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Guest Blog: Ed Stafford

This month’s guest blog post comes from Ed Stafford. Ed is currently away on a genuinely impressive, significant, hardcore expedition; walking the length of the Amazon from source to sea. He has kindly shared some thoughts on one of the toughest aspects of any expedition: getting along with your partner under duress.

But first, here are his answers to the stock questions I ask all guest bloggers:

– What expedition or journey has inspired you the most (apart from your own!)?
Mike Horn walking the Arctic Circle – two arctic winters.

– What’s your favourite travel or adventure book?
I don’t read travel/adventure books

– What’s your emergency iPod song when the mojo is failing you? At the moment?
Scouting for Girls – but I need a change.

– What luxury item do you carry on your expeditions?
Instant coffee is as luxurious as it gets…

– What do you miss the most when you are away?
The ladies…

– What advice do you have for someone contemplating an adventure of their own?
Don’t listen to anyone who breathes in sharply and tells you it’s not possible. It is if you want it.

Here is what Ed had to say on the dark side of two-man expeditions.

“Bruce Parry’s first big expedition, in 1999, was a 3-month trek across Irian Jaya and climbing the previously unclimbed south face of Gunung Mandala. He and Mark Anstice filmed the whole thing -with a fat donation from Chris Evans- and spent Millennium New Year’s Eve in the jungle in the rain with no-one to snog but each other. The award winning film they made was called “Cannibals and Crampons“.

My name is Ed Stafford. I am currently attempting to walk the length of the Amazon River – an expedition that it probably won’t surprise you was conceived over a beer. Or two.

Parry and Anstice’s expedition was impressive. Completely off the beaten track, tough as nails, and probably responsible for spawning the current wave of expedition and tribal TV that is fashionable today.

But the thing that sticks with me is the part where Parry has to comment on his frustrations with Anstice. “It’s not hard to tell who was a cavalry officer and who was a Royal Marine” snipes Parry, who was the youngest ever Royal Marines officer physical training instructor and by far the stronger of the two.

The two are still good friends but I’ve been told Anstice was annoyed at the show of friction between the pair. It highlighted to me a dark side to expeditions. Why would you turn on your mate when you are fulfilling the expedition dream of a lifetime? Surely they should have been full of banter and playing tricks on each other in a jovial, but manly, manner?

Nine years later I now understand. I thought I was prepared mentally for a joint attempt at walking the Amazon with my walking partner Luke Collyer. Nothing could have been further from the truth.

The reasons for the arguments are not that interesting. I’m a bit of a control freak; Luke struggled with fitness and language. More interesting was how the expedition managed to exaggerate these niggles into the be-all and end-all of life.

Tiredness can make everything seem worse than it is – but it can only be held responsible up to a point. Perhaps it was the inability to escape each other, the complete dependence on the other, and the stresses (physical danger, financial worries, fulfilling commitments to sponsors and charities) that turned niggles into a fierce and hurtful clash of souls. I was to be Luke’s best man at his wedding when we returned to Blighty but we haven’t spoken now for ten months since he left the expedition. I don’t even know if he’s married yet.

Luke and I walked over the Andes together: from the Pacific coast, up the Colca Canyon and to the summit of Nevado Mismi. From there we descended the Apurimac Canyon for another two months or so. An incredible journey in itself but what was my mind focused on? What are my journals from that time all about? I cringe to admit that it was how annoying I was finding Luke.

Eleven months on and I now have a new partner, Sam Dyson. He is a Shaolin “Warrior” Monk and, more pertinently, he’s a mate from school. We’ve been walking together for a month and at first I thought I’d cracked it. By finding someone who I knew I respected and treated as an absolute equal I thought that my mind would not turn negative and find faults.

I pride myself in positivity but last week Sam struggled with infected toes and I allowed my frustrations to focus their energy on him. He ended up self-evacuating to sort his feet out and I’m waiting for him to rejoin me tomorrow. The break has been good and allowed me to see the situation dispassionately. Perhaps I just need to be mentally stronger – easier said than done.

I am completely focused on gaining control over my mind and maintaining a positive outlook. I hope I succeed; we have another four months of walking ahead of us before Sam goes home to start training to become a doctor. That’s two months longer than I was with Luke.

Good luck to you and Ben on the SOUTH trip, Al! I think you two will be fine but I would be fascinated to hear if either of you does allow their brain to be dragged down by the dark side…”

You can follow Ed’s journey online, on Twitter and on Facebook. The expedition is really up against it financially and is currently seeking a sponsor or donations. Should you be interested you can help the guys out here.

Ed is speaking (via sat phone) in London on 7th July:

Read Comments

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  1. Great post, nice to see such honesty. In many ways a two man expedition is like a marraige without congical right(fortunately)- no respite, no relief just two EGOs 24-7. Its very hard to prepare for that.

    We went for 6 weeks of counciling with a sports pyschologist before we left, which helped a bit. But the best laid plans get forgotten about through a haze of hunger and tiredness. we discovered that the devil was in the details, but vocalizing those details is tough, and hearing them is even tougher.

    Its hard to forgive the other for their weaknesses when you’re on form, and their strength seems to mock your sorry self when you’re not strong.

    I reckon girls don’t have these problems : )

  2. I came back to this article, as by coincidence, I will be hearing Scouting for Girls live tonight. As soon as I knew I would be hearing them it brough back Ed’s post and I will feel the great contrast between Ed’s and my circumstances; he is out there ‘doing’ in the wild, I am in a city doing it in my own way but both will be listening to the same music. Music connects people…

    And Fearghal, girls have the opposite of this challenge that they want to talk about details too much!



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