#ASPWTheNextJourney adventure travel podcast every Sunday
Ep-5. Mac Mackenney. October 2023
Mac Mackenney is UK-based survival and extreme expedition logistics expert having worked closely with ‘World’s Greatest Living Exolorer’, Sir Ranulph Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes OBE. #podcastshow #adventuretravel #ASPWthenextjourney
TheNextJourney Podcast Every Sunday.
Program announcement (00:00):
Welcome to the Next Journey, the Adventure Travel Podcast. With me, Andrew St Pierre White.
Welcome to the Next Adventure podcast. My guest today is neither sitting in opposite me in my studio, and neither is he sitting in the lounge somewhere else on planet Earth. I actually have no idea what he’s doing. All I know is that Mac McKinney, my guest is so busy that, well, we’ve actually been talking for the last six, eight months, and I wanted to bring you this. I recorded this sometime ago and it was such a compelling discussion we had together that I have to bring it to you. Mac is an exceptionally talented logistics organiser for extreme conditions, mostly vehicular conditions, but not only vehicular conditions. He, for example, worked very closely with Rph fines. Rph fines is, I think without contradiction, could be called the world’s greatest living explorer. He’s not just an extreme explorer, he’s a hyper extreme explorer and I have read his books and they are that they show an extraordinary talent and an extraordinary tenacity for success.
Mack was his right-hand man, if you like his logistics expert and went with him supporting him on several of his expeditions. But my discussion with Mac focused more about survival and preparation in extreme environments. And when I talk about extreme environments, I’m talking about the edge of extreme places where I’ve never been, but might one day find myself in. And I really wanted to share this with you. It is an exceptional piece of survival advice if you like that I want to share with you. This podcast is sponsored by Zippo. Zippo. Thank you very much for supporting our show. Did you know that zippo don’t just make those little lovely little brass lighters? They also do separate inserts for the lighters. For example, my favourite is the butane burner. So now, I mean the zippos already good in a wind. Now it’s good in a hurricane because it’s a pressurised, fill it with lighter gas, little butane burn.
They’re absolutely beautiful. They even make, and it’s my new favourite fire lighter is the zippo file lighter. It’s natural pine coated in a kind of a paraffin wax. It’s absolutely benign, and they make fantastic fire lighters. And because it’s a hundred percent natural, they just disperse. They’re just very, very nice to use. And their lighter, of course, are still made in the U Ss A. So thank you zippo for your support. Now my interview with Mac actually starts with us talking about a television show that he was involved with himself, Paul Marsh and some quite Tom Hardy, I think was one of them. There was also the, I will let m tell the story, but we start right away with me complaining and ranting about discovery channel’s, habit of always overplaying their hard, always saying things that are far more than they really are, to the point where I think intelligent people look at it and say, you’re talking crap. This is rubbish. Stop treating me like a seven year old. And that’s where our discussion started.
Oh, the hype. Oh God. Yeah. So there was nothing really dramatic happened.
No. So you guys would say would be in an environment, if they don’t get to the river in time, they’re all going to die. And then the next episode or even later this, they don’t get in. They’re all going to die. And then you had that windstorm.
Oh yeah, that was for real. That
Was for real. And then I thought, and what the commentator said was, here’s a windstorm, and if they don’t get on the cover as soon they’re all going to die. And I thought, yeah, they’re in trouble now. They’re in trouble now. I’m worried for them.
I was a bit concerned with the desert one because we were supposed to go and meet a lot more people, but because it’s right out on the west of China, it’s one of their autonomous regions. So basically there’s three areas of China that basically they’ve nicked off other people. You’ve got inner Mongolia, so that’s all of it above the Great Wall of China. So that used to belong to Mongolia. You’ve obviously got Tibet and you’ve got this Agua region right out on the Western side. So most of them look more like Afghan type people. They’re Muslims, they’re not hand Chinese Buddhist types or whatever religion they have in mainland China. We had two government minders to watch everything we did, and we were supposed to see a lot more people and they said, oh, no, no, that’s Nura can’t talk to them. They might say something about the oppression of these people by the Chinese government.
And so really it was getting quite boring. I thought may have, well, I’d gone out and wrecked it and we’re going to do this, this, this and this and this. And they go, no, can’t do that. Can’t do that, can’t do that. So apart from the beginning bit where everyone got stuck bus because the silly donuts wouldn’t let their tyres down and then 10 minutes later pump ’em back up again. We just sat there for hours. So actually the sandstorm at night was an absolute blessing, otherwise it would’ve, oh yeah, I was praying something would happen. I didn’t know it was going to happen at three o’clock in the morning when everyone’s kind of sound asleep. But
Yeah, that was good. That was good. And I thought that was the only time I thought, yeah, this is a bit tough. That’s not nice. And I understood that there was a danger involved and I appreciated it. But so many of the other, we are going to die moments, they weren’t. We are going to die on door. Well,
The thing is though, you are actually in an environment, particularly Siberia, where if you’d got your planning wrong and you hadn’t got the right kit and you’d chosen the wrong vehicles and you didn’t have the right local support. Yeah, dying would’ve been very realistic very quickly.
I appreciate that. Would’ve made better
Yes. I mean, I imagine minus 60 driving in minus 60 and then getting out of the car and having to live and do other things. In minus 60, there’s genuine risk involved.
