Feast or Famine? Walking Over the Edge with Alastair Humphreys #176
Alastair Humphreys is unusual. He cycled around the world (46,000 miles) and rowed across the Atlantic Ocean unsupported. Those feats are unusual, but more accessible for the commoner are his microadventures, short, local, burts of curious wanderings out your front door. I’d pair beautiful and unusual together to give a crisper coupling of his leadership invitation to each of us “Live Adventurously”. Motivational speaker, Author, and Good Human, Alastair is the real deal.
In our podcast conversation today, we talk about one of his most vulnerable adventures, playing the violin for money. Alastair pushes himself to his very limits – busking his way across Spain with a violin he can barely play. His book, My Midsummer Morning is the tale of his beautiful, audacious, unusual adventure. Watch his short film My Midsummer Morning.
About Alastair Humphreys
“Humphreys is clearly slightly bonkers and this is a wonderful thing”
– Geographical Magazine
Alastair Humphreys is an adventurer, blogger, author, speaker, and film maker. Alastair is a National Geographic Adventurer of the Year and has written 12 books. He produces a monthly newsletter with the highlights of the blog, forthcoming speaking engagements and important expedition news.
Alastair’s quest for adventure began young. Aged nine, he completed the 20 mile Yorkshire 3 Peaks challenge, then the National 3 Peaks in 24 hours aged 13. At 15 he cycled off-road across England. After leaving school, Alastair taught for a year in South Africa.
Whilst at university (Edinburgh and Oxford) Alastair cycled from Pakistan to China, Land’s End to John O’Groats, Turkey to Italy, Mexico to Panama and across South America. He ran a charity project in the Philippines and the London marathon dressed as a rhino.
Since graduating Alastair has cycled round the world for four years, raced a yacht across the Atlantic Ocean, canoed 500 miles down the Yukon River and walked the length of the holy Kaveri river in India.
Alastair has also run the Marathon des Sables, (finishing as one of the ten fastest Brits despite breaking his foot during the race) and rowed to France with a paralyzed soldier. In 2010 he completed an unsupported crossing of Iceland by foot and packraft.
In 2011 Alastair decided to remain in the UK in order to encourage people to seek out adventure and wilderness closer to home, challenging themselves through microadventures. In 2012 Alastair rowed across the Atlantic Ocean, did an expedition in Greenland and walked across the Empty Quarter desert.
Since then he has concentrated on his microadventures, encouraging people to get out and fit more adventure into their busy lives. He has worked with clients including National Geographic, Talisker, Peugeot, Skoda, easyJet, Cartier, Victorinox, Vodafone, GoPro and Adidas on this movement. Alastair’s book, Microadventures, was an Amazon UK Top 20 Bestseller for all books. Grand Adventures reached Number 8 for all books on Amazon UK.
In 2016 Alastair attempted to busk across Spain in the footsteps of one of his literary heroes.
He was chosen as one of National Geographic’s Adventurers of the Year in 2012 and won the Ordnance Survey Children’s Travel Book of the Year in 2019. Alastair lives in a village outside London with his wife and two young children (hence the microadventures!)
Alastair is a patron of the charity Hope and Homes for Children, the Youth Adventure Trust, the Outdoor Swimming Society, and the Yorkshire Dales Society. He is a life member of the John Muir Trust, the Woodland Trust, the National Trust, a supporter of Trees for Cities, and donates at least 1% of his income to environmental charities.
Transcription of Alastair Humphreys interview on Work Life Play, November 2019
Aaron: Hey friends, welcome to another episode of Work Life Play. My guest today, I’m really excited. I consider him a friend, even though I’ve only met him over a podcast, but his book books sit next to me as I work in my home office and my recording studio. It’s Alastair Humphreys.
I credit him with this big idea in my life, about Microadventures, about turning every day into an opportunity to live adventurously so he’s got another book out that we’ll talk about today in the podcast. As he is maturing and he’s got kids and he does big adventures and huge expeditions and he does some simple things like climb a tree every month just to take a pause in life and observed the seasons. And he’s doing like a photo journal piece on this particular vantage point that he has from this tree nearby.
