I still remember quite clearly that familiar sensation of being woken up by my cat, Kiwa, her enormous tabby paws padding the duvet that lay over my chest, her little forehead gently butting mine. Breakfast time. It was a day like many others but something happened that morning that I never truly recovered from. An hour later, following a two mile commute, I stepped off my long skateboard outside the office and entered. Twenty minutes after that I skated right back through those doors, having left my keys on the desk.
That was the last day I had a job – Wednesday, April 13th 2005 – a pretty good day, by all accounts. Sure, I’d just given up on the regular income that ensured I could pay my mortgage. Sure, it had only been half a week since my girlfriend of three years had walked out. But for the first time in years I had something to look forward to. I had a purpose, and it revolved around a promise I made to myself the moment I rolled through those doors: I was going to skateboard further than anyone else had ever skated.
Almost nine years later it remains the sanest decision of my life, despite the fact that I’d only been a skateboarder for about two weeks.
Twenty two months later I held two world records and had skated over 4500 miles across the UK and then Australia, developing an enormous right calf and, perhaps more importantly, a story that grabbed the attention of a London-based Publisher. Before I knew it I had signed my first book deal, written 105,000 words and then found it staring back at me from a bookshelf alongside names like Bill Bryson and Michael Palin.
Now, I don’t know about you, but when I have an experience that makes me feel like I’m worth something the incentive to have more of the same burns strong. I pottered around for a couple of years but always came back to the same motivations, the sensations I felt when on a long adventure:
- Being outside.
- Feeling fit and healthy.
- Having a real purpose whether it be the A to B, a fundraising goal or simply spreading a positive attitude around.
- The satisfaction of travelling a great distance without motorized aid.
- Arriving in a new town having truly earned the steaming coffee that waits just around the corner.
And, I won’t lie, I was now way more interesting than I ever had been when I spent five days a week agonizing over whether I should call in sick because I really bloody hated my job, and would have much preferred to game away on a Playstation for eight hours a day, which I did anyway. Basically, those 4500 miles on a skateboard had taught me that I was a human being actually capable of something, and I wanted to find out what I was really able to do.
Creating Expedition 1000 – 25 journeys of 1000 miles or more – all on non-motorized transport
So I came up with a plan, one I called Expedition 1000. The idea was relatively simple; I’d endeavor to undertake 25 journeys of 1000 miles or more, each one using a different form of non-motorized transport. It was a huge project that would take me the best part of two decades to complete; but heck, at least it would keep me busy.
As soon as Expedition 1000 was created, my identity steadied and I became calmer, more focused and passionate than ever before. I valued an increasingly simple life where my decisions weren’t made based on money, but on progress. My definition of success shifted from material things and short-term bursts of happiness toward how well I spent my time. I figured that if I could be happy waking up in a tent most mornings and making a meager living doing things I loved, then I was
probably on the right track.
And of course, once you have a list of things you want to achieve written down, it’s much harder to find yourself lost. The more I opened up to new opportunities the more they presented themselves. Before I knew it, adventures that once upon a time I would barely have dreamed of came along with remarkable frequency.
Australia’s Murray River
In late 2009, I travelled from source-to-sea down Australia’s Murray River. Despite being an utter clown and nearly getting myself killed by a snowstorm in the mountains, those two and half months in a kayak gave me a love for travelling on water that I’d find hard to shake. The blissful, quiet riversides at dusk, floating by just meters from drinking kangaroos and birds. The sandbar campsites and friendly fisherman offering a cold beer and that seal, jumping up at my bow just a few minutes from the journey’s final stroke in the Southern Ocean. Somewhere there’s a photo of my face at that moment, and you’d do well to find a happier looking bloke.
Tandem biking from Vancouver to Vegas & Paddling the Mississippi
In the spring of 2011, I paired up with an Aussie named Sebastian Terry and the first time either of us sat on a tandem bike was when we started a 1400 mile, 14-day journey between Vancouver and Vegas. We made it, too, just a couple of minutes late for tea.
That summer I returned to the States and spent 82 days on the Mississippi River with my beloved stand up paddle board, Artemis. Those 2404 miles between Elk Lake, Minnesota and the Gulf of Mexico were a reminder that I could be comfortable in my own skin, that strangers are just friends waiting to happen and that human beings are mostly kind folk with a thirst for sharing stories. The amount of times I was invited into a stranger’s home just minutes after meeting them rendered my hammock largely irrelevant.
Sailing across the Pacific & Peddling from Memphis to Miami
Then it was on to the gorgeous solitude of sailing across the Pacific, a constant reminder that we’re tiny, irrelevant creatures when Mother Nature has her way. And riding a quarter-tonne, four-wheel pedal car between Memphis and Miami, a reminder that when people text while driving a speeding car they can cause plenty of unnecessary damage. I’m still ever so grateful to have walked away from the Bikecar, thrown 100 feet clear of the highway by an automobile piloted by a careless person.
Swimming the Missouri River
Later in 2012, I tackled another fear and jumped into the Missouri River having never swum farther than several hundred feet in one go before. Fifty-eight days later I found myself climbing out at the Arch in St Louis, a much better swimmer than the less bearded chap who had pulled on a wetsuit 1001 miles earlier.
Pausing Expedition 1000 to recount and recover…then resuming in 2014
I ruptured a disc in my lower spine when riding an elliptical bicycle across Europe in early 2013 and since then I’ve been healing, writing more books to add to my current collection and starting up a new organization called Say Yes More, which is designed to motivate, encourage and enable people to make the most of their opportunities and, therefore, their time.
I’m lining up for a strong year of adventure for the rest of 2014. Earlier in April I travelled the length of Chile’s Atacama Desert using a Whike, which combines pedal and wind power to add an extra element to long-distance travel. Shortly afterward I left the non-motorized mode of transport for my 10th journey of 1000 miles up to the general public. During the last weekend of April it was decided via my Facebook page that I would be setting out by trike. Five minutes after I found out what I would be riding, I started a journey on a piece of equipment I’d never tried before. We finished expedition 10 in Falmouth just last week. Adventure’s just a decision, you see.
Other adventures are in the pipeline, including kitesurfing, rowing, paragliding, dogsled, and on and on and on. After all, I still have fifteen journeys left of Expedition1000 to complete. My life changed when I started saying yes more, I can safely say there hasn’t been a moment in the last eight years and eleven months of adventures in man-powered, non-motorized transport when I’ve missed spending my days as a really bad graphic designer.
Dave Cornthwaite has broken 8 world records, written three books and said yes more times than you’ve had hot dinners. Check out his website on www.davecornthwaite.com and join the adventures on www.facebook.com/expedition1000 and @davecorn on Twitter.