. Sadly the human brain doesn't really recognise the difference between imaging and doing. By simply picturing your wishes you make you mind think you have already completed what you set out to do. In other words, there is no longer any motivation for you to continue striving for what you want.

But more recently traditional thinking has been turned on its head. You see, the visualisation process works, but instead of simply imagining myself achieving a result you have to picture yourself going through the process - imagine the potential problems you could encounter and then mentally rehearse overcoming them. And it does work.

There is one little issue - the problem of the here and now. Often we'll find ourselves bogged down in some difficult or arduous situation and it becomes all to easy to give in; our willpower flags and before you know it we have surrendered. And that's something none of want to do.

So what is the trick?

A simple smile. Really! Putting a huge smile on your face and, instead of telling yourself, 'I can do this', you say, 'I am doing this.'

This little mind hack works. There were a number of times during my Norway ski where I found myself exhausted. I was sometimes knee deep in soft snow as I dragged a 70kg pulk over the mountainous terrain of the Hardangervidda. This alone was enough to drag me down into what felt like an inescapable pit. It was during these lows that I recalled Richard Wiseman's advice in '59 Seconds' - smile and you'll instantly feel your spirit lift.

The advice Wiseman gives is counter to the old adage of think good thoughts and instead focusses on acting to promote good vibes. Research by Wiseman and his peers has shown that by forcing yourself to smile you trick your mind into believing you are happy. Sounds crazy, but it worked for me as it did for  many of the subjects of his experiments.

Obviously feeling good doesn't remove the feelings of fatigue. What it does do is squeeze out any doubts you may have in your mind - there's simply no time or room for negative thoughts.

And this is one very powerful method I used when times looked bleak or when my blisters started to complain.

Crazy as it may seem, lifting up your head and letting a huge grin spread across your face could mean the difference between success and failure.

Try it.

Toby's Story

I've been away for a while! The last four months have been a busy time during which I have planned for both the Norway 350 and South Pole solo. Important stuff, but trivial when compared to the reasons why I will completing these two treks. As many of you are aware, I will be raising awareness of, and for funds for, and Meningitis Now. It's important to give an insight into the critical and vital work both organisations do, and the support they provide. To achieve this aim I made a request to one of the parents of a young boy who was left profoundly disabled by Meningitis. The reply blew me away! I hope it will do the same to you.

Instead of listening to me, please read on and take some time to see into the life of Toby and his family.

Toby was born on 29 April 2008, Andy and I were thrilled, terrified and extremely excited all at the same time at the arrival of our first child, our perfect baby boy. He was born a very healthy 7lb 8 oz and thrived for the first 8 months of his life, Andy and I learnt ‘on the job’ as all first time parents do.

Our lives were turned upside down on the night of 30 December 2008. Toby had been unwell, with a heavy cold the days prior to this and we had even taken him to the local A&E the previous day as he was not himself. We were visiting family over the Christmas period so away from our local GP services. Toby was checked and sent home but then that night the devastation on Pneumococcal Meningitis and Septicaemia attacked our baby.

Toby was raced into A&E again and fought desperately for his life. With a huge amount of medical intervention he survived. We were transferred immediately up to The Evelina hospital in London where Toby spent over a week in Intensive Care and a further month in hospital back in Oxford after that.

Toby now has many challenges, he has Cerebral Palsy and is in a wheelchair. He has Cortical Visual Impairment, Hearing Impairment, Epilepsy and is non verbal. There are countless things that Toby can’t do but despite this he has developed hugely over the last 8 years in his own special way and is learning a little bit of independence. As parents we have had to come to terms with the loss of our perfect healthy baby and become ‘an Army’ for our little boy that survived this cruel disease. We as a family, and Toby, have to fight for everything, nothing in the world of Special Needs is easy or straight forward and EVERYTHING comes with a huge price tag.

Meningitis Now have however helped us enormously, when the words ‘Special needs’ is added to anything the cost rockets sky high and sadly the equipment that Toby requires is never ending and funding form the Government and Councils is ever decreasing. Meningitis Now have funded essential counselling for Andy and I, a wonderful off road wheelchair/bike trailer for Toby as well as helping with funds for our essential house renovation to enable Toby to live comfortably at home and be a part of the family. Most recently they also helped to part fund the payment of our Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle.

Toby and us have also been fortunate enough to get to know the wonderful team at Soundabout. They have known Toby for over 7 years and have provided much fun through music therapy. They help children express themselves and learn to communicate using their own sounds. They have given us the confidence to allow Toby to be himself and express himself and have a wonderful way of including all the family, not only parents but siblings too.

Toby is thriving in his own little way, through the help of these charities hopefully he, his friends and all those who are in similar positions to us will continue to do so.

There can be no finer endorsement than one given by those who depend on the help and support of these amazing charities, don't you agree.

Thank you for your time and expect regular updates on progress, awareness days, fundraising and more.