A Journey to the Edge of Faith

Over the horizon is where faith begins, or ends.

Over the horizon is where faith begins, or ends.

Faith is a powerful word that carries different meanings for each of us. For some it is an acknowledgement of religion; the belief that, no matter what, God, or some other deity, is watching out for us. Other people see the word as something that’s internal to them - an anchor used to root themselves firm during times of mental or physical turbulence. And pretty much every man and woman on the planet understands the act of having faith in others.

Now ask yourself what happens when this linchpin snaps and leaves us floundering as we search for answers, meaning or, more often than not, an escape route.

During the course of my life I’ve had come notable failures. Not minor blips, but body checks that left me staggering and sometimes fearing for my own life. More important, what questions did I ask myself? Were the answers obvious, or not?

A Tale of No Fire and Abundant Ice.

Several years ago, in 2014, I decided that skiing to the North Pole would be a great idea. Some of the story is captured in a previous post where I delved into mindset and getting things done. But there was more to the tale than I told.

Prior to heading off on this expedition I spent some time training with Conrad Dickinson, a certified polar guide, who has trained the likes of Blue Peter presenter Helen Skelton as well as leading one of the Walking with the Wounded teams on their journeys to the North and South Pole.

After an intensive weekend where I learned the essentials required for polar travel I decided to put some of my refreshed skills to good use by heading over to Finse, Norway and spending a few days skiing the edge of the Hardangervidda.

As you’d expect, prior to leaving I spent several days preparing my gear and researching historic weather conditions. The graphs and stats shown on the Norwegian xxx website suggested an average of -10C during mid-February. I erred on the side of caution and packed a sleeping bag rated to -15C.

Two days into the journey I came to an incline affectionately called ‘Hell hill’. The day had been long and darkness was drawing in so I persuaded myself to camp for the night, rest and be ready for a hard climb the following day.

After pitching my tent, I transferred essential gear from the pulk into the vestibule. So far so good.

A cool breeze rolled down off the hills and across the valley where I’d camped. For a time it felt as if I was on some idyllic holiday. Until my cooking stove decided to stop working.  At first I wasn’t concerned - the MSRs can be temperamental - it had been tested before I left the UK and I’d also packed spares parts.

Twenty minutes later, the valves and pipes cleaned, I attempted to fire up the MSR. No luck.

It was at this point I became aware of a significant temperature drop. Even with a pair of down-filled tent boots my feet felt cold. Half an hour later I’d replaced every component of the stove and still it wouldn’t work. I cursed the useless hunk of metal.

The cold was starting to bite.

Rifling through my grab bag I pulled out my Kestrel portable weather station, opened the cover and waited for the temperature to settle. Finally the moment came, when like a perverse roulette wheel settling on black when I’d bet on read, the reading stopped at -19C.

Gusts of wind ripped through the valley, shifting and battering my tent from ever changing angles. Cold bit deep and my toes became numb. At this point most people would start to worry. Being a normal person that’s exactly what I did.

Darkness had now settled across the land. I was cold and hungry. A thought came to me: climb into the sleeping bag and sleep. In the morning have another attempt at repairing the stove, eat and then move on.

So I slid into the comforting embrace of my sleeping bag and slept. For a short time. Even wearing an extra layer of clothing failed to keep me warm - I knew at this point the temperatures had dropped even further.

Numbness nipped at my fingertips. My feet felt like… nothing. Really, nothing. No pain when I pinched the pale skin of my ankle (having suffered frostbite on an Army course I no longer have any feeling in my toes so it’s pretty pointless using them as an indicator of how bloody cold I might be).

A couple of options now presented themselves: to remain in my sleeping bag in the vain hope that the now raging storm would back off and the temperatures rise, or move in order to generate some heat.

Fifteen minutes later my equipment was packed in the pulk and I was ready to go. Before collapsing the campsite I’d examined my maps and plotted a route to an area that would provide shelter from the storm.

