Interview: Matt Dickens 

from The Adventurists

There's a good chance you may have already come across some of the bonkers adventures that are organised by this motley band of thrill and chaos seekers. Their most famous events include driving a beaten up old wreck of a car across Mongolia in their Mongol Rally, or blatting across India/Sri-Lanka or the Himalayas in a three-wheeled motorbike in the Rickshaw Run. Not intent on leaving it there, these guys have turned hardcore adventuring into a full-time occupation and have an enormous range of thrill-seeking events across the globe from sailing in outrigger boats made from hollowed out logs, para-motoring across Brazil, or riding a Monkey Bike across Morocco, not forgetting putting on the longest and toughest horse race in the world. There seems to be no limit to the imagination and sheer determination to create some of the most demanding adventure experiences you or anyone mad enough can get involved in.

We speak to Matt to find out more...

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What can you tell us about The Adventurists?

In a nutshell, we are about making life less boring! Our world is getting more controlled by boundaries and boxes, and people are forced to go on crappy Instagram inspired holidays and all this sort of shit nowadays, it's disgusting. Health and safety is now paramount, and you book into a hotel and something isn't quite right, you complain to your travel agent, it's just all nonsense. So we put people in situations where they would never normally go on their own, pushing them to their limits, interacting with local people and working out how they are going to get themselves unstuck when they get stuck. We really do this in an old school way, for many reasons - 

 


A - It's bloody good fun, B - It's adventurous, C - You actually learn something, and get in touch with the places you visit, and the people you meet along the way. Rather than what seems to happen is you get stuck on a bus, ferried from the airport to your all-inclusive resort, you stay there for two weeks and then get ferried back to the airport and you come home. What's the point! There's just no point to this! You've not seen anything, you've not met anyone, you might have gone on an excursion somewhere following some twat around waving a flag... We're completely the opposite of that, we want people to go out there and get lost, get stuck, we want them to breakdown in the middle of nowhere mentally and physically and just overcome it and come out the other side with the achievement under their belt and a big grin smeared across their face.

 


The idea of throwing people in many places totally unprepared for the road ahead of them must create some issues too, do you ever find people getting into serious trouble?

 


I think given the situations, it's not as significant an issue as people would perhaps imagine. For example, 90% of people on a Rickshaw Run finish on time and generally without major incident. I think people are naturally more aware of what they're doing and take more care because they are so far out of their comfort zone. Although they are dangerous events, we thankfully get very little major incidents. Plenty of little scrapes though!

 


I guess also some of your newer events like the Icarus Trophy are more niche events which require a greater skillset to take part in. Also looking at the Rickshaw run in the Himalayas, taking the template of what has taken place in India and Sri Lanka and taken that into a far more remote region with far less support or safety. These are also pretty alien vehicles for the area too, so not even the familiarity of mechanics skills to get back up and running again.

 


Not really there's not much up there! Which is nice. On the Himalayan one we do give them a pretty hefty bag of spares, and stuff like that, so if they do breakdown, there's some chance they can get back on the road, as the chances of finding an autorickshaw repair shop is almost zero! They'll always find someone who's handy with a spanner. They are pretty simple machines. 

 


Do you vet people for that trip, do you only accept people who have perhaps some adventure travel experience?

 


We used to have it that people who had done the Rickshaw Run could take part, but found it narrowed it down a bit too much. We went in pretty heavy with the whole "you're only a centimetre from death the whole way" and I think we scared people off a little bit! So we've removed the vetting and are going a little less on the "you're almost definitely going to die" marketing we'd originally gone with. But people do need to say why they are suitable for it, and give us some examples of adventure experience. What we don't want is a load of people up there, who think of it as a race and driving about like lunatics, because the roads are dangerous up there, there's no denying that. I personally don't think it's any more dangerous than the original Rickshaw Run as an event because there's very real risks on both events, they're just very different. You've got the chaos in India of the traffic, dogs, goats and all of that shit, but up on the Himalayas you'll come across some trucks and busses and that, but you're often on your own. The road condition itself is the danger. 

 


I guess it's also about preparation? Unlike some of your events like the Monkey Run, where people seem completely unprepared for the trip and often look like they've just rocked up from the pub, in completely inappropriate clothes for the trip ahead. It amazes me that they have managed to persevere with such little preparation. I guess that's a little different up in the Himalayas!

 


Yeah sure, it is different, but there is such a thing as too much preparation. They do have shops, you can get things if you really need them. Local people do get by. You might struggle for shoes in Peru if you have big feet, but apart from that you can get what you need. It's not a bad thing to do a bit of preparation, but if you do too much preparation then you're taking away aspects of the adventure. If you're completely self-sufficient, you have a way to solve absolutely every problem you could face without having to interact with anyone then you've done too much and you're kind of missing the point there. It's good to make plans, but it's critical for those plans to be flexible.

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Image Credit: TukkyMcTukface

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Image Credit: Mila Kiratz

So what about you, specifically how did you get involved with Tom (the founder) and the whole way of life?

