On adventurers and explorers

I have given much thought to adventures and explorers the past few months; it is tied in with a project that I’m working on, but it is also a personal interest thing. I have long had a near-obssession with adventurers – of days gone by and modern; my bookcase bears witness to my fascination with polar expeditions and seafaring explorers.

Where I happily run multiday foot races or I participate in multiday adventure races, there’s that built in element of safety and of the known. An expedition, on the other hand, especially a solo endeavour, is often about doing something never done before, venturing into the unknown and little explored and travelling from one place to the next under your own steam. An expedition, by its nature, should take an extended period of time – like more than a month or two.

Modern day explorers row across oceans, man-haul through polar regions, cycle around continents or go faster, higher and longer than anyone before them.

The effort, planning, thought and logistics that goes into preparing for an expeditition is a massive undertaking. Food, equipment, route, communication, sponsors… your bases have to be covered because help is not readily at hand.

At a lunch last weekend I was chatting to an older chap about adventurers and the expeditions that they undertake. He asked, “How long has this been going on and why do they do it?”

Humans have always been explorers – they have headed out since the beginning of time to discover new places and people on our planet. Blank maps were gradually coloured in as the great unknown became known. Whether seeking resources, aiming to conquer new lands or curiously wanting to know what was on the other side, people have always ventured forth, exploring their surroundings.

Now, we can colour in those blank sections for ourselves with the help of Google Earth and Big Brother satellites. In the most tame version of exploring, we travel to foreign lands as tourists, we watch Discovery and Nat Geo and we attend events that pass through out of the way places. We may load up a Landy to drive through a country, stopping at sites along the way. The more adventurous hop on motorbikes or bicycles, touring through countries, mostly keeping to inhabited regions.

The most adventurous aim for uninhabited regions on self-sufficient, human-powered expeditions. Why? Because they need to.

Exploring and adventuring is, I believe, the natural order. Sitting behind a desk, working on a computer under fluorescent lights IS NOT natural. But, it is the way of our society. And while most of the population enjoys or is tolerant of this, there are people who just cannot survive in this environment. In order to ‘fit in’ most of the time they have to take time out to answer the urge that makes them restless – they have to travel and explore. And to do this many of them compromise and sacrifice personal and professional elements that are traditional desirables in modern society.

I first met Ray Chaplin on email – must have been about 5 or 6 years ago. We met in person some time later when Ray moved back to SA after working for some time in Dubai. Ray has a penchant for adventure and expeditions. In 2007 he cycled solo for 41 days across South Africa from Cape Town to Pretoria. This, and other shorter trips, gave him a taste for expeditioning. He has just started (yesterday) his most challenging undertaking – a walk from Cape Town to the SA-Zimbabwe border at Beit Bridge along the railway line (for the most part). It will probably take him just under three months to complete this 2100km solo journey; and then he’ll cycle back to Cape Town!

Ray’s expedition is called ‘Walking the line’ and while this relates to the railway line, I think it is also fitting in terms of ‘normal society’ vs heading off on expeditions.

And why is he doing it? Because he NEEDS to and WANTS to. He’s answering the call. To make this trip commercially viable Ray is doing extensive product testing – gear in the categories of packs, sleeping bags, stoves, apparel and footwear. He’ll put these goods through very similar conditions over a period of roughly the same duration and distance, writing up reviews along the way. Ray is a gear guru so his reports will make for good and insightful reading.

You can follow Ray’s adventure through Facebook, Twitter and by satellite tracking and postings on his website at www.raychaplin.com.

It is so easy to enter races and to participate in organised sporting events; it really is a completely different thing to set off on your own, even where the unknown is known. Goodness, I’m chicken riding my bike on Jo’burg’s roads on my own… I have great admiration for Ray and the many other explorers who take off on these brave journeys to follow their hearts.

Take care out there friend. See you Dec/Jan.