Sean at the summit of Kilimanjaro
Having spent most of his childhood climbing trees and chasing elephants on the banks of the Zambezi River in the heart of the Zimbabwean wilderness, it’s no wonder that Sean Conway is a lover of all things adventure. Over the last 10 years he’s achieved some amazing feats, including climbing Ben Nevis solo in the middle of winter, completeting the 130km Dusi Canoe Marathon (the same length of the Full Circuit in Torres del Paine National Park), cycling unsupported from Lands End to John O’Groats & then on to the Orkney Islands and our particular favourite, summiting Kilimanjaro in a penguin suit!
He’s always looking for the next challenge and most recently he’s decided to take part in the Global Bike Race on 18th Feb 2012. He’s aiming to beat the Fastest Circumnavigation by bicycle and thus claim the Guinness World Record title currently held by the competition organiser, Vin Coz who managed it in 163 days.
We ask Sean about his preparation for the race, his experiences & what he thinks of Patagonia. Watch Sean in training & talking about the race on Sean’s site and don’t forget to watch his training video below. Swoop works with a network of cycling operators in Patagonia, so if you’d like to find out more about mountain biking in Patagonia, get in touch on 0117 369 0196.
1. Sean, you’ve done a lot of exciting things, and visited lots of places. What are the top 3 most inspiring places you’ve been to and why?
Wow. Narrowing down the three most inspiring places is really difficult. Everywhere I go seems to inspire me in some sort of way. Great places like The Himalayas inspire me to travel and contemplate more, and then the slums of South Africa inspire me to help people more.
I can’t separate the best three but I have chosen my best in 3 areas: Landscape, People and Experience.
The Deserts of Namibia. This arid landscape truly blew my mind. Walking through the mist covered grey sand dunes on the skeleton coast felt like I was Neil Armstrong on the moon. The still eeriness and being hundreds of miles from anywhere made you think that you could very well have been the only person to have ever walked there. Everyone should go there and make sure they get up before dawn everyday to witness some of the best sunrises in the world.
Namtso lake, Tibet, the highest salt water lake in the world was incredible. I went there in the middle of winter, so cold in fact that some animals that had died months earlier were still frozen and intact on the water’s edge. You could hardly walk 10m before being completely out of breath and frozen to the core. I managed to buy a Tibetan monks robe in a market which really helped me keep warm. Tibet in general was one of the most inspiring places I have ever been. The Tibetan people are so humble and generous. There were times when they just wanted to come up and shake your hand. Once one person did this I soon found a long line of people wanting to do the same. After the 7th person (in a line of 20 or so) I had to just step away and laugh and wave. They all laughed back as I am sure they understood I couldn’t stand there all day meeting everyone.
A cold Sean in Tibet
I have done many what people would call ‘big’ things from very long cycle rides to climbing very large mountains but often it’s the smaller things that I remember the most. Adventure isn’t all about climbing mountains of rowing oceans. Adventure in its purest form is a way of thinking. That is all.
One memory that will stay with me forever is a simple one when I was in China.
After a few drinks in a bustling local bar with a few friends I had made along the way, I decided to go for a midnight walk into the star studded landscape. Within minutes of walking out of the village I was surrounded by nothing but billions of stars. The Milky Way spread right across the sky and I could even make out the red, blues and yellows of each star. I found a frozen lake (which initially broke when I stepped on it but was firmer 10cm down) and I just lay there for 20 minutes in complete silence looking up into the heavens. I would have stayed there all night but it got way too cold so had to go back. Seeing our Solar System in such clarity really made you re-evaluate your life in some weird way. Star gazing still remains one of my favourite relaxation pastimes.
‘Chilling’ on a frozen lake in China
2. You’re about to embark on an Around the World Cycle Race. What’s involved and where are you most looking forward to cycling?
Cycling around the world as a challenge is hard enough and trying to break the world record adds a whole new dimension to the challenge. There is a lot more to it than just being able to cycle the fastest. The logistics and equipment organisation is far more difficult than deciding on the route. Most RtW cyclist miss out South America and Africa as the roads are too difficult. I didn’t like the idea of cycling around the world and not visiting the 6 major continents (I am missing Antarctica for obvious reasons) so I have decided to cycle through all of them.
I am really looking forward to South America. I have never been there and I hear they are a very friendly bunch. I hope to learn a bit of Spanish too which I have always wanted to do. I will be following the Pacific Highway from Santiago to Lima which might not be the most exciting road but I have to keep in mind the World Record. It’s going to be quite hard to balance making the most of the journey while trying to cycle 120 miles per day, but this is something I am just going to have to deal with when the time comes.
3. What do you know about Patagonia and what’s it like in your opinion?
I have never been to Patagonia but it’s very high on my priority list. Even the word Patagonia conjures up images of adventurers making their way through glaciers and snow capped mountains. When I go to Patagonia I would love to do it on a yellow bicycle with a red blow-up pack raft for when I want to explore more inaccessible areas.
5. What do you enjoy doing the most apart from cycling? Ever tried hiking on a glacier or climbed a mountain?
I love every form of outdoor activity. While I am young I would love to do as many different disciplines as possible. I say yes to everything. I love rock climbing and need to do Alpine climbing someday. I get a real buzz from challenges that are both physical and mental with a hint of danger thrown in. I don’t want to just climb a frozen ice-wall all day. I want to dig in and sleep there for the night too. I’m by no means the fittest or strongest person in the world which I why I always strive to push myself further. I would rather fail in originality than succeed in mediocrity.
6. So once you have finished cycling the world, what’s next?
Oh, I have loads of ideas. Helping people less fortunate than me (Which is about 90% of the Earth) is something that really inspires me to do what I do. If I can spend the rest of my life doing crazy things while trying to help others, then I will die a happy man. I have always wanted to swim the English Channel and from an early age I have thought this to be one of the most challenging experiences you can do. I have a big idea to start a race which includes the swim as part of it. Watch this space. It’s going to be huge . . . if anyone is mad enough to join me!
Thanks Sean and good luck with the race!!