 


I got involved, when I was travelling in Brazil and I met some guys who had just done the Mongul Rally back in 2006, and I thought to myself, that looks like a bloody good idea so I looked on the website and India had just opened up, and so I signed up for the very first Rickshaw Run from some dodgy internet cafe in Brazil and that was it really. I met Tom and a few other people who are still here on the event. We became friends, we hung out for most of the Rickshaw Run.  I was then living in India and was asked if I could check a finish line in Goa which had been organised with a local guy, and I was asked to go and look over it with western eyes to make sure it was ok. That was the kind of initial contact, I did that and made a load of changes as it was terrible. It was truly awful. you finish the Rickshaw Run in Goa and the party was to be in some crappy roadside cafe and I thought why don't we have the party on the beach. So I did some stuff there, and then was asked to be there for when the teams got to the end then I had to go to Nepal to get a new visa and I spent my time scoping out mechanics and stuff like that. The ball just kept rolling and I found myself 10 years down the line still here. 

 


I guess you've also been on many adventures yourself. I think a lot of your ethos is that we wouldn't arrange anything we haven't done ourselves.

 


I've done both taken part and reconnaissance trips. I did the reconnaissance on the Himalayas, I've done the Sri Lanka Rickshaw Run, and the India Rickshaw Run a couple of times, I'm very much Rickshaw based. I've not done much else, but I'm sure I will sooner or later.

 


Anything stood out?

 


The Himalayas can't be beaten by much, but the first Rickshaw Run was the first thing like that I had done so that was very special. It was completely unheard of and all the feedback was that it wasn't possible and that we would probably die. So that one did really have the sense of getting out there and doing something new. But the Himalayas is one that really stands out and I've been there a fair bit now so I'm a bit more used to it, but as a trip, it's one that makes you step back and say "bloody hell, that was fucking awesome!"

 


As you said before, it's about thrusting yourself out of your comfort zone, and as a vehicle, they are pretty unfamiliar.

 


As a vehicle, you can roll them quite easily, but they are also quite good and sturdy, you can take them almost anywhere, like jungle tracks or mountain trails. You'd be surprised what you can do with them. 

 


How competitive are the events? How seriously do people take it?

 

Most of our events have never been competitive. There's a very distinct line between those and our competitive events like the Kraken Cup, the Icarus Trophy and the Mongol Derby which are proper races, with meagre prizes as it's all about the glory after all! On the race events it fiercely competitive. Our Mongol Derby we do have some pretty serious competitors who really want to win, and it brings a real level of excitement to the experience and the people back at home.

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Image Credit: Richard Brandon-Cox

Many of your events have grown significantly since the early days, how has this changed the events? Have you had to adapt your approach.

 


It's changed things dramatically! Events like the Mongol Rally are now 400 teams so then your talking about 1000 people, and you can't just all meet up in the pub and then head off in your cars. We have had to scale up the start and finish. The same with the Rickshaw Run as we have around 85 teams take part, and nearly 200 people every time. We did one with 104 teams! We always need to look for places that can house us, and also traffic flow and impact on small places. The events have had to get a lot more organised because while you can cope with a bit of chaos when there are only a few people standing around, and have a cup of tea and let the dust settle. We have had to become more serious and grow up a bit to cope with the higher volume. One problem we have experience especially on the Mongol Rally, is that the infrastructure is getting better and there are more roads. It used to be that you got to Mongolia and the roads finished and there is now a highway and progress is speeding things up, and taking some out of the fun out of it.

 


Is there anywhere else you would consider?

 


We have a route through Peru which is pretty remote, down into the jungle. Also the Icarus Trophy goes to pretty remote locations.

 


What's next for you guys, you're obviously very proficient at coming up with difficult ways to do things.

 


I think the vehicles themselves have always been the attraction, especially the Rickshaws and Monkey bikes. Other adventures are guided much by the location like the Ice run. Did you see Tom's balloon thing?

 


Yes, the Up style helium balloon flight?

 


Yeah, he's obviously not the first to try it, but he's very keen to turn that into a real type of adventure trip and that would be the first adventure of that type with teams. We're also really seriously hoping that it never happens in a way! He's still got it ticking away in his head.

 


We strive to push ourselves to the limit as much as that of our participants. We're trying to do stuff that most people wouldn't dream of doing, let alone consider it, and if they did consider it, most people would say "No fucking chance!" 

 


Just to finish off, what would be your advice to someone who has been inspired to looking at getting involved in one of your adventures?

 


The first tip would be to not think too much. Once you start thinking about it, there's room for lots of excuses to come out of the woodwork. Just get in touch, and get it booked, and then worry about it later. The next is to not make too many plans, as they will never go to plan. Logistically you need to plan things like visas that you might need, but as for real plans that's not the point of it all, it's best to not plan too much. Get involved and get out there and see the world in a different light.

 


You also do lots for charity too, as its not a big soul-less corporate endeavour. What can you tell us about that side of things?

 


We work with a charity Cool Earth, who focus on deforestation impact and it's still a relatively small charity and not like some of the big charities where 80% of their income gets swallowed up by running costs. Fundraising is a big part of the experience. We've generated over 8 Million now, perhaps more.

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Image Credit: Richard Brandon-Cox

For more information about the type of adventures you can expect from an Adventurists adventure visit - https://www.theadventurists.com