An Interview with Dave Cornthwaite: Mr Expedition1000
Dave Cornthwaite is a bit of a gapyear.com legend. You’ve probably never heard of him before, but in about 10 minutes you’ll think he’s a bit of a legend too. Why? Well, it’s because he’s a legend, isn’t it!?
Dave is 32-years-old and has a ginger beard. He’s also an adventurer, author, and film-maker, but the thing that interests us most at gapyear.com is Expedition1000. It’s a project like no other – Dave is planning to undertake 25 separate journeys of 1,000 miles, each journey using a different form of non-motorised transport.
Dave’s set quite a few Guinness World Records along the way, such as travelling the furthest distance by longboard after he skated 3,618 miles from Perth to Brisbane in Australia in 2006. It’s safe to say it was quite an epic journey.
So far he’s completed six expeditions (Come on Dave, you can do better than that). He’s just completed the bikecar expedition (it’s a bit like a bike and a bit like a car) from Memphis to Miami. Total distance: 1,001 miles.
Next up, between 10th August and early October, Dave will be swimming 1,000 miles between Chamberlain, South Dakota and St Louis, Missouri, towing his gear with him on a carbon fibre raft. Not only that, but he’s managed to convince six others to take a gap year and join him (how, we don’t know…) Together, they’ll make up team Swim1000, and there’s a huge buzz on social media following their expedition.
We thought we’d catch up with Mr Cornthwaite and see what makes him tick. Enjoy!
How many countries have you travelled to?
It feels like it should be more, but I’d say between 30 and 40.
What’s your favourite and why?
I’ll always have a soft spot for Uganda. The place woke me up as a teenager and started to create the adult me. I’m quite thankful.
What’s the most inspiring?
Chile. Such variety. Brilliant people. Smiles and music everywhere. The driest desert in the world. Arid mountains. Little remnants of Mr Eiffel all the way down the coast. Chile made me want to be a better me.
Which has the best food / cuisine?
Czech Republic: pizza. Ecuador: guinea pig. USA: breakfast. Uganda: passion fruit. But for pure food joy I can’t look past a good old English breakfast and Sunday roast, both on a plate at the same time if possible!
What’s the most fun thing you’ve done on the road?
I was the first person to skateboard the length of Australia’s Great Ocean Road when I crossed Australia on my board, that was an incredible ride, such ruthless coastline, rugged beauty experienced from a yellow skateboard. Bloody ridiculous.
What’s the worst problem you’ve encountered on the road / what’s your scariest travel experience?
Same answer for both. On my recent Memphis to Miami Bikecar Expedition I was knocked off the road by a speeding car. Very lucky to have just rolled 30 metres down a verge and into a field, a badly placed telegraph pole probably would have resulted in quite an injury. What made matters worse was that it happened four hours into the journey’s first day. Great way to start!
Have you met anyone on the road that you’ve thought “yep, you’re totally awesome. I love what you’re doing…”?
I’ve met so many kind, friendly, effortlessly inspiring people as a result of my travels. Rod Wellington, the Canadian Adventurer is a top guy. Dale Sanders from Memphis, 77, heart of steel. John Ruskey, a little further down the Mississippi in Clarksdale, the most modern-day bohemian you’ll find. An endless list, impossible to fulfil…
What’s the thought process behind Expedition1000? How did you come up with the idea?
I’d already skateboarded and kayaked a long way, but they were individual journeys that helped me start to understand how adventure was integral to my life. After each of those trips I floundered a little and eventually I came to the conclusion that everything is based on common sense. I was lacking focus, so I needed some. Simple! Expedition1000 brought together everything I’d learned, everything I loved, everything I felt I needed from my future and gave me a mission, one that was so varied I couldn’t possibly get tired of it. 1,000 miles is a bloody long way in anyone’s book, so I thought I’d do 25 of them, just to make sure I wasn’t lazy like my Dad said I was.
What’s your next adventure? How do you find the motivation to keep on completing these challenges?
I’m about to swim 1,000 miles down the Lower Missouri, towing and pushing my gear on a raft. With me will be a team of six people who have had the balls to get past all the excuses we give ourselves not to do these things; they’ve got sabbaticals or quit their jobs and found someone to sublet and will paddle 1,000 miles alongside me. That’s incredible. Motivation gets easier once you understand how much a big adventure develops you. A few years ago I was a braindead graphic designer doing a job for no reason other than it paid me. Awful reason to do a job. Now I love what a do, I haven’t been bored for seven years. I don’t make much but I’ll look back when I’m old and think, “I gave that a damn good shot, and that was worth not having a house with lots of stuff in it!”
Have you ever been close to throwing in the towel? Or paddle?
I was close in Australia. I never would have done it but I was tempted. Support and documentary team on that one wasn’t easy to deal with as a whole, add that to 50 miles of skateboarding each day for 100 days and I found everything hard. Still, it was my mission so I plodded on and vowed to travel solo for a while!
When do you think you’ll finish? Is there the temptation to string it out so you get to keep on travelling!?
Hah! I’ve no idea. I’ll do a journey when my heart is in it and not to tick another item off a list. But I have a strange feeling that Expedition1000 is just the beginning. Travel is about experiencing new things, and new things keep us alive and ticking – I’ll never stop.
What are your 5 top tips for anyone attempting a gap year?
- Stop attempting, just do it.
- Use your time wisely. Split it up between a period of work, a stretch of simple backpacking freedom, and a project / job with a real purpose, something that structures your behaviour and gives you some skills.
- If you’re ginger, don’t go to Australia. Too hot.
- Have two gap years.
- A gap year is about learning so do anything that has a strong chance of failure. You learn more than anything by not succeeding.
And to finish with, what’s your best travel story?
Are you kidding? I’ll give you two choices:
- I was once a graphic designer, then two weeks after stepping onto my first longboard I quit my job having decided to skateboard further than anyone else in history. I warmed up with an 896 mile journey from John O’Groats to Lands End, the first time anyone had ever done that, and then I skated across Australia, 3,618 miles, Perth to Brisbane, world record. One massive calf.
- I was once rescued by a pack of wild horses (brumbies) while battling a freak weather system in the Australian Snowy Mountains. Seriously, totally and utterly out of my depth, a huge black horse bursts out of the bush and breaths at me before trotting off with a shake of its head that basically said, ‘come on, stupid pom, this way.’ I followed it, I survived.
And a couple of extra fun questions:
What three things would you take on a desert island?
MacBook Pro. Lighter. Ocean Going Yacht.
What’s your favourite fruit?
Romantic meal with the girlfriend or beers with mates?
I’d do both on the same night, in the same venue, just make out I was having bowel problems.
Amarula. Any alcohol that gets elephants pissed has my vote.
Pool or fussball?
Pool, and I’ll win, I promise you. Once paid for an entire holiday to Greece back in my long-haired days!
Thanks Dave, great interview!