Alastair Humphreys is an adventurer, author and a keynote speaker. He’s cycled around the world, walked across India and has rowed the Atlantic Ocean among many other great adventures. He’s been named the Adventurer of the Year by National Geographic for his pioneering work on the concept of microadventures, encouraging people to get out there and showing them that an adventure knows no bounds nor does it have to be a time-consuming or huge in scale to be great – because adventure is truly a state of mind.
Alastair knows that behind every successful adventure lies that beautiful struggle. And that it’s the struggle that makes it all worthwhile in the end. Or how he puts it himself “It doesn’t have to be fun to be fun.”
When and how did it all start?
Where did it all start? Perhaps it began with signing up as a friend of Haglöfs, and actually being sponsored to do cool stuff in cool places with cool people and cool kit. This makes me feel like the luckiest man in town, that somehow I have made my job out of my hobby. A hobby and a passion that began when I was 18 and flew from rainy England to the massive red earth, blue sky emptiness of Africa for a year before going to university. The world is bigger and more wonderful than I had ever imagined, I realized with astonishment. I want to see more! But what set me off onto that flight south probably began in a rural childhood in the beautiful Yorkshire Dales, a childhood spent in hill-running races at the local fairs to try to earn some pocket money, with building summer-long dams with my brother and my friends in the river at the bottom of our hill, and - above all - with reading. I spent the winters curled on my bedroom floor, back pressed to the warm radiator, reading tales of escape. In Willard Price’s books the two boys Hal and Roger had a never-ending series of adventures around the world. So perhaps that is where it all began, on my bedroom floor lost in a book.
Is there a specific moment/struggle that means a bit more to you?
When I look back on my big adventures there are a few key moments. I look at the young version of me who decided to try to cycle alone round the world with a mixture of astonishment and admiration. That was a brave and stupid thing to do, young man! Well done. Well done, and thank you.
I did not have enough money to cycle round the world (in the end I did make my funds last, by living like a Hobo!). I was scared to travel alone. I was sad to leave my family and girlfriend. I was nervous that I was wasting a privileged education by becoming a bum not a barrister. I was biting off way more than I could chew. And that was reflected in the mood of my first few months on the road: it was certainly a struggle not a holiday.
What is it that make you climb higher, walk longer and continue searching?
My motivations to push myself hard have changed over time. Part of this is due to age, and the natural shifting of priorities. But it is also due to me ticking off some of my early drivers. For example, I was curious to visit different parts of the world. I’ve now been to almost 100 countries. On the one hand, I’m less than halfway through them all, and that keeps me excited. But on the other hand I now have a sense of what “foreign” feels like, and what “wilderness” feels like. That has left me more space to begin exploring closer to home.
I used to be very motivated by wanting to push myself incredibly hard, to prove myself to myself and the world. I’ve grown out of that phase now!
These days I am far more driven by trying to create good stories, books and films. More creative adventuring, I guess. And hoping that through these I can encourage other people to enjoy and benefit from adventures in similar ways to how I have done.
What is the biggest challenge with what you do?
These days it is getting an appropriate balance between paying the bills from adventure versus enjoying adventure, walking the tightrope of documenting and sharing my experiences without it turning into a vacuous, narcissistic social media quest for ‘likes’. And, as I get older and busier, with more and more commitments in all aspects of my life, it is making sure that I carve out enough time amongst it all to remember what is important, and why I began it all in the first place: to spend time living slowly and simply in beautiful wild places.
How would you explain the perfect beautiful struggle?
It doesn’t have to be fun to be fun.