So really inspirational guy. I find him a really helpful ally, on this journey of finding work. We love, living adventurously and staying connected to the people that we love. All right. Ready. Set. Go. I actually discovered you in an outside magazine article and I was like, what? Who is this guy? And then looking up that you had done these Epic, Epic, big things, but that actually wasn’t what made you famous.
Alastair Humphreys: Yeah. Nobody cares about that. I spent years going around the world and slaving over a book and now no one cares but I go sleep on a little Hill outside London with four cans of beer and suddenly everyone gets interested. One of my favorites too was the walking home on Christmas and your little Twitter feed that you did. Yes.
Aaron: I’ve coerced a couple of my buddies into some of these same adventures of like, okay, fellows, so we’re going to the pub first and then we’re going to go sleep on a Hill. I’ve definitely emulated a lot. I just love the spirit of adventure as a way of life that has nothing to do with length of time or you know, amount of experience or any of those things or, or level of effort. Even that just kind of reinfusing your life with adventure again. So that’s where I really found that the book Microadventures a passion ignite for myself.
Alastair Humphreys: Oh good. It’s nice. This year my project is very gone even smaller is that I’m just climbing the same tree once a month. Come on. So my Google calendar pot goes thing. I think it’s something like the first Tuesday of the month I always busy and it goes ding, go climb a tree. Oh man, I have to stop my email, go to this tree, this nearby, climb up at, I always climb to the same place and take a photo from the same place. So I can see the leaves growing and now just now as Autumn- falls here. So Brown leaves. So photo elapsed time.
Just one a month. And I go to the exact same place. It’s quite a high, this the last bit of the tree scares me every month. Okay. A tiny dose of fear as well. But I’m finding that a really nice way just to measure my year to reflect on the month as past. I think a little bit about the month ahead, have a look, our nature’s changing and then come back down the tree and get back on with my emails.
Aaron: So, tell me, Alastair, your life has changed quite a bit too, right? Like so in the early days you were just, you know, a single mate out there on his own for two years at a time on a bike or rowing across an ocean. But now you have a family, you’re married. Is that right?
Alastair Humphreys: Yeah. Married with two young kids. So just put them to bed now, then come out and just done bedtime stories and then come out to my shed, which is just across the garden to chat to you. So, yeah, it’s quite a different perspective on life, but also just different amount of spare time as well.
That’s it. The biggest limiting thing. Probably the biggest limiting factor or it’s just time and how that has to change my approach to things in my own time has to become much more limited. Do you find that that makes you more relatable for people that don’t live the adventurous, you know, days and months and years on end out to adventure?
Well, I think that was the essence of MicroAdventures being popular because in my kids, my son was just 10 this week actually. So, okay. All through micro adventures, the whole book, I had a young family, but I’ve only just gone public on it. I’ve had this very strict separation in my real life from my internet life. So, I think that’s the reason they MicroAdventures has been popular is because it’s real life. It’s me dashing off to do something and getting back for, take the kids to school in the morning.
Alastair Humphreys: So yeah. So I think it is very much relatable. That’s, that’s the whole point, when people say they like MicroAdventures it’s usually the word relatable that they mentioned. I agree. So what’s the drive behind? I’m no longer keeping your life separate? Well, I still would lie still. I still am really, no, I don’t really have anything about my family on the internet, but the main thing was writing this book about Spain, and I tried to write the Spain book without talking about my, my own life, but it just didn’t really work.
So I just had to break cover I guess, and just write a much more personal narrative than I do. I initially intended to do or initially felt comfortable with to be honest, but I, I kind of had to write these, the sort of struggles of trying to be a good dad and a good adventurer, for the book to work. And so that sort of led to me
Alastair Humphreys: Coming out of cover, I suppose. Not that that’s not quite the right phrase, but you know, I, but something of that essence, right? Like, yeah. Cause it’s easy to write about adventures themselves. And they could be kind of benign and separate from whoever you are back on, Monday at 9:00 AM, you know, cooking oatmeal for the family. Right. Yeah.
Alastair Humphreys: And there are times when that’s part of the appeal of adventures is to leave one world behind., whether it’s a job you don’t like or a family who are driving you nuts or whatever. An escape from that for a little while and go out into the wild, fix your head and come back to the frayed in a better place.
