In this interview I catch up with firefighter and British human powered adventurer Scott Butler, to hear about his latest expedition to climb Mt Elbrus, the highest mountain in Russia and the continent of Europe. His climb has an interesting twist as he is not starting at the base of the mountain but from his home in the UK, some 2550 miles away!
[Axe] Hi Scott, thanks for taking the time to talk. Can you tell us about your current expedition “Journey to Mt Elbrus”.
[Scott] Hi Axe, thanks for asking me! The Journey can be broken down into three stages – firstly the cycle which was a 2000 mile unsupported, fully loaded solo journey from the UK to the west coast of the Black Sea and the port of Burgas in Bulgaria. Secondly I aim to do a solo, unsupported, row 750 miles across the Black Sea to the port of Batumi in Georgia. Stage three involves the title of the trek – climbing Mt Elbrus just inside Russia which is the highest peak in Europe at 5642m and one of the seven summits (the seven summits are the highest mountains on each of the seven continents).
[Axe] What gave you the idea to attempt this journey?
[Scott] It all started with just the simple thought of “what next?!” I was just looking for my next challenge and climbing a mountain seemed like the next thing to do. From there I figured why fly all the way there? That body of water could be interesting to cross somehow… and it all just fell into place!
[Axe] In 2015 you set-off and had some bad luck, can you give us an overview of what happened?
[Scott] Wow! Yeah, it seemed if it could go wrong it would! I started with a failure of my sat nav and so from day two in France I was already off my planned route and trying to navigate by map and by phone. This is very time consuming and wasn’t helped when my phone gave up the ghost! Add to that broken spokes and punctured tyres, 40 degree heat and then the worst news. My car that was towing my boat; kindly being driven by friends Tim and Jason, blew its turbo 15 minutes into France!! Sadly, the car is still in France and not working and all attempts as getting the boat to Bulgaria never worked out despite valiant efforts by many.
[Axe] On a scale of 1 – 10 how disappointed were you when you when you realised you could not continue in 2015 and would need to postpone? Did you ever feel like giving up all together?
[Scott] Disappointed… yeah, that’s one way of describing it! I felt as though I had failed and let people down if I’m honest. I was lucky in one way in that I had the rest of the cycle to focus on, and tell myself that just the ride on its own was no mean feat. If 10 is the worst, the I’d say 8 or 9 at the time, but the support and well wishes of my followers helped me get through that. Giving up altogether was never an option!
[Axe] Has this journey been attempted before? If not – does being a ‘first’ make it more of an attraction to you?
[Scott] People have been cycling across Europe for decades and Elbrus has no doubt been climbed by thousands, but nobody has ever rowed across the Black Sea before so a World record is in the offing! I didn’t know this until I’d set my mind on this challenge so it wasn’t an incentive but certainly became a huge focus of the journey.
[Axe] What were the highlights of the 2015 stage?
[Scott] Austria was undoubtedly a huge highlight. The scenery along the Danube was breathtaking and camping literally meters away from the riverbank in a stunning valley was one of those moments where you think “It’s places like this that are why I do these things”. The Danube in general was a highlight- especially as I never planned to ride it! With the navigation problems an Englishman living in Germany that I bumped into suggested that I take the Danube as it was well signposted. It wasn’t straight but I could just knuckle down and it enabled me to knockout 140 mile days in the saddle.
But more than the scenery it was experiencing countries like Serbia where you wouldn’t necessarily visit. The further East I got the more friendly people became. That’s not to say I didn’t meet wonderfully kind people in the West, far from it! But I think the further East you get, the less cyclists there are and maybe people appreciate how far you’ve come to be there in that moment. Honking horns, people waving, thumbs up as they pass, being given free food and drink in exchange for photos with me, picking me up when stranded with a busted bike in Hungary when looking for bush to camp behind… it really was wonderful.
Not forgetting the other cyclists that I met! People from all over the world, heading in each direction, with different aims and daily mileage, but all out there searching for something. Brilliant.
[Axe] I understand you took a ferry across the English Channel, which obviously is not human power, did you ever consider human powered options for this portion and how important or non-important was it to you to make the trip as human powered as possible?
