After graduating from university, my friend Andy hatched a drunken plan with his pal Paddy to walk across a continent. We’ve all done that. The difference is that Andy and Paddy pushed through the hangover and made it happen. 48 hours after deciding to walk across Europe, they began.
Alastair: Could you outline for us the big trip that you did?
Andy: I walked, with a friend, from London to Istanbul, which is the closest point of Asia. It took 5½ months, with a couple of breaks. I fractured my fibula which slowed us down for a couple of weeks. It wasn’t a race, just having fun.
Alastair: Just to give people an idea of a big long walking adventure, could you give people a couple of highlights, the special aspects of a journey like this when you look back on it now? Was it the wilderness?
Andy: Not so much the wilderness, really. The only real wilderness we had was when we were crossing the Alps, wild camping, off tracks, having fun. The rest of it was pretty urban, lots of roads. I guess the most memorable bits were campsites in unusual places, whether that’s graveyards or ploughed fields or wherever took our fancy. The generosity and friendliness of people along the way was amazing, particularly in the Balkans where the Foreign Office had warned us that there weren’t many tourists and we’d probably find some unfriendly people. But actually everyone was incredibly welcoming and interested in what we were doing. Though none of them believed that we were actually walking anyway, they just thought we were trying to hitchhike! Trying to get across that we were in fact walking, that we didn’t need a lift and that we had really walked all the way from London was always quite amusing.
Other highlights would include waking up in a minefield, being shot at in Switzerland, free cupcakes in Italy and being granted special permission to walk across the Bosporus Bridge in Istanbul which is closed to all pedestrians.
Alastair: I’mve often found that the countries the Foreign Office warn you about are the most fun and most welcoming.
Andy: Absolutely. If you’re open and friendly to the people you meet you shouldn’t get in much trouble.
Alastair: Why did you do this trip? As in, why did you walk rather than cycle or go climb a mountain?
Andy: Paddy and I were always inspired by Patrick Leigh Fermor’s trilogy of books when he walked from Rotterdam to Constantinople. That got the idea of walking on foot. It seemed to be the cheapest and simplest form of travelling. You didn’t need much – a rucksack, a tent, a little cooker and then you’re pretty much on your way.
Alastair: How much planning and research went into this adventure?
Andy: About 48 hours from coming up with the idea rather drunkenly in Somerset to buying a tent, quitting our jobs, buying a map to get us to Dover and beyond that the rest was a bit of an adventure, really.
Alastair: I think that this is one of the most awesome, inspiring adventure stories of all. I don’t think any other adventure’s been done in less than 48-hours planning. I presume then you did no training. Were you fit enough to walk across Europe when you began?
Andy: I always saw the first month as training! We didn’t need to keep up an enormous mileage, but the first day was quite big. We did about 46 kilometres, I think, and that almost broke us in the pouring rain. From then on, once the feet healed and the blisters got better, it was just like a day job. Just have to walk for 7 hours a day and get it done…
Alastair: …you get all the experience and fitness as you go.
Andy: Exactly. You don’t need to be that fit to walk anyway; it’s just a mindset. You just need to have slight endurance to be able to get up every morning and make the distance you need to cover and as quickly as you can cover it you can then do whatever else you want for the rest of day.
Alastair: If you get tired, just have a rest.
Alastair: On my website, I’mve been asking people’s concerns at what’s stopping them having adventures. One of them is a quite common one which is that people feel they need experience going on an adventure, which is bit of a Catch-22.
Andy: Absolutely. You’ve got to start somewhere. You don’t need experience; everyone has walked a certain distance, chatted to random people they meet along the way and set up a tent in the ditch, or asked a farmer to camp in their field. You don’t need any experience. It’s just a case of getting up and getting on with it.
It definitely helps though if you are proficient at reading a map as well.
Alastair: A bit of a side question: now you’re working in the world of elite polar expeditions, how would people go about getting any experience towards polar mountaineering trips? I’mm thinking of adventures that are a bit more specialised than walking or cycling.
