Cycling around the world. Walking across India. Completing a 150 mile marathon in the Sahara desert.
These are just some of the incredible expeditions adventurer Alastair Humphreys has undertaken. His next adventure? Joining us here at Bournemouth University for our Festival of Learning. We caught up with Alastair ahead of his visit to find out more...
Where did it all begin for you? What was the inspiration behind your first adventure?
My first adventure came about because I wanted to do something big and exciting and stupid. I wanted to see the world and I wanted to do so in a way that was simple and cheap, but I also wanted a challenge – which is why I came up with the idea of seeing if I could cycle around the world.
I spent 4 years riding 46,000 miles through 60 countries and after that I was hooked.
Do you have a favourite place or country that you’ve visited?
It’s always very difficult to try and choose a favourite place. I’ve been to around 90 countries now, which is quite a lot but it’s also fewer than half the countries in the world so there are so many places I’ve never been!
Of the places I’ve been, I often think of Iceland for the landscapes and the wilderness and the beauty of expeditions. But I also walked across India once, from coast to coast, and I think fondly of that for totally opposite reasons; it was about the noise, and the crowds, and the people and the smells and the food and the human element of the adventure.
What’s been the most incredible thing you’ve seen or done?
When I look back on adventures, the two aspects that shine out are the total opposites. One is the complete kindness of strangers – I’ve been to lots of parts of the world that are perceived to be volatile and dangerous, and they’ve nearly always turned out to be the total opposite. There’s an incredible warmth and kindness virtually everywhere I’ve been on my adventures.
The other aspect that I love is the feeling of being out somewhere completely wild and potentially inhospitable, where you really have to use your skills and your wits to stay alive. That might be walking across the desert, which is hot, flat and dry, or rowing across the Atlantic Ocean, which is cold, wet and very wobbly – but the appeal is very similar, regardless of the environment.
What’s been the toughest, and how did you get through that?
I think when people consider expeditions and what they consider the tough parts, it’s usually the physical hardship and the physical dangers and fears that tend to be what spring to mind, but from my experience of adventures, the most difficult part is often the mental side; the self-doubt when you set yourself a massive challenge, the repetition of the expeditions, the loneliness. They are often surprisingly boring things interspersed with moments of terror and hunger – so I definitely find the mental side of things to be the most gruelling part of long journeys.
What’s your advice for anyone wanting to go on their own adventure?
Realise that just about everybody who does big adventures is a completely normal person – there’s not some sort of species of adventurer, anyone can go and do this sort of stuff.
I really recommend that people start by doing a small adventure, I call them microadventures. The reason they are good is because if it’s something small, you’ve got no excuse not to go and do it next weekend, and once you do something you get confidence and momentum going. So, beginning small – but beginning is the key I think.
You’re joining us at BU for our Festival of Learning on Saturday 25 June. Are you looking forward to it and what are you hoping people will take away from your two talks?
I am looking forward to coming to Bournemouth. I’m looking forward to my first talk and meeting lots of young children and telling them about cycling around the world and some of the highs and lows of that – including banana sandwiches and where to go to the toilet!
In my second talk, which is for anyone really, I’ll be talking about cycling around the world but also some of my other expeditions – rowing across the Atlantic and trying to encourage people to have micro-adventures of their own.
If you’re inspired by Alastair’s incredible adventures around the world, you can find out more during BU’s Festival of Learning.
Alastair will share his advice and experiences in two free talks at Talbot Campus on Saturday 25 June.
For more details, and to book your free tickets, visit the Festival of Learning website