Introducing Grant Axe Rawlinson, the human-powered adventurer

I’ve just been reading From Peak to Peak by Grant ‘Axe’ Rawlinson, about a three-week journey from the summit of Ruapehu, the highest point in New Zealand’s North Island, to the summit of Mount Cook, the highest point in the South Island.

From Peak to Peak, by Grant 'Axe' Rawlinson
From Peak to Peak, by Grant ‘Axe’ Rawlinson

Axe describes himself as a human-powered adventurer. What this means (apart from having me yearning to meet a battery powered one) is that he picks adventures that he is able to complete without resorting to motorised transport.

His New Zealand peak-to-peak challenge involved him and teammate Alan climbing Ruapehu, paddling down the Wanganui River to its mouth, then cycling to the southern tip of the North Island near Wellington. From there they paddled across the Cook Strait to the South Island, cycled 724km to the Southern Alps, and rounded it all off by climbing 3,754m Mount Cook, the highest mountain in New Zealand. Just to make it a little more challenging for themselves, they had to do it all in 23 days so that it fitted into a three-week holiday from work.

From Peak to Peak is a short book of just 176-pages, but it is nicely written in a down-to-earth manner and professionally edited. There is plenty of humour, some enjoyable anecdotes, and some nice interplay between the two main characters, Axe and Alan, who are of contrasting character but seem to complement each other well. Axe is a motivational speaker, and unsurprisingly there is quite a lot of reflecting on the nature of adventure and the things that motivate him in life, which will appeal to some people.

If I have any complaint with the writing I would say there are perhaps times when Axe provides just a little too much information, such as this passage here.

Not sure we needed that image of your crown jewels, Axe ...
Not sure we needed that image of your crown jewels, Axe …

For those of you who have read my book, Seven Steps from Snowdon to Everest, Axe needs no introduction. He was my garrulous tent mate on my Everest summit push in 2012, who liked to blog about the number of ways he could die on the mountain, and was able to eat freeze-dried meals for New Zealand, even at 8,200m, while I could only pick at snacks. He raced to the summit and back, then spent a lonely five hours in our tent wondering if I would ever return alive.

Our journeys have diverged since Everest. I’m still the guy who works for a bit, then goes on holiday and writes about his holiday. Although they are probably more adventurous than most, I don’t pretend that my adventures are particularly intrepid or pioneering. I hope that the way I write about them is entertaining, though, and this is as much my purpose in life as the adventuring itself.

Axe is more what you would describe as a professional adventurer. He is a public speaker, and raises the funding for his adventures from corporate sponsorship.

He also has other unusual methods of raising funds, which I must admit I’ve never thought of doing. He completed the challenge in 2013 and published the book in 2014, after raising $5,000 for its publication via a crowdfunding website. I promised him I would help out by buying a copy for $15. I was a bit taken aback to discover it would cost another $25 for him to post the book from Singapore, where he lives. I took solace in the $40 price tag by considering that the book would be autographed, and Axe would be sure to include an abusive message in the front cover, penned in his pithy Kiwi humour.

Imagine my disappointment when the book arrived and all I found inside was this squiggle. I doubt I could even use it with Axe’s credit card to buy a new down suit.

For once Axe seems to have been lost for words
For once Axe seems to have been lost for words

The book had been sitting on my shelf for a while. Since it had cost so much I thought I would save it for a really special occasion. I was finally motivated into reading it after following his latest challenge, Rowing from Home to Home, which is in a different league of adventurousness altogether.

Axe spent most of last year promoting and preparing for the major challenge of rowing from his home in Singapore to his birthplace in New Zealand’s North Island. This time his journey covers an astonishing 12,000km and involves rowing through the Indonesian archipelago, crossing to Australia, then cycling across most of North-East Australia, before rowing across the Tasman Sea to New Zealand.

It was a major logistical challenge getting ready for it. He has effectively been carrying out a major project with a quarter of a million dollar budget. This has involved raising funds, and assembling a formidable team to help him plan the route, get all the necessary paperwork and permits filed, and plan where to resupply. He’s had a state-of-the-art rowing boat called Simpson’s Donkey built especially for the expedition.

The boat even has one of those special desalinator things you can pee into in order to produce drinking water (apparently you can use it with seawater too). Axe has previous experience in this area, which he has hopefully been able to learn from. At Camp 3 on Everest he needed to melt some of my frozen urine in order to empty my pee bottle, and managed to set fire to our tent in the process. In the rarefied air above 8,000m, this takes a special kind of talent.

It’s been interesting following the build up to his challenge, and I take my hat off to him just getting to the start line. If he’d capsized the boat within a few hundred metres of setting off from Singapore I would still have been impressed with everything he has achieved so far. Luckily he didn’t capsize in the first few hundred metres, and he seems to be doing rather well. He set off in early January and has already covered 1,000km. At the time of writing, he has recently set out from Bali and is continuing along the coast of the southern Indonesian islands.

If you’re interested in what it takes to be a professional adventurer, Axe’s team has been producing some super professional videos to catalogue his journey so far. There have been many challenges along the way, and there will be many more to come. One of these is going to be successfully communicating with his rowing partner, Charlie, who is from Essex. Axe’s language training has included watching episodes EastEnders, which took some real dedication. This latter fact also means Charlie’s urine is likely to contain a higher percentage of alcohol. So unless the desalinator has some way of processing it, both rowers are eventually going to have difficulty rowing in a straight line.

I’m in awe of what Axe has done and is still doing since we both stood on the summit of Everest on 19 May 2012. If you’re keen to know more then I can recommend reading his book, following his Facebook page or reading his blog. True to form the blog also contains a list of the main life-threatening hazards he hopes to avoid along the way.

Meanwhile here’s the most recent example of those super professional videos that have me yearning for the days when all YouTube videos were as amateurish as mine.

Watch on YouTube

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