I have never taken a journey involving an animal, though I would love to. I know the reasons why I have not done it: it’s more expensive than just going solo; making it to the start line is more of a hassle; getting underway each morning is slow; you need skills to care for and control the animal; or you need to travel with somebody who has those skills. You also need patience. At the end of a long, hard day you have to put the animal’s needs above your own, and to look after it before you look after yourself. None of these things appeal to me. (Or rather, some of them do appeal in theory, but I know my weaknesses!)
Every style of adventure has its pros and cons. And the benefits of a journey with an animal are huge. There is the satisfaction of sharing the journey with another soul (probably one more intelligent and sentient than some of my previous human companions…). There is the inspiring example of stoicism, minimalism, simple needs and living in the moment which all adventurers aspire to but fall pitifully short of compared to any dog or donkey. You are instantly more interesting if you’re travelling with an animal, leading to conversations, opportunities and shared hospitality. Then there is the exciting link to adventurers of old.
Leon and I hauled a stupid cart through the Empty Quarter desert in our own homage to Wilfred Thesiger. We’d have been far better off with camels. On a practical level, animals can assist your journey. But on that trip we couldn’t afford camels, didn’t know how to use them (nor had the time or patience to learn) and we’re a pair of daft masochists who liked the idea of making things physically hard for ourselves. But camels were a great help to Paula Constant who crossed the Sahara, and a donkey bore the brunt of the load on Hannah Engelkamp’s 1000-mile walk round Wales, both of whom are interviewed in my new book, Grand Adventures.
Tim Cope’s three-year journey on horseback across much of Eurasia in the footsteps of Genghis Khan became a way of life for him. It was slow, far slower than his previous experience of bicycle journeys had led him to anticipate. He began this journey after growing frustrated by the limitations of bicycle travel: always on a track or road, unable to explore the ‘6000 miles without any fences’ that lay between Mongolia and the Danube.
If you have the time, the patience, the money and the temperament for a journey with an animal you can be certain that it will make for a rewarding, entertaining experience and a fantastic story.
One of the resounding recurring messages themes of this book is that everyone begins as a beginner, and that thatinexperience should not impede your adventuring plans. The notion of learning on the job resonates through the stories of all those who have travelled with animals in this book.
Both Paula and Hannah found their journeys to be more complicated than they had anticipated when they began, their imaginations fired by romantic visions of carefree adventure. As someone who has often daydreamed about a long expedition with camels or horses, I shuddered a little at Tim’s comparison that ‘the easiest day on the horses was harder than the hardest days of any other journey.’ Strong words from a man who has cycled and rowed thousands of miles in the wild. Everyone views the experience as being special though.
Something I always aspire to on my own journeys is to live in the moment, to take each challenge and triumph one and disaster one at a time, and to enjoy them each day as best I can. But I am hopeless at doing this. I am forever dreaming of the future, reminiscing about the past, or grumbling about the present. A journey with an animal is one long lesson in living in the moment. Hannah observed that her donkey, Chico, ‘had a moment moment-by by-moment appreciation of the world. For him it was just about feeling like having a roll, ‘I’m having a roll,’ or feeling like having a bit of this plant and having a bit of that plant’.
There’s a lot of wisdom about the art of travel in that small donkey!
Journeys with animals are hard work and slow. But they also allow great freedom of movement. Escaping from the man-made roads of the world is an intoxicating prospect not often possible on touring bikes. ‘Horses can literally cross raging rivers, you can go through snow, up mountains, you can go on tracks as well, but they are incredibly versatile and you can go a long way.’
Tim sums up the essence of journeys with animals: ‘from day one to the finish, it’s unpredictable. It was an unscripted life that I was looking for and a sense of freedom. That was what I was really looking for.’
My new book, Grand Adventures, answers many questions such as this. It’s designed to help you dream big, plan quick, then go explore. There are also 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!
I would also be really thankful if you could share this link on social media with all your friends – http://amzn.to/20IMYDt. It honestly would help me far more than you realise.
Thank you so much!