Andy: I think what is always a good start is to seek guidance from professionals and your peers. A lot of people run courses in Finland and places which are up in the Arctic Circle, which are accessible, not that expensive, and are a fantastic base to get the training and the skills that you’ll need in the polar regions. It’s very much worth going on those courses and meeting those people. The other option is to join a team on a guided trip in Greenland where all the equipment and guides are provided.
Alastair: Do you have any names of websites on the top of your head?
Alastair: Probably one of people’s major fears is about the trip itself. Before you set off on your walk (it might have been too short notice because you were drunk in a field) but before you set off, what were you worried about? And how did that compare with the realities of the worries during the trip?
Andy: Our biggest concern was crossing the Alps, funnily enough. We thought the rest of it would be pretty flat but actually walking with our 18 kilo rucksacks over the Alps was going to absolutely break us, and it would be just too hard and we’d be tired after 1½ months having walked all the way to the Alps. Actually in reality, the Alps turned out to be one of the absolute highlights of the trip. We relished walking up and down those mountains, passing climbers with their ropes and it was just us with our homemade walking stick like hobos travelling over the Alps.
Alastair: Cool. What are your thoughts about traveling with a friend or going solo on an adventure?
Andy: I’mm always keen to share experiences with other people. I think if you’ve got a good friend that you know you get on well with, then there’s not likely to be many problems as long as you’re open and have fun together. I’mm all up for sharing experiences. Having said that, I love going off on adventure on my own. If I’mm going fishing, I’mm quite happy spending a couple days in the hills on my own. I’mm very much at peace there. So I think it depends on the adventure. I guess if you do have any fears about anything on the adventure, then it’s good to have someone with you to help you along.
Alastair: I think probably the biggest real thing that stops people going is actually just committing saying, “I’mm going to do this”, and then making it happen. Granted, you only had 48 hours, but what are your thoughts for people who maybe haven’t done anything big yet. How do they actually make it happen?
Andy: There’s no easy way around it, sadly. I think once you have made that decision to do it, things are a lot easier. It’s just a case of organising it and getting on with it. Finding the time, I guess, is usually the biggest fear of commitment that people have. They think their lives are too busy to get up and do things, but time is of the essence. Turns out, walking to Asia was one of the best things I ever did. I was offered several jobs because of it, because people thought I was an interesting person. Yet my fear of going off walking for 5 1/2 months was that I was ignoring having any career, job or anything else. There are good sides, and you should get over your fear and do things.
Alastair: You went more or less straight after uni, didn’t you?
Andy: About 8 months.
Alastair: There are a lot of young people dreaming of this sort of adventure but are worried about getting a job. Yet you feel that having the adventure helped with your career prospects rather than hindered them?
Andy: I didn’t think that at the time until I was halfway through my walk and I got 2 emails from 2 different investment banks in London. Both asked me to come and work for them. I’mve never applied for a job with a bank before. They had just heard about the walk and the blog, and they got in touch. I spoke to them and said, “Why on earth would you want me? You don’t even know my CV or anything else.” They said, “We’ve got enough Cambridge students. We want interesting people. We want people that can talk to clients and talk about interesting things.”
Alastair: Cool. Then post-big adventure, what did that lead to? What are you doing now?
Andy: I have been working with Ben Saunders for the last 7 years; working as his expedition manager on a variety of adventures mainly up in the Arctic, more recently in Antarctica.
Alastair: You would never got that job without walking across Europe.
Andy: No, I don’t think I would. That was my interview with Ben before I got the job. He said, “What have you just done?” I said, “I’mve just walked to Asia. Just got back,” He said, “Alright. The job’s yours. You sound great.”
Alastair: Perfect. Now with all your years of wisdom, if you were going to go do that first big trip again, what do you know now that could’ve helped? What would you do differently, if anything?
