According to Rich Perkins' profile, he has made 91 trips, posted 102 blog entries and uploaded just over 900 photos. Oh, and he's posted in the forums well over 2000 times.
Something tells me this guy's well-travelled.
Rich's travel map. Click for a larger view.
What makes Rich Perkins’ cluttered travel map really impressive is that every trip he has ever taken has involved travelling over land - and nothing but land. He has never flown. For a cartographer whose work involves quite a bit of travel, that’s a remarkable statement.
Continuing on in our series of interviews with Travellerspoint members (I’ve already interviewed Greg Wesson and Frank Muldowney), we decided Rich (aka Gelli) would make an excellent target for Interview #3. Here’s what he had to say about flying, cycling and travelling in general.
Heather (Purdy) posted a question for you in the forums: "You’re well known on Travellerspoint for being a NON flyer - have you never flown, or did you simply make a choice for personal/ethical/environmental reasons not to fly?"
It all began when I was very young and being delivered by the stork. It dropped me, the clumsy doofus. And whilst I experienced the momentary exhilaration of dropping through the sky at a great rate of knots with all that cold air whooshing against my young naked body, the whole experience traumatised me (I actually think that the sight of this bird with a long beak, fast closing on me with intent - to catch me, I now realise - traumatised me more than the actual fall) so much that I've refused to fly ever since.
Despite the fact that more than once I've told Purdy the real story, I suppose I should give it to you here as well. For the record, no, I've never flown (unless you count falling, but that's more to do with gravity than flying, or so I've heard). And, whilst I know everybody expects there to be a stunningly amazing reason for it, there isn't. There's slightly more to it than this, but in very basic terms, I never flew when I was young, and when I started travelling it was easier to travel by land (or, more accurately, surface).
I simply then got to see so much of Europe, and meet so many people from so many places, that I enjoyed myself too much to want to fly. I was more scared of missing out on the amazing things I would be seeing/doing travelling on the surface than I was scared of being on a plane which stopped flying. Suddenly. Which is really what most people who are scared of flying are frightened of - the not flying.
It has always been much more of a deal to other people than to me, and in the past I often considered flying, just to do it and stop being able to say that I haven't. It never actually occurred to me really before I got deep into Asia that it is actually quite a cool thing to be able to say, especially in these days of air proliferation. Now, a surprising number of friends/travel acquaintances try and stop me if it sounds like I'm getting too serious about actually flying, because they don't want me to break my no flying thing. I don't really have any reason now not too and it's just me basically being stubborn and seeing how long I can hold out as opposed to anything else, though (a) after turning 26 [the worst day of my life, because I no longer qualified for youth discounts on travel] and (b) with the huge rise of budget airlines in Europe especially, it is increasingly hard to justify.
I've always said that if I need to fly, I will, and indeed I have come very close more than once. However, ideally my first trip will be a one way journey, and – this often confuses people – it has to be a long one, a minimum of at least 7 or 8 hours. And you don't want to know how many people are convinced that my first flight will be accidental and unplanned (e.g. Saved by the coastguard, or airlifted by a medical helicopter).
Your most recent trip was a bicycle trip across Europe with 12 other cyclists. What inspired that?
What inspired the trip or inspired me to go? I wouldn't say I was inspired at all. It was blackmail, plus a healthy does of stupidity, and, possibly, alcohol. I don't actually know where the original idea came from, but it started last autumn with a couple of colleagues talking about it, and they mentioned it to me as one of them knew that I used to do a bit of cycling. When I first heard about it, it was going to be a small number of friends taking a couple of weeks on a leisurely (100km-ish a day) tour of vineyards, roughly going from Paris to Nice, and I said that I might think about going as well. Then it suddenly grew to about 30 of us include a number of customers (existing and prospective) and was a kind of working holiday and apparently I had said that I was going. By the time we actually left, the time frame had been condensed to a week and distances had shot up, we'd essentially lost both Paris and Nice but gained a big mountain just for the heck of it, whilst the group had changed to be mostly colleagues - plus a few friends/customers - all of whom were extremely fit and including some increasingly serious people, topped by a former Swedish national champion. Plus me, who hadn't done any serious exercise in 10years, and with training comprising of a total of maybe 200km and only a single ride of 50km.