Aaron: So, tell us about this adventure in Spain. I was listening to some of it on audio today. I just came back from a trip and in Barcelona myself. So at least have some orientation. Yeah. Of at least the countryside. So tell us about you and a violin and so I in a different narrative.
Alastair Humphreys: I followed the route of a travel boat, which I’ve loved for many years, called as I walked out one Mid-Summer morning, which is a story from the 1930s about a British guy called Lori Lee who walked through Spain playing his violin. And it’s a lovely, simple travel book and I’ve always wanted to do it, but to do it justice, I felt if I was going to do that route, I had to play the violin as well, but I can’t play the violin after all or any other instruments. And so I kept putting it off for years for that reason.
But gradually I came to realize that actually the fact that I couldn’t play the violin, that was the adventure. I’ve spent 20 years hiking along way and camping and cooking on fires and roughing it and not having a shower. So I’ve done all that so often, but I realized that trying to play the violin suddenly felt scary and exciting and thrilling and risky, and adventurous in other words.
Alastair Humphreys: I spent a month in Spain with no money, no credit card, learning my violin following this hike. And it was terrifying and thrilling and ridiculous and hard. And therefore it was a great adventure. Absolutely wonderful experience. Did you say no credit card? No money? No. No. Yeah. No. Cause I figured, you know, if you want, you’ve got to, there’s no point in going to Vegas and playing for M and M’s is that you’ve got to, you know, you’ve got to, you’ve got to put some skin in the game. All your chips are in the table, you bet at all. Exactly. So the first, so I flew to Spain with money because I needed money for the airplane.
Then I, I stayed the first night in an Airbnb and then the next morning I walked out of the Airbnb and I emptied the coins out of my pocket and I left them in a pile on a park bench. And that was it. No money for a month. Only the violin can. I never, I’d never played the violin in public before. I’d never busked anywhere before and I was absolutely terrified. But if I wanted to eat, I had to do it. And that’s, that was the magic of not taking a credit card.
Alastair Humphreys: Trying to go play the violin. I’m feeling like an absolute idiot right now. So your violin actually became how you generated revenue on this trip? The only way it’s general open your hat in your hand.
Alastair Humphreys: And your heart. And then to continue that sensation, I had a rule, which was every time I earned money, I had to spend all of it immediately. So it was feast or famine. And that then meant that the next day I’d be back to zero again and Hungary and let’s do it again. So to just keep forcing, forcing, forcing the game. So I drive in a village, a small town, and I just have to find the best Plaza and look around and set up my violin and just feel so embarrassed and just, yeah. So I am as, I’m not just being British and humble. I am actually bad. I’m sorry. Yes, I didn’t sound great. Yeah. I don’t know that I would have put a Euro in your, in your hat. But I find that was the fascinating thing though, is that people did put money in my hat.
Not a great amount. I earned 120 euros in a month. So it was hardly a, I wasn’t going to the Ritz hotel or anything very fancy. In fact, I didn’t go to a single hotel but 120 euros in a month for being very bad at the violin was way more money than I imagined I’d get. It was that, and it’s just magical when someone walks past, cause people will pass, more pass will pass than someone walks past and drops a coin and suddenly thinking woo, hallelujah. I will eat today. And it’s the same. Good gaseous seems. They’re very insufficient. Jesuit
Alastair Humphreys: lo siento hello. I had bitten off way more than I could chew. The whole adventure was doomed to failure. And then an elderly gentleman stood up from the bench in disgust. He’d heard enough as he walked slowly towards me. I was sure he was going to tell me off. Say Sinyard be quiet. Go away. Oh, can I ask you to say Esther as L Premera dinero and maybe MEV de LA Musica. My first ever money from the violet. I did it.
Aaron: I love that you’re saying they required a hat, you know, open, open heart and open hand. Yes. So tell me about the open heart part.
