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Alaistair Humphreys

FM4 Adventurous: Life Beyond The Horizon

This summer on FM4 we will be meeting intrepid adventurers and asking why we have the urge to throw ourselves into the unknown.

I travel not to go anywhere. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move… to come down off this featherbed of civilisation and find the globe granite underfoot.” Robert Louis Stevenson.

This summer, at midnight on Wednesdays, I’m hosting a new show called FM4 Adventurous.

We’ll be meeting some extraordinary people who have done some extraordinary things: sailed around the world, rowed across the Atlantic, climbed Everest, cycled across the Australian Outback, paddle-boarded the length of the Hudson river, or, in the case of my first guest Levison Wood who hiking down the Nile from its source to its delta, dodging bullets and sizzling under temperatures of over 50 degrees Celsius.

Levison Wood

Levison Wood

But it is not just about retelling stories of daring or exertion; it will be a summer long discussion about the human need to look beyond the horizon, despite the discomforts, expense and occasional dangers involved. Levison for one believes it is hard-wired into our brains; that our ancient ancestors knew that a sedentary life could never bring growth or development:

“You had to go other the next ridge,” he says. “Over the mountain, it’s true, you might find a sabre-toothed tiger, but you might also find more fertile soil and better water resources. Those who dared, prospered.”

The Adventure Season

For me, putting together this series has been a deeply rewarding and intense personal experience. While making it I realized that I have been obsessed with the concept of adventure and travel since I was a little boy. Growing up I devoured the classic books from the Robert Louis Stevenson and the children’s version of the Marco Polo tales, then I got into Freya Stark, Bruce Chatwin before moving onto more modern adventures of William Dalrymple.

For years, as a young adult, the beginning of July was always the first days of an adventure season that would last until the dying days of September. There was a culture of travel at English universities at the time.

Before the age of crippling tuition fees, to earn a bit of money during term time and then, the day exams finished, to pack a rucksack and set off for three months of exploration. It’s not, at least not necessarily, that we didn’t like our families (these were pre-Brexit days), it’s just the sense that there was more to be learned beyond the horizon than from our books.


Chris Cummins

I actually arrived at FM4 because of my taste for adventure. I took a job as a radio journalist in Ghana on the day my university ended primarily because it was the best way I could find to spend a prolonged period in an African city. As it turned out I found I enjoyed both radio and journalism, so I decided I may as well stick with it.

Like all travellers, I had my bad travel experiences, I was once robbed at knife-point, once I became riddled with parasites, and once I was involved in a terrifying West African road accident.

At times I was sick, lost or lonely. But the joys always far outweighed the negatives; spontaneous new friendships, new tastes, new sensations, new vistas, love. Levison Wood is right; it is also dangerous to be too cautious because it will stunt your growth.

Free Spirits, Freediving

My FM4 colleague Nina Hochrainer is still out there taking risks and adventuring. She’s been exploring the fascinating and slightly spiritual world of freediving; an exploration not just of the ocean but also the limits of the human body. That’s an episode I can’t wait to hear!

Diving in Hawaii

Nina Hochrainer

As for me, I’m back to the books. I have my only little boy now, and he finds enough adventure toddling around urban parks. My adventurous joy is mostly restricted to listening to travel literature on audiobooks as he sleeps in his pram and of course making radio interviews with the current-crops of adventurers.

But I’ll tell you this, since the days of taking 16-hour buses across the desert, I’ve never found anything more conducive to reflection than a day spent watching a tot find wonder in discovering insects in the soil. Being adventurous is a state of mind, not a matter of geography.

travel books

Chris Cummins

Conflict Creep

I’m also aware that times have changed since my backpacking days. Parts of the world have become more hostile. For example, the Dogon Country in Mali where I slept on roofs and starred up at the stars are now part of a war zone. Atrocities have taken place in the very villages where locals shared their food with me as we listened to endless loops of Bob Marley. I find it heart-breaking to imagine these gentle old friends caught up in the conflict.

Chris in Dogon

Chris Cummins

And it’s also hard to look back with pride on the days when I’d pack a rucksack and book a long-haul flight. As the ramifications of our climate crisis become ever more apparent, the classic gap year feels more like an indulgence that a rite-of-passage. I have spent so much time banging-on about climate change these past months that it would be the height of hypocrisy for me to pack a rucksack and head of to South-east Asia; even if I did find the time. I feel I am still cycling off my carbon-debt!

"There be Dragons!

Still, I defend the human need to travel and look beyond the horizon. It’s generally mind-opening, it breeds nuance in our judgement of countries and cultures. Working now in news journalism, I worry that we reduce complicated cultures to problem zones to bemoan and disparage. Could it be that the news cycle makes us less open-minded? Are we informing the world or are we adding to a perception that beyond our safe borders: “There be dragons!”

I once went to Uganda and cycled between some rural schools involved in an education-improvement project; reporting back on my adventures for FM4. Some-one in the internet comments expressing outrage that I had gone to Uganda given its state-approved homophobia. She or he felt that I should have boycotted the place. It made me think.

I had addressed that shameful culture in my reporting, as well as the autocratic Big Man leadership of Yoweri Museveni but Uganda is also a place of casual generosity to strangers, of welcome to refugees, joyous dancing, strong women and incredible resilience. The government of Uganda has a lot to learn about the human right to fall in love with whoever you choose, but from ordinary Ugandans have so much to teach stressed Westerners.

Levison Wood says the same thing about his recent trip to Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia; countries we mostly only hear about on new channels: “It was really about going out there, travelling as the local people do, staying with local people and really just experiencing life through their eyes.”

Lhasa Monisha

Monisha Rajesh

As for the environmental impact, you’ll hear from Monisha Rajeshwho has just returned from crossing the globe via its rail-network which can take you from London to Ho Chi Minh City without leaving the rails. It’s a way of seeing how connected we are; how we merge into each other both culturally and genetically.

”Over a period of about two weeks of travelling I would see blond blue-eyed people turn to blond, brown-eyed people and then they would become brown-haired brown-eyed people,” remembers Monisha. “Then you arrive in China and you see people’s facial features are so different, but you don’t feel the sudden change because you have watched all the gradations.”

And nowadays, in these environmentally conscious times, many of the adventurers I met are actively engaged in fighting for green issues. Emily Penn, for example, sailing around the world to investigate and tackle ocean plastic, Ben Lecompte doing the same by swimming through The Vortex, cancer survivor Lizzie Carr raising awareness of plastic pollution on the river-system by going on mammoth expeditions by paddleboard.

Lizzie on tour

Plastic Patrol

Travel, it seems, can also help the environment.

And we’ll also be discussing how travel and adventure can be transformative on a personal level. Again, Lizzie Carr, one of my favourite guests, tells us how her paddleboard adventures helped her rebuild refocus on something positive after a cancer diagnosis at the age of just 25.

Cyclist Rupert Guinness describes how the Indian-Pacific Wheel Race took him to the limits of exhaustion but also gave him the time and sense of perspective that helped him come to terms with self-image issues that had dogged him since childhood.

The Outback of Australia

Troy Bailey

Thru hiker Peter Hochauser, meanwhile, explains how his 6 months walk up the Pacific Crest Trail helped him reboot his life, to declutter his mind and reconsider what is essential.

It is going to be a long hot summer of adventures on FM4. I do hope you join me in the coolness of midnight or, of course, on the FM4 Player. And if you want to tell us your favourite summer adventure, please contact us by any of our social media channels.