Richard Parks and Ed Stafford were interviewed at the 'Inkpot' by Dom Faulkner on October 9th 2014
It was a great pleasure to welcome these two adventurers to the literature festival. Readers will be familiar with Ed from his Walking the Amazon expedition which lasted over two years! He was at the festival to talk about his new book Naked and Marooned. Richard Parks is an ex-professional (and Welsh capped) rugby player who after being forced to retire through injury set himself some amazing physical challenges. His book Beyond the Horizon reads like a catalogue of tough endurance events, most of them completed in record breaking time. After reading both books I realised I was dealing with very different characters and approaches to adventure.
I began by asking them how they got into the adventure business. For Richard there were some dark weeks after his premature retirement from Newport Gwent dragons. After licking his wounds he knew he needed not just any challenge but a ridiculously demanding one that would consume his life. So began the 7/7 challenge - an attempt to summit the 7 highest peaks on 7 continents as well as both North and South poles. It was a hugely ambitious target and probably only one that Richard could have completed. By any measure he is a superb athlete and although an inexperienced climber he tackled the challenge with an attention to detail and determination acquired from his experience as a professional sportsman.
By contrast Ed's motivations are less clearcut but ironically more traditional. He is an ex-Army officer with a passion for the tropics who seemed rather taken aback at the publicity gained from his Amazon trek. He strikes you as someone that has been 'discovered' by TV rather than sought out fame for professional or financial gain. His book I actually found very engrossing. Stranded on a desert island with nothing but a video camera he spent some harrowing days just trying to secure the simplest of things - a reliable water supply. His story is a great survival guide in itself and I found myself willing him along in his his every quest to make his life more comfortable.
Richard Parks would be the first to say he is no explorer, other than of the human condition and psyche. His own website describes him as an 'Extreme environment athlete' an apt title that perhaps proves the extreme outdoors is now firmly in the realm of sports men and women. There was a slight snigger from the audience when Richard reminded us that he was the first Welsh person to get to the South Pole unsupported and unassisted, the fastest Brit and the second fastest overall. His abilities are considerable but I'm not sure everyone needs or wants to be impressed by increasingly obscure records. I was reminded of that mocking cricket parody...
"It had never been done by a Vicar's son on a Thursday against Kent after tea.."
It struck me only later that both men suffered an identical problem - that is an unfinished quest to know themselves better and that neither had fully resolved. Ed Stafford was very frank in talking about this. His book finishes with his return to the UK and proposal to his girlfriend. I rather tactlessly congratulated him only to find out that plans were on hold. In fact Ed has struggled with - as he put it ' too much adventure'. Time away has definitely taken it's toll and Ed reminded us that keeping grounded back home is every bit as hard as completing the extraordinary challenges that both men have completed. Thank you to both Ed and Richard for being so engaging and frank about their experiences. Both their books carry lessons for us all. (for a taster check out the videos below)