Adventures, Races, Kit and Life
I have always had a strong desire for adventures, and exploration. I think it was catalysed at a young age when I lived in a tiny, wee, cute Staffordshire village and we were left to entertain ourselves. At 7 years old, cross country expeditions, like little hobbits, out of the safety of the shire, to the next villages, and even floating off down the local river on a home made raft ( much to my parents horror ), were normal Saturday distractions.
By 16, I had long since moved back to Wales and adventures were already getting larger and involving surfboards, windsurfers and long journeys out to orienteer in the remote forest, woods and moors of South Wales countryside. The first big adventure abroad involved an incredible 10 weeks spent researching, exploring and adventure sports on the glaciers of Greenland, with the British Schools Exploration Society. We shot and ate seal like Inuits ( Eskimos ) and slept in snow caves. Then at 19, as life progressed, I had my first taste of working abroad on the International Students Exchange, spending a delightful summer in eternal daytime of Oslo in Norway. Here I realised I was not destined to
grow a thick beard and wear a lab coat and commit the rest of my life to the monotony of laboratory based research !
Years later, the opportunity to move to Hong Kong presented itself and having already sampled Hong Kong a few times with work, I jumped at it ! It was also helped by James Clavell’s “Taipan” with its cutlasses, pirates and oriental intrigue. That was nearly 10 years ago. That means I have been lucky to have already bagged and tagged 10 years of Asian adventures !!
At 29, I relocated to Hong Kong as a young “Finance and HR Director”, tasked to establish a Pan Asia product sourcing operation for the Littlewoods Group. I grew Sheriff of Nottingham style beard to try to look a little older for the part !
After several years of huge growth for the company and for me personally, I progressed to become the Managing Director, responsible for delivering US$250m of garments, footwear, furniture, electrical items and toys to our UK based retailer. The Sheriff of Nottingham beard was still intact although the rest of the hair had now gone ! Our sourcing team covered a region from very remote north of China, across luscious middle Asia, and all the way down as far as, incredible Sri Lanka. It was an exciting role, striving to delight the ( demanding ) customer through excellent service, closely managed from strategic supplier partners…
To be an expert in sourcing you need to know the dynamics of your supply base and this means getting out there into the sticky sweatshops which results in lots of travel !
This provided a fantastic opportunity to explore different cultures and destinations. I was able to see how people work and understand how people live in diverse places, many with the lowest labour rates in the world. This gave me a perspective on what matters and even catalysed me to passionately take on the responsibility of “Head of Ethical Sourcing”. By tactically adding a couple of days holiday here and there, it also allowed me to see amazing places, such as India’s, Varanasi, Ajanta and Ellora Caves, Jaipur, Jodpur, simply because I was already nearby. Each new adventure and experience only made me want to see more.
In addition to a passion for travel, I have always had a passion for sports. All sports !! I was lucky to be reasonably gifted, particularly with stamina and mental determination. I am told that I am also, possibly, slightly, just a little bit competitive !!
As a kid, I orienteered for Wales. At university, I had the prestigious role of Chairman of Cardiff University Surf Club, great for meeting the ladies…. I played rugby for Folkstone, Roslyn Park and then Hong Kong Football Club. I loved adventure racing, especially getting out to exciting, new and often very remote places. But, I got my biggest adrenaline hits from snowboarding and mountain biking where combination of gravity, speed and the pure concentration they demanded, helped to give me that extra little buzz.
In 2010 I suffered a very nasty broken neck playing rugby. I was just one millimetre away severing the spinal cord and being confined to a wheel chair for the rest of my life. As you can imagine, breaking my neck was a life changing experience. It has also helped me to appreciate how lucky I really am on a day to day basis and how much I and we really do take for granted. Since, I have strategically changed the mix of sports a little, dropping the rugby, and now spend more time training for and enjoying the challenges of “endurance events”.
The most impressive so far has been the life-educating, self-fulfilling experience of the 7 marathons in 7 days, self supported, desert, stage races. I completed the Gobi Desert March in 2007 and now post broken neck, I’ve just got back from the 2013 Atacama Crossing in Chile. Both are run by “Racing the Planet” who provide the infra structure to make them possible. These races are epic in scale and the organisation surrounding them.
I get an incredible sense of satisfaction and achievement from a combination of the detailed planning, training and organisation that is demanded in advance to ensure success, and then the intense physical and mental endurance of the activity.
A less commercial example of this was the epic Everest trip in 2009, where a couple of my mates and my dad ( at a very respectful 61 years old ), set out to mountain bike the 800km “Friendship Highway”. This started at altitude in Lhasa, in Tibet, and climbed further up and over 5, beautiful prayer flag covered, 5,000m mountain passes, before finally ascending to Everest Base camp at 5,200m. Then, the theoretical pleasure of the world’s longest, largest descent. A huge 3,500m windy drop down into the luscious and very, very wet Kathmandu valley, before arriving at the capital. It was hard, especially battling against the elements, as the gods themselves hurled hailstones the size of tennis balls at us on our little bikes, but a fantastic, life changing experience because of it.
Finally I am also lucky to have had the opportunity to donate both time and energy to charity and to be able to experience the huge sense of satisfaction gained from being able to give a little back to those less fortunate.
Previously, via our Bangkok Sourcing Office, I was able to initiate a project to provide education and coaching to a group of Thai orphans, living in Bangkok. We provided the infrastructure, that in collaboration with the UK charity, “Touraid”, and a local charity “Naksu Tigers” enabled them to be taught how to speak English and also how play fairy decent rugby. I even got my parents involved, with Dad coaching and assessing the rugby skills and mum and my wife teaching and testing their progress in English. The kids were incredible and they all loved the experience ! The climax for the boys was that the most skilled and the most studious went to the UK to play against other orphans from other countries. It was a phenomenal experience !
More recently my focus has moved to using extreme running events to raise both funds and awareness for the British charity “Spinal Research”. Having had such a narrow escape myself, I am very aware that I am one of the lucky ones ! Thankfully I can still compete and in a strange way I feel it’s my duty to “keep the chin up” and do so, raising funds in the process.
I am lucky to have had incredible adventures, to remarkable places. I am very lucky to have a wife who enjoys them as much as I do ( okay maybe not India honey ! ). I am lucky to have survived a very nasty broken neck, to still be active and gain the gift of a greater appreciation for my family and the little things in life, as a result. As my life changes and with my first child on the way, I want to start to try and keep a record of these great experiences to share with those that don’t have the opportunities, those that are too far away, and also so that I can reflect back on them and use them to tell my son / daughter stories in the future.
The Adventure is only part way through. It’s changing and evolving. Come with me!