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Harnessing Your Adventurous Spirit

Harnessing Your Adventurous Spirit by Rich Harpham (Human Powered Adventurer) - An article written by Rich for the MOD Resettlement Magazine as Guest Editor

Within each of us exists an adventurous spirit fuelled from our evolutionary journey and flight or fight response. Goal setting, overcoming set backs and inertia provides the change to travel, push boundaries and achieve a real sense of satisfaction. I experienced at ‘awakening’ whilst sea kayaking from Vancouver Island to Glacier Bay, Alaska along the Inside Passage. This 1000 mile journey quite literally changed my perspective on future goals, dreams and my definition of success. 

Now some years later I have completed over 9,000 miles of human powered adventure and 25 expeditions including kayaking and cycling London to Marrakech, canoeing the Yukon River and even cycling the Sahara desert.  My business card carries the title of ‘human powered adventurer and motivational speaker’ . My adventures were linked to fundraising for charities to give a sense of purpose. The original 5 kayaking challenges included sea kayaking the English Channel, Lands End to the Isles of Scilly and Canada’s Inside Passage to Alaska. I embarked on the challenges after dislocating my knee playing rugby and learning to walk for the 5th time. I didn’t even own a sea kayak at the time but was inspired to raise money for the Muscle Help Foundation, a muscular dystrophy charity.

Our journey Northwards towards Alaska offered so much with Humpback Whales breaching, Orca’s patrolling, eagles galore not to mention bears, wolves and other locals. The heritage and living history was fascinating, being in a pioneering land where everyday folk had worked so hard to buld a living was also humbling. We made great connections with locals who felt an affinity with our endeavours and who provided such amazing hospitality. On one occasion at Port Simpson wet and bedraggled in a Force 6-7 we were invited into home of a local First Nation family who fed us and even sent us away with a Sockeye Salmon for supper. Their generosity was incredible and so selfless.

Later on that journey we arrived at a bear observatory called Pack Creek on Admiralty Island, close to Juneau.  Statistically, as we were informed there is one bear per square kilometer. As we paddled along the creeks and past inlets we shared the foreshore with mothers and cubs, feeding on the clams. We were vigilant with fully grown grizzly bears not more than 10-15 metres away. My friend, the mind reader told me not to worry ‘He could tell that the bears were not interested in us!’ I was less convinced. That evening I sat on a deserted beach with Orca’s hunting in the nearby channel, bears inhabiting the woods close by with a fire providing our communion to our ancestors. I had one bar of battery left on my iPod allowing me to listening to some of my favourite tunes before the battery died.  I felt connected and alive in the moment with a deep sense that I was a very small cog in a very large spiritual world.

I committed to another 5 challenges, this time raising money for the Marine Conservation Society and awareness for the River Access Campaign, again all human powered adventures. My stories received a fair amount of media coverage including BBC1 News, magazines and radio helping the fundraising. My mileage counter and experience was increasing as was my ‘bucket list’ of new ideas. My adventures took a random change of direction when I was asked to be the manager of the Ghana Ski Team to the Vancouver Winter Olympics. Kwame, aka The Snow Leopard, learnt to ski in Milton Keynes, aged 29, from a country with no snow and with no funding. If you have seen ‘Cool Running’s’ then you will get the gist!! The Olympics was of course a once in a lifetime opportunity and Kwame’s dream showed me if you can see the possibility big dreams can be achieved.

New York was calling. Well to be precise I called New York introducing myself as the accomplished adventurer, a man with a plan. The conversation was going well, they were interested, only one flaw the plan was embryonic. No turning back, my pitch was on the table, got for it. “ You have Niagara Falls and the Statue of Liberty 500 miles apart. We will call it the Spare Seat Kayak Expedition where every day a random person can join the expedition in the spare seat of the kayak.” From that green light the Spare Seat connected over 300 people who brought a kayak or canoe or seat to paddle with us and 27 people sat in the Spare Seat. The entire journey connected towns and people and was broadcast to over 200 million people in total. I love the fact that a mighty oak can emerge from such a small acorn, (or seed of an idea)!!

Of course our adventurous side is a personal connection and aspiration that is fulfilled differently for each of us. I think of it as our ‘adventure canvas’ which we all like to paint differently. It could be a choice to run a half marathon or travel to far away lands. The way we paint our adventure canvas may include risking it all to start a new business, completing a charity challenge through to setting world records and attempting world firsts. Be warned it is addictive. There is a trend to set a big goal, seeking sponsorship and claiming the world’s toughest gig, ever. This always seems a risky folly given that whilst we may call it a ‘superhuman’ feat of endeavour and extreme adventure, other people usually live there (and our armed forces sometimes have to protect others and fight there).