Long shadows stretched out before me - silhouettes of high rock formations and vast snow drifts that made the terrain look more angular and difficult to cross. I laughed at the tricks my mind had decided to play.

Gusts of wind screamed down the valley, slapped me hard on the back and nudged my pulk into life.

The cold leeched heat away from my hands. Holding my skis poles would soon be impossible.

I set a bearing, identified a reference point and skied.

The next three hours are a blur. Hulking shadows and nature’s violence are constant memories of what was an incredibly hard ski needed to climb out of the valley and reach a natural shelter.

Tired, but warm from exhertion, I found a spot where the wind was less violent than down in the valley. In the pale moonlight I pitched my tent, threw my gear inside and crawled in. A few minutes later, my sleeping bag zipped closed my fully clothed body, I was asleep.

Morning came, but the temperatures were still low. I’d slept fitfully. From time to time I had been woken by gusts of frigid wind, but fortunately the hills kept the worst of the storm at bay.

Another attempt at lighting my stove was successful. My curses and laughter mingled into one as the flame first burned amber, then, accompanied by the familiar hiss that comes with an MSR cooker reaching optimal temperature, blue.

The food tasted great. Breakfast in the wake of a storm.

Once I’d packed up I spent the next 8 hours skiing. Along the way I met a number of Norwegians who were intrigued as to why an Englishman would be camping in one of the worst storms to hit the region in ten years (their words, not mine). One couple - a husband and wife from Oslo who regularly came to Finse to ski - informed me that the previous night’s lowest temperature was -28C. 

Hearing those figures was almost as painful as my frost nipped fingertips!

What of faith ? It was gone. That’s not to say I don’t believe in myself. I know how capable I am and have proved this point to myself, and others, on many occasions. But we’re human and sometimes faith fades; more specific - it crumbles to nothing and we are left standing naked, feeling abandoned.

When we reach a tipping point - be it the possibility of death, or some other highly traumatic events - faith frequently deserts us. I know that some people might argue this point, but for me and many others it a simple fact. Sometimes holding faith in others - be they people or gods - more often than not leads to disappointment.

So what better than faith? Training and calculation. Through all of this experience I knew that I had to warm my body and that meant generating a lot of heat through movement. Packing up camp and travelling by night was a risk, but I learned to navigate well in all conditions. There was no faith in my skills. Instead I weighed up the risks and came to the conclusion that to remain in the valley would be a poor decision. Probably worse.

This message is not one of: ‘Have faith in your skills.’ The point is this: when your back is against the wall you sometimes have to discard faith and do what you think is right. Whatever the outcome, it’s better than simply sitting and waiting for the Grim Reaper.


Keep Talking

If you stop talking these stories will never be told.

If you stop talking these stories will never be told.

The Army

I once told myself that my public speaking career probably started way back in the mists of time (about 40 odd years ago to be precise). Boisterous was my middle name, really. Squeals of laughter and shouts of excitement echoed across Ramilies Park, Farnborough, the Army housing estate where I spent my formative years, memories of which are still vivid and tangible.

 

The reality is somewhat different. My first real talk was given in the Army and was done in typical, brutal fashion of the day: one evening to prepare your lecture/talk and a whole day to wallow in misery after your presentation skills and subject matter were ripped to shreds. To be fair, my ad-hoc talk on the possible uses of a waste paper bin (including being re-roled into a papoose) was pretty poor.

But the stage was set. Like a vast travelling companion at my side, the sights and sounds of those first 20 minutes of what I later come to know as ‘public speaking’ are still with me. Not because I am scarred or riven with the angst that many people feel when considering public speaking, but because I stepped off the rostrum with a distinct feeling of excitement buzzing through my body.

Hook. Line. Sinker!

Since then I’ve given many talks to many people – companies, schools and organisations – and every time I stand up to speak the same emotions and feelings whirr through my head. There’s a  dizzy mix of excitement, fear and, from time to time, uncertainty. But why? You’d think that after so many years getting up in front of people, laying your reputation on the line and opening yourself to the world would be easy, right?

