TEDx : The toughest 32 days of my life

 

This, right here, is the centre of the Nullarbor planes - home to - nothing. An area that stretches 1100km, covering the majority of the Australian continent- an area that has a greater population of kangaroos than humans. 

It was day 15 out of my 32 day journey - I was alone, and roughly 140km away from any point of civilisation - dangerously running low on food and water, whilst suffering from severe fatigue and occasional hallucination. At that point in time, I felt like I was this close to my death.

“Just another day at the office”? I suppose not.

Yet if I had to tell you that my expression whilst taking this photo was one of pure joy, would you call me crazy? 

I don't blame you, as every time I look at this photo, it takes me back to that very moment, and makes me wonder how I’m still alive, standing here, talking to you.

Now, when it comes to pain, psychologist Brock Bastian probably said it best when he expressed how, "Pain is a kind of shortcut to mindfulness. It makes us suddenly aware of everything in the environment. It brutally draws us in to a virtual sensory awareness of the world much like meditation.”

If this is the case, the Dalai Lama had nothing on me for those 32 days - I transformed myself into the ultimate monk. 

Now, before we get into why anyone would ever want to find themselves in this kind of situation, allow me to backtrack, and give you an insight into my journey.

 

I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to attended University in the UK -  and was quickly drawn into a fantastic and stimulating environment - constantly surrounded by incredible characters from all over the world. All in all - I pretty much had the time of my life. 

Despite this, as the end of my degree neared, I realised how I wasn't quite ready to file up in line and join the march to the ‘promised land’ of capitalism that our lecturers constantly went on about.

I vividly remember this particular instance after my graduation ceremony where this large mirror in the restroom made my stop in my tracks. Reflecting at my image as nodded my head with disbelief. I remember thinking to myself - Who am I? Where is all of this taking me? 

I felt as if at that point in my life I found myself in an overcrowded Monday morning London underground - filled with nothing but doom and gloom - people who seem to be heading somewhere, but ultimately nowhere. I was determined to get distance myself from those train tracks - and seek the road less travelled - a road that I quickly found out was filled with uncertainty, confusion, pain, suffering - yet ultimately, freedom. 

Looking back, I recall feeling like a deer in the headlights, utterly confused with the world around me. 

Nevertheless,I committed myself to awakening that inner creative as a means to cleanse my mental state of being.

 

I found this incredible connection with photography, and linked it with my passion for the ocean and adventure. For the first time in my life, I felt as if I had found that inner voice - and boy did I let it scream. 

I was determined to explore this new found world of mine, and set out to do just that. I literally sold everything that I had, and booked a one way ticket out of Malta - in search of pure adventure. I found myself in incredible locations - capturing unforgettable moments.

 

 

From photographing Olympic Gold medallist swimmers, to professional sailors and surfers. I mean, to me, this was it. I started to create the life for myself that I only ever dreamt of.

Yet as time passed by,  I started to realise how there was just this one problem. You see, the more time I spent travelling to some of the worlds most exotic locations, the less gratifying it seemed to be. I set out seeking adventure, yet I soon realised how I was merely seeing that through my camera lens. I wanted to jump on the other side of the fence.

 

I began craving wild, open spaces - and aimed to seek out a new challenge, something that would challenge me both mentally and physically. 

I decided to put my camera aside, and set out to go on an inner, personal journey. I set out to cycle solo across the Australian continent, a distance of roughly 4200km.

Now, you’re probably asking the question why? Well, I had no idea at the time, and to be honest, I kind of still don't have the answer to that question.

Yet I recently came across this interview by George Mallory which I found to be quite relevant to this guestion. Mallory was the first person to have attempted to have climbed Mt Everest. Prior to the climb, Mallory went on to say the following:

The first question you will ask, and what I will try to answer is this : What is the use of climbing Mt Everest? and my answer must at once be, 'It is of no use.'There is not the slightest prospect of any gain whatsoever. Oh, we may learn a little about the behaviour of the human body at high altitudes, and possibly medical men may turn our observation to some account for the purposes of aviation. But otherwise nothing will come of it. We shall not bring back a single bit of gold or silver, not a gem, nor any coal or iron... If you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won't see why we go. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life. We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to live. That is what life means and what life is for.”

 

Credit: Shutterstock

Credit: Shutterstock

Now it is probably quite important to also mention the fact that prior to this expedition, my experience with biking was associated with leisurely bike rides through the Maltese countryside, lasting not more than an hour - and as this image depicts, this was far from your average weekend ride. So as you could imagine, a lot of experts where saying this was impossible for me to do. My grand mother certainly wasn't too keen about the idea.