Recently I had the privilege to be part of a great team completing the Balfour Beatty Warrior Challenge with triple amputee Andy Reid and serving soldier Glenn Hughes. Glenn and Andy visited the graves of fallen comrades lost when their warrior hit an IED. The Warrior challenge team cycled over 400 miles paying their respects before kayaking from Devizes, Wiltshire to Tower Bridge, London which has 75 portages. The team raised over £52,000 for the ABF – Soldiers Charity. Our family run business, run by my wife and I, Canoe Trail, provided the training, leadership and support for the kayaking element of the charity event.

Myself and my colleague Rob are  no strangers to the route which mirrors much of the Devizes to Wesminster Canoe Race course, the 125 mile long ‘Everest of kayaking’. I have raced it twice as training for the 444 mile Yukon River Quest, once in double kayak K2 and once in double canoe C2. Rob my team mate has completed the race 10 times and won it 3 times in single canoe.  The team effort and logistics behind the charity event was literally a military operation. The Royal Marines provided us with two of their Valley Aleut double sea kayaks on loan. We were hosted by military barracks along our route and finished our journey at HMS President at Tower Bridge. It was fantastic  team effort for a great cause.

Held at Easter the DW Race is unique, where crews race against the clock, competitors, the obstacles and of course weather. Famously Paddy Ashdown whilst serving competed and was quoted as saying “Only Jesus had a harder Easter!”.  Andy was incredible demonstrating that steely resolve and determination can help achieve your targets. He had to content with removing and attaching his prosthetic legs each portage. He also suffered with blisters and abrasions on his prosthetics. Glenn a PTSD sufferer also had to contend with the mental challenges.

One of the funniest moments was whilst portaging the longer lock sections. Andy switched to his hand bike to reduce the time and attrition. Given the uneven nature of the bank with undulating tree roots we asked local fishermen to assist and guide him. The second obstacle was negotiated with Glen’s help. The third unstable bank areas was met with a confident reply from Andy that he had this in the bag. He accelerated aiming along the path. You can guess how things developed. His hand bike lurched onto 2 wheels, travelled forwards before ejecting Andy into the Kennet and Avon Canal. Despite no video footage we laughed until it hurt. Despite this temporary set back the Warrior Challenge was great success with much needed funds and publicity for the ABF Soldiers Charity.

You might be wondering how the story ends and where the wanderlust ends. New ideas formulate, almost daily. I am lucky enough to work outdoors, sharing my passion for adventure with young people and coaching adults to achieve their adventure dreams.  Interestingly the more miles and expeditions I have completed the more humble I have felt about my achievements.  Next month I head to Algonquin National Park to complete 130wilderness canoe  race with  Canadian paddler and author Hap Wilson following by a float plane white water trip. Our experiences will be shared in Bushcraft and Survival Magazine, Paddler and Outdoor Adventure Guide.

Next year will see myself and small team attempt to retrace Alex Van Bibbers 1943 Yukon Expedition undertaken as part of the ‘war effort’ Alex, a First Nation tracker led the team 560 miles in temperatures as low as minus 40. The Ski to the Edge Team consists of me, my brother, Matt Harpham and former Royal Marine Simon Reed.  We were fortunate to interview Alex 2 years ago and hear first hand about his journey. The expedition has received an endorsement from Sir Ranulp Fiennes for its endeavour and authenticity. You can follow Ski to the Edge in 2018 @


Richard Harpham is a human powered adventurer and inspirational speaker who has completed over 9,000 miles of expeditions by kayak, canoe, bike and on foot including exploring the Yukon, Sahara and Canada’s Inside Passage. At home  he runs , a watersports business and with his wife Ashley in Bedfordshire sharing their passion for paddling and the great outdoors.  He is the editor of Bushcraft and Survival Magazine and writes for Outdoor Adventure Guide and Paddler Magazine. His adventures are supported by: Paramo Clothing, Olympus Cameras, SPOT Trackers, Silver Birch Canoes, Bamboo Clothing, MSR, Canadian Affair, Osprey Rucksacks, Reed Chillcheater and Exposure Lights