Public speaking is easy. And for the above reasons public speaking is the hardest thing most of us will ever do.

 

Some Common Reasons Why You Will Never Be A Public Speaker

Let’s look at some of lingering rumours that seem to have attached themselves to speaking in public:

Speaking in Front of Strangers is Really Difficult.

One of the most quoted reasons for not speaking in public is our fear of putting it out there to strangers. The fear of being ridiculed is only reason why so many people refuse to get up and present. Other concerns revolve around the fear of looking anxious when speaking which can be so extreme that the person suffers from a panic attack people we have never met. And many of us have a massive fear of the unknown, including strangers. These are powerful beliefs that prevent many people from even considering giving a presentation or talk.

The Sounds You Make

There’s an even more damaging myth that seems to circle the corridors of public speaking, staring down like a gargantuan vulture intent on picking over the carcass of our speeches – we don’t speak proper! Forget authenticity, forget being you, forget the heart of your message; without an expensive education and the hint of clipped tones you’re going down in flames.

 

You’ve Done Nothing in Life

This is huge for many of you: only big names get to stand on the stage and cast their spell over the audience. Forget any kind of public speaking, paid or otherwise, if you’re not in some way famous. After all, who would want to listen the message of… who?

You have done nothing noteworthy; your life is simply a mosaic of dreams that you were never able to stitch together into a coherent image that pulled you forward to the place where your vision merged with reality. You nothing to say; your achievements are, at best, trivial, pale and limp when placed alongside the experiences of people like Ranulph Fiennes, Dame Kelly Holmes, Mulala…

Four good reasons why you’re not good enough to stand up and spread whatever message it is that writhes at the back of your mind, the voice desperate to be heard. Pack up your soapbox, hang your head and go home. You don’t have what it takes.

 

Ignore Every Public Speaking Myth You Hear

Why? Because, to put it quite simply, all of those above points are, well, shit! Every day of the week I meet people who have amazing stories to tell: the Big Issue sellers inside and outside of London (yes, there really are homeless people living beyond the borders of our vast capital), the pensioners sat alone in cafes, the migrant workers from mainland Europe. Each and every one of them has a fascinating tale. Why shouldn’t they be heard?

Most of the reasons for not standing up and getting your message out there are self-induced. Read that statement again. Yes, some of you will now be up in arms, outraged. And that’s just what we need – more challenges; more drive for change; more action and not just talk (ironic, but relevant).

The world is awash with people who are in a constant state of preparation, or ‘…could have done it if the timing/location/message/insert excuse of choice had been right.’

We all have something to say and there will always be more than a few people willing to listen.

 

How to overcome the fear of public speaking.

Get up and do it! There, easy.

Look back at the reasons why you shouldn’t consider ever speaking in public, or private, and you’ll realise that every single ‘why not’ is actually one more argument for why you should go for it.

Let’s break down the earlier examples:

Speaking to Strangers is Not Hard

We do it every day, without fail. We talk on the bus, in the coffee shop queue and, unless you work in a very small company, or don’t work, to people on the shop floor. Personally, I find it much harder to speak in front of people I know, a fact that many of my friends and colleagues think is strange – logic dictates we should be more at ease in comfortable surroundings filled with familiar faces.

So how do we dispel this myth? Over the years I’ve been given a number of suggestions and the one that seems to come back like a bad penny is this: imagine your audience naked i.e. laugh at the people who’ve come to listen to you and your message. Bad idea. In terms of poor advice, this one has to rank as the most ridiculous. If you’re planning on any kind of speaking career you need to respect the people who come to listen to your message, not belittle them. Respect flows both ways, as soon as you start looking down your nose at your audience they’ll know. Goodbye credibility.

Any time when I feel a little timid (a feeling all of us experience, no matter how long we’ve been putting ourselves out there) I stop and remind myself why I’m there. Most of my public talks are for causes: getting people more interested in preserving the world we live in; helping to build confidence in young pupil; the charities I support. Pausing to reflect on the fact that what we do is about those causes we believe is an amazing antidote to a case of stage fright.