So on I went, choosing to ignore all advice and warnings that came my way, and decided to go ahead and plan the expedition meticulously. Reflecting on this, it made me realise how much of our lives our controlled by fear, fear of the unknown, the fear of losing. What I learnt though, is that if you are afraid of losing, and thats what I feel we all are, everyday of our lives. Afraid of losing our material possessions, and more importantly, the way society dictates we should be - you will never win. It is only when the will to win overpowers that fear we constantly have inside ourselves to lose, that we can go out there and ultimately cycle into the unknown. 

There I was, on the 11th of April 2015, on the morning of my departure, with roughly 25kgs worth of supplies necessary for my survival packed onto the side of my bike. With the cheesiest grin on my face, I rode into the unknown. Literally. I had absolutely NO idea what I was about to get myself into.

 

Credit: Shutterstock

Credit: Shutterstock

The first few days were tough. Extremely tough. No matter how much more I had planned, nothing would have prepared me enough from both a mental and physical standpoint.  Both mind and body were in shock. In an age where the average person is actively moving around from place to place and stimulated by so much information in just one day, there was I, in the wide open road, cycling away. Yet that in itself, was a phenomenal experiment that I put myself through. My mind started to become increasingly still, focusing on the smallest of details, even just my breath, which I used as a reference to calm my body down. 

 

Credit: Shutterstock

Credit: Shutterstock

Despite the harsh and unforgiving conditions, nothingness brought with it tranquility, and with that, peace of mind. Gruelling days on the saddle were rewarded by phenomenal sunsets that left me sitting down in the middle of nowhere, in awe, sometimes on the verge of tears. Come nightfall, camp would be set up. Rations of freeze-dry food would be savoured and books were read or notes taken down under my customised reading light: the infinite amount of stars. This is it, i’d tell myself. This is why Im doing it. Unforgettable moments like these. 

 

Credit: Shutterstock

Credit: Shutterstock

However, the ride was not all plain sailing. Moments of sheer joy, were also met by quite terrifying moments, near death experiences that made me learn so much about myself. Experiences such as finding myself caught in a cyclone along the Nullarbor cliffs (above) that nearly swept me off the side, into the Southern Ocean. Or passing out at a gas station from dire fatigue, only to be woken up in an Ambulance hooked up to an IV. 

It was tough, so damn tough. I pretty much saw, and felt it all. Yet somehow, just somehow, I kept on pushing, kept on wanting to finish what I started. My body seemed to have had enough, my mind on the other hand, was far from over. And so on I went, day after day, pushing the boundaries of what one would deem to be impossible, riding all the way to the Sydney Opera House. 

 

In all honesty, the ride across Australia challenged me and humbled me so deeply. I am not sure that ill ever be able to put the entire experience into words, and a year on I am still struggling to piece my thoughts together.

Yet, the fact that I stand here before you is proof that we can all answer that burning desire to accomplish great things, through ambition, passion, sheer stubbornness, by refusing the quit. The expedition had an incredibly profound effect on me - it made me look at things from such different angles - and this is something that I aimed to transfer through photography and writing. 

 

Now this experience also made me think of that cliche, about the journey being more important than the destination. The closer I got to Sydney, the more I started to realise that what this agonisingly long bike ride might be teaching me is that happiness is not a finish line. That for us humans the perfection that so many of us seem to dream of might not ever be truly attainable. And as coined by Poler Explorer Ben Saunders ‘if we cannot feel content, here, now, on our journeys amidst the mess and the striving, then we might never feel it.’

 

Unfortunately, we live in an incredibly shortcut obsessed society, increasingly defined by shrinking attention spans and this demand for instant gratification. We seemingly have developed this birthright to ‘overnight’ weight loss programs and professional success , envious wealth, limitless free time. 

Yet, what this bike ride thought me, is that ultimately, failure, or success - or at least the prospect of failure or success - is what gives our lives proper context. These tower emotional and spiritual stakes, and fertilise our soul for quantum growth, irrespective of outcome. Nevertheless, growth can only come from earned investment in experience. Thus, factors such as fear and commitment shouldn't be avoided, or short-circuited, these are things to be embraced. Embraced with everything you have , and everything that you are.

The limits we impose on ourselves - these are mental projections. They are illusions. It is vital that we embrace the very possibility that we are so much more than we allow ourselves to be. There is definitely no guarantee that this path would lead to success the way that society inappropriately defines the term. Yet I truly believe that raw and authentic experiences will infuse one’s life with a sense of meaning, and a sense of purpose that no destination via shortcut could ever rival - true happiness. 

I am not talking about happiness in the sense of unicorns and rainbows, I am talking about a deep satisfaction. That your life has value - a value that could be served as inspiration. A service to others who feel stuck in their lives. Individuals who are alive, yet not living. 

Ultimately, nothing changes if nothing changes. The journey to figuring out the ‘how’  - that is the path to figuring out the big ‘it’. This is the art of living with purpose, and this is what it means to be truly alive. A promise that no shortcut can give you. Not now, not ever.