Alastair Humphreys: I’m really bad at the violin, so no one was giving me money because it was beautiful and Spain’s had a terrible economic crash and people are hardly just throwing money away because they got too much of it. So I was really interested then why anyone would give me money because I was clearly, you know, I don’t look, it’s all Spanish. I’m clearly a foreigner. So why were they being kind to some foreign guy? And most people when they give money, they don’t stop and listen to you and say, who are you? And let me explain why I’m doing this and I’m following a book and therefore they want to give me money. Most people just walk past and drop the coin and they’re gone and there’s no conversation.
Alastair Humphreys: And that’s just a random act, spontaneous kindness, which might be 20 cents or 10 cents or 50 cents. But it was amazing. And it’s just such a nice way to live those people who just drop a little bit of kindness and carry on in their day, not even looking for a thanks is a really nice way to live. And then as a recipient of that, it was, it was an interesting experience just to have to trust the world. I felt that I was working hard rather than begging, you know, I was playing for hours now, so I was really putting in the effort, but at the end of the day I had to just trust and hope and that was a nice exercise in vulnerability that you don’t get too often in life. And it’s interesting when you’ve got nothing to do all day except walk 20 miles plus earn enough money for some lunch.
Then suddenly like, Alexander super Trump the days open up and become law. One of the reasons I wanted to go to Spain was because I was so frazzled and frustrated with my normal life and just, where’s the time going at hard time. There’s no time. Yeah, exactly. Then suddenly you turn up in Spain and Oh, 24 days, sorry, 24 hours becomes a long time. And that’s the lovely thing is to just empty out your day so that they can become full. That’s really nice. , I didn’t have any email or internet or music to listen to or books to read, so I also emptied out all that side of my brain as well. I had nothing to do except watch the world go by, walk and play the violet.
Alastair Humphreys: It’s 2:00 PM and I’m naked in a cabbage field in Spain. You’re probably asking, Oh, why are you naked in the cabbage field in space? Let me tell you these irrigation sprays.
Aaron: I’m curious, what compels you to put yourself so far out on the edge? That was, I mean, I think part of it was trying to get myself back to the edge that used to be on back in the days when I walked across in new cross, the empty courts at desert or row across the Atlantic. And in those days I was looking for excitement and fear and adrenaline and uncertainty. And risk and all this stuff that good old adventure gives you, but which I think had become a little bit jaded by, from just being in that same world for so long. And so I managed to get all of those exciting, adventurous feelings now just by going on a walk that really wasn’t that big a deal. You know, I’ve done way harder walks, but this was exciting because if the violin, and that was one thing I enjoyed about that was that was another step.
Alastair Humphreys: It was my journey, my mentality of the journey of looking differently at adventure, looking differently at living adventurously and we talked earlier about you exploring your town places you haven’t been to in 20 years. And I think that’s all the same sort of thing. I’m just trying to look a little bit differently about how you can incorporate an adventurous attitude into your normal everyday real life I guess.
And do you think if we do that, we don’t have to go to such extreme measures to course correct our lives? Yeah. Does it still take a course correction every now and then? Well if an airplane flies across the constant, it’s off course for 95% of the time isn’t it? It’s left a bit, right. A bit left a bit. So we’re always off course and just straightening out a little bit, but I think that for someone like me who has the tendency to just get a bit hyperactive and go a bit crazy at normal life and just want to howl at the moon and potentially go nuts, I think climbing a tree once a month or, or asleep on a local Hill is a really good exercise in course correction for sure.
Aaron: One of the things that I accidentally started was when I had a corporate job that actually had to go to an office every day for 20 years. But the last, probably let’s call it like the last four or five, before I discovered micro adventures, the book, I started doing some, I didn’t know what to call it, but I would get up early and I had this fly rod, small for small creeks and there was this Creek and I would go ice climbing in the winter by it and rock climbing in the summer. But this Creek, I was like, I bet there’s trout in it. You know, I bet that kid could find some fish. So it was not too far from my office. So I would sneak over there and sure enough, there was these little bitty four inch, you know, maybe five on a good day, it turned out to be a, protected trout, I found out later. But nonetheless, I caught a number of them and then I would go back to the office.
