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why go on an expedition?


One of the reasons I started doing expeditions was that they offered the chance to create a group with a single ambition, tight knit, all working together- with none of the nonsense and politics and manoeuvring that occurs in ‘real life’, when there isn’t that same sense of urgency.

The additional benefits are that this joint sense of mission means the group becomes the centre of the universe- for each member of the group. The shared mythology of the trip displaces the outside world of television celebrities and world events, things that usually dwarf us. Without belonging to a group with a higher than average sense of meaning one is destined to be an extra in the mediaworld’s ever changing superficial show- screened across TVs and the internet the world over. People develop double-acts and partnerships- ‘contramundum sets’- two against the world. Dynamic duos who range their own smaller world and its achievements against the ever looming big bad world. But there is always something a bit desperate about such mini-groups who define themselves as ‘against’ rather than ‘for’ something. An expedition is naturally positive- it is going somewhere, and everyone on the team is ‘for’ that onjective.

How does this higher than average sense of meaning manifest itself?

1. People get up early without complaint- and not to ‘show’ they are early risers- simply because the main event of walking is …the main event, and people want to do it, and have to make a certain number of miles or face failure.

2. There is no deep grumbling, by this I mean the core mission is never really questioned except in a joking way- if you’re on a walk of 700km you’re on a walk- you cannot seriously suggest giving up unless it’s obvious you have to give up through illness, injury or some other unforeseeable accident.

3. People sacrifice ‘letting it hang out’, ‘being themselves’, ‘doing their own thing’ for the sake of the expedition. Cabin fever is always a potential problem and people steer clear of standing on each other’s corns, pushing obvious buttons.

4. There is no sense of ‘out there’ (ie. the world of celebrities) being more important than ‘in here’ (what you are doing)- on the expedition.

5. In a real sense you create your own world.

6.There is a sense of calm urgency about what you do, what everyone does.

7. No one drags their feet.

8. You feel that you are where you want to be in the whole wide world. Nowhere else. Doing what you want to be doing.




man is a track following creature


A human being can perish so easily in the desert. To slightly mix metaphors, it’s like being underwater, holding your breath. Sooner or later you must come to the surface. Sooner or later the desert survivor must drink, he must drink to survive. How does he find his way to water? His way out? How does he escape the certainty of a waterless death in the desert? He follows tracks. He follows any track he can find, any prints, any marks, any alem (stone markers) even the strange wavering line left by rootless dry bushes, windblown and rolling like tumbleweed in a Western. Man is a track following creature. He will follow any track, even the wrong one, to his death- or lucky escape from the burning hell, the inferno that is the desert without water.

You see it early on, driving with others. “Oh there’s a track,” you find yourself saying, pointing it out as the double line of tyre tracks unspools across faultless curving dunes. I’ve been with very very experienced drivers. They all succumb to the fond idea that the track maker must know more than they do. But chances are the track maker is just as ignorant. That doesn’t matter. The tracks are there- follow them. Westerners, Easterners, Bedouin- we’re all the same. It’s universal- see a track and follow it. Why? Because we’re followers by nature? Because we might meet the trackmaker? There is a slight practicality- if the tracks suddenly squidge out, show signs of the driver having been stuck we have a warning. But the comfort is psychological rather than real. You usually find out pretty soon that sand is too soft. And good drivers avoid areas that are risky- the tops of flat dunes, the dells and dips between boxed in dunes, also the reverse: the strange hard wave like forms of sand that look soft but are actually very hard and bumpy. Knowing this is probably as much as following a track- but still we follow. It’s psychological. Of course it’s nice to make tracks too, be the first. And its GREAT when there are NO TRACKS and you’re on a camel. Then you know you’re the first person – for a while at least- and the tracks you leave make far less impact than car tracks, though I’ve followed camel tracks weeks old across the kind of surface that fills with fine windblown sand ensuring the footprint remains. A car track is more obvious but camel tracks, with footprints alongside are also easily followed unless avoidance of people is sought. I don’t know why we do it, it’s pat of being human- following the crowd even when it’s a crowd of one.