Oh yeah, yeah. Frostbite is measured in minutes, absolute minutes. Oh yeah, minutes now. They were interviewing, I think it might have been on one of the YouTube clips or something, but they were interviewing mlo and it wasn’t minus 60, it was only about minus 40 or so. And he’d been outside for three or four minutes and he was going, crikey my nose, I can’t film my nose anymore. And he was doing this and then they got the medic on him and right straight in, straight in. And he’d only been in for, well, bearing in mind the Royal Marines stopped training at minus 30 because it’s too dangerous for them to train at any colder temperature because the risk of a cold weather injury goes up
At massive risk above minus 30. And so of course we’re operating at minus 40, 50 and minus 60. So this is way, way outside. You wouldn’t call them Royal Marine Special Forces, but they’re pretty damn close to special forces in what they can do and who the people that they are and what the training they’ve had. And so we are way beyond that.
I mean, you did the logistics for the series and you did the risk assessment as well. Everything you did
Everything, everything. The brief from the ad agency that dreamt it up. So basically you’ve got an ad agency, they dreamt it up. They said to discovery, if we make this, are you going to put it on air? They said yes. So they went round their clients. Shell said, right, we’ll pay for it and we’ll say it’s about our engine oil. They then found a production company to film it, and there’s only two really in the uk. It’s either top gear, but that’s all they do is top gear or North one television who do fifth gear. So they were the only other motoring choice to come in and film it, so Right. Well, who’s going to make it happen? And that’s when we got brought into the mix. So we had the money, we had the broadcaster and we had the people to film it, but the brief from the ad agency who dreamt it up was hottest, coldest, toughest, Russia, China, India. That was it. Sort out everything. Absolutely. Everything vehicles kicked over the
Which of those three? The hot, the cold and the,
Well, it should have been the highest, but that got
Canned. That got canned because you couldn’t,
Because we couldn’t get there because of Tibet and all the rest of it. So we called it the toughest, the jungle
One. The jungle one, yes. Which was the most difficult to plan and which was the most risky for everybody involved?
Of the coal. Just because we as humans, I think they say we evolved from the planes of Ethiopia or something. Genetically, we are designed to cope with heat and more people have experienced extreme heat when they’ve been on their holidays and basically keep out the sun and just keep hydrated. It’s a safer environment. We are not designed to operate at minus 60. We’re not designed to really operate at minus 10. And so everything genetically, the makeup of our within cellular level, we are designed to expel heat very well. We sweat well and all the rest of it, we don’t have the body fat, we don’t have the hair. We don’t even have the little capillaries to pump blood right down to the very extremities. Yeah. Now in you it’s have evolved slightly differently. Apparently at the end of each of their little blood vessels, they have an extra one of these capillaries. Really? Oh yeah. Yeah. So they do get more blood flow to the extremities. Now us as sort of lowland western types, more designed for the heat. No, we’re not designed for it. So you’ve got to think of absolutely everything to ensure that this body that’s not designed to be there can cope.
And of the, in terms of keeping the vehicles running, which was the most challenging? Mechanically?
Probably. Probably the cold again, yeah, because once those engines were on, you cannot switch them off. You have to keep them running 24 7. And even to the point where we camped overnight with the reindeer herders and we were up on the mountain plateau, it did get down to minus 60. Most of the crew are in what basically looked like a scout tent. It wasn’t double walled, it was just a thin layer of canvas, like a typical army tent with a wood burning stove in the middle of it. But of course, unless you kept that thing stoked continuously, any heat that was in there soon evaporated and disappeared through the walls. So yes, we had the engines running, but of course there’s the risk of a carbon monoxide poisoning where you’ve got seven vehicles, five petrol and two diesel pumping out fumes. And if the wind changed direction, it sort of blowed right across the tent, towards the
So of course it’s all carbon monoxide detectors, smoke detectors, and the rest of it.
Did you manage to think of that beforehand? Yeah. You did.
Yeah. So we had all the detectors, but the other thing was, yes, the engine is running, that’s all working nice and well. But what about the gearbox? There’s some sort of heat permeating through the engine bay. Is
It enough to keep the oil that’s
Kind of getting there? Yes, but front diff that’ll probably remain relatively warm, rear diff. Well, that’s out on its own. That’s not going to get any heat. Nothing from the engine is going to reach that. Nothing. So every, well, the most we left, it was two hours, absolute maximum before we up and down and up and down and up and down. Got me and Paul slept the cars. He slept in his, what we called it, the film car where the film crew were. And I slept in the other car with the star, the talent, the stars were the star car, so, so we just laid out on the front seats and then a little buzzer would go, right, that’s it. Up and down and up and down and up and down to stop the fluids solidified,
Solidify. Yeah. It wouldn’t have been an idea to have built a small fire underneath the rear differentials
The Russians do. Yeah, when things go wrong. But of course, if you’ve then got a fire, you’ve got to stoke the fire. The fire will you put a fire
Tank? Near a fuel tank and there’s rubber hoses.