Andy: I think I’md probably actually lengthen the trip I did. The problem with walking is if you want to go and see something that’s 50 miles away, it’s going to add an extra 4 days walk-on. I think quite a lot of the time we just streamlined our route because we just thought we need to get there within 5-6 months and we can’t afford the 4 days to go somewhere. If you’re trying to hit a target of 25 miles a day and you find the most idyllic campsite on a river and you want to stay and swim, often we didn’t; we carried on going. We’d end up in some crappy place to camp that night. It was a real shame not to be able to maximum every opportunity we found. If I got to do it again, I’md take more photos and definitely do a few more detours and enjoy the nice spots I did find.
Alastair: I think that’s my exact same feeling about my bike trip, as well.
Alastair: Finally then: This idea of this Adventure1000 is to try and give people the knowledge and confidence to planning and committing what they’ll do; and in the meantime, this idea of saving up the £1000 drip by drip. I’mm going to ask everyone I interview this: how far do you reckon you can get in your means of adventuring for £1000?
Andy: All up?
Alastair: Yes – you’re going to go buy yourself a tent and a sleeping bag, and start walking from London tomorrow.
Andy: I think, to be honest, I could probably get to Istanbul again for £1000. It would be living off pasta, and that’s about it every day. It wouldn’t be very pleasant, but I’md say it’s possible.
Alastair: Is there any way anyone could do anything arctic-y, polar-y on the cheap?
Andy: Yeah. There are places up in Finland, Norway, and the Arctic Circle that have got huge, huge expanses of whiteness; nothing at all in the winter and spring. I think if you get 2 people, club together, borrow some kit, get in a car, and drive up there, I think you could have a lot of fun for £1000.
Alastair: So if there were a couple young guys who are maybe dreaming about a £1-million South Pole trip, they’d be as well to first of all jump in the car to Norway for a few weeks?
Andy: It’s a good place to start.
Alastair: From your experiences, you’ve had this living-like-a-youthful-bum-adventure-type-thing, and now you’re in this corporate-sponsor-£1-million-go-to-South-Pole-type-world. What do you think are a couple of pros and cons of those two worlds? Because I find even from my website – and I’mm not even in that level of expedition – but people often think that they can’t do these big expeditions and so they feel that they are missing out? What are a couple of pros and cons of the cheap versus expensive way of having their adventures?
Andy: Blimey, the big question. This South Pole expedition we’ve been working on, it’s taken 10 years to get all the money, the sponsors, the logistics, and the plans in place. Ben’s given up a huge amount of his life to do that, and there’s no easy fix. If you’ve got the commitment to see something through, and you truly believe that you will get a plan together and you’ll get all the sponsors you need, then yes; there’s no reason why you can’t go and do the biggest trip of your lifetime. It will be hard and it’s going to take years to get there, more than likely.
I think you need to decide if you want to commit 10 years of your life to a project and what that will bring you afterwards. Is it just for the thrill of the adventure or are you going to try and make a career out of this? That’s probably a big deciding factor between multi-million-pound expeditions and going away for 6 months on a grand.
Alastair: That’s a very good answer. The final thing I’mm going to ask is if I was to give you £1000 (which I’mm not actually going to do…)
Andy: Damn it!
Alastair: …what would you do for an all-in expedition for £1000?
Andy: I’mve been thinking about this a bit. I am a very keen fly fisherman, and I’mve always thought while I’mve fished in Scotland a lot, I’mve never really had a chance to properly discover all the hill lochs. I think there are 32,000 hill lochs in Scotland. I wouldn’t do them all, but I think for £1000 all-in, I could quite happily take a walk between at least 100 lochs and see what I could catch over a summer.
Alastair: Very nice. How about if I was to give you £1000 plus the flight, because with the flight it doesn’t limit you to start in the UK. Fly anywhere in the world, and then you get a £1000 adventure…
Andy: I’md love to go to Greenland, to somewhere like the Blue River on the southern tip and bring my pack raft and a fishing rod, and just float down the river and camp on the ice, and then explore some of the fjords, probably catch a few fish. That would be a dream £1000 adventure.
Alastair: Thank you, Andy. Perfect.
You can follow Andy on Twitter: @ward_andy
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