James Ketchell is a serial adventurer, motivational speaker and Scouting ambassador. James is the first person to have rowed the Atlantic Ocean, summited Everest and cycled round the world. Seven years prior to this, he was recovering from a serious motorcycle accident that left him with broken legs as well as a severely broken and dislocated ankle. The prognosis was that he was likely to suffer a permanent walking impairment and would certainly not be able to continue the active physical lifestyle he had enjoyed up to that point. It was the aspect of overcoming this impediment to beginning adventure that interested me for my Grand Adventures project: time and again I hear people describe how beginning is the hardest step of all. This is definitely more important than the fact that his trips cost more than a grand.
Alastair: Can you give us a quick summary of your trio of grand challenges?
James: In 2010, I rowed 3,000 miles solo across the Atlantic Ocean, from La Gomera to Antigua in the Caribbean – the same route that Christopher Columbus used to discover the Americas back in 1492. On 16th May 2011, I stood on the summit of Mount Everest. Then on 30th June 2013, I set out on an 18,000 mile cycle around the world, finishing back in Greenwich Park, Royal Observatory on 1st February 2014.
Alastair: Paint a picture of a couple of the stand-out moments for us…
James: My favourite highlight has to be rowing into English Harbour after 110 days at sea. The reception that I received from everyone when the word got out that a lunatic from Britain was about to row into the harbour was just amazing! I’ve not experienced a feeling like that to date. Another highlight was an amazing family I met in Phoneix whilst cycling around the world. Their names were Bob and Jessy, a wonderful couple, who I stayed with for Thanksgiving. We went out for an amazing meal to celebrate the occasion and Bob said to me he was going to fly to London to see me finish on my last day! I thought to myself, there is just no way that’s going to happen, but true to his word, he flew to London to see me finish. I’ll never forget that moment when I saw him.
Alastair: Why did you do all this?
James: I’m often asked what drove me to undertake these challenges. I think the honest answer has always been the fact that I’ve loved being slightly different. I knew when I was younger that my brain functioned slightly differently from most people. It’s the combination of how I felt when I had a motorcycle accident seven years ago and having my mobility temporarily taken away, that gave me much more of an appreciation of life. Additionally, I love meeting people from different countries and cultures. Ultimately, my passion for inspiring young people to pursue their own goals and dreams was another driving force behind the decision to undertake these challenges.
Alastair: What were you doing before?
James: Before I started going away on expeditions I was working as an account manager for an IT company, leading a very normal life. Also I was working every Saturday as a gym instructor and when I had the spare money, I was racing motorbikes.
Alastair: What impact have these adventures have on your life?
James: I’ve been very fortunate to have met some very successful people over the last few years in my quest for sponsorship and I have noticed one similarity with successful people in general: their appreciation of time. You cannot buy time back no matter how wealthy you are, so my appreciation of time has changed massively. Travelling the world and meeting people from different cultures, some rich, some very poor, will give you a good appreciation of the things that we actually have in our lives and how lucky most of us actually are. One of the biggest things I’ve taken away from adventure is, with the right mind set, anything is possible and it’s quite amazing how you will surprise yourself when you’re prepared to put the hard work in.
Alastair: Let’s try to tease out a few tips for other people dreaming of adventure. How did you turn your dream into reality?
James: Taking the first step is actually the hardest part for any budding adventurer. Once you have made the decision, it’s not uncommon for people around you to start telling you that this may not be a good idea. Quite often they will be your closest friends and family but it’s only a natural reaction as they want to protect you. I found that actions speak louder than words and when I started relentlessly working on sponsorship and promoting the project, people that were anxious about my activities became my greatest supporters. Don’t be put off by anyone telling you what you should or shouldn’t be doing; this is why taking the first step is the toughest part. In all honesty, there is no short cut to turning your dream into a reality. It will take hard work and determination. However that capability does lie within everyone if you want something badly enough.
Alastair: What practical steps should people take to make their adventure happen?
James: First things first, planning is massively important and for some people, this can be the most fun part. I personally love all the planning and work that goes into a big adventure. Before I rowed across the Atlantic Ocean, I broke the project into manageable sections. Technical, Funding and Fitness were some of the sections I broke the project into. I was always asking myself, what’s the most important part, and it always came back to funding. I could have spent hours and hours every day rowing and have become a fantastic rower but then on the start line, I wouldn’t have had a boat as I didn’t prioritise my time correctly and work on obtaining the funding to buy a boat. Prioritising what is really important and what can wait, is crucial to a successful project.
Alastair: What do you know now that you wish you’d known before you began?
James: Before I started going away on adventures, I didn’t really like it when things didn’t go my way or the outcome of whatever I was working on was not what I wanted or expected. Adventure and expeditions will teach you that sometimes things don’t always go your way, and that is OK. It’s a simple fact of life. I often found myself adjusting my route and itinerary as I cycled around the world for reasons that were beyond my control.
Alastair: Any tips on saving for the trip (sponsorship? selling your car?) or living cheap during the trip?
James: To save money, I moved back home with my parents; this made a big difference to my finances. Not particularly cool when you’re in your late twenties but it goes back to how much do you want something. I took on an extra job, delivering Chinese food in the evenings. There is no secret to sponsorship, once you have got the five W’s sorted: what am I doing, why am I doing it, what I can give in return, what am I looking for, when am I doing it. It’s just a case of getting out there and speaking to as many people as possible. It’s a numbers game – if you speak to 1,000 people, I can almost guarantee that someone will sponsor you. However if you only speak to a hundred people and you don’t find anyone willing to help, you can’t give up. The only difference between someone who can obtain sponsorship and someone who can’t is proactivity!
Alastair: Are you the sort of adventurer who has opinions on equipment or don’t you really care about kit?
James: Personally, I really love equipment and checking out what new adventure kit is coming out etc., but there was one thing I learnt when I cycled the world. Before I set off, I was using a second-hand bike that I purchased for £300 from a friend who works at a bike shop. I did actually have the budget to buy a new bike to go round the world on, but I really liked the idea of cycling the world on a second-hand bike, so that’s what I did! You don’t have to have the biggest and the best of everything to go away on an adventure. My bike performed amazingly and I don’t believe a brand new bike would have made any difference. So don’t worry too much if you don’t have the money for expensive kit, it’s not always necessary.
Alastair: And finally…What does it take to be an adventurer?
James: The right mind set is crucial for getting into adventure and believe it or not, this lies within everyone. Have you ever tried some new food that you weren’t sure if you’d like or not? That is being adventurous! You don’t have to climb big mountains and row oceans or go away for months at a time to experience adventure. The adventurous spirit is within everyone!
My new book, Grand Adventures, is out now.
It’s designed to help you dream big, plan quick, then go explore.
The book contains interviews and expertise from around 100 adventurers, plus masses of great photos to get you excited.
I would be extremely grateful if you bought a copy here today!
Thank you so much!