Friday, 31 December 2010

An Interview with Dave Cornthwaite

As a New Year's Eve treat I've been lucky enough to interview Dave Cornthwaite 'The Creative Explorer', a fellow Englishman who has succeeded in taking adventures across the world whilst raising money for the charities he supports; one of these is Africa & Asia Venture, a charity I have links to and also support.

Dave Cornthwaite kayaking the Murray River. Photograph courtesy of Flickr user Inspirational Cinema/Susan 

In 2009 he travelled the length of the Murray River in Australia by kayak and on foot to highlight environmental problems in the area (Dave is currently writing a book about the journey). Other adventures include various Paddleboard expeditions in the UK and mainland Europe. Dave now has big plans for the future - traveling the world and documenting his adventures

Below are the questions that Dave kindly answered for me:

1. How and why did you become an adventurer?

It happened completely by chance. I didn’t even know you could ‘be an Adventurer’ five years ago, the thought hadn’t crossed my mind. That said, I wasn’t overly comfortable with the concept of working for someone else and by the Spring of 2005 I’d begun to consider that perhaps I should be contemplating an alternative career. That’s a key moment, when you open up to the possibilities of change, because you eye up everything as a catalyst. So there I was, a former newspaper editor cum graphic designer, grossly aware that I wasn’t a very good graphic designer, quite miserable actually, desperately searching for some mysterious opportunity that would change my life. And having been a quite ungainly child without any hint of cool, I was as surprised as anyone when I started longboarding. Brilliantly, the simple act of rolling around a town I’d only walked around for six years showed it all in different colours. Imagine undoing some Velcro and instead of hearing that familiar scrape and crackle, a lamb bleats. You try again, and it still bleats. Instantly, preconceptions alter, and you realise that you’re actually quite adaptable and you’d like to test just how much. In my case, two weeks after I started skating I decided to try and skate further than anyone else ever had. I quit my job quite promptly, spent a few months planning, skated from John O’Groats to Lands End as a warm-up and then pushed my board across Australia. I couldn’t really imagine going back to the day-job after that, and I suppose that’s how it all started.

2) What has been the toughest adventure you have undertaken to date?

On expedition in Australia’s Snowy Mountains in 2009 I got caught in the snow. It was unexpected to say the least and I ended up in an unpredicted blizzard of such force it must have resulted in several Aussie meteorologists getting the sack. For four days I waded through new snow which often crept as far up as my thigh, and seeing as I was lugging a 30kg pack full of camera equipment it was quite hard going. 45km at 1km per hour makes one weary. Ironic that I’d gone to Australia to paddle a river in a kayak and although I’d never liked walking very much I needed to reach the river’s source on foot. It wasn’t pleasant up there.

3) How do you prepare mentally and physically for such long periods away?

This is where I answer with a cliché, right?! A key ingredient of any expedition is that it will prove to be testing, and in the process of planning for all eventualities you form a mental picture that takes you to the conclusion of the journey. Most people will tell you that it takes so much work to put a long-term expedition together that there’s barely enough time for sufficient physical training, but given a decent amount of fitness, a positive mindset is by far the essential factor for a successful venture. In short; don’t lie to yourself, believe you can make it, understand your reasons for going away in the first place and prepare well.

4) What’s your next challenge?

My wider challenge is completing Expedition1000, which means twenty-three more 1000-mile journeys. To make it possible (and more importantly, to give myself a chance of finishing it before my body finishes me) I need to cast my eye across a few expeditions at a time, so journeys currently in the planning stage include a Tandem bike ride from Vancouver to Vegas, a source to sea journey along the Mississippi by Stand Up Paddleboard, a crossing of the Himalayas by Paraglider, Zurich to London by FreeCross (a cross-trainer on wheels) and 1000 miles in a wheelchair to conclude at the London Paralympics. In all, the project will take me to every continent, to both poles and across the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans. Don’t ask me what I’m doing when it’s over!

Dave on his longboard journey across Australia. Courtesy of RollsRollsUK 

5) What’s your ultimate goal; if you could do anything or go anywhere what or where would it be?

I’m doing it. I’m not yet at the stage where I can click my fingers and make a journey happen instantly but I knew when I started that it would be a slow-burning process. My ultimate goal is to make a consistent living that affords me the freedom to travel and learn new skills when I choose, but in the meantime attaining that is a journey in itself. If I wasn’t an Adventurer, I’d be trying to be one.

6) How does your work for charity influence your determination to complete your challenges?

When you’re exhausted and plodding along with nothing but the horizon to aim for there is nothing more encouraging than when a complete stranger takes the time to stop and donate a few coins to the charity of your choosing, on behalf of your efforts. I’ll be honest in that my charity work isn’t the defining reason behind what I do, but I couldn’t imagine these journeys not benefiting anybody other than me. We live in an age dominated by charity giving and it’s not fair on my friends if I approach them every journey and ask for a donation – they’d be skint! I’m aiming to raise a million pounds for charity by the end of Expedition1000 and I honestly think that’s possible, but there’s a direct correlation between profile and donated dollars. David Walliams raises more in a cross channel swim than Ed Stafford does in a three year walk along the Amazon River – give me a better reason for fame than that! To clarify, my goal isn’t to become a celebrity Adventurer, but right now my time is better spent sharing my expeditions and getting better known than wandering the streets with a collection tin, it’ll pay off for people who deserve it in a few years.

7) What would you say to someone wanting to push their limits and take on their own expeditions and adventures?

I’d say there’s a difference between wanting, and doing. If you truly want to go off on an adventure you’re the only person who can make it happen, so go for it. Yes, it’ll likely fill you with fear. Yes, the concept of doing something outrageous may make you feel a nagging discomfort similar to the ache of fingernails allowed to grow too long. But it’s worth it. There’s nothing easier than carrying on with what you know well and turning excuses into reasons. In truth, the thoughts that begin to dissuade us against a new adventure are often completely false – they’re just another test! The decision to chase that dream of yours is far more impressive than staying put. Visualise how you might feel if you reach the top of a mountain, or cross a continent on a bike, or even set up your own business. I’m serious, wait until nobody is looking then raise your arms above your head as you cross your own, imaginary finishing line. It feels good. I do it all the time, not necessarily with my arms in the air, but once you take that first decision to make a big change, all the ones after it come a little easier. Nike had the right idea. Just Do It.

8) Who would you most like to meet? Have you any heroes/influences?

Perfect dinner guests: Dawn French, George Clooney, Jamie Oliver, Richard Branson. Michael Jackson on the dance floor afterwards. We all like feeling active and capable, and therefore it’s important to surround yourself with positive creatures who give you the belief that anything is possible. I’m not sure I have any heroes, but I’m inspired by people who think big and then act on it. I’m lucky enough to know a few characters who make a living from doing what they love - it’s easy cooking up new plans with them around.

Just another dinner party with Dave Cornthwaite. Courtesy of Wikipedia 

I'd like to thank Dave for taking the time to answer all the questions and for the support he has given in helping start this blog! A truly inspirational figure showing that a person can make a big change in their life and gain greatly from it, I'm sure we'll be seeing great things from him and I wish him luck with his 25 journeys. Anyone has the ability to achieve anything they set their minds to - turn over a new leaf this new year and take an adventure of your own.

You can find out more about Dave Cornthwaite, and follow his future adventures, at:

Happy New Year! Make your New Year's Resolution an adventurous one - go and Exceed Possibility!

News just in; the Great Joe Brown has been made a CBE (Commander of the British Empire), Congratulations to him; i'll be posting all about him very soon!

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