Reza was born in Iran. After retiring from semi-professional basketball 13 years ago, he has cycled the entire Annapurna Circuit in the Nepalese Himalayas and the full length of the Caspian Sea.
In 2011, Reza set the record for the fastest crossing of the Sahara on a bicycle, from Algeria to Sudan. It took him a little over 13 days to cover 1,084 miles.
When I first met Reza he was still working as a financial analyst in London, and preparing for his next big challenge. Last year he and his colleague Steve Pawley attempted to break the speed record for cycling 11,000 miles from Kapp to Cape, from Norway to South Africa, through 21 countries. Malaria, food poisoning, dehydration and cockroaches got in their way, but it still makes for an epic adventure.
Both expeditions were to raise money to build schools in Madagascar.
Comfort Kills Ambition
“Taking risk and experiencing uncertainties is liberating. I absolutely love it. COMFORT KILLS AMBITION.” (Reza Pakravan)
One of the things I loved about this conversation with Reza was his willingness to leave behind the comfortable, corporate life and go out on a limb. He and I met up in a London pub a couple of nights ago, and he told me how, after he’d finished his Kapp to Cape expedition, he’d had a phone call from a former boss, inviting him back with a significant pay rise. And he had said NO.
That’s courage. And commitment to his new direction. Both of which I highly respect and commend.
I know how that feels. I know that stepping outside your comfort zone is, by definition, UNcomfortable for a while. Eventually you grow into the challenge, eventually your comfort zone expands so that what was initially uncomfortable becomes progressively MORE comfortable, but that interim period can be very uncomfortable indeed.
In my case as a rower, it was physically uncomfortable – seasickness, aching shoulders, painful saltwater sores, wet mouldy bed, water everywhere, in fact – AND psychologically uncomfortable – self-doubt, wondering what on earth had possessed me to take this on, feelings of inadequacy and depression.
Eventually I was able to step outside my little spiral of misery, to look at this period of time in the overall scheme of things, and realise that the short term pain is an essential part of the growth process.
You know the feeling when you start a new job or a new, more responsible role, and it probably all seems rather challenging and difficult and yes, stressful. There’s a book called The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization, by Peter Senge, that explains this rather well.
It’s what Reza went through in order to live his dream – malaria, food poisoning, exhaustion – and in a strange echo of that, it’s what he is probably going through again right now, as he commits to the life of an adventurer.
When you have a vision of a goal, chances are that there is a gap between where you are now and where you want to be. Imagine a rubber band stretched between those two points – where you are now and where you want to be. There’s tension on that rubber band. This tension can be a source of energy, because if there was no gap, there would be no need to do anything to move towards your goal.
But what does tension seek? It seeks resolution or release. There are only two possible ways for the tension to release itself: pull reality toward the vision or pull the vision toward reality. Which are we going to choose?
Although the answer might seem obvious, the problem is that tension is uncomfortable. It often leads to feelings or emotions associated with anxiety, such as sadness, discouragement, hopelessness, or worry. It’s easy to confuse these ‘bad’ things with the ‘good’ thing that is creative tension. But these ‘bad’ emotions are not creative tension itself. They are emotional tension.
The danger is that if we don’t recognise the difference between emotional tension and creative tension, we may end up taking the easy way out. It’s easy to release emotional tension – all we have to do is adjust the end of the rubber band that is completely under our control at all times – the vision. The ‘bad’ feelings go away because we’ve reduced the tension on the rubber band. BUT, the price we’ve paid is abandoning what we really want, our vision. It takes a certain kind of strength to hang on in there, to hold true to the vision, and take the harder path of raising ourselves up towards the vision rather than lowering the vision towards ourselves.
“I am a dreamer with no limit to my dreams, but I am a realistic planner. I seek liberation by taking risks and overcoming unknown situations, weighing up the odds and then getting on with it. Questioning the impossible is what motivates me. Throughout my life I have explored and experimented, learned and made mistakes, been a seeker and a follower, succeeded and failed great challenges, but tried hard not to be a dead fish, because only dead fish swim with the current.” (Reza Pakravan)
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2:20 Training for cycling across several continents while working 12 hours a day
4:00 Cyclist, or adventurer? Why the masochistic endeavours?
6:00 How to cycle the Sahara
8:50 The formidable logistics of cycling from Kapp to Cape
13:30 Going for the record
15:30 And NOT going for the record
18:00 Hundred Shmundred – who cares?!
20:50 Having the right bike and chain and gadgets for touring – top tips!
24:10 Route-planned or following the nose?
26:15 Africa – and overcoming preconceptions
31:00 Arriving into Cape Town
32:50 Reza’s charity
35:10 What next?
36:40 Staying in touch
37:00 A thank you to our sponsors, Audible.com, and Producer Vic’s book recommendation: a techno-thriller by Daniel Suarez, called Influx. To claim your free audiobook, please follow the Adventure Podcast affiliate link.