Sean Conway: 10 life-enriching reasons to take on an epic solo challenge

Written by Sean Conway

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Zimabwean adventurer and author Sean Conway has never shied away from a challenge. It’s why, among other things, he’s the first person to cycle, swim, and run the length of Great Britain. Here are his life-affirming reasons why YOU should embark on your own solo adventure.

“Dear Sean. We’ve recently had a crew member drop out for our four-man ocean row challenge later on this year. We thought this may interest you. We would love for you to be part of our team?” Regards, Anonymous.

At least twice a year I get this type of email.

It’s not all rowing, of course – if anyone has done any research they’d have found out I get terribly seasick and, as such, would be a lousy rowing partner.

Sometimes it’s climbing mountains, sometimes it’s cycling countries. No matter, the point is there are an awful lot of people doing team events and this is great, for them, and I have no quarrel with that. But, for some reason, I’ve never been into buddying up for challenges.

I much prefer travelling solo. Of course, this has its drawbacks but for the most part I think everyone at some point in their life should embark on a solo challenge. Here are 10 life-enriching reasons as to why!

You become a logistical wizard

When deciding and planning your solo challenge, for the most part, you’ll be doing everything yourself – everything.

Yes, you may have some friends and family helping out with the odd thing but, at the end of the day, it’s all down to you and you alone. You can’t palm off some of the rubbish jobs to another team member because you have Ukulele practice that evening. In turn, you become a genius at time management and logistics.

Read more: Leave your comfort zone: Hot to face fear, by Ed Stafford

You get hard as nails

Often, in taking on a solo challenge, you will need a quite uncomfortable shift in your own fitness.

Hours in the gym, out on the road, and realising burpees are the worst invention known to mankind. And all of this hard work for the most part will be done alone. No team members WhatsApp group or early morning texts keeping you on schedule. The solo training is hard, but it makes you hard too.

You grow up

This is an obvious one and doesn’t need much explaining but nevertheless its worth writing about. When you’re on your own, cold, wet, miserable, hungry and tired, your mind goes to places you never knew existed. And no-one – no-one – will be around to send you a lifeline.

It’s up to you.

This is a very important process, and on your return – and often only years later – will you realise how much you grew up.

Read more: 5 fitness challenges to test your limits in 2018

MacGyver has naught on you

If you asked me how to fix a water filtration system today I’d probably just shake my head, say I can’t do it, give up and start thinking about that single malt I haven’t opened at the back of the whisky cabinet.

Give me the same problem when I’m alone in the middle of the Pacific, and you can be sure I’ll work it out, fast.

Solo challenges make you resourceful.

They teach you how to fix problems, how to work out solutions, make decisions and get things done.

You get good at singing

Trust me, with no one around, you’ll let your lungs go wild and it will give you as much energy as the best carb loading.

You appreciate the difference between being alone, not lonely

It’s very rare nowadays that we get to be alone, even at home by ourselves we’re glued to Instagram or Facebook, which means we’re still connected to the world in some way.

The magic has gone a little. Going off on a solo adventure forces you to relax, become comfortable with your own thoughts, let them meander, fade, pounce and stir havoc. It’s important for humans to do this once and a while.

I truly believe it resets your clock, buys you brain-space you can use later in life. If anything, at least you’ll panic less when your phone runs out of battery in the future.

Read more: 7 travel challenges to boost your self-esteem

There’s no get out of jail card

When going solo there’s no rest, no off button. You can’t ask a team mate to keep watch while you have a nap, or fix your puncture because you’ve hurt your wrist. To turn off is often to fail.

You can go with the wind

One of the best reasons to travel solo is the ability to change your plan, at a whim. This, from my experience, is where the real adventure is.

Yes, some adventures, record-breaking in particular, have no room for spontaneity. However, many adventures do allow for it. If it’s just you on your own, you have no-one to consult, no-one else to compromise with, you can take this change in wind direction and just go with it.

Read more: Feel the fear with these 6 daredevil challenges

People will see the door is always open

It’s well documented that a couple or group of people sitting in a pub will almost always be left to their own devices. However, someone sitting alone in the same situation will more often than not get someone come up and chat to them.

This will almost always lead to something, whether it be some local knowledge, a bed for the night or an opportunity to ‘go with the wind’.

You take the glory

Finally. It’d be naive to think that people don’t go on big epic challenges for a little bit of glory, (sometimes a lot) and there is nothing wrong with that at all.

Whether it be from colleagues, mates down the pub, or that boy or girl you’ve been trying to impress. Whatever your reasons, when you achieve your epic goal, return home wise, knowledgeable, in the peak of your physical ability and with a lifetime’s worth of stories, you can take all the credit…just don’t let it get to your head.

Sean Conway will be speaking at Cheltenham Literature Festival on 14th October about his new book Running Britain.

If you’re up for a solo challenge, but don’t fancy planning – or even going – completely by yourself, push your boundaries with these adventures instead. Go with like-minded people, let us cover the logistics:

Stretch your limits in Jordan

Solo challenge in Jordan

Take on steep ravines and gushing waterfalls as you canyon the Wadi Mujib, explore the lunar landscape in the acrid desert of Wadi Rum – and take on an epic hike through the Dana Nature Reserve, through Bedouin villages and across rugged terrain.

Let’s go

Challenge yourself in Chile

Solo challenge in Chile

White-water raft the adrenaline-pumping rapids of the Petrohue River and then leap into warm, volcanic waters. You’ll tackle an 8-10 hour hike through the stunning Torres Del Paine National Park to the Base Las Torres viewpoint. Then flop at a series of beautiful hotels, including a unique desert retreat with fire pits and a large pool.

Let’s go

Into the wilds of Norway

Solo challenge in Norway

Ice hike the epic Jostedalsbreen glacier, armed with ice picks and crampons, sea kayak the mirror-flat waters of Lustrafjorden, in the heart of the Norwegian wilderness and then take a private RIB boat at speed. You’ll also head off-the-beaten-track on a hik to a goat’s cheese farm, high up in a mountain valley.

Let’s go

Pictures: Shutterstock/Sean Conway


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