Said Yes More: 2016 in Review
Just a year since the last one? Really? Just as you can’t complain about reaching a new birthday if the previous twelve months were used to the max, this annual review is good incentive to ensure that the calendar year is fruitful throughout.
It’s been a year of huge change for me. After ten years on the move I bought a home, although not the type you might expect. There’s still no driver’s license but I did buy a road vehicle and naturally there was plenty of travel, including one more thousand-mile journey.
I don’t have a ten, five or even one-year plan. Decisions are often made on the spot and it tends to work out. So, here’s my 2016, to prove the point!
The year kicked off with not so much kicking. A few days before the end of December 2015 marked the first time I’d dropped out of a 1000-mile journey, but two stress fractures were unavoidable.
I spent the first two months of 2016 with my left foot and lower leg in a stiff boot but there was a silver lining; the weightlessness cleared up a persistent problem in my left hip and thigh and allowed a crushed nerve root in my lower back to free itself up. After over two years in chronic pain, a serious injury healed me!
Having expected to spend the new year in Jordan midway through a 1000 mile walk it was a surprise to be looking out at the Scottish coastline with a few members of the YesTribe on the 1st January.
I ticked an item off my speaking bucket list by presenting to a full house at Bristol’s Wilderness Lectures in mid January. Having sat in the crowd a few times it was wonderful to finally stand at the front of one of the most fun and engaged audiences around.
A week later it was time for the first public adventure show I was ever given the chance to speak at and 8 years on I find myself as the annual host of the Adventure Travel Show in London’s Olympia.
Perhaps a leg cast wasn’t the best accessory considering the nature of the event…
I’ve never been much of a dweller. Sure, breaking a foot wasn’t ideal but on the plus side it meant I had three empty months in the calendar to play with, not a usual occurence.
Every disappointment is an opportunity waiting to happen but I couldn’t have imagined where I’d end up next.
At a most basic definition, SayYesMore (my long-time motto turned non-profit that forms an umbrella over the Yestribe community, Yestival and other Yes-related projects) is an organisation that creates events, situations and places that allow people the mindset space and real-life social network to be their best, happiest self.
The formation of the YesTribe in 2015 had activated my interest in community and a new global movement to expand popular co-working hubs into co-living spaces was something I wanted to develop an expertise in.
So, I converted a timely email into a job, of sorts, and by the end of January had landed in Bali to become the first community manager for a new co-living base in Ubud, run by a global co-living company called Roam.
For two months I helped develop events and the culture of this new building, a former hotel that now attracted young professionals from around the world to come and stay on a monthly subscription, one that is valid at any Roam base around the world in their growing portfolio.
Of course, once my sweaty moonboat had done its job there was always some time to go and get crushed by the ocean!
Bali is an amazing place to process life, and the top deck of Roam Ubud became my morning writing hub, where I penned what I think was the bravest and best blog series of my life. The result, Life Is Not Like Instagram, dealt with the pressures of supporting an unusual life, my battles with injury, living without a base, making money on your own terms, slowly totting up the years, battling periodic depression and much more. These 30 blogs formed the foundation of what will become my next book in early 2017.
A temporary visa for Bali only lasts a month so I lined up a mini Asian speaking tour to ensure my ‘visa weekend’ was well used.
First up, I delivered four talks in Hong Kong as a guest of the Royal Geographical Society, three to schools and one to the society as a whole.
And then I dashed over to Thailand, where the annual DNX co-working conference was being held in Bangkok. There isn’t a gathering anywhere that better exemplifies the drive, variety and dedication of the modern day digital nomad.
Once back in Bali I was happy to bring SayYesMore to Ubud, where our first Asian YesStories event was attended by over 100 people and featured ten speakers, including the amazing Melati and Isabel Wijsen, the unstoppable young founders of Bye Bye Plastic Bags.
I had a few visitors to Bali but the most important is best described in one word. Keeper.
I wouldn’t have been in the UK to meet Em had my foot stayed intact so I have another thing to thank that injury for. Lava was starting to flow .
