Last Thursday I attended the screening of the adventure film ‘Into the Empty Quarter’ at Escape school (more on them later). Having recently moved into a new office space you can tell they are still settling in (fresh paint, temporary flooring and the screen propped up with a few books!)
I was able to attend the event for free in return for volunteering my services – well worth doing if you can’t afford tickets, you get to meet the staff and other volunteers, interact with the attendees and sit in on the events.
This event was the film screening followed by a Q&A with Leon McCarron. He was invited to join Alistair Humphreys on the 1,000 miles across the Arabian Peninsula with only 6 weeks preparation time and jumped at the offer, despite only having recently returned from walking 3,000 miles across China.
The trip came about after an expedition Alistair Humphreys had been planning didn’t go ahead. With plenty of training under his belt Al decided not to waste it, but instead plan a trip that he first thought about at university – walking the Empty Quarter of the Arabian Peninsula in the footsteps of his hero, Wilfred Thesiger.
Although this was going to be a trip without backup crew, he needed someone who could join him to help produce a beautiful film of it. A quick email to Leon signed him up and they got on with planning for the 6 week trip from Salalah, where Thesiger started, to Dubai, chosen for the complete contrast it would give to the empty desert.
The route followed or mirrored roads and took in some towns as part of their water planning, but the main draw for them was the huge empty vastness of the desert. Leon had realised early on in his adventuring career that doing a trip for travels sake was self indulgent, so his focus was telling the story of the adventure on his return.
Inspiration and motivation
Both Leon and Al were inspired by Thesiger’s books about journeying in the Arabian Peninsula. They found several parallels between the two journeys, the main one being contact with the local characters. Thesiger met many local people on his trips, Leon and Al also met lots of welcoming people, willing to help them out with water, coffee and snacks, showing a different side to the Middle East from most people’s perceptions.
The emptiness of the desert allows a lot of time for reflection and this helped Leon to decide to marry his girlfriend* and to rationalise his lifestyle from complete nomad, to having a base in London between adventures. It’s also a hard landscape and the film shows moments where they struggle with negative thoughts.
Motivation to keep going came from not wanting to die in the desert! Resilience is a key character trait for both of them and setbacks such as having to redesign the cart they were using to drag their supplies across the desert, to losing their sleeping mats, were overcome. Both have made a lifestyle of not giving up and have learnt the rewards of pushing through, not letting yourself down or missing the opportunity to tell the story.
Tips for aspiring adventurers
We gained some practical tips from Leon for those wanting to be professional adventurers:
Adventures aren’t expensive, the 6 week walk cost them £1,000 each including flights.
The best sponsorship is equipment sponsorship, rather than monetary, as there are no obligations attached.
You can get commissions to fund a trip, this focuses the mind, but adds deadlines (& the obligations mentioned above!)
The best trips are by bike (Leon’s favourite!). Anything where you don’t need to carry the equipment is easier and you soon build up fitness in the saddle, but there will always be days where you need painkillers and loud music to keep going!
The cost of making the film was only £1,000, it helps if you have experience in film making, but you don’t need it to start.
Setting up camera shots did mean extra walking and some planning. Leon noted that trips are different if you have a camera along, especially filming, as you can’t just live in the moment.
They did meet some women travelling on their own in the region too – but most of them weren’t walking! Leon said everyone would have a different trip and meet different people – so women would hang out with the women, whereas they interacted solely with men.
You can make enough money to live and fund further trips by giving talks, to schools and in the corporate world, writing books and making films – Leon and Al are proof of this!
The screening and question session were very inspiring – their experiences meeting people reminded me of those I met in Jordan & Lebanon – from the Bedouin lady telling us about her kids and husband, our taxi driver – a grandfather of 13 – buying us water & fruit, to the airport worker who gave us a lift into central Beirut….I want to go travelling again!!
Escape the City & Escape School
Escape the City was set up to help city workers escape to more meaningful jobs. The website has numerous jobs in all sorts of social enterprises posted on it. The Escape School helps you on how to do this with inspirational talks from those who have escaped, to tips on starting a business.
Check them out at escapethecity.org
*she said yes!