“Being adventurous is a lifestyle, it’s an addiction to uncertainty,” says Reza Pakravan, a self-described explorer and filmmaker whose unusual trips include cycling across the world in 102 days — and from the Arctic Circle, Norway to South Africa. “I get a real buzz when things go wrong and I have to be resourceful and solve problems,” he tells The Independent.
In 2010 he quit his job as a financial analyst to explore the world, mostly by bike, inspired by a volunteering trip with NGO Seed Madagascar. “When I got back to London, life wasn’t the same anymore,” he says. No wonder —only last year he was travelling along the Trans-Amazonian Highway by bike and riverboat.
In 2011 he was the subject of a BBC World documentary as he set a Guinness World Record for the fastest crossing of the Sahara on a bicycle. And in 2013 he cycled 11,000 miles from Nordkapp in the Arctic Circle to Cape Town in South Africa, falling short of his 100- day target by just two days, struck by food poisoning and malaria —an experience he recounts in his co-authored book Kapp to Cape, published this year.
Owing to the extremities of his travels and the conflicts in the regions that he has crossed, Pakravan says he has beencaught up in “quite a few” dangerous mishaps over the years. That includes arriving in Egypt during the Arab Spring.
“We arrived in Egypt right in the middle of the turmoil,” he says, “At some point we entered a small town where houses were burned down, cars were overturned and there was a standoff between armed militia and an army tank. We got taken into custody but managed to get out of there in one piece but it was such a scary situation.”
Another time he entered Azerbaijan after dark. “I had no idea about the road ahead,” says Pakravan, “I was pedalling in the dark with no streetlight around and I couldn’t see the road. They were really uneven. All of a sudden I realised I was being chased by a hungry pack of wild dogs and I was in the middle of nowhere. I was pedalling so hard to escape but I couldn’t see anything.
“Fortunately I hit the downhill and could go faster. I managed to get away from them when the dogs couldn’t keep up with my downhill speed.”
During a stint in Tanzania, he ran out of water in the middle of the desert. “Having not quite recovered from contracting malaria, I was very weak. I was pedalling in soft sand without getting anywhere in 40-degree heat. At some point I couldn’t see anything anymore and I collapsed.
“Next thing I realised was my expedition partner Steven was dragging me under a shade of a Baobab tree. We sat there without moving until fortunately a four-by-four passed by and came to our rescue. It was a survival situation. Once we got to the nearest town I was taken to the hospital and realised that I had suffered a heatstroke.”
Yet for every scrape with death, the explorer has a myriad of unforgettable and life-affirming experiences. “Standing on the edge of the territory of isolated tribes in the Amazon was a feeling I can’t describe,” he says, “The fact that there are people out in the jungle who are living in isolation without contact with the outside world blew my mind.”
“The highlight of my Kapp to Cape expedition was Dagestan. I heard so many scary stories and was so nervous to go there. But once I got there I saw nothing but incredible people and kindness.
Madagascar is another place that makes my heart beat. One of the poorest places on earth, but its people have a lot of dignity.”
Pakravan hopes that his tales will encourage others to pack their suitcase and head somewhere off the beaten track.
“If you rely on the Foreign Office website you won’t even leave Europe,” he says, only half-joking. “The more you travel, the more you realise people are all the same. We may talk different languages and have different beliefs but there are more similarities than differences.
You really see this when you travel the world with a bike. My films reflect this fact. Iran, for example, is the opposite of everything you hear in the press. It’s incredibly safe and people are utterly generous and kind.
They would stop us on the road and offer us food and shelter without wanting anything in return.” But while his daring lifestyle might suggest otherwise, Pakravan admits that he was “absolutely petrified” by the idea of leaving behind the security of a regular office job. “I decided to launch my career as a professional adventurer by cycling the length of the planet from Norway to South Africa in record time.
At the start of my journey in Nordkapp my feet were shaking on the pedals at the prospect of what was ahead of me career-wise. I kept thinking what am I doing to my career having spent 10 years getting to quite a senior position. I was constantly thinking —what if I don’t get this right?”
In hindsight his advice for anyone toying with the idea of ditching the day job for a life of adventure is to plan. And then plan some more. Otherwise you’re doomed to end up back in that office swivel chair, he says. “Come up with a plan and implement it gradually. It took me four years from the day I made up my mind in Madagascar
until I made it happen. During those four years I had to use all my holidays doing various smaller expeditions to learn and build my profile, to be able to pay my bills from adventuring.
“I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I went to a film school and learned the craft of filmmaking so I can make a living out of adventure-travel filmmaking. I planned to write and publish my experiences in form of a book and blog. “But once you have that plan, don’t give up on it. It’s hard at times but you have to persist. It will all pay off in the end.”
Now, Pakravan has no regrets. “Once you are addicted to adrenalin there is no way back. You are hooked.”