This post has been written by Dave Cornthwaite as part of the Adventurers Blogging Chain.
I once described Dave as a box of smarties. That’s because he’s pretty normal looking on the outside but pretty soon you realise he’s full of all sorts of wonderful stuff – all different colours and dimensions. He’s an expeditioner, writer, creative, photographer and all round lovely fella I had the pleasure of paddling with him from Bath to London earlier this year and have no doubt that my London to London: Via the World expedition will overlap with his Expedition 1,000 in some exciting way too. I’m really chuffed that with his film-maker hat on he’s now editing my film from the Indian Ocean.
Here’s what he has to say on comfort zones.
There’s added pressure writing a guest blog, mainly because you know at least one other person is definitely going to read it! Recently I embarked on a new writing project, it may one day be called ‘a book’, which basically shows that I haven’t learned a thing in thirty years. Writing a book, as Sarah knows, is both wonderful and frustrating and requires more dedication than almost anything else, including the planning of an expedition. Personally, as a competitive fella, I drive myself on while watching the word count climb skywards, but the whole process also lays bare a darker side, one that has the potential to be ever so depressing as your procrastinatory (it’s not a word but who makes the rules here?) instincts take hold. Faced with a stupendous amount of work I find myself prone to spending much more time than recommended following local news on the BBC and edging dirt out from beneath my nails. With this in mind, you might be surprised to hear that the book I’m working on is about decision making, efficiency and shaping of positive habits – in order to make the most of that all-important crunch time when faced with one of life’s fork-in-the-road moments.
I’m now going to take a snack break, because writing the word ‘fork’ made me a bit hungry…
…I’m back! Four years ago this week I was reaping the rewards of a major life decision. Having been a graphic designer in South Wales with little motive to escape from a comfortable yet apparently aimless existence, I took up longboarding – a form of skateboarding for the cool kids – and fell in love with surfing on land. All of a sudden I was rolling around where once I had walked and my personal landscape changed. I saw my hometown in a different light immediately, and it struck me that despite all the shackles of security – I had a house, a job, a long term girlfriend, and a cat – I was unhappy and subconsciously looking for change. As a consequence, I found it and took advantage. I know Sarah has some Australian readers so I’ll address you directly here: you might remember a young pom with a shock of red hair and a big yellow skateboard landing in your fair country with the intention of riding his board from west coast to east. That chap, I’m glad to say, was me. Four years ago I was rolling eastwards along the Eyre Highway, battling headwinds and staring in wonder at the empty landscape around me, embracing the Nullarbor and counting myself as one of the lucky ones – it sure beat sitting behind a desk. It could have been very different indeed.
We can be both busy and bored, but lacking progression in our life has nothing to do with how hard we work, it’s how infrequently we push ourselves to gain new experiences. People all around us have switched off already, they’re going through the motions and many of them will never correct an imbalance in their life. Life is a ball of sellotape, as it rolls along it picks up scraps and this is partly down to the weight of time. As we grow the maladies of bitterness, grievances and loss of hope stick to us a little. Sadness, like happiness, is contagious. Yes, we all face our problems and sometimes it’s actually healthy to wallow in temporary depression, but there are solutions to ensure we don’t become stuck in a stale box. I know that I’ve been at my best when surrounded by friends who know how to laugh and for better or worse I’ve quickly lost patience with anyone who sucks up more than they put down. There’s an equation that helps us resolve our own state of happiness and it’s directly linked to who we spend time with and how we spend that time. When we know that we’re unhappy because of a personal refusal to deal with it, that’s the time to find a solution.
I made a choice two weeks after taking up that longboard in 2005. I could continue with what I’m sad to say was an unhappy life, or I could set myself a new direction full of hope and hard work, something that from the very beginning promised to create some spectacular memories. Only we are in charge of our own aims and ambitions, but more importantly we must take full responsibility for our actions or lack of them. Why this is even a talking point comes down to the simple fact that it’s easier to do nothing, it always has been. We have to earn our happiness, and I don’t see anything wrong with that at all.
Since I pushed my board across Australia I’ve been reshaping things continuously. The challenge of making a living from something I have an absolute passion for is a constant driving force between the expeditions that sustain my soul and glue together the various pieces of my career. I’ve set myself a long-term goal called Expedition 1000, which involves undertaking twenty-five separate journeys of one thousand miles or more, each one using a different form of non motorised transport. With skateboard and kayak ticked off the list, I’m now looking at future options, a Stand Up Paddleboard journey down the Mississippi, an ocean row, 1000 miles by bicycle and unicycle and on foot. And many more.
I’ve chosen to do this for a number of reasons. I love travelling slow enough to take in my surroundings and thrive on the newness of moving along in different ways, but in the spirit of learning I adore the way challenges keep me on my toes. Every time I plan an expedition I scare myself silly by thinking about all the things that could go wrong, and then I prepare for each eventuality and know I’ll be able to cope whatever happens. Once you’re in a difficult situation survival instinct kicks in and you simply deal with it, and I’m lucky enough to know that now. Still, there was a time when I’d never been in danger or pushed myself to breaking point, and I‘ll never forget the difficulty of making that first life-changing decision that could eventually affect everything – it was just so foreign. Every time I commit to an expedition I may as well be making that first decision to quit my job, find my cat a new home, rent out the house, say goodbye to the girl. If it’s worth all of that, it’s worth it.
Last year I was preparing to walk and paddle the length of Australia’s Murray River from Source to Sea. My fears lay in the mountains, Stage 1, the walk to and from the source. So many potential dangers; snakes, mountains, solitude, hillbillies and drop bears, if I was to believe the locals. I’d been concentrating so hard on the potentially nasty stuff that I was filled with excitement and wonder when faced with the wilderness of the Snowy Mountains. I had been worried about getting lost and bitten by snakes in the middle of nowhere, but I had no idea I’d have several days of wading through snow, or would occasionally face a thundering of hooves and an enormous Brumby with steam pumping out of its nostrils, terrifying and majestic like one of those evil stallions from Lord of the Rings. This is a horse in the mountains that looks after itself, it doesn’t need hay or colourful poles to jump over, it just lives up there fending for itself whatever the weather. Of all the things I had prepared for, a sense of awe for a giant horse wasn’t on the list, but the memory of coming face to face with one will stick with me forever. That’s the beauty of overcoming your fears, there’s always something on the other side that will vindicate your adios to the comfort zone.
Dave Cornthwaite, Sept 2010
Check out Dave’s site at www.davecornthwaite.com for films, photos, books and expeditions
This is part of the Adventurers Blogging Chain – from time to time guest blogs will appear on my site from fellow adventurers and mine shall appear on theirs.
PS If you haven’t voted for me (or my Logistics Manager Tim Moss) in the BA Great Britons Programme, then please do so here before tomorrow VOTE HERE