Dave Cornthwaite has completed some truly remarkable adventures. Some have been tremendous feats of endurance, others have been utterly and brilliantly bizarre. His big list of feats have earned him the reputation of being one of the most daring and entertaining explorers of the last few years. And his enthusiasm for it all is infectious. He spoke to us on behalf of the San Miguel Rich List, a group of 19 men and women who live for rich life experiences as opposed to wealth…
What tipped you over the edge and made you decide to quite your job and live a life taking on challenges and adventures?
I was so bored and unimpressive in my early twenties, yet on paper I’d got everything every school kid is told makes up a successful life. Job, partner, house, pet. I couldn’t see much beyond that Sunday fear of dreading the next day of work. Then, I woke up on the morning of my 25th birthday and decided I didn’t want to live this easy, miserable life and not do anything of note so I started saying yes to random things, and eventually found myself on a long skateboard.
I loved it, quit my job two weeks later and decided to try and break the Guinness World Record for the longest journey ever travelled on a skateboard. Sure enough, I skated the length of Britain and across Australia (3,600 miles in five months!). The Australian crossing was the first journey of Expedition1000, twenty-five non-motorised journeys of 1000 miles or more, each using a different form of non-motorised transport.
Would you say you’re a fit and athletic person? And is this needed for the kinds of things you take on?
I’m moderately athletic, at best. I don’t go to the gym or follow a regular training regime, and in between journeys I mainly sit in front of a laptop and edit films or write books, developing a healthy beer belly. I don’t think I’ve ever started a trip in full fitness, but tend to take the first week or so nice and slow and build up to speed. Sure, it helps to be in decent nick to complete a large endurance mission but managing expectations goes a long way. If you’re not racing (other people, or time) then take things at your own pace. If you can move, it doesn’t matter how fast, eventually you’ll make it.
What’s been your toughest challenge?
Hands down, swimming 1001 miles down the Missouri River. I didn’t really know how to swim properly when I started that one and more often than not it was a case of mental strength over physical. My head was buried in the water for the best part of 11 hours each day for 58 days, it got colder and colder towards the end of the river (it was October by then). I lost over 20kg, and it took probably six months to recover mentally afterwards. Screwed me up, that trip!
Is it a case of ‘the bigger the better’ when it comes to expeditions?
Oh definitely not, not for me at least. Everyone has their own reasons for doing this stuff but as time goes on these journeys are soul food for me, I do them to have a break and get healthy, and I love sharing a good story. My expedition1000 project means I have my own context so as long as each journey is 1000 miles long and I get to have fun, that’s all that matters. I’m not one for ego or boasting about my accomplishments – as far as I can tell most of these journeys are really quite silly!
What’s been your favourite flash in the pan one?
I was in the middle of the Atacama Desert on journey 9 when I got an email asking if I could go and speak at a non-motorised transport festival called the Spezi, in Germersheim, Germany. Two days after riding 1000 miles across through the desert I jumped on a plane, headed straight for Germany, then arrived at this show and realised I was in heaven! Non-motorised craft everywhere! So I asked folks on my Facebook page to choose what I should sit on for the first time the Monday after the show and then promised I’d ride 1000 miles back to the UK on whatever they chose. It ended up being a brilliant adventure on a recumbent ICE trike, so much fun!
Which other adventurers are you excited about at the moment?
There are loads out there, but anyone who can do a video blog in the moment and naturally hold your attention (preferably with humour) ticks the box for me. Anna McNuff is brilliant, and Elise Downing (who just ran the British coastline) is wonderful. There are too many to narrow down after that – but I’m lucky enough to run an adventure and positive change festival called Yestival each October so I get to bring my favourite adventurers there each year!
What happens when you sit still for too long?
I get fat and a bit grumpy. Then Google Earth appears on the screen and I start planning a journey!
Is there anything that has completely beaten you so far?
The only 1000 miler I haven’t completed was a 1000 mile walk around the Middle East. After a 150-mile hike through the West Bank I crossed the Jordan Valley and promptly got two stress fractures, just walking with a heavy pack. Thankfully Leon McCarron, my walking partner on that one, continued on to join the loop.
Dave Cornthwaite is the latest individual discovered by San Miguel as part of its search for the San Miguel Rich List, a list of 20 ‘life-rich’ individuals from across the globe who have unique, compelling, aspirational human stories. To find out more about the campaign, and discover other life-rich individuals, visit www.sanmiguel.co.uk/richlist
Interview by Will Renwick