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7 Quick Questions with Alastair Humphreys
January 23, 2020

Alastair Humphreys taking a wild dip | Photo: Alastair Humphreys

Welcome to a new quick-fire interview series here on the Much Better Adventures Magazine. Alongside our big interview features, we thought it would be fun to ask interesting people seven interesting questions. They’ll be the same seven questions each time – making a tiny insight into the adventurer’s world… or perhaps a long term psychological study of adventurers! I guess we’ll just have to find out.

First to face our 7 Quick Questions is Alastair Humphreys. You’ve probably heard of Alastair because of his adventure writing and for popularising the word “microadventure”. We did an interview with him here: What is Adventure? An Interview With Alastair Humphreys. But, that does not tell you about Al’s long-suffering sunhat, nor about whether he’d prefer to fight a horse-sized duck or a duck-sized horse.

With out further ado, here are some things you didn’t know you wanted to know about Alastair Humphreys… and also some things that you might want to know too! Take it away Alastair!

What is your favourite adventure book?

I think my favourite adventure book would have to be As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning by Laurie Lee. Partly because I love it and also because I’ve recommended it to a lot of people.

Alastair has recently published a book about his attempt to recreate Laurie Lee’s adventure, busking across Spain.

Can I choose another one?

Absolutely! There are no rules.

Then also, The Gentle Art of Tramping by Steven Graham. It’s a book from the 1920s or 30s that basically talks about microadventures and sleeping in ditches. It’s great.

What is your oldest piece of kit?

We think this is the famous sunhat. Long may it rest in peace. | Photo: Al Humphreys

Until a year ago I would have answered my sunhat, which I have had on every adventure I ever did since I was 18… but it finally died and ended up in the bin. I still have a Karrimor Rucksack (65L) that I got when I was 14 for school. It’s still got my name tape sewn into it! We had to get it for our Duke of Edinburgh expedition. I can remember my mum buying it and me being horrified at how much it cost. It was like £50. I couldn’t believe how enormous it was either – I could barely lift the thing.

My school did lots of adventurous things. We did the Yorkshire Three Peaks, which is about 20 miles. But from the age of eight pretty much most of the kids in the school went off and did it, with very little supervision or safety things. I really loved traditional sports but I was rubbish at them and never got in the team. That really bugged me. But the outdoor stuff is just open to everyone. Anyone can do it and anyone can get tired walking up a hill. 

Recommend us an adventure podcast

My favourite adventure podcast is 13 Minutes to the Moon. It is about the moon landing, which is the greatest adventure the human race has ever been on. They flew up into space and went down on a little landing-craft thing that took 13 minutes to reach the surface of the moon. It’s a 13 part podcast about those 13 minutes and I absolutely love it.

My second choice – if I’m allowed two choices – as a more normal outdoorsy one would be the Terra Incognita Adventure Podcast, which has got some really great interviews.

What is your favourite hiking trail in the world?

The Torres del Paine in Patagonia.

Oooh, in the world… I’ve hardly done any actual hiking trails, usually I just go off and make my own thing up. The W Route in Torres del Paine is beautiful, so is the Laugavegur Trail in Iceland.

Are these ones you’ve done?

Yeah, I cycled up though Torres del Paine (on his way cycling around the world, as you do) and faffed about on foot a little bit. But I couldn’t be bothered to actually do it all because I was quite tired from cycling. I did a good chunk of the Laugavegur when I walked across Iceland with a packraft.

Packrafting the River Þjórsá in Iceland| Photo: Al Humphreys

But, you know, really for a favourite I’d have to choose something in Britain – I feel obliged to choose something in Britain… Oh, I know! It’s quite new: it’s called A Pennine Journey. It’s based on a journey that Alfred Wainwright did and I’d never heard of it until I was cycling around Yorkshire this summer. On my map, I saw something called The Pennine Journey and it looked really poetic, so I started investigating it. So I haven’t done it, but I’ll choose that.

Tell us about a time when an adventure went wrong, but that made it all the more memorable

I crossed the Empty Quarter desert a few years ago, with a friend of mine called Leon McCarron. The reason I would choose that is that I was supposed to be going to the South Pole. I’d blocked off the time in my calendar to go to the South Pole, I’d done all the fitness and training to go to the South Pole… and then we failed to get the money for it. That was a massive fail in the sense that it didn’t even happen.

Alastair Humphreys and Leon McCarron pulling a cart across the Empty Quarter desert | Photo: Alastair Humphreys

Instead, I quickly substituted this blank space in my diary – and all my training – to walk across the Empty Quarter desert instead. That experience showed me that it didn’t really matter what adventure I did or, really, where I went. I traded very cold for very hot; I traded very expensive (like million pounds expensive) for comparatively cheap (a couple of thousand pounds) and yet I got out of it, in many ways, a very similar experience.

The Empty Quarter trip was fairly last minute and incompetent, so it had lots of disasters within it. Like, at the start, our cart didn’t have steering on because I thought we wouldn’t need it if we were going in a straight line across the desert. There may have been lots of failures within it, but all of that added up to make a richer experience.

Do you have a favourite saying?

Yes, I do – I have a few actually. I’ve got two up here on my desk. One is from Paulo Coelho, the guy who wrote The Alchemist, and he says:

“One day, or day one. You decide.”

Then the other one I have up here, this is from Jung, the psychologist:

“The life that I could still live, I should live.”

Both of those essentially mean that you should just get on and start now. Then I’ve also got some wisdom from the great Buddist philosopher Jack Johnson (he’s a singer/musician). He says,

“We’ve got everything we need right here and everything we need is enough.”

You should Google it, it’s quite a nice little song.

Would you rather defend yourself against 50 duck-sized horses or one horse-sized duck?

This is Bernard, our horse-sized duck. Would you cross Bernard? | Photo: Getty

You know, when I was going to go and row the Atlantic Ocean, which I did with three strangers basically, they did all these things about figuring out people’s personalities. This was one of the questions.

But they asked for 100 not 50, so I guess they wanted a real battle! I think I’d go for the one massive thing, rather than just being surrounded by lots of little things. Also I don’t really like flappy things. You know if sometimes a bird gets trapped in your house and you have to get it out? I hate that. Still, it’s better than lots of little things, so I’ll go for one big horse-sized duck.

Well we hope that got you in the mood for some adventure! Who would you like us to interview next? Share the article and tell us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Otherwise, send a carrier pigeon. We’ll keep the windows open.