My surgeon and several doctors/specialists will not be happy if/when they found out that I went at all, but I must admit that I thoroughly enjoyed the whole trip (even the painful bits, I suppose), had a lot of fun, and that it was absolutely brilliant being back on a bike like that again after so long. Before I went, I said that I would be happy if I managed 1 full day, and in the end I completed 4 full ones, plus a half a day, so I was absolutely delighted. We finished over a month ago, and I'm finally no longer constantly limping, although I'm still bandaged up and with enough pain in my knee and issues with my back to prevent me cycling or even walking the 2.5kilometres to the office yet (I normally always cycle or walk to work). Hopefully I'll be able to at least walk to work in another month or so, and maybe get back on a bike before the end of summer. They are already talking about possibilities for another trip next year, and I'm stupid enough that if I'm around, I'll probably go on that one as well!
Tell me about your job. What does being a cartographer entail other than drinking beer and travelling (as your profile suggests)?
Not much really. Like most jobs, it's all about looking busy and important without actually having to do anything more taxing than play minesweeper and drink the terrible excuse for “coffee” that comes out of our machine. Unless, of course, my boss happens to be reading this - the odds aren't high, as he's really not too bright or good with high-tech stuff like light bulbs or ball point pens, and the swanky new PC-G6-sun-iMac laptop that we recently got for him is actually an etch-a-sketch, but it is possible - and in which case, my job involves lots of really clever and technical sounding things (making pots of tea, moving satellites around the sky, getting hit and run over by buses, ensuring mink don't die because of aircraft noise or that oil tankers don't crash and sink – not good for business that – cycling across France and walking round the office in odd socks with holes in them, in no way looking lost. That sort of thing) which mean that I have to work really hard and often for very loooong hours and thus deserve a payrise. And in no circumstances would I, for example, be typing this from a pub surrounded by scantily clad Scandinavian beauties instead of sitting in the meeting with boring political arsehole types that I might theoretically supposed to be sitting in instead. No, I am not a spy. And has anybody seen/found that damned submarine?
When I interviewed Greg, he mentioned that it’s easy to lose the thrill of travel when you have to do it for work. Have you found this as well?
I wouldn't necessarily say that you lose the thrill of travel – rather, for me, it kind of ceases to be travel at all and just becomes routine, like a daily commute to the office. For a non flyer, I don't (currently - thats changing shortly) live in the most well connected of locations, and options in terms of infrastructure and direction are limited. 95%+ of the time I'm going by train and have to start by heading south. As far as København, 2hours away, I have only one feasible option. From there, I effectively have one daytime (via Falster to Hamburg) and one night time route (via Jytland which also passes through Hamburg).
This means that I know every house, tree and telegraph pole from here to Hamburg, the exact station timings of all trains, the platforms I'll arrive and leave from, where to buy every conceivable thing I might need, what will happen if the train is delayed and where it is likely to be delayed, many of the staff on the trains and at customs etc etc. I can walk around Malmö, København and Hamburg stations blindfolded, and know countless others very well. And, of course, even after Hamburg, there are 3 or 4 places i have to continue to with great frequency. And because it is so constant, that part of the trip always bores me silly. I don't even now subconsciously consider my journey/travel as starting until I've passed Hamburg, and that's 7 hours away! If I lived in Berlin, for example, 7 hours on a train would get me to a hell of a lot of different places in maybe 8 countries with numerous route options - I have one, and I agree that there is no thrill in that.
This isn't a new phenomenon for me – for a while I knew everybody who worked at customs at Dover and Calais, several of their life stories and even in cases, their children, plus a large number of boat staff. But there's nothing I can really do about that without going a really long way around or flying. And it is certainly possible that if I do ever start flying, it will simply be because there is no longer any surface trip in Europe that I haven't already done at least 100times, and it thus bores me to tears, which I don't want to happen.