And then I had a stove, a little MSR pocket rocket stove that I left in the back of my buddy of mine coined is my joy bucket. And it has like all of this kind of like micro adventure stage, you know, extra socks to a first aid kit to the stove. And I’d make coffee in the back of my tailgate at the office. So then I would start inviting friends from the office to go downstairs with me to go out for a coffee break. I’d fire up my stove on the tailgate, make them a brew, and then we’d head back to work. So it became this like, I don’t know, kind of lore around my, my friend groups. So now I have people that send me photos of wherever they’re making a brew coffee from their little stoves. So, I had one guy who sent it from the top of an apartment building that he manages the, he goes up on Monday mornings, before his day job starts.
A Londoner goes down to a park down from his house and about once a week, once a month he’ll do the same kind of thing just to go make a brew in the park. It’s the same thing, just these ways to interrupt our daily life with those feelings and sensation of adventure without it always having to be some extraordinary big thing. And I love what, well, what inspires me about this message, about the violin and Spain and, and abandoning money and really going for it is it’s just like the force, the discipline to actually put yourself where there is no fallback plan. This is it, the plant, there’s a plan A, there is no plan B.
And I’m just curious like how do you, what’s the discipline in you or the the drive in you or the narrative in you that would keep you going for 30 days and not call two weeks good enough, or three weeks good enough for 21.2 days? Like what, why?
Alastair Humphreys: Well I think in that instance that it’s the day one is the crucial aspect. It’s standing up for the first time and it was the first time in my life that I tied zero money knew to have zero. I was watching that first morning, there’s bunch of, illegal immigrants, African guys trying to sell sun hats down by the Harbor and they had them all on this top hole. And when the police came they could just grab them and run. And yeah, I often see people like that in different places and I, and I have a brief mode of empathy and sympathy for them thinking, Oh geez, that sucks. That’s hard. But for the first time ever, I could actually think, wow, I’ve got no money. And of course I was, I was playing this, I was playing a game compared to the end, but it was a very different perspective that I had on something like that.
Alastair Humphreys: So is that first day, which is the crucial thing. Once you’ve stood up and played an earned one coin, you’ve kind of cracked it then you know, in some to some degree I could then have come home and said I’ve done it and I would have got a very large percentage of the trip done. So in that sense, everything that happened off that first day was a bit of a law of diminishing returns.
But to answer your question perhaps more conventionally, I think that we have a lot of things like trying to persevere an insurance and sticking at it unfortunately can only come by doing it, by going off on a trip for the first time and thinking, man, this sucks. I’m cold, wet, hot, tired, my mosquitoes, I’m uncomfortable and wanting to quit. But for whatever reason, you make it through that first little trip and then you get home and you realize, Oh, that was type two fun.
Alastair Humphreys: That felt great. I’m remembering that I did it and it feels good. It means that next time you can do it a bit longer and come home, it feels great. So I think it’s just a like exercising a muscle. I think just exercising the misery bustle is a, is something that I’ve quite come to enjoy doing. And I think I’ve also, I think there’s, well, I won’t speak for other ventures.
I think in my adventure in life, there’s been quite a bit of ego involved in that. I began doing big adventures in part because I just was a bit ordinary and mediocre in life and I wanted to say, look at me, I can do something different in life. And I realized over time that I was quite good at having a miserable time. So that’s perhaps my outstanding traits in life. So that’s a muscle not everybody has being miserable. Yes, exactly. The masochism masochism and misery. But then having learned often enough that that masochism and misery does have some sort of positive points in the long run.
Aaron: Two years ago, next week. I left a career behind that I had been at for like 13 years and I was in software technology and have always- As a young man, I started with a family. So I’ve had a family since I was like, I was married at 22, kids at 25 or 24 or something. So all of my life, anything that involved adventure always involved me leaving and then coming back and re-engaging. So I’ve always had shorter bursts of time, but always found ways to thread adventure into my life. But there was a season in my life where adventure just it wasn’t happening.
