Alastair: Why did you do all this?
James: I’m often asked what drove me to undertake these challenges. I think the honest answer has always been the fact that I’ve loved being slightly different. I knew when I was younger that my brain functioned slightly differently from most people. It’s the combination of how I felt when I had a motorcycle accident seven years ago and having my mobility temporarily taken away, that gave me much more of an appreciation of life. Additionally, I love meeting people from different countries and cultures. Ultimately, my passion for inspiring young people to pursue their own goals and dreams was another driving force behind the decision to undertake these challenges.
Alastair: What were you doing before?
James: Before I started going away on expeditions I was working as an account manager for an IT company, leading a very normal life. Also I was working every Saturday as a gym instructor and when I had the spare money, I was racing motorbikes.
Alastair: What impact have these adventures have on your life?
James: I’ve been very fortunate to have met some very successful people over the last few years in my quest for sponsorship and I have noticed one similarity with successful people in general: their appreciation of time. You cannot buy time back no matter how wealthy you are, so my appreciation of time has changed massively. Travelling the world and meeting people from different cultures, some rich, some very poor, will give you a good appreciation of the things that we actually have in our lives and how lucky most of us actually are. One of the biggest things I’ve taken away from adventure is, with the right mind set, anything is possible and it’s quite amazing how you will surprise yourself when you’re prepared to put the hard work in.
Alastair: Let’s try to tease out a few tips for other people dreaming of adventure. How did you turn your dream into reality?
James: Taking the first step is actually the hardest part for any budding adventurer. Once you have made the decision, it’s not uncommon for people around you to start telling you that this may not be a good idea. Quite often they will be your closest friends and family but it’s only a natural reaction as they want to protect you. I found that actions speak louder than words and when I started relentlessly working on sponsorship and promoting the project, people that were anxious about my activities became my greatest supporters. Don’t be put off by anyone telling you what you should or shouldn’t be doing; this is why taking the first step is the toughest part. In all honesty, there is no short cut to turning your dream into a reality. It will take hard work and determination. However that capability does lie within everyone if you want something badly enough.
Alastair: What practical steps should people take to make their adventure happen?
James: First things first, planning is massively important and for some people, this can be the most fun part. I personally love all the planning and work that goes into a big adventure. Before I rowed across the Atlantic Ocean, I broke the project into manageable sections. Technical, Funding and Fitness were some of the sections I broke the project into. I was always asking myself, what’s the most important part, and it always came back to funding. I could have spent hours and hours every day rowing and have become a fantastic rower but then on the start line, I wouldn’t have had a boat as I didn’t prioritise my time correctly and work on obtaining the funding to buy a boat. Prioritising what is really important and what can wait, is crucial to a successful project.
Alastair: What do you know now that you wish you’d known before you began?
James: Before I started going away on adventures, I didn’t really like it when things didn’t go my way or the outcome of whatever I was working on was not what I wanted or expected. Adventure and expeditions will teach you that sometimes things don’t always go your way, and that is OK. It’s a simple fact of life. I often found myself adjusting my route and itinerary as I cycled around the world for reasons that were beyond my control.
Alastair: Any tips on saving for the trip (sponsorship? selling your car?) or living cheap during the trip?
James: To save money, I moved back home with my parents; this made a big difference to my finances. Not particularly cool when you’re in your late twenties but it goes back to how much do you want something. I took on an extra job, delivering Chinese food in the evenings. There is no secret to sponsorship, once you have got the five W’s sorted: what am I doing, why am I doing it, what I can give in return, what am I looking for, when am I doing it. It’s just a case of getting out there and speaking to as many people as possible. It’s a numbers game – if you speak to 1,000 people, I can almost guarantee that someone will sponsor you. However if you only speak to a hundred people and you don’t find anyone willing to help, you can’t give up. The only difference between someone who can obtain sponsorship and someone who can’t is proactivity!
Alastair: Are you the sort of adventurer who has opinions on equipment or don’t you really care about kit?
