“If you don’t start somewhere, you’re gonna go nowhere.” – Bob Marley
It’s an unfortunate reality of life, almost all of us get stuck in ruts. Working a desk job with a boss and a Nissan Sentra parked outside, we’re drawn into the fallacy that this is what life’s all about. When that’s the case, we need something to break us out. We’re so caught up in our daily grind that we can’t see a way to escape, and so we don’t.
For that reason, I find the above quote to be inspiring, because that ‘somewhere’, can be so much closer than you’d ever have thought. If you invert the quote – ‘If you start somewhere, you can go anywhere,’ – it leaves you with a very powerful mindset. The ‘somewhere’ – inevitably – is in your head, with the creation of an idea. Around that idea you can build others, until you have a plan. And once you have a plan, all you have to do is pull the trigger.
In this article, I brought together my top five such ideas.
1. Kayak the Zambezi, ‘Source to Sea’
One thousand five hundred and ninety nine miles, from the heart of Africa to the white, sandy beaches of Mozambique. I’m not entirely sure what possessed me to set about planning this trip – the Zambezi is an extremely dangerous river. Crocodiles, hippos, tiger fish, which sound a lot scarier than they actually are, and the most fearsome, the deadliest creature in all of Africa; the mosquito. Infinite quantities of all of those.The world’s largest waterfall, 360ft high and a mile wide, which I’ll be hiking around. But then comes a twenty mile section of continuous rapids, half of which are class 5. If you don’t speak Kayak, class 5 is nature’s representation of the inside of a blender. But without the blades, ideally. Just a mad, raging, spinning mass of liquid and froth. Then there are two man-made lakes that power three countries between them. They add up to 280 miles of stagnant water that will have to be paddled. As far as rivers go, this one’s got a pretty impressive resume.
Add to that a tandem kayak and two open-minded lunatics. I’ll be one of them.
2. Take a hitching holiday
So far, my only hitch hiking experiences have been the result catastrophic failures. Typically, bodies ceasing to function or bicycles falling apart. The first time it happened, I was hit by an overwhelming air of desperation. Home was over fifty miles away, and I’d gone and torn my rear tire to shreds. Only once all other options were out the window, I resigned to sticking my thumb out and hoping like hell that somebody would help this kid with no money and a broken bike.
Twenty minutes later I was throwing my bike on the back of a friendly French couple’s truck, and an hour after that I was sitting on my bed. I felt like a dog who’d just discovered where the biscuits live. There was this new opportunity, I could walk out of my door and choose; north, south, east or west? All of them are open, and all of them are free.
If you can get over the fear of murderers, this has to be the easiest way to get across a country without spending a cent. It’s like a free bus to anywhere, and the only real skill required is patience, which is easy with a smartphone and some Facebook.
3. Cycle across the spine of Africa
Very few people seem to have noticed, even among those who call Africa home, is that nearly all of Sub-Saharan Africa is a closely woven spider’s web of beautiful, meandering footpaths. Their creation is spontaneous and their heading indirect, but if equipped with a good GPS and an adept sense of direction, you can get almost anywhere on them. I discovered these paths when I was about fourteen, and my love for mountain biking took flight in an explosion of wild adventures, leading to the eventual realisation that these paths could take me much further than I could go in a day, or even a week.So I decided I could ride from the west coast to the east of Africa in a channel less than one degree wide. No further north than 15°S, and no further south than 16°S is the channel that I chose, because the place where I grew up sits right in the middle of it. That gives me a window about 68 miles wide, for a 1900 mile long trip.
4. Mountain bike the Himalayas
In a sport that thrives on innovation, the Himalayas have been a surprisingly recent discovery. But my, what a discovery. Rickshaw taxis (those three wheeled ones) will take you and your bike up roads that go higher than any road in the US. So high that a day of altitude acclimatisation is recommended before you go all the way up. But once you’re up there, you’re in mountain biking’s never-never land. You can go downhill all day, on a seemingly endless network of trails. The loose granite of the higher slopes is gradually broken down, and at lower altitudes the vegetation turns it into grippy, loamy soil. There are next to no rules about where you can and can’t go. If you see something, you’re almost definitely allowed to ride it.
And when you do get to the bottom, you’re in one of the most culturally fascinating places on earth. A place where fear is not permitted by religion, and where an entire civil war was cancelled to save the life of one old man. A man called Mahatma Gandhi.
5. See the world’s oldest ‘concrete jungle’
It’s no coincidence that the grey you’re seeing in this picture is the same mix of shades you see on curbstones and sidewalks in your town or city. As any man in a white lab suit would tell you, those shades of grey are all being made by the same thing; Calcium Oxide. Also known as lime, limestone, and after a trip through the furnace; cement.
With that bit of information in hand, this place begins to belch out poetic metaphor and irony. Like our concrete jungles, it oozes life. Lemurs, birds, and forty five different reptiles. Except that there are no humans. Where our concrete jungles are designed to shelter us from the wilds of the world, this one shelters the wildlife from us, thwarting our best attempts to ‘civilize’ it. It stands like a gnarled pearly gate, hard, sharp and impenetrable. So in the cracks and gaps between the rocks, an oasis exists. 586 square miles of it, almost ten times the size of DC.
It’s called Tsingy de Bamaraha, and it sits on the western edge of Madagascar. While the rest of the island suffers from endemic deforestation, Tsingy remains untouched, and will continue to do so for as long as it remains immune to our advances.
Hitching hand: By User:Drozd (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Cycling Africa: By Gregor Födransperg – Fedr (Gregor Födransperg – Fedr) [CC-BY-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons
Google map: US Department of State Geographer, Data SIO, NOAA, US Navy, CBA, CEBCO, Copyright 2013 Cnes / Spot Image, Copyright 2013 AfriGIS (PTY) Ltd.
Himalayas: By Induhari (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons