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An Interview with...Alastair Humphreys

For our brand new feature 'An Interview with...' we caught up with Alastair Humphreys, YAT ambassador and microadventurer extraordinaire. We love what Alastair stands for: that anyone can go on adventure, it doesn't have to be expensive, involve lots of kit or take a long time, it just has to be fun. Read the full interview and don't forget to let us know if you're inspired to go on your own adventure!

We caught up with Alastair Humphrey’s, of Microadventure fame, to ask him some questions. Alastair has undertaken some amazing adventures like cycling round the world, walking across India and rowing the Atlantic. However, it’s his pioneering work on the concept of microadventures: trying to encourage people to get outside, get out of their comfort zone, or go somewhere they’ve never been, that he was awarded National Geographic Adventurer of the Year for. A microadventure is an adventure that is close to home, cheap, simple, short, and yet very effective. Here at YAT, we love what Alastair stands for – that anyone can go on adventure, it doesn’t have to be a first ascent or reaching a Pole. It doesn’t have to be expensive or involve lots of fancy kit – and most importantly it’s fun! All in all, it’s a very similar message that we try to get across to the young people on our camps – that outdoor adventures are an amazing way of pushing your limits.

Here’s what Al had to say…

1. What are you top 3 places in the world?
That’s a difficult one to start with! The first would be Greenland – for it’s empty, wild, untouched spaces, miles from any other people and with a completely sense of vast solitude. The second would be India – for the exact opposite reason! For being surrounded by billions of noisy people, eating delicious food, the constant cups of tea, and the pure chaos and colours. The third would be somewhere in the UK, because I’m an evangelist for UK adventures. I’d choose the top of Pen-y-ghent, which is the highest point in the Yorkshire Dales, and from there I can see where I grew up. I love Yorkshire – it’s wild and beautiful.

2. Where’s the weirdest place you’ve slept?
I love sleeping in weird places! The weirdest is probably drainage pipes under roads, which seems to happen quite regularly. There’s a real knack to getting that right – it’s all about the diameter - if the diameter is too small then they seem cosy at first, but are actually really uncomfy. I’ve never had one flood while I’m sleeping in it, but you do normally have to contend with truck driver turds, which is probably worse…

3. What’s the one thing you don’t go on an adventure without?
Two things which I take on all adventures, regardless of their length or location are my camera and my diary. In a Desert Islands Disc style ‘only one luxury item’ then I’d ditch the camera. As much as I love taking photographs, I sometimes find myself lapsing into the 21st century habit of feeling the need to document things immediately, rather than sitting and experiencing the moment and then writing about it later. I did a lot of that pre-2001, when I didn’t care so much about photography.

4. Who was your role model growing up?
I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but I now recognise that a teacher at school, who ran the outdoor activities and encouraged us to climb hills, go camping and canoeing etc. influenced me hugely. At school the measure of success was often how good you were at competitive sports – rugby, football etc. Outdoor activities are different – anyone can do them, anyone can climb a hill – and that’s really liberating.

5. How did you get into going on adventures – what was your first adventure as a teenager?
I remember this really clearly. When I was 9 years old the school did the Yorkshire 3 Peaks challenge – a 26 mile, cross country hike taking in the highest 3 peaks in the Yorkshire Dales in less than 12 hours. It seems amazing now that a group of 9-year-olds managed it, but we did and although it was really hard it was also incredibly rewarding. I got a t-shirt for finishing, and it was my favourite t-shirt for years!

6. What’s your greatest achievement?
It all comes down to the first big adventure that you do – for me it was cycling around the world after University. The big deal was persuading myself to do something different to what everyone else was doing – to do something different to the conventional route post-University, and cycle around the world.
That first big adventure is a real game changer – it means that you know you can go and do a big expedition. And once you know that, your boundaries change and your view on what is possible changes in all parts of your life. That adventure totally transformed me in terms of self-confidence and self-belief that I could write books, or make a living from adventures – that all came from the attitude and confidence that I got from that first big adventure.

7. You recently went on an adventure involving busking through Spain following in the steps of Laurie Lee (despite not really being able to play the violin). How did this compare to your other, more physical adventures? al with violin
One of the reasons that I chose to do this trip, is because for conventional adventures I have lost some of the fear-factor – I’m pretty confident that I could walk across a desert, or go on a long-distance cycle.
This trip was completely different – I put myself in a position of being a complete beginner at something as an adult. I got that sense of fear again, because I was a bit rubbish at playing the violin, so I was full of doubt. On the first day of this trip, I was the most scared I’ve been since when I set off to row across the Atlantic, because I felt vulnerable and I was nervous. Both of which are good things to have in life occasionally. I was worried about making a fool of myself playing the violin in front of a crowd, and I was worried about not making enough money to complete the journey. Because of that adrenaline, it was so much fun – it’s my favourite trip I’ve been on since cycling around the world! This trip completely pushed me out of my comfort zone and made me feel that fear again. I’m now signed up to do my Grade 1 violin exam!

8. It’s our 25th anniversary coming up, so we’re looking for 25 people to go on an adventure for us! What would be your top tip for people who are thinking about going on their first adventure?
I’ve met a lot of people who are tinged with regret at not going on a big adventure when they had the chance. Conversely, I’ve NEVER met anyone (who hasn’t died…) who has regretted going on an adventure. So – if there’s even a flash in front of your eyes that you might want to go on an adventure then DO IT! The hardest part is committing to it, saying yes and getting a date in the diary…once you’ve done that then doing it is quite easy.

9. What is your favourite expedition snack?
Biltong! But I’m normally too stingy to buy it myself. I went to Greenland with Martin Hartley and Ben Saunders and the sponsors provided us with loads of Biltong, that was my highlight!

10. A question we often end up discussing on camp is…cake or cheese?
(without any hesitation…) Cheese. I’d happily not have cake ever again – I’d rather have a starter for pudding than a desert. If I was only allowed one type of cheese for the rest of my life, then it would have to be a good Cheddar.

11. Can you nominate someone inspiring for us to interview next?
For the height of inspiration, contagious happiness and plentiful hugs then it has to be Anna McNuff!

Join us in our next Newsletter to hear our interview with Anna McNuff!

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