[Scott] As I mentioned before, the journey really only began as a jaunt up a mountain and slowly developed into the trip it became. The idea that I would make my way by human power was something that ‘just happened’. I did take a ferry over the channel – I looked into kayaking the channel but it proved to be too costly! I never made too much of it being all human powered and although there was some disappointment at having to take a ferry, ultimately I felt that I was covering enough miles by my own power! The problems with the boat and the extra cost ultimately made up my mind. Once this is competed and I have a few thing under my belt then ‘going the whole hog’ might be on the agenda!
[Axe] What were your biggest fears before you started the journey and how how did you manage these?
[Scott] Without being big headed, I didn’t have any fears. At least I didn’t allow myself to acknowledge any fears!
[Axe] Whats your biggest fear and challenge going into Stage 2 and 3?
[Scott] Again, no real fears, although, and you’ll laugh at this; my boat sinking!? Since I discovered that the boat I had bought was rotten inside, I’d spent all my time repairing something I had no knowledge of. With such tight time constraints I never managed to get the boat into the water to see if it floated!! People were incredulous that I was heading onto the Black sea without seeing if my repairs were seaworthy and in hindsight this was quiet irresponsible, but I was confident! At least now I get to test it in some actual water!
[Axe] Please tell us some more about your boat
[Scott] Pacific Pete is a 23ft 1997 Woodvale class plywood ocean rowing boat. It has crossed the Atlantic 5 times and was last owned by Geoff Allum who, along with his cousin rowed the Atlantic in 1971!! Geoff was a huge help and inspiration and I only hope I can justify his decision to sell it to me! By today’s standards it is old fashioned and heavy- but I like that about it! As you well know yourself Grant, this isn’t a cheap thing to undertake and Pete was in my price bracket. It was unfortunate that it turned out to need so much work, but neither Geoff nor I were to have known. Finally, it’s name. I’m honoured to carry the name Pacific Pete. Peter bird was the first man to row solo across the Pacific Ocean and he was a great friend of Geoff’s. Peter was sadly lost at sea on a further attempt at the pacific. It’s an honour to own and to be rowing such a legendary boat and one with such a legendary name attached.
[Axe] How much training, planning and preparation did you and are you doing for this expedition?
[Scott] Training wise I did at least a 10k row every day on the rowing machine, but usually 2 hour stints – sometimes 2 sets of 2 hrs and sometimes a 4 hour stint (mind numbing!). I’d also fit in weight training and running. Couple that with evening stints on the exercise bike at work and 50 to 80 mile bike rides. The planning was relatively simple, but the logistics and fundraising/sponsor seeking was hugely time consuming and to be honest with you quite demoralising! I’m no ‘blagger’! All in I took around 18 months to bring it all together… which made the last minute rush with the boat repairs quite galling!
[Axe] What are the top three lessons you have learnt from attempting this expedition? In hindsight would you do it again?
[Scott] Would I do it again? Absolutely! As soon as I got home I missed the ever changing scenery, the never knowing where my next meal was coming from or where I was going to sleep that night, meeting new and interesting people and challenging myself every single day.
Lessons? Hmmm… No matter how demanding my thirst or how pushed for time, you’ve got to eat. I’m well aware of the importance of nutrition and in my opinion I follow a diet that fits my training needs, but this seemed to go out the window when on my travels! Take spare spokes and… Bring a spare car!?!
[Axe] How can people follow your progress when you set-off again?
My website www.journeytoelbrus.com has a map linked to my GPS Spot system and I update my facebook page www.facebook.com/journeytoelbrus – which proved to be the greatest tool on my travels to keep people involved with little videos. Over 1500 people watched me run into the Black Sea!
This interview features in the Inspiring People section of my website. Not ‘inspiring’ in terms of making billions of dollars from raping the planet and the earth’s resources, but tales from ordinary people who do extraordinary things, who get out and make positive impacts, who send positive messages through the way they live their lives. We all have a part to play in our future. I am very excited to share these stories with you and if at least one of them can touch and inspire you to make positive changes then I will be very happy!