The Sound of Your Voice isn’t ‘Right’

How we talk is far less important than what we say. Let me explain: there’s a common misconception that unless you have the clipped, dulcet tones of a 1940’s BBC Radio presenter you’re not worth listening to. At best this is a ridiculous idea, at worst it’s damaging in a way that prevents some important messages from being voiced. Let’s put it another way - have you ever heard Zig Ziglar talk? Grating, right? But you can’t deny the power of his words.

Let me caveat this advice with one thought: whilst the sound of your voice matters little to most people the words you use have a huge impact on your standing. By this I mean, if you’re giving a talk to local religious group your frequent F-bombs will touch a nerve.

Do yourself a favour and focus on your story, not how you sound.

 

You Have No Stories to Tell

Moving along now... What have you done with your life? Climbed mountains naked? Run back to back marathons every day for a whole year? Do you hold a world record for something.... Anything? If you're like me, and pretty much the rest of the human population of Planet Earth you are... gulp... Normal. You have a job, you might have a partner and a family. He'll, you might even have a pastime beyond slumping in a chair at the end of a long day. Welcome to Normalville, population 7.5 billion and rising.

 

Wait a minute, there are people who want to hear what you have to say. You know that part time work you do as a firefighter? People want to hear your story, to live the fear and excitement through your words. What other jobs have you had in life? Armed Forces? Great, go talk about leadership and discipline. Talk about peace keeping and war. Speak and educate.

 

 3 Tips to Help Maintain Focussed When Giving a Publics Talk.

As you probably know, there is a mountain of advice on the web that, in many cases, is simply regurgitated from one article to another. Instead of repeating those mantras I’ve decided to list three tips that have helped me keep focussed when talking to an audience.

 

1.    Use the Stage Lighting

Probably the most quoted piece of advice given to any speaker is to maintain eye contact. But what happens when you’re terrified at the thought of someone looking into your soul and seeing your fear? Calamity! Instead of eyeballing your audience use background lighting to give the impression you’re maintaining eye contact. What I mean is this: most stages are lit in a way that puts the spotlight on the speaker and places the audience in the shadows. Instead of searching out their eyes you can let your gaze settle on the lighting and from time to time scan back forth, giving the impression you are sharing your attention with each and every member of the audience.

2.    Inject Passion into Your Talk

In 1963 Martin Luther King Jr gave his “I have a dream” speech. Listeners were in a trance-like state, hanging on his every word. For 17 minutes he held sway over some 200,000 people who had gathered to hear him talk about civil rights in America. King was already a powerful speaker having learned the craft over the course of many sermons he gave in church. But what added real punch to his words was his passion. Before you get up on stage and start talking, ask yourself if you’re seeded your talk with the passion that will deliver the message you want others to hear.

3.    Know What You Want to Say

Sounds ridiculous, but everyone is prone to rambling and it’s this fact that will kill audience attention – and your interest in public speaking. I have been known to let my words veer off course and into territories that are of little to no interest to my audiences. Before you start thinking about rehearsing you speech make sure you know EXACTLY what message you want to get across. Once you’ve nailed the heart of your topic it’s time to practise. It helps to create a document detailing the nature of your talk and the message you want to seed in the audience’s minds. Then ask a friend to listen and note when you’re going off-piste.

No matter what path we choose in life, we all have to start somewhere. Many years ago I knew a young man who set his heart on a very specific role in his Army career. After much training (and a lot of pain) he made the transition across units. And the skills he learned – lessons that seemed insignificant at the time – have become invaluable tools he uses every day.

The point? Don’t every believe that some part of your life isn’t interesting and that people don’t want to hear your story.

You Really Can Do More

It’s not always about working as a team.

It’s not always about working as a team.

