Belinda Kirk runs Explorers Connect and the Basecamp Festival. She has many years of expedition experience, and also loads of experience about what other people find tricky about committing to action. I asked her to share some thoughts for Grand Adventures.
I’ve decided to write about my first big adventure because after 20 years in the expedition world, it is still my first expedition that means the most to me. I’ve been scanning some of your other posts on this and I have to admit I never had a quarter life or midlife crisis, I knew when I was 7 yrs old that I wanted to be an explorer. I was lucky I was brought up for most of my early childhood on The Channel Islands, where I was apparently ‘practically feral’. On a small island no one worries too much about the dangers of traffic or paedophiles so I was allowed to run free – something that I fear children are denied too much these days…..but I digress….
So my first big adventure was to go to Africa on my own as soon I was ‘released’ from school. I had towed the line, worked hard at school and felt that I had done what I was obliged to do for my parents, friends, society etc….. So completely against my parents’ wishes I told them I was going to Africa to study monkeys and have an adventure for a year before getting back on society’s merry-go-round and going to University and all that jazz. It was a gap year, now very popular, back then a bit of a weird step, however it was without doubt the best step I’ve ever taken bar none.
Some people say the first step is the hardest, I think it can also be the easiest, because really its a no-brainer if it’s what you want to do more than anything else. I started as part of an organised expedition. I paid to be there, when you have zero experience to offer anyone then I think you should expect to pay to build that experience. I also knew I wanted to be part of some zoological fieldwork and couldn’t have done anything meaningful on my own.
(I often get asked how to ‘get into expeditions’ and I still think that paying to go on one well-organised expedition set up by someone/an organisation that knows what they are/it is doing is one of the most effective early steps – think of it as an apprenticeship)
What lay ahead was the best year of my life.
Five pieces of advice I tell everyone
1. Don’t wait.
I can roll out all the cute pictures with inspirational saysing and platitiudes till I’m blue in the face or share with you what people regret on their death beds – you’ve heard it all before – the question is really about whether you are going to do anything about it. If you are, do it NOW, if you put it off you are just kidding yourself.
2. Pick the right mountain.
This is your adventure. You’re organising it or paying for it. Don’t do it because it will be good for your career, don’t do it because your best mate is doing it and don’t do it to impress a girl, do it because it is the thing you want to do more than anything else.
3. Enjoy it.
For years I was wrong, I thought the best explorers were the ones who were the gnarliest and probably suffering the most. That is so wrong. The best explorers are the ones having the most fun. Do you know what British explorers are renowed for? It’s not stiff upper lip or good sportsmanship or something, sorry, it actually suffering. We’re known by the Scandinavians as being really good at suffering. Maybe it started with Scott and his poor choice in clothing/pack animals…. either way that’s rubbish. Don’t let the goal overcome the reason you do this in the first place – an expedition is not a success unless it has been predominantly Type 1 fun. [Note from Al: I strongly disagree, Belinda! 🙂 ]
4. Find positive, likeminded people
It is so easy for people to be negative about what you are dreaming up or to simply miss the point completely. As long as you are surrounded by people who tell you you can’t do something or question your sanity for trying, you are going to find it much harder to get to the start line.
Six years ago I set up Explorers Connect to link people within the adventure world and build a community that can share opportunities and support each other.
There is nothing more empowering than hanging out for an evening or a weekend with likeminded people who when told about your adventure plans will not say ”Why would you want to do that?” but instead say “That sounds awesome. I know a guy who can lend you a packraft/tent/camel…..”
5. Do it cheaper: the single reason most expeditions fail is money
Every year I see so many people failing to start their expeditions. I am gutted for them, as often so much hard work has gone into preparations already. Sometimes plans fail to launch because team mates fall out, sometimes because of political or other situations out of anyone’s control, but more often than not it’s because they haven’t raised the money they had expected to. Please let this be a warning. I don’t want to stop anyone thinking big, please please do but be realistic, if it’s your first expedition either do it cheaper or do something else that’s cheaper then come back to the expensive one next, you will be better prepared.
Finally: when I was thinking about which adventure to talk to you about I did think maybe I should pick one of the really gnarly ones, a desert crossing, something I’d done with a celebrity or a world record, so as to make myself look really gnarly and impressive etc….. but frankly who cares, it’s not about that, its really isn’t, if you want to be truly adventurous let go of what others are expecting of you and be who you are, that is the biggest adventure in life. (ha ha I seriously sound like a full blown hippy now!)
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!