The Man of Many Missions
Dave Cornthwaite recently pedaled a four-wheel pedal-car 1,000 miles from Memphis to Miami, and that may be about the dullest thing he’s done in recent memory.
After a terrifying encounter with a conventional cubicle several years back, Cornthwaite decided to make a change. He started with a skateboard, which he rode the length of Britain. Then he rode across Australia—yes, the continent of Australia. Once he started, he found he couldn’t stop, and he’s made it his mission to complete 25 thousand-mile adventures—a project he calls Expedition1000.
Cornthwaite has also written a book about his attempt (between missions) to find a girlfriend by going on 100 dates in 100 days, and is working on another called "Stand Up Huck," about his standup paddleboard Mississippi expedition in 2011, a trip for which he holds two world records—longest SUP trip in a single day, and longest total contiguous SUP trip—2,404 miles. He’s also the British 100-meter WaterSkipper record-holder (We had to look it up, too), and he’s planning on paragliding 1,000 miles over the Himalayas in 2013. Seriously.
His next mission starts in August, when he’ll attempt to swim the length of the Missouri River, which ought to be interesting considering he’s not much of a swimmer. We asked him a few questions before he jumps in.
Expedition1000 seems like an amazing collection of trips—what inspired you to take it on? And what keeps you going?
I took on my first endurance journeys after a quarter-life crisis during which I realized I wasn't very good at my job, I wasn't in love with my girlfriend, I felt like my house was a burden rather than a shelter, and that, ultimately, rather than looking at all of those things as a reflection of my success in Western society, I was actually just a bit depressed. I realized I was spending most of my life doing a job simply because it paid me and that seemed like an awful reason to go to work, so I began thinking about what made me happy and what I was good at. Bit by bit, I realized I wanted to write and be creative, I wanted to travel with a purpose and I wanted to try out new things all the time rather than find myself becoming stale.
The idea for Expedition1000 came along after I had figured out my motives and my mission. It was a true commitment to a life of adventure and, because I'm now living out my passions, I don't need motivation from any other source. I couldn't imagine doing anything else.
We know about the six journeys you've completed to date (like taking a bike-car from Memphis to Miami) and about the Missouri River swim you've got planned for August, but what's after that?
There are a few taking seed. I plan on rowing across the Pacific soon, and would also like to ride a horse across Mongolia, but I love being flexible enough to take up opportunities so the whole process is organic. The important thing is that I'll only do a journey if my heart is in it, not because I still have another 19 to tick off to finish the project.
How do you finance these trips?
Back before I started skating, I had a switch in values that enables me to sustain all of this financially. There's nothing I dislike more than doing something I don't enjoy in order to earn money—that's simply putting money before happiness. So right now I just about break even. I get to do what I love, I don't put much in the bank, but I consider my wealth to be in experience. Now, of course, we still need a little money to survive, so I fund adventures partly through public speaking, partly through book sales, and more and more through sponsorship, which just increases as time goes on, if I play my cards right.
How do you maintain your drive? And what sort of emotional support do you rely on?
I'm not entirely sure where it comes from, but once I've decided to complete something I will plod on until it's done. I value every moment I experience in life, especially the hard bits, because I know now that that's where I'm learning most. It's the hard times where drive and motivation is challenged, but by embracing them it tends to get me through. What I enjoy beyond all else is sharing my stories in my own way. Seeing others enjoy my tales, pictures and videos gets me excited, and I just want to continue and find more stories.
What's your favorite part about what you do?
Being creative and having fun. Once upon a time I was a graphic designer but I couldn't have been less creative. Now that I determine everything I work on and how I translate my experiences into various mediums, there is endless material to work with because I've decided to do new things as a way of life. Once I realized this, all the doubts and fears and potential social exclusion because I'd decide to “live the dream” evaporated. There's nothing more important than being true to ourselves and enjoying it—otherwise we're just wasting our time and emotions on nonsense!