But that is the lengths that they go to if it all goes wrong. Right. And they’re out for prolonged periods and they can’t move it, that’s the only way to do it. And light fires under the engine, light fires under the gearbox, under the diffs. The other thing is the shocks absolutely solid, so you have to keep them, of course, you’ve got to keep them warm. So we had almost like a sleeping mat material, but with a sticky backing to it. So that was wrapped around all the shocks. So picking the right shocks that we knew that could cope was very important. What some of the guys who were out there for long, long, long periods and operating and keeping the vehicle stationary for long periods, if they’re parked outside and they go to bed, they don’t want to be moving the car every two hours every single night for sort of four months of the year. So they’ll have electrical heaters around, wrapped around all the shocks to keep them warm
Well, they’re all, you have to go for a gel battery gel. Yeah, obviously two batteries, because anything like this that’s doing ancillary work,
You don’t want batteries, you cannot force that engine to stop at all. Interesting. So fuel quality is as ropey as anything out there. It’s an arctic diesel, so it’s already good down to minus 50 and it won’t, whereas ours will start waxing up at minus 15 or something. So yeah, minus 50. But it’s basically just like paraffin. It’s horrible, horrible quality. And also where you are getting it is a very, very low standard. So you literally could pick pebbles out of the fuel tank. There’s all sorts of muck coming out of there, big lumps of rust, big lumps of paint, literally I have pulled small pebbles out of, because we pre-filter everything before it goes into the tank. It’s things like that you’ve, you’ve got to think of everything because if that engine packed up and then if you were kind of foolish enough to rely a hundred percent on that keeping you alive and you didn’t have minus 60 jackets, minus 60 sleeping bags, tents, stoves, fuel, water, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, you are measuring your life expectancy in hours, not even days. So there’s a lot to think about. There
Must be a process that goes through your mind when you are saying, okay, this is the expedition that I’m setting up. And there are certain risks
And things involved. I dunno where I first learned the priorities. It was probably in the military and that was shelter, water, food. But there are sort of others. There’s an accident as well. And so what I’ve basically coined is I call it the rule of three. And you’re dealing with three minutes, three hours, three days and three weeks. Okay? So your life expectancy, if you’ve got it wrong and you are barreling across the mechanic adie or something like that, and you hit a whopping pothole and you flip your vehicle and impale your head and there’s blood pouring out of every orifice, your life expectancy is three minutes. If you are in an extreme environment, and we tend to be talking extreme cold, but it doesn’t have to be that cold, you throw in a bit of windchill and you could be talking western Europe, Scotland, and you are in the wrong place with the wrong kit i e shelter for your body.
And I don’t just mean tent shelter, I mean clothing, shelter, your life expectancy could be three hours. So three minutes if you have an accident, three hours if you haven’t got the right shelter and your next priorities are water, the average person in average conditions will survive three days without water. Obviously if you’re in the extreme heat of Africa, then it’s the desert and are working hard, you can dramatically cut that. If you’re in a much more mild climate and it’s quite moist and you’re not sweating too much, you might be able to extend that to four, maybe five days. But you are going to be, you’re going to be in a bad, you’re going to be a bad, you’re not going to be thinking straight, you’re not going to be able to move very well. But yeah, average is three days. And then finally your priority is what is food?
The average person can survive three weeks without food. So three minutes, three hours, three days, three weeks. So that’s kind of, so everything I think of I have to base it on what are my priorities? So the least of my worries ever on any trip is how much, where do I, my camping equipment, my stove, my food supply, anything that’s way down my list of priorities, water’s a pretty serious one. Shelter gets a lot more serious because if you get that wrong, life expectancy is over pretty quickly. But the priority is do not stuff it up. Do not end up in a situation whereby you’ve had an accident. And so then that comes down to planning. So things like, am I and my team capable of operating in this environment? Are we going to be able to negotiate this road, this track, this river without it all going horribly rung?
Do we have the right training, the right skills, the right people to make it happen? Have I chosen the right vehicle? And once I’ve chosen the right vehicle, have I prepared it properly? Have I decided that I’m going to put 15 jerry cans on the roof, I’m going to put roof tent, two spare wheels up there, high lift jacked, and all of a sudden the whole thing is so top heavy that it won’t take too much, flip it upside down. And so you have to kind of build in all of those factors to ensure that you don’t have an accident. Do I take nice comfy chairs and a table or do I take an axle stand and a big solid, secure piece of wood to support it? So when I’m crawling underneath, tinkering with something, changing the oil, the whole thing doesn’t collapse on me.
Do I have a first aid kit? Do I know how to use it? Is there somebody with me that can deal with a catastrophic bleed if all of a sudden there is a genuine accident? Is the first aid kit buried somewhere in the bottom of the Land Rover or the vehicle? Or is it very easy to hand? You could take three minutes trying to find it dumping out. Okay, interesting. Half your kit, you want it there and you want everyone to know there is your life hammer. There is your extinguisher there. You’ve only got three minutes. Aha. Okay, so this is where the three minute thing comes in. This is where the three minutes come in, you’ve got to plan. Then you think like, right, okay, so I know I can do it. It’s a relatively safe route. I’m skilled, I’m confident, I’m trained to do it.
Do I try and bite off more than I can chew? Do I decide right on this day we’re going to try and do 300 miles when realistically an experience a person will be saying a hundred is enough on that road in those conditions and the borders you’re going to get stuck with. But if you push, push, push, force yourself to drive into the night, you don’t have the right lights on the vehicle. You’re driving too fast. It’s all about how to avoid an accident. I don’t like using the whole health and safety thing. It’s a bit more than common sense. You’ve got to talk yourself through what you’re going to be going through to mitigate that three minute. That’s all you’ve got. If it all goes wrong, if you don’t have enough food with you, you might be encouraged to think, well, I’ve only got water.