When I look back on my life I realise I’ve been pretty lucky: I spent 13 years in the Army and travelled all over the world, spending time in the jungles of Southeast Asia, travelling through the Americas, across the Sahara desert, into Africa, the Middle East, Europe, and more. When that phase of my career came to an end I assumed that the days of big adventures had come to a close. For a long time after I felt a real pang of loss and, when not working the office lifestyle, immersed myself in every possible activity that allowed me to spend time outdoors. The many hours of training and planning brought me to the conclusion taking part in anything larger than a short event - say a couple of weeks - was out of the question.

As life ground forward, the frustration grew until it became a near constant whine in my head. Looking back, and after nine years of working behind a desk with only short journeys into the wild, I realise the announcement I eventually made was inevitable.

About four years ago I was working in London as a consultant for one of the big five accountancy companies in London. On my birthday a group of friends and I headed into the City for an informal gathering. After a couple of drinks, my lips loosened, I boldly announced that I was going to ski to the North Pole. The next morning I woke with a slight headache, and realised my announcement have been a mistake. I phoned my friend Olivier and to tell him that my act of bravado was nothing more than a joke. Too late! Olivier cut me off before I say another word and said, "James what what you're going to do is amazing and I’ve already found a charity view to represent. I’ve spoken to the CEO this morning, and she loves your idea.”

I had no option but to go for it.

Four years ago I inadvertently resurrected a life of adventure by skiing to the North Pole. At first, during the journey, I assumed that once was the trip was over my appetite would be sated and that any lingering interest in extreme travel would soon fade. At this point I'd like to ask if any of you are getting a sense of deja vu? If so, then you already know what was to to come. At the end of the trip I was hooked. Not slightly excited, but determined to travel to more and experience the joys of truly wild places, to explore the amazing world that crouches just over the horizon.

For the next two years I spent as much time as possible journeying into different places, my trips taking me to the wilds of Northumberland, Dartmoor and the Brecon on journeys of ever increasing durations. Two of the most memorable and, in one instance scary trips, were to Norway. And I loved every moment! But, as amazing as these mini adventures were, I needed a huge expedition to satisfy the vice at the back of my mind. In 2018 I formulated a plan to ski solo to the south Pole.

Have you ever had one of those days when you feel drained and decide to take a bath and settle in for any early night? A great idea until you fall asleep on the sofa and the bath tub starts to overflow. That’s how my life felt. Like the foamy waters, my day job had overflowed from the office and into my daily life. Work consumed nearly all my spare time - simply keeping up with the latest developments in the IT industry was a job in itself! On top of the work I was writing, whether it be a new book or sending requests for funding and grants. In the evenings I was doing the same again as well as reaching out to potential sponsors. Burnout waited around the corner.

My regular training sessions were invigorating, but only when I was out and active. Afterwards, already fatigued from the 8 - 6, and later, of office life I was shattered.

I’d taken on too much and, after failing to find sponsors, finally decided to postpone the South Pole solo idea. As you can imagine, I was far from happy.

After a few months of meandering through my day job I heard of a team preparing to cross Greenland. Fortunately I knew the guy leading the team, Lou Rudd, a captain in the British Army. I emailed him, we chatted and then we met and I was accepted into the team. Five months later we set off across Greenland, 600 km in weather I’ve never experienced in all my life.

That journey - a trip across a vast white wilderness - was simply the most amazing I have ever experienced. And afterwards the hunger was even more intense. Desire demanded that I resurrect the plan to complete the huge expedition to the South Pole.

But how was I going to do this? Again, although I was aware of the fact I have a day job I felt able to commit time to preparing this journey, but I wasn't able to see a clear way to manage all of the other tasks such logistics, fund raising, etc. Not without some help.

Rather than trying to do everything myself I decided to let go of the control freak inside me and and work with a support team to produce the desired results. What at first appeared to be a huge and unmanageable project was broken down into multiple tasks and each member of the three person admin team took on the role specific role, a bit like soldiers in a small patrol.

Once the load was reduced I suddenly realised that I was capable of doing much much more with the skills I have available. Now this might seem obvious to you, but I’m accustomed to planning and running all aspects of many of the journeys I’ve taken over the years.

