A successful crossing of Greenland is subject to the whims of the gods. During our expedition we faced the fury of those deities, skied into the violent swirl of their icy rage and emerged blinking into a place of serenity and calm.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
One point to note is that you must have something to offer – a really compelling trade which is, ideally, unique and in limited supply.
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).
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.
Let me know your thoughts in the coments.
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
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:
Eric Larsen shows you how to get into zone in this video showing one aspect of his Arctic training regime.
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).
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 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.
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…
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!
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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):
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.
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...
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.
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