Mark Kalch is currently walking across Iran. He sent me this piece from Iran. But first, his answers to my stock questions:
– What expedition or adventure has inspired you the most?
In modern times I would say Mike Horn’s solo source to sea of the Amazon. Victorian era, Sir Richard Francis Burton’s journey to Mecca and Al Medina. Celebrated at the time, but imagine doing the sneak-in now???
– What’s your favourite expedition book?
I dig “The Devil Drives”, biography of Dickie Burton by Fawn Brodie
– What’s your emergency iPod song when the mojo is failing you?
Messages by Xavier Rudd
– What luxury item do you carry on your trips?
Does toothpaste and toothbrush count? Otherwise, way too many cables and memory sticks.
– What do you miss the most when you are away?
By far and away my girlfriend. Everything else is secondary and I can deal with. Missing her is killer!
– What advice do you have for someone contemplating an adventure of their own?
Right now I would say try not to go for records or glory. Too many expeditions are chasing being the first this and first that. At the end of their peculiar journey with the right PR all of a sudden they are the next big thing. I mean no one in particular at all, just make your journey for the right reasons. An expedition does not have to be the hardest or record breaking to be worthwhile.
“Right now I am walking through the Alborz Mountains in Northern Iran. The mountains stretch from west to east across this region, shielding Tehran and the south from the Caspian Sea.
I am travelling alone with just what I can carry in my pack. While planning this expedition I had in my head the word “solo” and even, I think, “unsupported”. That is also how I billed it to sponsors etc. It sounded harder, tougher, more difficult. But now, as I walk through this wonderful country, I must re-evaulate what these words really mean for an expedition, at least for me.
To travel solo and unsupported is easily definable in an Arctic or Antarctic setting. There are rules in place for those seeking firsts or records. But even this had me thinking. Sure, the physical action of pulling the pulk, erecting tents may be solo and unsupported, but when does the expedition actually begin?
I am in Iran by myself, walking alone and if there is a problem I must take care of it. True enough. Solo and unsupported? Right now I tend to disagree. Already, I feel the isolation of spending the night by myself in my tent or in a room. I do not think I could get through this journey without knowing the support and backing I have. Sometimes this might be an email or phone call from my girlfriend all the way back in London. When the rain is falling and that bloody highway choked with traffic stretches on forever a call to her has value I cannot measure.
I also carry with me a letter writen in Farsi from the Alpine Club of Iran. It explains what I am doing and asks anyone who can to offer assistance. I had many emails back and forth with my (now) friends Abbas and Mohammad, checking route feasibility etc. I met them several times in Tehran, went to dinner and had a laugh. They have even made contact with a government organisation here to further smooth my path, as well as alerting mountaineering clubs throughout the country of my journey.
My sponsors have provided me with the very best kit I can have to tackle this expedition. My sleeping bag from Rab has kept me warm metres from the crashing surf of the Caspian Sea and on the floor of a spare room above a garage. My camera and handycam from Sony have already, with my decidedly amateur eye, captured some great shots.
Last night I spent with my friends Hamhid, Sajeed and Ali, university students I met who showed me around their town, fed me some tasty Iranian food and found a space on the floor in their apartment to sleep on.
All of these things, all of these people have made my progress possible. Could I do it without them? I cannot say for sure, but I do know that it would be so much more difficult and the experience so much less.
Can I say truthfully now that I travel solo and unsupported? No.”
Follow Mark’s journey at www.markkalch.com.