Yes, I could sleep with the vehicle. I could sleep in the vehicle. I’ve got a tent, I have water, but I’m hungry. Right? Well, I’ve got to make the next town. I don’t want to be stuck out here. And so rather than just thinking, do you know what, it’s eight, it’s getting dark. There’s wildlife, there’s people using the road that either aren’t skilled or they don’t have any lights or even a cow and cart. It was so easy to run into the back of one of them. So it’s making that decision to say, no, okay, well, I know that I can survive for three weeks without food, so why am I now pushing hard through the night to try and reach a town just so I can have dinner? Because within that time, big accident, three minutes, it’s all over. And so you’re constantly kind of doing this assessment.
What are the priorities? If you know that ends within three minutes, that ends within three hours, that’s three days. You can forget the rest. Yeah, I’ll survive. Of course, I’ll survive 24 hours of that eating. I’ll worry about that in the morning. Might be a bit peckish, but I’ll be alive and I’ll be to enjoy the next day. And that’s kind of how my brain works. And you do that for each thing and you then look at the shelter. Now I know there’s probably a lot of talk within the overland community about roof tents. Never use them. I suppose the stuff I do is more my overland trips are for work, and so I tend to go very light relatively quickly. There’s no kind of sightseeing as such. If I’m going to see something, it’s a wrecky because a project or a team are going to pass through later or a film crew want to do something. I’ve never taken roof tents. There are obviously other issues like the maximum amount of weight you can put on a roof, I think for a defender is 75 kilogrammes. By the time you’ve put a roof rack up there and you put a roof tent up there and you’ve put yourself up there, your 250 kilogrammes,
Not yeah, 75 kilogramme when the vehicle’s moving, when it’s stationary, it’s probably a lot more. But I mean that yeah, roof tent and the roof rack pretty close to
- Yeah. So then it kind of makes it top heavy. The other thing is, if it’s blowing an absolute ey, do you want to be stuck six feet further up in a tent that the scouts probably stopped using back in the 1950s? They tend to be sort of a wax cotton, very heavy. You would never see them ever a space camp that’s much more super lightweight, very taut, geodesic, wind deflecting kind of tents, and you’ve got a three tonne truck sitting there. Well, I would soon be behind it using this massive block of metal as my shelter, because that’s my second priority. You don’t want to be kind of in it getting hypothermic because the wind is howling through. The other risk with roof tents is vehicles have been known to catch on fire. Vehicles have been known to end up upside down,
Or you end up sliding it into a ditch and all of a sudden it’s a nice jaunty angle. Well, if your next priority, which is three hours, happens to be on fire, or it happens to be on the underside of your four by four, where’s your shelter? And if it happens to be at a horrible angle or it’s damaged or it’s been hit by the wind, you don’t want to rely just on a roof tent. You do need another form of shelter. You need to better grab something and say, right, it’s all gone wrong. I’m not in immediate danger. I’m not bleeding to death. So my three minutes isn’t a worry, but my three hours is my next worry, my shelter, grab it. Do I have the right kit to survive a night outside if someone’s literally, and this is what we did in the military.
I was my first job, I was a helicopter mechanic with an arctic warfare unit, and we were part of the rapid deployment unit from the British Army as part of the whole big NATO thing. And so we would go right up to the top of Norway at minus 40. And it was a classic thing they did with us. They took us on a survival. Part of the Arctic survival training was to go into this huge snow filled valley right up in the top of Norway. And we had all our kits rucksacks, we had tents, we had bibbys, we had stoves, we had everything. And they literally parked the big tract. They were called haglins, big over snow bugs. They parked them in the valley and there were about 40 of us there. And they said, right, just get out, stretch your legs, have a cup of tea.
Just stretch your legs. And we got a long way to go. And we got out. That’s it. They buggered off and left us for 24 hours, just what we were standing in. Of course, we were not equipped. You had the basic, we had no water with us. That was in our bergs racks X. We had a little sort of survival pouch of food and a silly little survival bag they gave us that looked like basically an eight foot square piece of cling film of wrapped around a piece of cardboard. And we were convinced the cardboard had to do something. It took up about 90% of this package that they gave us, and it was useless. So basically we had to take our jackets off, dig a snow hole, try and get some broken branches, and live in this hole for 24 hours. And that’s the reality of when you’ll take vehicles out into extreme environment.
What happens if something went horribly, horribly wrong and you had to get out of that vehicle quickly? We always have grab bags a something you can grab with your immediate, this will keep me alive for 24, 36, 48 hours, kind of whatever. But most of it is the clothing. If you don’t have the right clothing, a lot of people will be a hundred percent reliant on the vehicle and on the engine and on the fuel they put in the engine and the oil they put in the engine. And so if you’ve got to suddenly get out quick for whatever reason, it’s on fire, and you suddenly find yourself standing there. If I stood in Siberia dressed like this, I don’t think I’d even make three hours, but minus 60, my hands would be numb within. Well, I was there in February doing a wrecky, and I did the whole little YouTube, hold the camera, film myself. I could keep my hat because I didn’t have a little remote thing I had to press. You’ve got to have bare skin on an iPhone skin. I had to have bare flesh to touch it. One minute was the maximum I could keep my hand out of the glove for. But the problem is, once that one minute was up and I put my hand back into the glove, it’s
I could barely do anything with it. So if you had to zip up a jacket, no chance, your hand is absolutely near enough dead. It’s so numb, you can’t feel it. So yeah, if I was outside and I literally jumped out of our Nissan patrols dressed like this, I’d probably be a bit of a heap on the floor. Within 10 minutes, I’d probably be dead within the hour.
