Janapar Rants

A Rather Open Update-Rant on the Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Janapar

Running through the dunes

No, I’m not selling anything. I know almost everyone who reads this blog has seen Janapar now.

I’d just like to share a selection of the more interesting, challenging and downright bizarre things that have happened since we released the film one year ago.

The first thing that happened, at 9am on November 27th 2012, was that most of you bought Janapar and watched it. We received a lot of fantastic feedback and took a strong first step towards paying off the (considerable) costs of the film (no, we haven’t finished doing that yet).

The second thing that happened, a few days later, was that we received our first slice of nastiness. I remember it well; an email from someone whose identity I’m legally bound to keep anonymous. Let’s call him Barry. Barry emailed to say there was a glitch in the film at 29 minutes in and could we look into it? We obliged, there was no glitch and then we realised that what Barry was actually doing was taking the piss out of our non-linear storyline.

“I suggest you needed [sic] a more skilful continuity director,” lilted Barry in a further piss-taking email. “I may amuse myself by re-editing.”

Yes, that’s right. Barry contacted me directly to let me know he was considering chopping up four years of my life, my wife, and two years of unpaid work on the biggest passion project of my life. For his own personal amusement.

That was when I discovered that when you stick your head above the parapet you’re going to get a few pot-shots coming your way. The anonymous arena of the Internet allows certain tortured people to indulge their most spiteful and unpleasant urges with absolutely no concept of how it might feel to be on the receiving end. It is the perfect consequence-free environment.

More unpleasantness soon arrived from Justin, who contributed a whopping £5 to the book’s Kickstarter campaign for an eBook and then assumed that both my project and my character wouldn’t mind being measured publicly and solely against his own exacting personal standards.

“The author tries to relay the message that he changed… from an uncaring, thoughtless whiny bloke into a person of understanding, tolerance and character. Unfortunately… he accomplishes none of this and just adds arrogance to his repertoire,” he wrote, with understanding and tolerance.

Justin is his real name, which he won’t mind me posting since he used it to share his full account of how disappointed he was in my work, life and personality with the world on Goodreads.

(Yeah, thanks for the unconditional support, Justin. That’s just what we value most from our backers.)

So I pressed the wrong buttons with a couple of disturbed, vocal individuals. Big deal, right? I had forty-whatever nice reviews and this video to make up for it. And, as another author later said, better getting 5‑star and 1‑star reviews over loads of 3‑star reviews, which just means you wrote a tragically average book that didn’t really say anything to anyone.

Except that the maths didn’t match with the reality. It seemed that the psychological effect of a handful of negative reviews massively outweighed the positive feedback. It took Roz Savage (who’s been there, done that, and then some with her first book) to point out the obvious: I’d done and created something I truly believed in, and no judgement-sniper would ever change that. “To create is much braver and more difficult than to destroy.” Having done plenty of destroying in my time too, I’ll have to concur.

I set off around the country to share Janapar in real life. Lots of blog readers got in touch and set up local screening events. The story took on a life of its own and the themes of personal adventure and following your own path through life were delivered. Standing up afterwards to answer questions, I felt as though I was speaking for anyone who’d made themselves the guinea-pig in their own experiment and tried their damndest to draw a conclusion or two from the results.

Emails started coming in bearing news of people who’d seen the film, read the book, thrown off the shackles and followed suit in their own unique way. The most memorable came from Gary, who’d left a crap job in Lancaster, cycled to Georgia, met a girl, got married, reinvented himself as an English tutor in Tbilisi and now had a baby on the way. Many more stories came in that had nothing to do with cycling at all but nevertheless expressed the realisation that an adventurous life was there waiting to be grasped and lived — the same realisation I’d had back in 2006 while poring over the Adventure Cycle Touring Handbook and the tales of people like Al Humphreys and Rob Lilwall. And that’s why we share stories.

The odd negative outburst still popped out, but it began to seem that they said more about the correspondents in question than anything else. They were sometimes comic.

“Just text and some small drawings,” wrote a 1‑star reviewer of the paperback book after having read only one chapter.

Erm… what?

(I noted that the same reviewer did however give 5 stars to the Downton Abbey DVD box-set, which added considerable context to his comment.)

The events were fun. I visited more places in the UK in a month than I’d done in the previous 29 years, and met more cool people. We paid off all the credit cards we’d maxed out to finish the film and started chipping away at the rest of the budget.

The events were also knackering. Utterly, utterly emotionally draining. I started sitting outside venues while the film played. Who wants to relive the most traumatic moments of four years of their life, over and over again, night after night, no matter how important they believe the themes of the story that contains them?