It was at this point that I realised we are all capable of doing much, much more than we think we can. The key is to step back, do less and accept reality.

So how do we do this?

1. Know Your Strengths

This might seem obvious, but all too many of us have become accustomed to saying yes to every request that comes our way. Instead simply taking on every task thrown at you spend a little time evaluating your skillset. And don’t be fooled into thinking that just because you might have an idea how to fix an issue that you’re qualified or capable.

Here’s an example from my own experiences: I’m a public speaker who, according to no small amount of feedback, is entertaining and insightful. The one thing I’m not is an expert on all topics which is why I’ve asked for help in building some of the content of my talks (just in case you’re wondering, I mean talks I give at fun events and not those created for clients and schools).

This approach isn’t than usual, some of the greatest explorers, men and women whose names and deeds straddle history, have employed huge support and marketing teams to help spread the message.

2. Ask for Help, Early

This is tough one, especially for anyone like me who prefers to do things their way and on their own. It’s very easy to be a jack of all trades, and master of none - I’ve tried this approach and failed on a couple of occasions.

If you’re uncertain about where you should put your focus and when to ask for help I suggest you analyse your current skills and capabilities. The most effective means to doing this is quite simple: write it down; grab a pen and paper and then make a note of everything you believe you can do.

Take a break, daydream for a while and then come back to your list. Now look at it and ask yourself what are your true skills and circle them. Ideally your final tally should consist of two or three skills, which looks pretty paltry, especially if you’re created a huge list, but don’t despair. Look at everything else and make a note of people who might be in a position to help.

The key here is to apply some critical thinking. The tasks you’ve set yourself are going to be arduous enough and you simply can’t afford to lose time to tasks that others are better suited to.

3. Start Planning at Your Every Day

Working a 9-to-5 job is a thing of the past for most people. Instead there’s a good chance that you arrive before 9 o’clock and finish well after 5 o’clock. When you start planning all the tasks you need to carry out you have to be 100% aware of not only how many minutes you have available to do the work, but also how long each task will take. What I mean is, always err on the side of caution: if you think a job is going to take an hour and a half to complete, then schedule two hours.

On the above note, I find it helpful to work to the two hour rule - every task will take two hours. If it looks like you’re going to run over that time window, then break the is down into multiple subtasks.

No matter how much planning you do there’s a chance the workload will leak into your personal life so be aware that this may impact your family, or relationships. If you single, go for it and don’t worry about how much time you going to burn.

4. Be Prepared to Fail

Personal Spoiler Warnings: In November 2017 I announced my intention to ski solo to the South Pole. My original intention had been to break the UK speed record for skiing to the South Pole, set by Richard Parks. A short time after the announcement the current world record holder issued a challenge via FaceBook: why not have a go at breaking his record time?

And so the scene was set. At the time it felt to me as if fate’s hand had settled on my shoulder and, with the gauntlet at my feet, the journey would be a foregone conclusion. I went on the rampage, announcing to all who would listen that I was going to the South Pole and that I would break Christian Eide’s record. And for a long time my own hype was so contagious that I fell for it. But we all know what happens when hype meets reality!

And that’s precisely what happened: my expedition was postponed.

5. Accept That Most People Don’t Care

Close your eyes and feel the collective excitement as Britons basked in the certainty that Robert Falcon Scott would be the first man to ski to the South Pole. Now imagine the grief many felt on hearing of his death. First the good news: don’t worry about dying. Now the bad: you aren’t Scott, or Amundsen, or James Wolf. To most people you are… who? Take hold of that thought and pull it close because this will sustain in the run up to, and through, your expedition.

Most people simply don’t know about you and probably don’t care. This makes finding sponsors and fans much easier. Rather than trying to appeal to a huge and broad section of society you now have a focal point, whether is be ultra event fans, mountaineers, or whatever the basis is for you adventure. Now you can apply your full attention in areas where you can make a difference.