Microadventures, big adventures of any kind. And I just kind of resolved myself to some ways like in resignation, not in a healthy way. And so, I had as I was started re reclaiming adventure, again going on bigger trips, I did some really big stuff like a mountain bike to the Colorado trail, you know, over a couple of weeks with some buddies and just Epic, amazing life changing. But then I discovered micro adventures too. Well, so then fast forward, so two years ago as I’m leaving this career behind, I had this window of time about two months basically where I knew I was at holidays, end of year, I’m probably not, whatever I’m going to do next exactly isn’t probably going to happen over the holiday season. So I have a little margin where I can just follow my nose and see what happens. So we have a 1974 VW bus and it’s Tangerine color and it’s super great fun.
Aaron: And I just kept hearing like, just get in it and drive West. Just, just go. And to your point where I felt the most nervous was probably the first day. Yeah. Because as I was heading, you know, I’m driving a vehicle that’s 40 something years old and I’m ever increasingly moving away from home. So my safety net is decreasing by the mile also.
And I’m headed off, actually what I ended up doing was kind of a national park tour. I’m headed out to Zion national park, can Bryce Canyon and yeah, camped my way solo and day hiked and you know, just did the narrows in Zion, you know, by myself one day. Just like really fun, cool stuff. And as I’m thinking about it, I listened to the song, there’s a guy named Ryan Adams that he remade a whole album of Taylor Swifts and the title of the track is called Are We Out of the Woods?
And it’s a great tune, so he just keeps repeating this. Are we out of the woods? Are we out of the woods? Are we out of the woods? And I’m listening to this heading West on these two lane roads, Blue Highways A Journey into America (William Least Heat Moon), he called them, cause that’s what color they are on blue highways is, you know it.
Alastair: Yes. Love that. Right, exactly.
Aaron: That’s how I discovered them. So as I’m heading on these blue highways, are we out of the woods? I was, I’m just starting like tears coming down my face of like, Holy shit, I’m taking a big leap here.
I’ve just left a career behind. I’m heading West. So it was like a cool, figurative, exploration in my life, but also literally happening in my real life too. You know, it wasn’t just an adventure, but it was a really cool, unhinging, decoupling where I could just kind of detoxify from the 13 years and all, you know, lots of, it was great and lots of it was difficult and I had begun to believe some things and operate in some ways there were I to rewire, you know, and recalibrate again, kind of like you drew up a compass, you know?
So I ended up going out and, heading all the way out to LA to see my son and I got to drive the bus through death Valley and my brother and I ended up going all the way to, Bishop California, which is, in the Sierra Nevada’s, it’s where Mount Whitney is, which is the lower 48, the highest peak. And we actually grew up there as kids. My brother flew out to meet me and then did the second half of the trip with me and just, it ended up being this amazing, amazing trip on the way back, we both play guitar and we’re rolling into Santa Fe in New Mexico. And I told him, we pull up along the city square and we see some musicians playing. And I told him, let’s go get a beer. And then we’re going to the park to play.
Aaron: And he looked at me like, what? Like, no, I’m serious. If they can do it, we can do it. So we ended out in the park after a beer, maybe two, to get a little courage and hat, opened up the guitar case. And our goal was to play until we get something in the guitar case, they might give us money to make us leave, might give us money cause they love it. But either way we’re playing until we get some money. So we were out there for maybe an hour or so and we got our first dollar and close the case, call it good enough and then went and found some dirt roads to sleep on. So all of that said is again my resonance with your stories.
Alastair Humphreys: So, you can play the guitar.
Aaron: I can. So I didn’t start at zero. You can play the guitar and you already have muddy and you had your brother for company and you had a couple of beers and a bus to crawl into and a Buster crawl into. But then how, when that first dollar came in, how did you feel them and that, Oh, we were like totally excited. Like ecstatic. Can you believe these people? And people stopped. And actually
We were good enough together, some people stopped to listen to play., and it, it was really fun. But I, I guess the part I’m connecting with too as removing all of those safety nets that we had, that’s a really, really brave act. And then if you take musical instrument, talent away, your move, that also, that, that’s, that’s what I mean, asking the question of what makes you so willing to hang yourself out there so far?
Alastair Humphreys: When I tell, when I do talks to audiences about my adventures, you talk about some adventures and people, yeah. That’s quite cool. Yeah. Bro. Rowing an ocean. Yes. Tell us some interesting stories about storms, but then when you talk about, imagine standing up in your local square and getting out of violin, you see people’s eyes widen because this is a relatable vulnerability. It’s really fascinating. Standing naked and alone.
