As a kid, I dreamed of adventure and expeditions on a daily basis – discovering new lands and mountains and wanting my very own nuclear bunker! Scouts, outdoor activities and a multitude of local woods, rivers, and trails fuelled my passion for the outdoors and adventure.
Years later, I transitioned into traveling and backpacking, seeing some iconic locations around the world. Finally, I started using human-powered means such as sea kayaking, canoeing, cycling and hiking to tackle big journeys and expeditions. Now, with over 9,000 miles of adventures in remote and wild locations, there is plenty of learning to share!
Where to go and what to do?
The concept of a “bucket list” is not a new one, but like many, I have a curiosity and desire to explore remote areas, wild spaces and connect to our heritage. My plans change and formulate as I learn more, and I continually try to join up my longer journeys to create a longer unbroken trail.
Authenticity is particularly important to me, doing a journey or a trip and respecting the history of the place I am visiting, and the people who live there are my ingredients for a successful adventure.
On my list are journeys like the PCT (Pacific Coast Trail), which could join my trail from the top of Vancouver Island to Circle in Alaska 1,945 miles. Others are Tom Allen’s Transcaucasian Trail, sea kayaking the Nord Kapp in Norway, sea kayaking around Britain, walking the Pennine Way, and plenty more.
The world is an incredible place but of course, its resources are under increasing pressure, with congestion, population explosion, and increased development. Our wild and green areas are suffering, so ‘where to go’ needs to be balanced to avoid streams of people flying back and forth. Personally, I have found plenty of great journeys, trails, and wild areas in the UK, and try to limit my overseas travel, to manage my carbon footprint.
For each of us it is helpful to try and work out how we want to paint our “adventure canvas”. My preference is remote locations, plenty of history and wildlife, and a degree of endurance and technical challenge. Your adventure canvas could include heritage trails, charity challenges, wildlife, filmmaking, endurance, racing, or other elements such as world records and world firsts. Find what works for you.
Making the Plan Real
My wife walked the 192-mile Coast to Coast route on her own last year with one of our dogs, following Alfred Wainwright’s route from St Bees to Robin Hoods Bay. From the initial idea then came a workable plan and to fit in with our busy watersports business she walked at the beginning of the season.
With just 2 weeks from the idea to the “go date”, she would head out for longer walks over the preceding days, carrying weight and finalising her kit list.
She tells me setting a date and deadline was the most helpful part of her planning!
Training for an expedition is an important aspect, requiring focus on stamina, skills and general fitness.
Inevitably, taking the hound added pack weight as the dog took additional water, dog food and even a lightweight kids sleeping bag. She also used the preparation and training to brush up her navigation skills, study the route, buy rations and a host of other tasks. She completed the walk following Wainwright’s schedule, in 12 days.
From your training, experience and/or research, set a schedule and plan that is achievable for you, and more importantly your group or team.
Packing the Right Kit
A regular question asked by my friends is about the right kit for expeditions. The longer journeys where I was paddling or cycling for 14 days-plus took me to new dependencies on kit. Key selection factors include durability, weight, size and of course performance. For example whilst sea kayaking Canada’s Inside Passage we experienced 4 days of continuous rain which makes your choice of outer layer important.
I also learned about the difference between kit I needed, as opposed to kit I wanted, as well as the true value of an item. A good example of this is a bug jacket or head net in the “no see-ums” season in Scotland or Canada. It’s quite cheap, but without it your life is going to be pretty miserable!
There is a saying that “practice makes permanent” and therefore good practice is important for training but you also need to know how to operate your kit – from GPS to erecting a tent in a blizzard. It is no good trying to read the instructions in a howling gale or after dark
The grab bag
This is an emergency bag that should contain important items you may need when the “brown stuff hits the fan!” Whole articles have been written on this alone and it can include elements from your repair kit and first aid kit. Listed below, in no particular order of importance, are some options to consider for your grab bag, which will of course vary by location (and how far from help you are).
Aspirin (to thin blood in case of heart attack), cling film and vet wrap to dress wounds, steri-strips for cuts, dressings, gloves and facial shield.
Mirror to signal, whistle, fire lighting kit, knife, container for water carrying, simple saw, life straw or purification tablets, fish hook and line, torch.
Paracord, gaffer tape, needle, Leatherman tool.
Repair Kits and Skills
One of my friends is an expert at fixing zips, repairing kit and winter survival. He carries a comprehensive repair kit with gaffer tape (of course), needles and awls, cable ties, and paracord, to enable him to fix kit in the field.
Equally, knowing how to fix equipment, format electronic products, repair stoves, or jury-rig snowshoes, canoes and other kit can be critical. In some instances, you may need a backup system.
Feeding the Machine
Another important aspect of expeditions and long journeys is feeding or powering the machine… you. Understanding what works for your body is an important aspect of adventures and expeditions.
