Alastair Humphreys is a British adventurer and author. Named as a National Geographic Adventurer of the Year for his inspiring work on promoting the concept of Microadventures, his expeditions are numerous. He has cycled 74000kms around the world in 4 years, walked along the entire length of river Kaveri in India, rowed across the Atlantic Ocean, crossed Iceland on foot and a packraft and more recently he has trekked 1600km across the Empty Quarter desert. He has authored five books about his adventures. Emaho spoke with Alastair Humphreys about his adventures and microadventures.
EMAHO: Congratulations on finishing the walk across Empty Quarter, the largest sand desert in the world. Can you tell us about the experience?
We were hauling a large cart (maybe 250kg) following in the footsteps of Wilfred Thesiger (one of my heroes) from Salalah to Dubai. It was a last-minute, low-budget trip so it was not as spectacular as it could have been, but the trip still went really well. The desert was silent and wonderful, and the many local people we met were kind and friendly.
Portaging round waterfalls during an unsupported crossing of Iceland
EMAHO: You have cycled around the world, rowed across Atlantic, walked alongside a river and have done many more adventures. Which one was the hardest and why?
Rowing – I was sick for ages and then found it mind-numbingly monotonous. That of course is part of its challenge and appeal too!
EMAHO: And which one did you enjoy the most?
Iceland – such a beautiful, trouble free, wonderful country.
EMAHO: To encourage people to get outside and out of their comfort zones, you came up with the idea of having a year of Microadventures. Was there any particular time or event that triggered the thought?
It was walking a lap of the M25 motorway. I spend a lot of boring time on that road but realized I knew nothing about the country it passed through. This was my country and I knew so little about it.
Paddling the Markarfljót river in Iceland
EMAHO: The response to the idea of Micro adventures has been phenomenal. What do you think the reason could be for the way it inspired so many to go out and have an adventure?
I think it is relevant to our times – we are busy, stressed, short of money and yearning for more in life than just work and TV watching. I tried to show that they can be cheap and not time consuming – to remove the excuses.
EMAHO: During your journeys you might have come across many people. Do you recall any instances of being moved by someone’s kindness towards you?
So many – the kindness of strangers is continually a highlight of my trips. A lady in Alaska passed me in her car. She had just bought a pile of takeaway pizzas for her family. She stopped and gave me one. It was so spontaneous and so kind that I burst into tears!!
Rainbow in the ocean during the Atlantic Row
EMAHO: When you decided to walk through India, you said you didn’t do much research. Did it come as a shock – the number of people you encountered every day? How was India different from the other adventures?
I knew India was crowded so it wasn’t a surprise! It was different to the other trips because I deliberately set out to see a ‘normal’ bit of a country. Not the most beautiful or wild or special bits. I just wanted a sample of normal people in normal life. And, of course, because it was my first time in India it did not feel ‘normal’ at all! It was crazy and noisy and beautiful.
EMAHO: If you hadn’t cycled around the world, what do you think you would be doing now?
EMAHO: Between adventures and writing, what follows what? Are you writing because you are going on adventures or is it the other way around?
I began adventures because I wanted to be a writer. Today I have diversified into speaking, blogging and film making too so I write less than I would like to. But writing is my real passion, what I would love to be good at.
Ben Saunders and Alastair Humphreys during Greenland Expedition
EMAHO: In today’s world, outdoors and adventure doesn’t necessarily feature high on everyone’s list. What would you say about importance of adventure in our lives?
It is an escape from normal life that helps put things in perspective – to appreciate the small things as well as the big things, to focus on what really does matter and what does not really matter, to see beauty rather than mundane mediocrity, to push yourself hard and to surprise yourself with what you are capable of. These things are all important.
EMAHO: I’m curious, what’s next?
I honestly have no idea! More micro adventure evangelism I guess.
Photographs by – Alastair Humphreys