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Lessons From The Row

Sunrise at sea

“If you ever see me anywhere near a boat again, you have my permission to shoot me!” – Sir Steve Redgrave after winning his fourth Olympic gold medal for rowing. Four years later, he won a fifth…

“This is bloody stupid!” – John Fairfax after becoming the first person to row the Atlantic solo. Two years later, he rowed the Pacific…

No regrets, but no encore either: as I approach the end of this genuinely epic adventure I am pretty certain that I will never again want to row across an ocean. But I am very glad to have (nearly) rowed one, even though it has been far from a pleasurable experience. Over the last couple of days I have been trying to tease out the reasons why, in these closing miles, it all feels worthwhile. I know that many will ask “what is the use..?”

Some aspects are simple. Immersion (bad choice of word!?) in the most wild, untouched environment I have known. Testing and probing whether we have the skills and the nerve, the guts and the luck to get through this raw, primeval world, unchanged in millions of years. I have enjoyed spending half of this trip beneath a bright night sky. It is impossible not to be struck either by our insignificance or by our extraordinary significance in this vast universe. Whichever way you personally see it, it has certainly encouraged me to pause and reflect on what I am doing with my life, or rather on what I should be doing with my life.

On a less grand scale the past month and a half has also been a pleasant escape from the real world and all its petty irritations. This is selfish, and a bit ostrich-head-in-the-sand, but it’s also refreshing and pleasant! No late trains, spam emails or queuing in the supermarket… For the past 3000 miles we have all been focussed on one single task, 24 hours a day, every single day. It is impressive what can be achieved when you commit 100% of your efforts towards one project. I compare this to the frustration I felt over the last few months at home, trying to squeeze writing a book in amongst the chaos of my normal life [‘There Are Other Rivers’ is available on Amazon and Kindle..!]. Compromise and imperfection are not really options out here: it’s a binary world whereby we will simply succeed or not succeed.

Played out on this stage there has also been a personal battle with myself, both physical and mental. As on all my previous trips I have been wryly amused at how ill-suited I am for this lifestyle. Because I have done a few long misery trips before I have not learned much new about myself, nor surprised myself (as most people do on their first big trip) at being capable of far more than I imagined myself to be.

If none of this is new, why do I return time and again to arduous, remote trips? One of the main reasons is the perspective it gives on my normal life. Until I press the ‘pause’ button on my busy 21st Century life and step so far away from it that I can see it in its entirety, it is difficult for me to really evaluate it all. Being out here on the ocean gives me a fresh motivation to chop away all the superficial, time-wasting rubbish that clutters and clogs my days and to remind myself who and what really matter.

Finally, whilst I greatly admire people who do difficult things just for the sake of the doing, and do not feel the need to boast and blog at every opportunity, I personally am enjoying more and more using these trips as a way of telling stories. To share my experiences with an audience who may find them interesting, diverting or as a prod towards adventures of their own makes this whole mad venture feel a little less stupid and a lot more worthwhile. This is particularly true of the schools I have phoned from the ocean, spread across 16 time zones. I love the thought that these childrens’ day of sensible education has been punctuated, if only briefly, with the subversive notion that there are oceans out there to be rowed across and more mad adventures and experiences and lessons than can ever be crammed into one short lifetime.

– We hope to reach dry land and wet beer on Monday morning. After that I intend to eat and sleep for a couple of weeks. And then I will get back to blogging properly once again, mostly about the South Pole expedition that kicks off at the end of the year.

Finally, I have been raising funds on this trip for ‘Hope and Homes for Children’. You can support them at I would love to reach my target of 1pound per mile. Thank You.


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  1. Paula Owens Posted

    Thank goodness for people like you filling children’s heads with ‘subversive notions’ to inspire them about epic and everyday possibilities out there in the real world. And for inspiring some of us grown ups too.
    Hope these last miles go quickly and safely for you all out there.

  2. Pete Casey Posted

    If the link above to Al’s Just Giving charity page is not working, try this one…..

  3. Catherine Monaghan Posted

    Class 2 have loved every minute of your adventure and your example fills us with awe at what is out there to challenge us and what we can achieve if we set our minds to it. Although we are cheering you on to the finish line we will miss it when it’s over… But look forward to the next adventure or indeed one of our own!

  4. Oh boy will that beer taste good – and some jerk chicken perhaps?
    Fine job Al and looking forward to hearing more about the freeze dried treats.
    Enjoy the beach

  5. One day, when I’m old and my grandchildren ask me why I started my first adventure, I’ll tell them that it was Alastair Humphreys’ words and stories that encouraged me to back my backpack.
    : )

    Thanks Al!

  6. John Simon Posted

    Your adventure sparks the adventure in me. Even if I don’t actually take super grand ones. I think there is a part of us that dreams and craves them. You’re actually doing it, so Way To Go you! But I think I read more selfishly and use your stories to feed my adventure. Isn’t that what inspiration is anyway? So thanks!

    I do have to admit though that lately I’ve been mixing you and that Cornthwaite dude up at times. Only sometimes when i’m tired or just glancing a post. Do you guys know eachother?

    • Dave Cornthwaite Posted

      John, I’m glad to say I do know Al, and it was his approach to adventure that encouraged me to pursue it on a more than part-time basis. I’m happy to admit that he’s always been a step ahead of me in the ability to express the very essence of taking on these journeys in our funny old world, and with that in mind I’d imagine Al would be quite pissed off at any comparison!

      And of course well done Al, for crossing an ocean, and admitting before you’ve even finished that you’re unlikely to do it again. It’s that lack of sugar coating that keeps your stories real. I’m having a beer in salute to your efforts tonight, enjoyed the blogs.

  7. Legend! Well done Al, I have thoroughly enjoyed following and mapping out this adventure on our map in the lounge with my 5 year old daughter Annabel. She will be as delighted as I am you have achieved your goal. Well done!!

  8. You inspire me. Seriously. Congrats on finishing this huge undertaking!

  9. Congratulations Al… outstanding achievement!

    Enjoy the short flight back home 🙂

  10. Claire Posted

    Been following as well and feeling thoroughly inspired! Well done Al, and thanks for being someone different.



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