Scary amount of fast moving water and garbage

Eventually I escaped. To Iran. I almost drowned trying to packraft a swollen river alone. I did plenty more, too, during the two months I was there. Not a word of my most challenging and personal journey yet has ever been published, and nor will it ever be. There is a time for keeping things back for yourself, even if your purpose in life is to share, facilitate and inspire through storytelling.

In Iran I realised that there will always be compromises in everything one chooses to do. Ideals are just that. The reality of life on your own terms — which includes equally adventures and creative projects — is exposure to the new and unexpected, the need to react quickly, to think big and small together. It requires a level of perspective difficult to maintain. I had burned out through investing too intensely in something too emotional. Whatever the future of Janapar, it would need to be contained and managed in order not to become a source of regret, and to allow it to continue carrying the messages with which James and I had originally saddled it.

Before the release, those messages had lain dormat for a year while we’d searched for a film festival to premiere them. The launchpad of Raindance 2012 has since got us invited to dozens more such celebrations of storytelling, including some that rejected us the previous time round. The film has now screened on 6 continents. It’s screened in Antarctica at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. At the World Domination Summit in Oregon. In a tiny bike shop in Sheffield. In the mountains of Bulgaria. And in dozens of other places too.

And in the very near future the story of Janapar is going to escape the grasp of those who created and lived it. It’s on the files of a broadcast agent and a digital distributor. I would do well to forsake the idea of a real, personal connection with all the unsuspecting individuals who will end up as future audience members. Their connection will only be with the world created during the 79 minutes of the film. There is no point getting melancholy; I’ve served the people closest to the project (you) as faithfully as I can, and there’s a growing gulf between my life today and the ever more distant story that continues to be told on ever more distant screens.

It is with faith in the power of storytelling and in the universal messages contained within Janapar that we’re going to let it loose. It will continue to live its own life; to spawn its own adventures. These things that happened to some hapless bloke from England might just prompt a few more folk to take up the reins of adventure. Discover more. Understand more. Then come home and set about making their own contribution to the world a slightly more balanced and — dare I say it — better one. That’s all I really want. (That, and paying off the rest of the budget!)

The first step in this process is making the project a little more widely available. In real terms, this means relaunching the Janapar website with a streaming option and re-releasing the DVD on Amazon. Both of these things are happening today.

If you endorse the values I promote through this blog and through Janapar, and you’d like to get involved, there’s going to be a big push early next year when the film becomes available on some well-known global platforms. When the time comes, I hope that you’ll join me and participate in the word-of-mouth, the micro-storytelling, that’s got us this far both online and off.

If you’re looking for something to do today, an honest review of the DVD on the new Amazon page would work wonders for bringing it to new people. (Even if you’re a Barry or a Justin and you give it 1 star. Who am I to silence you?)

That’s it. No pitch. I’m off to plan another escape to Iran.

Budgeting & Finance Rants

How To Make A Living As An Adventurer

I received the following email the other day:

I am a little bit confused as to what exactly you do for a living. I know that you are an adventurer, but I don’t get where you get your ‘everyday money’. Sponsorship is one thing for a trip, but if you don’t have a 9–5 job, where do you get the daily money from?

It’s a good question. But what exactly might my correspondee think ‘adventurer’ actually means?

Types of ‘Adventurer’ (or Explorer, or Expeditioner)

(Warning: one or more of the following stereotypes may be considered offensive.) 

Personal Updates Philosophy Of Travel Rants

Why I Won’t Be ‘Live-Tweeting’ My Next Expedition

This post was borne of a heated debate I recently had with a couple of friends. It arose from a remark along the lines of “I don’t have time to read your blog, but I do have time to read Twitter updates, so you should be ‘live-Tweeting’ your trips because more people like me will know what you’re up to”.

Well, I won’t be ‘live-Tweeting’ my future trips; not for my friend, nor anyone else. And here’s why.

Tweets, by their nature, are free-floating snippets of information. Each one inhabits a single drop in an ocean of content. In any given Twitter user’s feed, this could span mainstream media headlines, celebrity gossip, a viral video or two, links to random interesting articles, or photos of your mate’s swollen foot.

Then along might come the following:

“Spent a night in no-man’s-land between Kyrgyzstan and China.”

I assume that this is the kind of update my friend would like to see. It would save him having to read a tiresome thousand-word diatribe on the same experience, which he doesn’t have time to do. My adventure travelling experience could be happily digested alongside the remainder of his Twitter timeline. In my friend’s eyes, there’s no difference.

