James Borrell is a biodiversity scientist and science communicator researching how people and nature can adapt to environmental change.

The Importance of Expedition Hardships

I often get asked why I go on expeditions. What’s the point? Why put up with hardships and trials and bad days? Why go far away from the comforts of civilization and stability? Why pay money to place yourself in these situations and do these things? Normally it’s friends that ask, rather than strangers. The latter I assume just think you’re either odd or just real-job-phobic.

There’s the romantic answer; because it’s out there, but that’s not really true.

The truth is that it’s very easy to stretch yourself. To commit to something that’s just outside of your comfort zone (or thoroughly beyond it). All it takes is the first small step in the right direction, and momentum carries you through. To have a moment of courage, confidence, or more likely blissful ignorance and take the plunge.

It’s something I feel quite strongly about at the moment, because everyone has to take a leap of faith at some point or another, and the sooner the better. A couple of years ago I came across an opportunity to sail the Atlantic on a racing yacht. I didn’t know much (that should read ‘anything’) about sailing, but the notion of crossing an ocean appealed. I did it for all the wrong reasons:

  • I liked the idea of sailing across an ocean (I pictured Captain Cook).
  • I was desperate to go on another adventure.
  • I thought it would impress girls.

A month later I was somewhere in the Atlantic, wet, cold and tired. There were breathtaking moments of vivid green luminescent algae and blood red sunsets, but there were equally moments of sheer fear. Perhaps the two best things about this kind of journey are firstly, how easy it is to end up in that situation,  and secondly, once you’re there, the impossibility of giving up. In the middle of an ocean, where is there to go except for the other side. To say the whole experience was enjoyable would be bending the truth, but it remains one of the things I’m most pleased I did and holds some of my fondest memories. If I could do it all over again, I would.

So expeditions, like many big projects or commitments, normally start with just an idea, a little research or a conversation. They can start in the comfort and safety of a home, on your own or among friends. They start simply, in the knowledge that hardships will come later, some you will know about in advance, many that you won’t. It’s easy to do hard things, so start, and at the finish you’ll be glad you did.