Another project to arise from Bali was Epic Sleeps. Admittedly, this one got shelved for a while as the year drew on but it has some life and revolves around encouraging a little extra step with every adventure, night under the stars or even holiday. Simply, can you look back and call that a nice place to sleep, a good one, or an epic one? You know which you’d prefer…
Epic, hey?! My personal favourites were these two below. Bali is pretty special if you want a 5 star stay for the price of a bag of chips!
When a man drives behind you across Australia for five months - and you’re on a skateboard — you know he’s a good mate. My buddy Danny tied the knot with the lovely Tracey this year, and yep, they did it in Vegas.
After the wedding I had five days to play with before flying back to the UK and asked Facebook what to do. The ideas came in thick and fast but eventually I settled on paddling down the San Marcos river near Austin, Texas with my friend Rowan. The team from Kammok slung us some gear and into a canoe we jumped.
This is the short film from that trip, probably my favourite edit of the year.
Next up was a visit to Belgium for my friend Caroline’s Travel Storytelling Festival, a first-time event full of speakers, ideas and inspiration for new trips. Super proud of Caroline and Sylvie for bringing this together.
Straight from Brussels to Barcelona to jump on a hulking great cruise ship as a keynote speaker for the Advantage Travel Consortium. The highlight was meeting astronaut Col Chris Hadfield. I’m not one for idols or celebrity but this chap was seriously impressive.
I bought a bus.
That deserved a sentence of its own, right?! The YesBus was a co-purchase with my friend Chris Barnes, who has been leading the conversion of this former London and Isle of Wight double decker into a creative co-working space and hub of awesomeness.
15 years ago I spent a lot of time in Uganda working out what being an adult human was all about. My Mum visited in September 2001 and she took the shot on the left (below) at Murchison Falls National Park, so it seemed fitting to return to exactly the same rock and get a fast forward photo. Not much has changed, right?!
Murchison is the most incredible spot. Not only is it a quiet National Park where you don’t have to jostle with hundreds (or even tens) of other vehicles to see Africa’s unique beasts, but it’s home to the planet’s most powerful natural surge of water. When the river Nile squeezes between two rocks a few metres apart the result has to be spectacular, just incredible.
But the reason for this Ugandan visit was down to plenty of others. The Uganda Marathon was into its second year, and when a 26.2 mile epic is just the icing on a week-long community cake featuring over 150 people working on the projects they’ve been raising money for, you know it’s going to be special.
The UGM team did a fantastic job and it was a pleasure making the official film of the week. Here’s the final show!
Although there are no official memories for July, it was spent cooking up a plan.
And in early August it came to fruition. For the first time in ten years I became a homeowner when Emms and I moved into Enigma, our new widebeam canal boat.
At the start of the year I couldn’t have imagined that in 2016 I’d start to settle down, buy a home (man, that was a stressful process!) and what’s more, do it with the perfect woman. Moments like receiving our first joint post hold real significance, a footnote in the first chapter of what I know (when you know, you just know) will be a love story to last.
After years of living out of a couple of bags, needing forethought to receive post, hunting down wifi in cafes, sleeping on sofas and in spare rooms and parks, using that lack of a base to motivate and force a career designed around movement and experience, that variety has created a rich, rich life that has now come full circle.
And stability is so dearly needed. It has been earned, literally. I’d saved enough over a decade to buy this new floating home outright and it wasn’t through earning power, it was because I’d travelled the world and spent much less than I would have if I was living in a city.
It is the biggest misunderstanding of the modern day young adult, that the key to wealth is stay still, that travel is an expensive habit and, of course, that a dream lifestyle (at least as far as Instagram is concerned) has to be off limits to the normal person.
It’s not. Like anything, it’s comes from acting on a decision. But man, now I have a desk and a roof and my own bed that isn’t inflatable or hangs between two branches, I respect this familiarity so much. It gives me strength that I didn’t have before but that is enforced because I don’t — I can’t — take it for granted.
Back to Tennessee for another week on the Mississippi. Since 2012 I’ve joined ocean advocate and plastics expert Emily Penn in leading a multi-day adventure and mindset discussion, and this was the second one we’d run on the big river south of Memphis.
Another wonderful week camping on sandbars with a new family, talking beneath blue sky and stars about those things so important to life that don’t often get their deserved thought when we’re back home.