So now I’m somebody who’s, I’ve got this ambitious trip that I want to plan. And one half of me, I went through this when I did my solo trip through the Kalahari, I did two of them. One was a failure, and I turned back because things went not pear-shaped in a serious way, but pear-shaped in a way that I thought, now the risk is too high. So I was able to say this was risky to begin with. Now I’m just plain uncomfortable with the risk. And the second time, I was much better prepared and I realised that my biggest risk was fire because I’d lose my shelter and there were a lot of wild animals. I’d lose my water very hot, so I’d be in trouble. So fire. So I had four fire extinguishers in the car still. I know what a car happens when it catches a light. I know of some people whose vehicle caught a light and they spent all their water trying to put it out. And they ended up in the desert with no car and no water because used the water to and even had electrical failure. So just reignited at
Some point during that hopefully. But obviously they didn’t. They should have thought, okay, is that my shelter Without that vehicle, will I be dead? What’s going to kill me first in that particular environment they’re in? Is it the lack of that shelter or is it the lack of water? Now, had they thought, hold it, I can survive without that vehicle. And certainly if they had something like they could grab things out the back
Them to one
Side, they had absolutely nothing at all. And they were lucky to escape with their lives,
But water would be the next one. Yeah,
With my last land cruiser, with the rooftop tent, I don’t like rooftop tents as a general rules. I just find them annoying for all of the reasons you’ve just, but it had a flip up built in tent, which was super quick and super convenient and super, everything. But I had a grab tent in the back because it was that whole thing. You slide off a road into a ditch, boom, very difficult to get yourself out. And now it’s getting dark. It’s overnight, it’s night. Where are you going to sleep? You can’t sleep in a vehicle. They’re sitting at 30 degrees. You can’t. So I carried that. But that was a kind of a, and they
Can be really small
As long as it was cheap,
Cheap chips. You can buy ’em for like 20 quid, but that’s enough. It’s a life or death
Thing. So get back to my previous thought was when somebody is thinking about an expedition, and part of them is saying, this is quite a big step from what I’m used to. How do they know? How do they measure when they’ve gone too far and are taking risks that are actually silly, unnecessary, and
Probably just down to experience. It can be a lot of naivety and in thinking that you can conquer the world and actually you’re not in such a dangerous environment that you are the strangest thing. And it is a strange psychology about tarmac or an area marks on the ground where a vehicle has been. It is really weird, but I was thinking about this when I think it was back in 2005, colleague of mine just gave us a call and said, right, we’re going to do a Mongol rally type banger car rally. And this is in the very, very early days when the Plymouth Dakar rally was kind of the first one to set off. And if ever you’ve seen any filming of that, he was the guy who filmed it and he wanted to set up his own banger rally. But rather than going round, kind of the very, very hugging the coast, the very, very western edge of Africa, he wanted to go slap bang through the middle of it.
And so he said, back you up for this. I went, do you know what? I was in one of those. I needed a break moment. Things were just not going too well for me. And I thought, do know what? Okay. And I had an old Rover 200, I dunno if you recall them, round ones. Horrible little four door loom with a 1.8 diesel Pergo engine not designed for taking across the Sahara Desert. It already failed. Its M O T I sneaked it out the country and off we went. But we went in convoy. So there were 13 cars and there were probably 20 people. So there was a safety and numbers element. And off we went and we were driving down through right through the middle of Algeria and it was a nice bit of tarmac and it was smooth. And do you know what?
We were all relaxed. We were all calm, we didn’t care. We had cars that had failed mots, they were useless. We hadn’t done anything. All I’d done is I got a scrap of old sheet metal and sort of fabricated a sump to stop the, because I had low profile tyres on it. I had a ground clearance of about four inches. The thing was not designed to be out there, but because I was this particular stretch, it was tarmac. Everyone felt really at ease with them. And I just thought to myself, okay, if you stripped away that bit of black stuff that we are driving on, and even if you were quarter of a mile just to one side or the other and you couldn’t see this tarmac road, you would be in the biggest panic going, you are slap bang in the middle of the Sahara Desert.
You have vehicles that really shouldn’t be there. You probably haven’t got enough water, enough food. You’ve got no proper communications, you don’t really know where you’re going. You’re just following this black line in the road. And it was a really strange thing that the psychology of how safe you felt, yet your environment would kill you just as quickly being on that bit of tarmac as if you were half a mile to one side and you were in the pure desert. And so I think the only thing to tell you when it’s all going a bit wrong is probably just through experience. You get all these banger cars, 400 teams head off to Lum Batar every year, and they all hack their way across Mongolia. It’s incredibly remote, really, really remote. And there are so many tracks, you’re kind of just following one and you’re thinking, well hold it.