Again we are faced with a variety of options, fresh food (limited lifespan and range), dehydrated foods (add water) and wet meals. Planning is critical so on many of our non-cold climate expeditions we are expecting to burn over 4,000 calories.
On my London to Marrakech kayak and bike journey I started to burn fat first and then muscle and lost over 7kgs over the 2400 miles.
We can survive without food for 3 weeks and somewhere between 3 and 7 days without water but this would definitely cause you extreme discomfort!
I try to find a balance between lightweight ratios and fresh food taste by supplementing expedition foods with fresh items wherever possible. In cold climates where you are operating below zero, then the calorie burn rate can increase to between 4000 and 6000 calories per day.
How much calories you burn?
- At rest – 20
- Walking 2mph on pavement – 80
- Walking 3mph on pavement – 180
- Sawing Wood – 260
- Cross County Skiing – 300
- Shivering – 200-400
These are the calories per hour per 100 lb of bodyweight.
The normal protein to fat content of food must be varied in cold climates to ensure the body can source the necessary energy requirements. As a general guide a body mass of 176 pounds will burn 1,870 calories in cold climates at base metabolism (at rest) before doing anything.
Simple tips to improve your diet include fruit teas, little treats and a mix of herbs to spice up your food and change your palette. Don’t forget, whilst your expedition may seem like a big adventure for you, people do live in the country you are visiting and call it home.
Local food and diet can be great fun. For example, I decided to cycle the Sahara on a fat bike a few years ago and was joined by a friend who is a fruitarian. I joined him in his raw fruit and veg diet, cycling over 500 miles over the Atlas Mountains to the high dunes at Merzouga.
We ate local cuisine including dates, nuts, avocados, oranges and salads for the two weeks and had great energy. It was funny ordering a veggy Tagine and getting it with Lamb in it! I suppose they do eat grass.
Identifying Hazards & Managing Risk
As we stretch our comfort zones, change operating environments and expand our horizons, inevitably we experience new risks, hazards and scenarios. This is not a bad thing, it helps us grow as individuals but we need to use skills and processes to stay safe.
Firstly, considering the hazards in the first place is important to allow you to implement some control measures. Like most risk assessments, envisioning the hazards first by running through a checklist is a good place to start.
On some of my more remote trips, far from help, then topics include: inclement weather, personal injury, wild animals, heat considerations, cold climates, waves and tides, traffic, and so on.
If the learning curve appears extremely steep, or put simply you don’t know what you don’t know, then solutions include seeking advice or professional instruction, turning to the internet or perhaps buying and reading the appropriate book.
Scenario planning is a useful tool to consider the hazards and how things might unfold. Try to think of the worst-case situation and then map out what could make the position safer or easier.
For example, if I capsize at sea on a large crossing, then a drysuit will increase my cold-water survival immersion time considerably and a grab bag with a VHF radio (line of sight), marine flares and an EPIRB beacon could save my life. Assuming I am with a teammate, can I roll or can they rescue me?
Similarly, if I suffer equipment failure of a ski or snowshoe in a Yukon Winter (minus 30) do I have the necessary kit to repair it?
Can I make shelter such as a snow hole and light a fire, and sit tight until rescue?
Whilst these are extreme examples, hopefully, they give you the idea. The further we are from help the more we need to plan ahead as rescue may not be a quick or easy process.
Self-reliance is critical in remote locations and in most areas the conventional emergency services cannot reach you and you will require specialist rescue teams. In these scenarios, you may want to consider a specific extraction plan.
A critical tool for expeditions and remote locations is to develop your dynamic risk management skills, to make the right decisions as situations unfold. Examples where key hazards change include injuries to team members, equipment failure and inclement weather.
Having the flexibility and backup plans to change your schedule can prevent a situation from deteriorating quickly. In Alaska, they say that airline tickets and schedules kill people as they don’t take the opportunity to stop and wait for better weather. Scheduled storm and rest days, spare kit and other mitigating factors make a huge difference.
No one sets out to have an accident or serious incident. It usually can be traced to a series of factors colliding, which is sometimes called the “three lemons” or “three red lights”.
Several elements combine to create a more serious incident. Examples of this include broken or wrong kit, fatigue or illness within the team, storms or bad weather, inexperience of the conditions, and so on.
Any one of these when combined with a second or third factor (the lights and lemons analogy) can result in a serious incident. Knowing about this effect and recognizing it before it happens, and applying good judgment can avoid accidents or worse.
On our expeditions, we also use this to manage the team, asking more inexperienced team members about how many red lights they have on for fatigue or technical aspects.
So, what are you waiting for?
The best adventure is the one that you take, so start planning and acting on your ideas. If you think your plans are too ambitious, then seek help from professional instructors and organizations.
There are plenty of organizations offering remote travel and wilderness expeditions if you need to build your confidence. Start small and set goals to make it happen.
Andrew Richardson submitted this article.
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