And why don’t you join the next Exploring Mindset on the Mississippi at the same time in 2017
Isn’t it funny, as soon as you move onto a boat people want to come visit. First up was Rupert from Perspective Pictures, London’s newest independent film company. These guys have some ability and each week post a new interview or film story, so I was delighted to give them a yes for this one.
The next visitor was photographer Reece Pickering who, despite just starting out, is brilliantly talented with a camera. Reece is making a book about modern day adventurers and we spent the best part of a day exploring the boat and making me sit awkwardly while he waited for my face to untense.
Online members of the YesTribe had gone over the 3000 mark in the Summer and the decision was made for us, we have to do another Yestival.
Having welcomed almost 200 people to our maiden voyage last year things doubled this time around. We moved to a new venue — one we hope will become a brand new home — in Brinsbury Campus in Sussex and enjoyed a weekend with over 380 guests, over 40 speakers and some amazing weather.
The work that goes into organising a festival is immense and it takes a united effort to bring things together. The personal toll this year was probably larger than I would have liked and is something I need to deal with next time round, but knowing that so much will happen because of one, unique weekend has to be worth it.
For me, Yestival has been the hardest success of my life. It feels like all of the adventures have been training for producing moments like this, a lovely reminder that if you like after yourself it also produces results for others.
Although getting hundreds of people together at once is a natural milestone it’s these smaller, regular events that form the heart of the YesTribe. We brought a few people along to a waterway clean-up of the Limehouse Cut in east London, pulling tonnes of trash out of the canal.
This environmental impact is something we’ll be continuing with in the future. Translating a large community into a wider positive impact has to be the reason this community is growing.
After a few weeks of organising communal events it was getting close to some me-time. As I planned for another 1000-mile non-motorised journey I got a call one day saying that after a search of thousands of people I’d been selected as one of the 19 people San Miguel had featured in their ‘Rich List’ — that is, rich in life experiences, if not any other way!
With one simple action, former 'bored graphic designer' Dave Cornthwaite transformed his life. He's since been on an…www.theguardian.com
It’s always nice to be recognised for doing something well. I’m not quite the right shape for your typical adventure awards, or any awards for that matter, but it means a lot to stand out from the crowd now and then.
My adventures definitely shaped me into the personal and professional man I am today, and although I’m now defined by much more than thousand mile journeys I’m still slowly tickling the underbelly of Expedition1000, my project to take on twenty-five different 1000-mile journeys on different forms of non-motorised transport.
After 2015’s attempt ended prematurely it was time to have another go at Number 12 and this time I decided on a brand new country, and a quite original way to take on a distance journey.
Here’s an introductory film made before I packed up my kick scooter and travelled to Japan.
Swifty Scooters, the team from Manchester who specialise in premium adult scooters, were a dream to work with. They bent over backwards to take their standard scooter and turn it into an adventure machine and for me are the model of the perfect sponsor.
Their efforts made me want to work harder and repay their genorosity, and Swifty and I pushed out of Tokyo full of enthusiasm, if not a little anxiety.
So much can happen to stop a long journey before the 1000 mile mark comes around and with my freshest expedition memory bound by a stiff boot it took a while for caution to blossom into familiarity.
It was also magic to get back to creating films everyday, especially when there was so much newness to talk about. Here’s my favourite ‘Good Morning’ of the journey, from the magical Miyajima Island.
Japan is a wonderful country to visit. So unique in many ways, it is the only place that manages to retains its own personality at the same time as embracing globalisation. To travel so far there on a kick scooter brought me so many rich encounters and memories, I’ll need far longer than the week and a half I’ve had so far to process this 12th journey of Expedition1000.
Read more about #ScootJapan
So, that’s the lot! 15 different countries, 12 nights in transit (9 of them on a plane, ugh!), 39 days on expedition, 82 nights on water and 47 under canvas or the stars. This has been my 2016. Definitely, definitely said yes more.
See you next year!
If you’re writing your own year in review, tag it with #saidyesmore and I’ll share it.
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Visit my website for an archive of everything I’ve done since I quit my job as a terrible graphic designer in 2005.
And don’t forget…make life memorable. Say yes more.