Yeah. But you are, what you mentioned about the, the Ryan Adams song, my equivalent for me on this trip was a Bruce Springsteen’s Thunder Road. It’s a town full of losers. And we’re heading out of here to win. And so I just did, that was the one song I was determined to play for the violin, but all I could manage was the first of eight bars or so until the singing stars, which is a, so I could just, I could do a pretty dead terrible verse of that. But I wanted to do that cause that song was my massive metaphor for the whole journey. So I felt that to at least try and learn a little bit of Bruce.
Aaron: That’s awesome. Thunder Road said. Sweet. That’s a great track. We ended up playing a, I don’t remember the guy’s name off the top of my head. I’ll, it’ll come to me, wait, John, wait song a chocolate. Jesus is the name of it that my brother played. Yeah, he knows it really well. So I followed along, but it was fun. Yeah. So, tell me, when you’re not adventuring and when you’re making adventure your day job, if you want to call it your career, is being an inspirational writer, speaker, you know, corporate team trainer, like that’s a different world or roll in. So what, what are the lessons that you’re learning about yourself in that arena?
Alastair Humphreys: And not to take myself too seriously, not to take anything too seriously., but on the other hand, to take everything as seriously as it needs to be done, because they became the point when I decided, right, I’m going to try and turn adventures. My job really changes some aspects of it. I mean, I began microadventures was just because it was fun because like everyone likes it. It’s like, Whoa, go to the mountains. This is awesome. And once I, once I decided I’m going to try and pay my bills and pay my mortgage out of going to the Hills and having an awesome adventure for a while I was treating the writing and the speaking with the same kind of lackadaisical, attitudes. But at some point I realized, Hey, this is actually my job. I need to be at my desk at nine o’clock on Monday morning.
I need to put in the hours. And if someone is gracious enough to pay me to go do a talk and she’s like better make it really good, smashing better than they expect and work really hard to really make it good. So it’s interesting thing trying to be very, very hardworking and professional about stuff that’s essentially just mucking about. You know, they’re playing the violin in Spain is this stupid comical, silly thing to do.
But if you stand up in front of a thousand business people and talk about it, then if you engage your brain, you can tell that in a way that hopefully can spark some ideas for people in whatever aspects of life they’re in, and it’s, it’s hard because I know nothing at all about the real world and the business world. And so what I, what I try very carefully to not do is tell people any answers because I don’t even know what questions they’re asking. So all I tried to do is tell stories in a way that might make them asks themselves some questions.
Aaron: And what are you learning on the art of storytelling? What, what have you now found from your trials and errors? What is some of the arts of storytelling that you can relate to us? Because if you’re talking in a context that you don’t know what it’s like to be them, but you are attempting to translate the experiences that you’ve had to something that could be applicable for them in a way that’s compelling, that allows you to wake up their attention. So what are you learning about that?
Alastair Humphreys: Well, I think it’s an exercise in empathy, trying to put yourself in other people’s shoes, but also trying to get them into your shoes. So know I said to you a moment or two ago about getting an audience to imagine they had to stand up and play violin, and similarly if I’m talking about cycling around the world to try and get an audience to imagine what it’s like to turn away from job security and conventional routes to success and all those sort of things and jump on your bike and pedal off to countries which you can’t even spell or place on the map.
And I’ve got some crazy dictators in charge and who knows what and trying to get people to imagine they were going to go and do it, yeah. And then there’s of course the very fine line between showing off massively about yourself because you have to try and make your story sound good whilst at the same time not showing off and making everyone hate you.
I think it comes with a British passport I think helps. Okay. Well I think, I think a self-deprecation and also, you know, the actual, I guess I’ve changed over time from when I began my adventures and I did think I was pretty awesome and tough and amazing to you. Big expeditions are good at teaching you that you are not those things and that you spend quite a lot of time groveling and sniffling and crying and wishing you’re back home eating ice cream.