Now, I have no doubt that the Twitter user who posted the update above (which I took from today’s feed) is perfectly happy with his or her Tweet, and feels that it accurately represents what they were doing at the time. And there is little doubt that somebody who has done their fair share of self-supported adventure travel might be able to roughly guess at the context in which one might find oneself camping between two distant Central Asian border posts.

But to my high-flying friend sitting in a coffee shop or office in central London, exactly what would this message mean? What context would he have for it? What first-hand experience of the Tien Shan mountains does he have? When was the last time he spent a month sleeping under canvas? What was the longest man-powered journey he took in his adult life? What is it actually like in ‘no-man’s land’? What are the Tweeter’s motives for being there, and why is it important that he or she let the world know?

The Tweet invites imagination, and sheer invention is what inevitably follows. Tweets are so short as to leave every aspect of the words’ true meaning to guesswork. And, assuming that the majority of us have yet to spend the night in no-man’s-land between Kyrgyzstan and China, our guesswork and assumptions will be all over the shop, and the chance that any of the guesses might resemble reality is practically zero.

And in any case, my friend will look at the Tweet, consider it for maybe half a second, and then be distracted by the next in the never-ending stream of informative nuggets. Then something else will happen: the guesswork and the assumptions will be done in the background, subconsciously, where all the misconceived impressions unwittingly held by those who haven’t experienced the world for themselves will be built into a vague and ever-more warped idea of the Tweeter’s journey, as told through his or her Tweets.

Here’s another example from today’s expeditions on Twitter:

“Had a road rage incident.… Dave got tackled off the bike and kicked in the nuts… eventful day.”

Can I feel Dave’s pain? Do I know how he feels; what his sensibilities tell him to make of it? Do I know how blissful his previous month of cycling was before this cruel blow to the family jewels took place? Do I know what events caused the incident? What does his riding buddy make of it? Why am I assuming that a car driver was involved, even though it was never mentioned?

My top priority when I do share my journeys is to take my audience with me, as much as such a thing is possible. Why? Because it’s enjoyable. It might be educational. On rare occasions, it might even be a little bit inspiring. But I know that my audience member probably doesn’t have the luxury of first-hand context for the experiences about which I write or speak, so I have to paint pictures, evoke atmospheres, invest emotions, provide some insight into the whys and wherefores.

Without these things, my stories would encourage readers to build works of imaginative fiction in their minds. Some self-titled adventurers actually rely on this; cherry-picking the pieces of information that they know can be used to construct superhuman-sounding tales of high adventure by people who have no defence against their own lack of context and overactive imaginations. This appeals to media people who sell books and TV shows based on these stories, and of course to the oft-massive egos of the protagonists.

Adventure — being a state of mind rather than a set of criteria — should be without limits; without restrictions on who can partake of it, without it making the slightest difference how impressive it can be made to sound. So it’s not worth pretending my projects are elite or daring or impossibly difficult, or inviting others to do so on my behalf. There are the inconsequential details, and there is the irrelevant information, little of which survives the editing process, but the bottom line is that I have no reason to write at all if I can’t take my friend away from his office, just for a few minutes, and show him a different world; a set of events outside his own experience, something to provoke new thoughts — but in a way which avoids the kind of misinterpretation that is so easy to make.

Other than providing a link through to a fully-formed piece back here, these are things that a Tweet in a timeline — for the vast majority of followers — will never do. If you don’t believe me, try making all the points in this article using 140 characters or less. My friend honestly believes that there is no difference in consuming a handful of vapid Tweets and investing 15 minutes in reading a considered, crafted and complete piece of creative non-fiction (or, for that matter, investing a few days in reading a book). He is wrong. The difference is as great as between a single note and an entire symphonic movement. As someone who creates, I’d rather reach one person on a meaningful level than a thousand people on a level that is ultimately meaningless.

So no, I won’t be ‘live-Tweeting’ my next journey. I hope that these thoughts might provoke others in the field to reconsider their own use of the technology (not to mention reminding myself of these reasons when I’m tempted to start doing it!).

As for my friend’s “I don’t have time” argument, well, if he has better things to do, then good for him — I need not worry that he’s missing out.

Philosophy Of Travel Rants

Why Backpacking Is Great (And Other Myths)

I wrote this horribly opinionated, elitist, provocational polemic last year, and have been wondering what to do with it ever since. There may be nuggets of truth in there somewhere, but please don’t take it too seriously!