Interview with Tim Moss of The Next Challenge

May 12, 2014

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Tim Moss in front of a castle in Mtskheta, Georgia. Tim and his wife, Laura, are currently cycling to Australia across Europe and Asia as part of the Big Cycle.

Project Cordillera: So, Tim, you’re an expeditions planning consultant, and essentially a professional adventurer yourself, what brought you, your life and your career to exploration?

Tim Moss: Well, I started getting into expeditions and charity challenges at university, making use of the grants available and the long summers. I later worked for British Exploring, organising expeditions to the Arctic and Himalayas. Working in the Royal Geographical Society and constantly meeting new, adventurous people kept me constantly excited about expeditions.

Over time I found that people would frequently approach me for advice on doing their own challenges and I eventually decided to pursue that full time so left my job.

However, I wouldn’t call myself a professional adventurer. No one has ever paid me to do an expedition or sponsored one. I did briefly make a living by providing logistics for big sponsored expeditions but I’ve realised that I’m not so interested in that and they’re not the people that really need my help. So now I just try to help people for free in my spare time and work a normal job during the day (admittedly, I’ve been travelling on my latest trip for 8 months having quit another job but it’s funded with the money I saved at work and I will be going back to work when I return).

PC: Can you tell us a bit about some of your adventures so far? What have been your outstanding highlights?

TM: My bigger expeditions have been mountaineering of which climbing in Kyrgyzstan aged 20 was by far the most eye opening. I’d never left Europe before and only worn crampons about twice but suddenly found myself on the end of a rope attached to two friends, dangling off the side of steep ice half way up a 6,000-metre peak that had only ever been climbed three times.

It was a jump into the deep end that, having come away unscathed, introduced my sheltered mind to a whole world of opportunities.

However, some of my fondest memories are from smaller trips. Three weeks cycling alone through Scandinavia without a map, a plan or any research and on a bike so cheap that strangers laughed at it, was wonderful (and the whole trip, including flights and equipment only cost £300).

Crossing the Wahiba Sands in Oman was stunning too. My now-wife, Laura, and I hatched a really simple plan: to park our car where the dunes began, fill our rucksacks with enough food and water for two nights, walk east until the dunes ran out, then hitch back. Slogging uphill through sand with a 20kg pack was absolute purgatory but cresting a dune beneath the glare of a full moon was absolute bliss.

Finally, one of the simpler, if physically tougher, challenges I undertook was done on a whim and involved running 55 miles. I read that you are never more than 70 miles from the sea in the UK. Living in London, this seemed hard to fathom. So, with my wife away for the weekend, I donned my running shoes and started running east from my flat in north west London. 12 hours later I hobbled onto the beach in Essex and ordered a large fish and chips. There’s nothing quite like that floaty feeling your body gets after a long, hard run.

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Altai Mountains, photo by David Tett.

PC: What is it for you that makes adventure exploration so special?

TM: Adventure is special because it forces you into new experiences, be that dealing with altitude and smiling through a sandstorm, or just interacting with people from different cultures and being bewildered a lot.

I think they also provide a good excuse for pushing yourself that is often missing from modern life. The popularity of extreme sports and tough events like Iron Man and Tough Guy speak to this.

When I was a student I used to walk slowly towards bus stops and loiter in the distance so that I’d have to run hard for the bus when it inevitably arrived before me. I think a lot of expeditions are like this in some way or another. They contrive a situation in which it is acceptable and necessary to work hard.

PC: Project Cordillera believes that true exploration breeds empathy, do you agree? If so why?

TM: Well, I would normally point to the inevitable interactions that result from travel. Meeting new and different people from around the world, it is hard not to come away with an increased sense of empathy.

However, expeditions tend to be remote (i.e. not many people around). So then I would see any empathy developing through the situations you might not otherwise experience: managing every drop of fuel because you have a finite amount and no option to just buy more; restricting your food intake so that it lasts for the month you’re at base camp; really fearing for your life or that of your team mates’ when things go wrong.

PC: As one of the pioneers of the micro-adventure, what are your top tips for incorporating an exploration ethos into daily life and routine?

TM: I wouldn’t claim any rights to the excellent microadventures that Alastair Humphreys pioneers but I have always preached from what I think is a similar hymn sheet.

For those interested in giving them a try, the advice is simply: start. Take a first step.

Google microadventures or “everyday adventures” (which is what I campaigned about) and you’ll see there are more than enough ideas and plenty of advice. The difficult thing is getting started and that just requires action on your part.

(And my advice to anyone telling the story of their adventures is: if you aim to motivate people then don’t exaggerate the hardships of your own experiences. It’s counter productive.)

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Bolivia Quimsa-Cruz expedition, photo by Tim Moss. 

PC: What are you up to now Tim? How’s the cycle going? 

TM: I’m writing this email from the spare of room of two complete strangers in Japan who offered my wife and I a coffee when they saw us cycling past yesterday. These acts of kindness – people welcoming us into their homes for food and safe shelter – have been repeated time and again, through country after country, and provide a constant reassurance about the goodness of humanity. (You can see exactly how many people have invited us in on our stats spreadsheet).

We have been cycling for 8 months through some 16 or so countries on our way to Australia. It’s been a fantastic trip so far and perfectly illustrates some of the key messages about adventure: it is cheap (we spend about £5 a day and a total of around £3000 all in over the course of 8 months) and requires no skill besides riding a bike and little fitness that you can’t build as you go.

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Tim Moss set up The Next Challenge in 2009He has organised expeditions to all seven continents, made first and first-British ascents of several mountains from Russia to Bolivia, and has travelled around the world using eighty methods of transport, a trip for which he won the Year Of The Volunteer ‘Award for Innovation’. He is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, a current Guinness World Record Holder. His first book – How to Get to the North Pole: and Other Iconic Adventures – was published in 2012 with contributions from over 50 great expeditioners. In August 2013, he and his wife, Laura, left their London lives behind to begin cycling around the world.

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Feeling inspired by Tim’s travels? Perhaps a climb or trek in Peru is calling you this summer. Take a look at Project Cordillera’s incredible opportunities on our website.  

Posted by Charlotte Kesl, 12 May 2014

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