Whenever I think I’m well-travelled, I think of Mike O’Shea.
An easygoing Kerry adventurer (pictured top and below) in a tradition that stretches from Tom Crean to Pat Falvey, Mike has done it all.
Think two attemps to walk to the North Pole, crossing the Southern Ice Cap on Kilimanjaro, or trekking 636km of frozen Lake Baikal — hell, he’s even credited as an ‘Expedition Leader’ for Star Wars.
While I’m booking flights on Ryanair and Aer Lingus, he’s planning to be the first person to make it to the world’s six Poles of Inaccessibility (PIAs).
“I thought doing logistics for the North Pole was hard, but this is just a horror story,” he told me by phone from Dingle.
Mike has already completed the North and South American PIAs — defined as the furthest points from the coastline on each of the continents. Last week, he set off for Africa in an overhauled Land Rover Discovery 2.
Driving south via Gibraltar, the journey will take him through 20 countries, jungle treks and political powder kegs. The goal is a remote co-ordinate 1,100 miles from the coast near the borders of South Sudan, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Majorca, it is not.
“I’ve planned the route about four or five times but I keep having to change it,” he told me. “We were going to go through Burkina Faso, but they’re after attacking the French embassy there… I try to research to the nth degree, but you need to react on the ground, too.”
Mike is stubborn, determined and yes, a little mad. But he’s not careless. He travels with two location trackers with emergency buttons, a satellite phone, and calls home once a day… speaking to a trusted colleague who knows him well and can read his mood.
But it wasn’t his technical savvy or war stories I was after on this phone call. It was his advice for the rest of us — the ‘normal’ travellers of this world.
What tips can we take from an explorer?
Firstly, Mike says, be smart in choosing the people you take big trips with. “I’ve had some great trips with people where we never reached our goals, and some successful trips with a**holes… you need to go with the right people.”
Secondly, he says, push beyond your comfort zone and live like a local.
“I’m travelling a long time, and a lot of it is about experience, but that doesn’t save you from headaches or hassle… you have to be nice to people.
“Lots of people don’t like feeling vulnerable, or getting out of their comfort zone, but you really need to speak to people on the ground as you go. I don’t go to Irish bars, or meet Irish people. I’ll go to the local pub.”
There you have it — advice to serve you just as well in a pub or a Point of Inaccessabillity… and useful no matter how well-travelled you are.
Follow Mike’s progress at mikeoshea.ie, on Twitter at @mikedingle, or using the hashtag #thepolesproject.
My Travels: Mike O’Shea, Irish Polar Explorer and adventurer