Final Thoughts

What does all of this mean? It’s the 'power of one': do only one thing and do it well. Better yet, do an excellent job and watch as people come to you with offers of help. You might say I’ve been talking about teamwork, but that’s not the point of this post. The core of this message is about you and what you’re capable of and that includes your willingness to work with others to achieve not only your dreams, but theirs too.

4 Unusual Ways to How to Fund Your Expedition

The likes of the world’s great explorers have no problem raising funds for their next expedition – Ranulph Fiennes only need hiccup and the corporate sponsors are lobbing huge bundles of cash at him. And there’s nothing wrong with that – you don’t get to be name the ‘greatest living explorer’ unless you’ve proven yourself.

But what about the rest of us? How we – the as yet undiscovered next generation of greatest explorers – drum up the interest and money needed to mount a big expedition?

For most of us the question of how we fund an expedition is the probably the last we ask. After all, there’s so much planning to do, an infinite number of routes to choose from and the excitement that comes thinking about the numerous post-expedition interviews to accept, or turn down, as we see fit. With those heady thoughts in mind it’s easy to see why the finance question is pushed to the back of the queue. We certainly need to have an idea of the planned journey otherwise there is no way we could calculate the costs required to make our dream come true.

The harsh reality is that the vast majority of would-be explorers will never build a business that will fund the often huge price tags attached to major expedition – many people simply don’t have the time, or desire, to follow this path. Besides, who really wants to wait 10 years for their business to become profitable enough to fund their dream?

I’ve done some digging for ideas you can use as alternative ways of raising money. I’ve noted which methods I’ve tried as well as the degrees of success, or not, each one has brought.

Trade An In-Demand Skill for Cash

Good, old fashioned selling yourself to the highest bidder. Everyone has a skill they can trade, some being more lucrative than others. I’m a public speaker – I’ve given talks to Microsoft, twice, as well as some of their partner companies. I’ve also had the absolute pleasure to be invited in to present to numerous schools - none of the latter were paid gigs, but do a good job and your name will carry far.

If you know how to sculpt a beautiful body AND love pets, then your skill are big demand money

If you know how to sculpt a beautiful body AND love pets, then your skill are big demand money

Crowd Fund Your Expedition

Crowd funding used to be the preserve of entrepreneurs and techies – with great ideas that could change the world. In recent years a number of explorers have used platforms such as Kickstarter and IndieGoGo to source fudning for their journeys, with some impressive results.

Here are a couple of examples:

1st Kenyan Everest Expedition

The Dark Ice Project

One point to note is that you must have something to offer – a really compelling trade which is, ideally, unique and in limited supply.

Crowd funding, when learned and done right it’s the ninja throwing star of funding your trip.

Crowd funding, when learned and done right it’s the ninja throwing star of funding your trip.

Sell Your Life

We’re heading to the fringes of what’s reasonable, but this idea might just work for some people as it has been proved to be an effective way of raising cash. In recent years countless people have sold pretty much everything they own – houses, cars, the pets – in order to raise money to support their travel plans. This might seem like a crazy idea and can work. A word of caution: know what you’re getting yourself into as there are stories spattered over the web that detail the not so romantic aspects of this approach to fund raising.

Some great examples of people who sold their life include Jay Kannaiyan and Nora Dunn (the latter having travelled through 30 countries in the last 7 years).

Image courtesy of  Jammin Global

Image courtesy of Jammin Global

Sell Your Body… To Advertisers

Having a company logo inked into your skin might be a little extreme for some, but as a means to bringing in a large sum of cash as short notice it’s a very effective tool. One human billboard, American Joe Tamargo, claims to have raised $200,000 through the sale of advertising space on his flesh.

A word of warning: many of the logos have outlived the companies that paid for them and having a permanent tattoo removed can be a costly exercise.

Joe Tamargo, possibly not the best example of how to find sponsors!

Joe Tamargo, possibly not the best example of how to find sponsors!

Let me know your thoughts in the coments.

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?

Weather

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!

Logistics

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.

Equipment

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.

Training

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.

Cost

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.

Summary

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…

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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.