James: Personally, I really love equipment and checking out what new adventure kit is coming out etc., but there was one thing I learnt when I cycled the world. Before I set off, I was using a second-hand bike that I purchased for £300 from a friend who works at a bike shop. I did actually have the budget to buy a new bike to go round the world on, but I really liked the idea of cycling the world on a second-hand bike, so that’s what I did! You don’t have to have the biggest and the best of everything to go away on an adventure. My bike performed amazingly and I don’t believe a brand new bike would have made any difference. So don’t worry too much if you don’t have the money for expensive kit, it’s not always necessary.
Alastair: And finally…What does it take to be an adventurer?
James: The right mind set is crucial for getting into adventure and believe it or not, this lies within everyone. Have you ever tried some new food that you weren’t sure if you’d like or not? That is being adventurous! You don’t have to climb big mountains and row oceans or go away for months at a time to experience adventure. The adventurous spirit is within everyone!
Jason: Well, I think the main thing is to tell your mates that you’re going to do it. And, specifically, mates that are going to give you a really hard time if you don’t actually go, and they’ll be giving you a lot of shit if you bottle out. The whole motivational thing is to commit; commit to something. But what does that really mean? Like if you just commit within yourself, you’ll find a hundred different reasons why you shouldn’t actually do it. But if you air it publicly, with people whose opinions you actually respect, and you’re perhaps kind of intimidated by, then you’re more likely to more actually follow through with it. And also, you will never have everything ready. That’s the thing.
You will never have all of your gear ready, you’ll never have all of the right visa stamps in your passport, you probably won’t have all the money that you need, either. But you do have to set a date, and then be as ready as you can. Set a date, tell everyone at the pub that that’s the date that you’re going, and then you just get as ready as you can, and then you just head off. I know it’s a cliché, but the main thing is just to begin.
Alastair: Clichés are clichés for a reason, aren’t they? And I think virtually everyone I’ve spoken to on this has talked about the need to tell someone who’s, as you’ve just said, or to block off dates in your diary that are non-negotiable, and quite a good thing I think is to just buy your plane ticket to wherever it is you’re going.
Alastair: My final question to you, then, is, well, actually, two. One is on a bike, how far could you cycle for £1000, pedalling away from England.
Jason: I think we gave ourselves a budget of £5 a day, or something like that.
Alastair: How far could you get in 200 days then?
Jason: Well, that’s the thing, bicycles are such amazing things, aren’t they? I mean, you could do at least 80 miles a day, probably a hundred. What is the mathematics on that? 20,000 miles, extraordinary.
Alastair: Anywhere on the planet is 20,000 miles away.
Jason: The other bit of advice though is that, yeah, you can get 20,000 miles, but typically people try and put too much into a schedule. It just ends up being this forced march, a slog, and it’s doesn’t matter if you don’t do 20,000 miles. Actually 10,000 miles, and getting to meet people, spend the night with people that you meet who are really nice, that’s actually half of the whole experience. Don’t be too ambitious with your itinerary. And keep loads of flexibility in your itinerary. I think it’s really important.
Alastair: I look back on my trip now, and I never regret the times I stayed a few days longer, I never regret the crazy detours I did up over some stupid mountain pass because it looked cool. I never regret that. But I do slightly regret the times that I just thought, “Sod it. I’m just going to ride 3000 miles down this road just to kill some miles.” I think that’s really good advice. The very last question, then if I gave you a £1000 for an adventure, what would you go do?
Jason: I would ride my bike through Central America to Uruguay. This sounds pretty presumptuous of me, but I’d like to meet the president of Uruguay. He’s my hero. I don’t have typical heroes; growing up I never read Scott Shackleton or any of these guys. But he is the president of this small South American country, but he lives very simply on a farm, and he drives this old beaten up VW beetle, doesn’t want to have anything to do with the presidential palace that he’s supposed to be living in, and the limousines that are provided him, and he was the only leader in a recent world conference to stand up and talk about sustainability, and how countries and governments should be trying to really meet sustainability targets on carbon emission reduction, etc. So, it would be cool to ride a bike down to Uruguay, travel through the Darien gap, and yeah, just see if I can meet this guy and shake his hand.
Alastair: Brilliant.Read Jason’s books
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