Then it splits and splits again and splits again. You always just keep following what you think is the main one. You don’t know if it’s actually taking you where you’re supposed to be going or whether it’s going to swing off in some complete dead end, and then you’re out of fuel, food and water. And so I dunno, I suppose it can only just come down to recognising where you are. And then just thinking to yourself, if I stripped away that tarmac, would I be happy carrying on? Yeah. Okay. Yeah. And I guess that only comes with experience because the youth will just go, oh, it’s just fun. I’ll just keep going. And then they do die. When we did go through Algeria towards the Niger border where all the tarmac runs out, even the graded gravel roads run out. And it is just, you’re following the occasional post that the French put there 90 years ago, and you may or may not see these little posts marking every kilometres. Yeah, that’s proper, proper desert. And in cars that really shouldn’t be there getting stuck every five minutes and you cars littered and you know that every car that’s abandoned, there was somebody with that car. They didn’t just go there on its own. And there probably a lot of people never walked out of there.
The challenge I think, is that a lot of people that want to do expeditions, a won’t do them because they’re worried. And maybe that’s wise because they’re a little bit scared and perhaps that’s also wise. But others that are foolhardy and plastic that they don’t know, that they don’t know
Precisely. That’s the risk. That’s the bigger risk.
But then again, if I think about some of the expeditions I took, I go back and think, what was I carrying with me? They were pretty high risk. They were some very high risk.
And were you on your own or was there more than one vehicle?
One vehicle, my wife and I in a land rover,
Do you have communications? No,
Small box of spare parts, high lift jack and a spade.
But you probably had enough training, you probably prepared the vehicle correctly. You probably didn’t overload it.
No, it was light, light,
Light. You probably didn’t mess around with it too much by jacking up the suspension and adding huge amounts of it was stock,
It was stocked, really good shocks. That was it. Nothing did nothing else to it.
So as long as you’ve got a correctly prepared vehicle, you haven’t messed around with it too much, you’ve not overloaded it. You’ve got the training to know what the more likely faults are, that if anything is going to happen, you’re not pushing hard. And therefore if there’s any areas that you’re not sure of, you either walk them first or you tiptoe through them or you kind of drive like a bit like an old granny. To be quite honest. That’s always the safest thing to do because it’s amazing what vehicles will get to. Yes, there are occasions where you’ve got to give it the beans, otherwise it’s not going to go through a soft patch. Yeah, there are too many times where, and I, well, I’m going to go and see some lads later this evening, who tried to beat the London, the Cape Town record discovery two the same as we used and I was, everything was, do we need this?
No, we knew we needed fuel because we had to be at a drive through the night from probably 6:00 PM to 6:00 AM We had to be able to have about a 12 hour range because you can’t stop. There’s no way we’re going to be able to get fuel. So I think I had a standard stock tank was about 95 litres, 40 litres, auxiliary tank’s, 135, and we carried another 20. And the reason I will always carry spare fuel in Jerry cans, even if you have huge amounts of reserve, what’s to say that those tanks slung relatively low underneath, don’t get punctured by something. And if you find that they do, you’ve got your 20 litres reserve. If you find that you can get yourself to where the fuel is, but you can’t get the vehicle to where the fuel is. And that’s happened before in some African villages.
You park down here, there is no fuel down here, but halfway up this hill, there’s a guy selling fuel out the back of his shed. Well, you can’t take the auxiliary fuel tank and drag it up there. You can’t get quarter of a mile long hose pipes down to it, so you carry your 20 litres. So we had something like 155 litres of fuel. These guys were carrying 330 litres of fuel. They had basically, they just rebuilt the entire backend and put a huge truck fuel tank in. I think they had, I suppose, and this was just through experience, we had just 40 litres of water, 20 for the vehicle and 20 for us. But that was filtered water so we could stop and filter anything. Literally these filtering Jerry cans. And if you come across from the lifesaver jerry cans, the big blue ones, they were filter either, there’s either a 10,000 litre filter or a 20,000 litre filter, but it’ll filter 20,000 litre of literally fresh toilet water.
And I mean the worst sort of toilet water, you can scoop it out lumps and all put it in this and get pure drinking water out. So that mean we didn’t have to carry as much because we knew we’d better find some form of water, certainly going through and drink it Africa. But the other reason you had to filter it because if you didn’t filter it, you’d be dehydrated. Therefore you would drink more water. Therefore your three day rule would kick in because you’re now drinking dirty water. And if you eat food of a poor quality or your personal hygiene’s not good and you start throwing up, you get dehydrated need and it’s your three days kicks in. But they carried 330 litres of fuel. They carried quarter of a tonne of tools and spares. They probably had a hundred kilogrammes of water. They then messed around with the vehicle.
I know there was a huge heavy roof rack. They had roof tent, they had big bull bar on the front. I’m probably guessing their vehicle was probably about 600 kilogrammes over gross vehicle weight. So of course they’re then trying to beat the London and Cape Town record via West Africa. So they’ve got a deadline of 10 and a half days to do 10,000 miles. So they’re it. They’re trying to do a thousand miles a day every day through West Africa. So of course you’re then taking big risks. You are barreling through areas, hitting potholes. They broke half shafts, they broke diffs, they snap the chassis shock absorbers gave up, suspension gave up a whole lot. In the end, it kind of ConEd out on the Angola Namibian border. So that was probably just a whole lack of experience. But they hadn’t gone through the rule of three thing.