Aaron: The root of my question is more like, you know, it’s interesting as you’re being hired to come and talk about yourself, but what you’re stating is to do it in such a way that isn’t ego, soothing, right or boosting but is in the service of the people you’re telling. But you are still telling some outlandish stories about the cool stuff you’ve done. And that’s what I guess I’m the dance I’ve been playing with is how can I talk more freely about some of the cool big things I’ve done, but make sure that it’s always in service and tying it back so that it’s for the benefit of the listener, not for the benefit of my ego. Stroke.
Alastair Humphreys: Well, I think, I think being aware of that you’re there to do the service is a very good starting point, I think telling, it’s always good to start off with a few stories that bring you firmly back down to grounds and make you look like an idiot. And, I do quite, I said spend quite a lot of my talks emphasizing that I’m a really normal person. , you know, sometimes I do talks at these events where it’s one speaker, then the next speaker, the next speaker.
And so quite often I get to hear speakers who are like Olympic gold medal winners and I love that talk store talks. I love them cause that I love is fascinating, but I often think they’re not actually very useful for real people in the real world.
You know, you Usain Bolt, I’m sure he’s trained pretty hard, but he was also born very, very fast, way fast. Right. He was born foster than me. So I think I spend a lot of my talk trying to emphasize the similarities I have with everybody else. Really. That’s good. Yeah. I think that’s the key thing. It’s make people realize that you’re a normal guy and that you actually are a normal guy, not just being an our shocks. Look at me, I’m just a normal old guy.
Aaron: The last time we had a chance to connect is I would love to hear about what low points. So when you talk about sniffling and sniffling and wishing you had an ice cream, So what was the low point on the Spain violin trip?
Alastair Humphreys: Well, the Spain trip was very different to every other trip I’ve done ever because I was actually really happy. And that was one of the fascinating parts of the trip for me. It was those for the first time ever, I was realizing, wow, I can be on an adventure of my own in the wilderness doing something that’s really hard and really challenging, but I can also be happy and I don’t have to be beating myself up all the time and miserable and cold and wet, cold, wet, miserable. But I think worse than that is usually on a trip.
I’m just punishing myself like normally on trips, if ever I’m feeling quite happy, I stopped berating myself that this trip isn’t hard enough and I need to make it harder and suffer more and just have a truly miserable time. But the Spain trip, the first time ever say feeling this is a really great trip and it’s feels really valid and worthwhile. I’m also happy perhaps I’m finally growing up. I think that was one of the big cathartic realizations of that whole experience. So pretty much any other trip you asked you about, I can talk about misery, but Spain was just full of joy and that was unusual.
Aaron: Joy and happiness. I love it. So how is the practice of joy and happiness showing up in your real life now that you’re home
Alastair Humphreys: I think one of the big things to me on this Spain trip was to acknowledge to myself that I’m no longer a 28 year old single dude with all of the pros and cons of being a 28 all single dude and that now I’m a middle aged dad and therefore my time and capacity for adventure is different to what it was. And that’s not necessarily worse, it’s just different. So that was a big part of this trip was just the acceptance of Hey, those rowing the Atlantic was incredible.
Cycling to Alaska was incredible. I’ve done that. I’m not doing that now and I’m unlikely to do it for the next 10 or 20 years. But that’s fine. I’ve done it and what can I do now? So I’m trying to be just more positive out the things that I can do, run, beating myself up about the things that I can’t do. So these days, my, so coming home from the Spain trip, but that put me in a really good place. It just accepting that to do what I can with what I have and do it now and get on with it. And more microadventures and climbing trees and swimming and local rivers.
Aaron: I love it. It’s so good. It’s fun to talk to you then and now.
As you continue on your journey and, and those kinds of discoveries in linking that to your real life, that’s another way of like, how do I live with more joy and happiness? Right. That’s, that’s an adventure in of itself.
Alastair Humphreys: It’s taken me a very, very long time. So I started to really passionately love expeditions in my early twenties so my early twenties I laid down all these rules for what expeditions and the expedition life was all about. And I laid down these rules and I chase them hard. And it’s taken me a very long time to realize that now that I’m 42 the rules, my life may well be different to when I was 22 and geez, I took a long time getting there, but it’s good to finally arrive.