As well as the inevitability of constantly having to revisit the places for work, there is a boredom factor. It's very easy to end up spending most of your time in identikit boring corporate hotels, which if you didn't know, you wouldn't have the faintest idea which country you were in. I actively tend to avoid hotels where I can. I spend nights travelling, with friends, in hostels, or couchsurfing, even when I'm working, just because it gives me some variety and “different” company/conversation.
The final issue which a lot of people don't consider when they hear that you travel all the time, is opportunity. In general terms, the more you travel for work, the more you travel. Obvious, but that has a side affect most people don't think of, which means the less chance you actually get to see anything. Sometimes, that's fine. I've probably been to or via Wien (Vienna), for example, well over 300 times and over that I've seen most of what Wien has to offer by now, so I don't mind if I only get a couple of hours there, or not even that. But on the other hand, I had been to Madrid I think 12 times before I saw anything apart from the railway station, a business park/hotel complex, and the inside of taxis between the two. Whilst I would have loved to have a free weekend or longer there, at that time, all I really wanted was a couple of hours spare, just to get a little idea of the city, but I couldn't even manage for that ages. And that is frustrating!
You say you like to get off the beaten track. Has this ever landed you in some sticky situations? I saw that you were in Iraq in 2001 and also in Belgrade when it was bombed...
I have always had the most amazing knack of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, it's uncanny. And sadly, the world isn't always perfectly safe, and it is kind of an occupational hazard for anybody that travels, that you stand a chance of getting into sticky situations, whatever they may be. I've been to Iraq on 3 occasions, all of which were entirely unplanned and basically by accident. I've been shot at on several occasions in several countries, and been in areas of either active or very potential hostility, shall we say, more times that I like to admit to. I've been in bus/car crashes and on a sinking ferry; in riots and protests of all shape and size, disaster zones, spent numerous nights on the streets roughing it in some very strange and less than salubrious surroundings, and arrested or detained on plenty of occasions, for everything ranging from spying to drug smuggling to attempted terrorism, but always completely innocently. Despite what some people think (hello mum) I don't actively go out of my way to end up in such situations, and I'm certainly not one of these people that constantly travels to such places (is it called disaster travel?) just so they can say they have. Yes, I have been scared shitless more than once, but I've realised that I have learnt a heck of a lot about myself and the world in general, seeing some of things things and being in these situations, and they have made me what I am today (admittedly, that's a cynical, paranoid, sceptical, grumpy crippled lonely old bastard, by all accounts).
I guess the fact that you don’t fly explains why you haven’t made it to Australia or the Americas yet. Do you have any plans to cross the Atlantic or to venture all the way down to Australia?
The fact that I haven't yet been to either is more to do with the fact that they aren't as high on my priority list as anything else. I've always had the desire to go to more unexplored, exotic and unknown areas, and thus places like Australia, New Zealand, USA and Canada which all speak (allegedly) English and have long been developed so aren't really changing drastically (compared to other places in the world that is, though they are obviously changing as well) and aren't so intrinsically challenging have always been much lower on my list of 'want to go now!' Having said that, both are on my list and rising steadily for assorted reasons – I was very close to heading to Canada for a few months this summer, and only finally postponed recently, due to other commitments. I also have invites to weddings in December in Perth and then Auckland 3months later, which give me a good excuse/reason to head that way and which I'm pondering long and hard!
I also have to consider whether I want to take advantage of the famed Work-Holiday visa's available for under 30's as I'm approaching that age with alarming velocity. I've always had it in the back of my mind that if I wasn't married/settled by that time, I'd be mad not to take advantage of the opportunity, even if it's not my #1 choice of somewhere to live. I've heard great things about Perth and Melbourne in particular and have always fancied New Zealand (sheep and rugby. What more could I want?), and it's very likely that I could end up living and trying to find a job somewhere down under in the next 18 months, probably sooner.
You can check out Rich's Travellerspoint blog here, or his old one here.
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