So one, they were going, yes, it was a record attempt. So you are going to enter into the, we are going to be at risk of an accident, but to lessen that risk stick, bloody huge spotlights on that vehicle, illuminate the whole world. Don’t mess around with it too much. Don’t make it too high, too top heavy too. Keep it light. Yeah, keep it light. Keep it light. Know when you shouldn’t be driving because you’re too tired. Keep yourself hydrated because that reduces your awareness and thinking power and stamina by about 10%. Make sure you eat the right food so you’re not throwing up, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. There’s a whole list of kind of things that you could see they were going to have a problem before they’d even set off because they hadn’t gone through the priorities and what knock on effect that could have if they made a wrong decision before they even left the country.
Right. And your record of 10 was 2009, you said? 2010. 2010. 2010
10 and a half days. Discovery two,
Discovery two, nothing went wrong. Not even a puncture,
Really. Not even a puncture. What tyres were you running? Not even
Pelli. All terrain. Not the best all terrain tyre. No, very, they offered sponsorship. I kind of accepted it. And then these things arrived. I thought they’re not much more than a road tyre
But apart from northern Kenya and some pretty pothole bits in Zambia, okay, there are potholes from probably Eastern Turkey onwards until you probably get into Botswana, South Africa. But for that bit, you didn’t need an all terrain tie. You did need an all terrain tie for northern Kenya. What you certainly didn’t need is a mud terrain. And that’s where a lot of people go wrong. They kind of assume, I’m going to put mud terrains on, but we all know mud terrains, they’re not brilliant on tarmac, they’re not brilliant with handling. They’re not brilliant with economy. So your fuel’s going to go down, leaving you stranded. They’re not brilliant in the wet. So yeah, you can pick the wrong tyres and bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, knock on effect, three minutes you’ve rolled the car because you pick the wrong tyres. And that’s kind of how it always works. So yeah, I was a bit disappointed when these all terrains turned up, but my
God, did they, what’s it like working with, just lastly, quick one, you are reph. For anybody who doesn’t know Reph Fis is probably regarded as the world’s greatest living explorer, probably. I mean, the records he’s done are just unbelievable. I don’t, but now you are his
Hand man. You’re his right hand man. And you do a lot of equipment testing for him. I do. What is he like to work with? Is he extremely eccentric? His books are wonderful, but he seems to be a nut case of the nicest possible kind.
I’ll give you a story, and this is not known, there’s only probably about three or four people that know this, but it kind of sums up ran fines.
One of the first projects I did with him was back in 1997 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Land Rover in 1998, because obviously it started in 1948. The plan was to drive three vehicles from London to New York the entire way, and that meant the long way round, sort of like a you and McGregor long way round, but a much tougher version. So these vehicles would drive continuously under their own steam without any form of outside assistance the whole way. So from London down to Dover, swim to France, fit floats on them, fit a prop on the back. Engine is now driving the prop. Off we go. The only way to get through Far East and Siberia to get to the very edge of Siberia and the bearing straits, which is just opposite Alaska, will be to do it in the dead of winter. So where I was, it’s ice where you can cross.
Yeah, all the frozen rivers turn in sort of like icy motorways. Okay, so minus 60 all the way through Siberia, then get to the frozen bearing straits part, frozen part water drive, swim, drive, swim all the way to Alaska, swim, round up the Yukon River, get to the main road network and all the way down to New York. Anyway, so that was the plan. So in 97, 12 months before myself re finds a couple of land river mechanics, we flew to Land Rover defender, one tens to the very edge of the bearing straits on the Alaskan side, a place called Wales. And one of them was an early wolf prototype, the military one. So both one 10 hard tops, and we had big heaters in them. We had huge great Goodyear balloon tyres on them. We were testing them and we had match max tracks, the big triangular track system, an American company.
These were very early prototypes. They failed horribly. They just didn’t have it. But when they were working, they were quite good. So off we went and we did all our testing and we basically proved after being there for three months, living out on the ice and working, living out of the little tiny hamlet there and going out every day and camping out, we proved we could do the most difficult part of this whole trip. But right at the end, there was a little airstrip there. One of the guys, a Canadian who was part of the team who dreamt up the whole thing many years before when he first heard the channel tunnel was going to be built, linking France and England, he had to head off. So I took him out to the airstrip on a snowmobile and off he’d gone. The others were trying to, they’d already gone out right onto the edge of the ice to try and find a clearing so they could get the amphibious part.
And it was basically a Kevlar catamaran and it was all very complex. So basically you tow this thing like a big trailer behind you, and when you come to water, you drop it in, drive on, plug the engine into a power, a hydraulic pump through a power takeoff at the back that turns paddle steamer blades and off you go. So it wasn’t sort of floats in the water, it was kind of this monstrosity you dragged behind you. So they’d gone off ahead to try and work out how we get through the ice. These pressure ridges and these ridges are, some of them are as high as a two story house, if not higher, 30, 40, 50 feet high. So trying to find a gap to get through to the water was really difficult. Anyway, I dropped Gordon off. They were already out there. I chased off after them and I’d got there an hour later, and when I got there, they’d found a clearing, but there was a huge block of ice and it was hanging out over this bearing straits.