The two people who never followed tracks in my presence were a Bedouin and an Egyptian army officer. Both knew the desert very well, both were excellent drivers. Both were cocky, probably thinking they were the best drivers around. Both were used to being the person breaking ground, making the route (though plenty of leaders follow tracks). The army officer told me that first he followed tracks, then he used a sun compass, now he uses GPS. But GPS allows some leeway and what happens is that you pick up a track that is going your way and you follow it. Then when it wavers off course you correct and drive on your own, of course looking out for new tracks. When you find one you follow it, repeating the procedure. The Army officer didn’t do this. He went his own way. And so did the Bedouin- once the general direction was decided.

I think it’s worth thinking about. We probably act like this in all walks of life. Even when we know the way, the right way for us, we look for someone else to follow, someone who may not know the way any better than we do.



donkeys of Oman

Just been 2500 metres up a mountain in Oman with some feral donkeys and executives from a big and famous company (not the same thing I must hasten to add). I was there initially to speak about leadership, adventure and the natural polymathy of a homemade expedition. After that we sat round the camp fire and heard the wild donkeys bray. One Omani told me a national proverb, "If your motive is good, a farting donkey won't hurt you." I took that to mean 'a man with a clear conscience will be untroubled by petty alarms'. Though having walked up a mountain before in the wake of a farting mule I can say it is hardly an optimum mode of travel. But windy business aside, this trip to Oman is proving a great way to get a first glimpse of a place with possibilities for all kinds of adventurous travel.


walking outside increases creativity

It's official! What we have always known - that nothing beats a good long outdoor walk for boosting and bettering ideas has now been asserted in a scientific rather than anecdotal way. Dr Marily Oppezzo and Daniel Schwartz report in the article 'The positive effect of walking on creative thinking' (Journal of Experimental Psychology, April 21 2014) that walking improves GAU measures of creativity by 81%. GAU (Guilford's Alternate Uses test) measures the subject's ability to think up as many different uses for an object- something that correlates meaningfully with being creative. The tests were performed using treadmills indoors and also going on outdoor walks- in contrast with being seated. They found that outdoor walking produced 'the most novel and highest quality' results of all.


breathe and the world breathes with you

Many mystical traditions talk a lot about breath and breathing. Yoshinkan Aikido is known for its founder's adherence to the idea of kokkyu rokkyu- breath power. Buddhism in its many variants has meditation exercises based around observing your own breathing. And then there are the stories of 'chosen' children being breathed on by enlightened folk, a passing on of knowledge or wisdom it is presumed.

But few really vaulable things can be presented except through a shape shift, a metaphor or analogy or story. So what is the analogy for breath? Expanded sensations of conciousness, where connectedness and wellbeing rather than excstasy are self-observed, bring forth the insight that 'the world breathes', 'conciousness breathes in time with all living things'; you can breathe more 'deeply' by being more 'open' to the experience. Your own breathing has nothing much to do with this cosmic breathing except to provide a way of understanding it.

People become obsessed by breathing exercises partly because oxygen starvation/overload can cause pleasurable or strange mental states. But this is a dead end. Breathe to stay alive and breathe to connect with the idea of a universe of connected consciousness.


all wars are wars of attrition

Von Clausewitz the famous strategist characterised wars into those of attrition and those that strike a decisive blow. Now this probably depends on the level of technology available. Dropping an A bomb certainly ended WW2 pretty quickly- but then only one side had them. Modern wars, messy and confused with policing and government and terrorist issues all seem to be attritional. I think, in fact, that the attritional mindset is needed even for a war that might be over very quickly. And if you think of the war metaphor (the war on drugs, on poverty) then the attritional mindset is the only one that makes sense.

We can also use the war metaphor when dealing with our own objectives. I think putting on an attritional 'head' is required because otherwise you might be tempted to give up at the first reverse. Thinking of something as a 'war of attrition' puts you in a more comfortable long term frame of mind. You emanate calm rather than bluster and haste. You plan your move ahead. If you think of all 'wars' as wars of attrition you will probably win more of them.


Nat Geo article

Check this out:

an article in Nat Geo traveller about a rubber boat journey in cairo a few moons back

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