It was like minus 20, it was March. It was bitter, absolutely bitterly cold. We knew there were polar bears roaming around. One of the guys lent me a 44 magnum that I had strapped on my side to scare off polar bears. Anyway, there was a cameraman with us as well, and he was there, and Ronald finds, and the Landover mechanics are standing right out on the edge of this block of ice, and it was the size of a bungalow. It was huge. And they’re standing right on the edge, chipping away like this, chipping away, chipping away too. So I had some soup with me and I’m serving, I said, come on boys, you’ve been at it for a couple of hours. Come and have a hot, hot, hot meal while you’re doing. Anyway, they came down and then they started up again. And then the cameraman, this guy, this Dutch guy, keys toof, and he climbed Everest with Brian Blessed, and he’d done loads of other these really, really good adventure cameraman.
He said, Mac, he says, I’ve been looking at this block of ice. I think it’s not actually part of the main ice flow. I think it’s a separate block sitting on top of the ice. And in fact, two thirds of it is hanging out over the sea. So if we don’t chip the weight at the front, we lose the weight at the back. He’ll eventually become top heavy and fall in. So I looked at it and we kind of scrape the bottom. I said, I think you’re right. You can see a crack down the bottom. So I said to the Land Rover guys, I said, look, keys is just spotted that we should lose the weight at the back. And they all came. Yeah. So anyway, so now there are five of us working on the back of this thing. Picks and shovels and chopping and chopping and chopping.
Anyway, I said, ran, I think you should come and do this. Yeah, whatever boys, whatever he says. And he’s carried on and he’s chipping away, chipping away. I thought, come on, ran. This makes sense. Yeah, whatever. Okay, you carry on if you know best. So we’re chipping away anyway. We’re working quite fast and we’re losing weight, and we can sort of hear creaking and groaning. We said, ran. We think this, but he’s on the edge now. Yeah, yeah, yeah. He’s perched out right over the edge, over the sea. So we said, and it’s not much of a drop. Literally, it looks like it’s almost resting on the water, but it’s still pretty cold water. And we said, we think this is going to go. Anyway, he obviously took some notice because he’s now come to the back and he’s just chopping away, literally trying to take a building down by just chopping at the roof.
Well, you’re normally just chop the walls out and the whole lot comes crashing down. So he’s chopping away. Anyway, he’s swinging this flipping axe around and only his feet are about here just above me. And the other boys are going, whoa, you nutter. You’re going to take our bloody heads off. So they stepped outside. I said, ran, come on. Everyone’s kind of agreed that we lose the weight at the back. And he slammed his axe down. I’m going to get so much trouble with this thing on camera. And he slammed his axe down and he looked at us and he says, I’ve spent more time on ice, on sea ice than any other person in living history. If there’s something about sea ice, I don’t know, then it’s not worth bloody knowing. I went, whoa, okay. That told us then.
So I kind of had this little devil came up in my head I thought, bloody ignorant, silly, old, stubborn. He was too focused. He didn’t think outside the box. He just thought, right, I’ve got to lose it. I’m just going to chop the whole bloody lot up. It would take days to chop it up. It was massive. Anyway, so he’s swinging this bloody axe around and the others have crept out the way for having their heads chopped off. And I had my pick, and so I sort of ducked right behind him. So his axe is swinging this way and this way, and I just went chop chop like this, and I’m chopping away. And all of a sudden, of course it went. And he’s standing at the back and the thing’s about 40 feet long like a catapult pinging. That’s it. He’s now airborne, heading out into the bearing streams
And off he’s gone. So anyway, so bloody, we kind of knew it was going to happen. So we just thought, well, we told him, he just didn’t listen. So off he went. So we had a rope, obviously two land rovers there. So we chucked this rope out because he’s landed on this ledge before. He’s completely submerged. Anyway, we hauled him in, he didn’t say a word. We had a bit of trimming up to do to get this thing through a little bit on the edge. And I said, right, because the rule is shelter. His shelter is nowt, sopping wet, and it’s blowing a gale and it’s minus 20. So immediately you strip to nothing, everything off, right? Chaz, I need your jacket, Charles, I need your fleece. Donate one thing, get that. I think the engines were already running or something. Get him inside, strip him off.
He would not have it. He would not have it. And he carried on for another two hours and you could almost hear him creaking as he’s starting to free up. And that’s the sort of guy he is. He’s just mission me there, destroy me, get from here to there. I’m going that way. And so when I did the North Pole thing with him, you’ve got this same problem. You’ve got these pressure ridges. And I said to him, well, why don’t you? It was an unsupported trip. My job was to get him to the start point and then pick him up if he made it or rescue him if he didn’t. Unfortunately, it became a bit of a, he wouldn’t like to say it was a rescue mission, but it kind of was. We had to get him out of there quickly. And I said, well, why don’t you set back and go, right, there’s a 30 foot wall in front of me. Why don’t I see if a hundred feet, one side or the other, it might be a bit lower, or they might be a way around. He said, by the time you’ve done that, you exhaust so much energy looking for somewhere slightly easy. You might as well just get on with it. And so that’s the kind of guy he is. He’s absolutely blinkered.
And perhaps that’s why he is
Successful. And that’s the only reason he’s so successful because nobody else of any sanity would do it. They would stop and try and figure it all out, but not ran. No, no. He’s just bang. And I don’t think there’s any person I’ve ever met that could do that, that has that sheer focused drive that there is one goal without even considering anything else. Literally that drive so mad as a march here. But I love him for it. He’s brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.
Thank you so much for listening to the Next Adventure podcast with me, Andrew Sinia White. To find out more information, check out the next journey.net. Join us each Sunday.