A Life Less Ordinary

is a collaboration between writer Mark Pawlak and photographer Julia Horbaschk.

It captures the spirit of people leading less ordinary lives through adventures and reveals what inspires them.

The project started at the Adventure Travel Film Festival and is heading off around the world in search of inspiring characters.

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Julia ︎︎

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A Life Less Ordinary 04
Richard Rothwell
Photo: Vincent Campbell

About Rich:

Rich has always been an adventurous outdoor type. From a young age he surfed, skateboarded and rode bikes. Then he stepped up from riding for fun to competing at the highest level in ultra-distance mountain bike events. A top 10 placed rider in the World 24hr Solo Championships, and winner of Masters medals at the British National Marathon Championships, Rich rides in all weathers, to the edge of endurance.

Were you introduced to adventure or did you find it?

When I was young, I got dragged around places like the Pennines and Scotland by my parents. This felt particularly harsh as my school friends had holidays in places like Majorca and Mallaga. However, in retrospect, it prepared me for enduring wild places and ‘inclement’ weather.

As a teenager I definitely went looking for adventure; heading off on my bike towards the Scottish borders, going further each time, and bivvying in a bush, or sleeping in a sand dune. I also travelled pretty extensively in my younger years. This was often on surfing trips, which led to some pretty epic journeys searching out the best remote spots. However, I settled on mountain biking, and I’ve always loved long long rides in rough and wild terrain.

I’ve really got the ultra endurance bug and I had my eyes opened when I completed the Highland Trail 550 last year. I’ll be travelling to Colorado in 2018 for the Colorado Trail Race – it’s a bucket list mountain bikepacking race through huge mountains – this is definitely my bag! 

Photo: Andy MacCandlish

Do you think it’s in your nature to push yourself further, faster etc?

I guess I have the ability to really put myself through it for long periods of time. I’m not super fast, but I really can keep pushing beyond the point where my body is saying stop. I like the ‘experiment’. What will happen to my body and mind if I just keep going for another few hours? A few days? I’m curious, and very interested in the limits of mental and physical endurance. I enjoy the sensations of being at my physical limit after riding for many many hours. We can keep going so much longer than we think, if we decide to commit. The feeling of coming out the other side of something that stretches you to the limit is immensely satisfying and I think the experience is empowering and visceral. So yes, it’s a satisfying primitive experience and one that I enjoy exploring.

Photo: Rich with Ant White

Some people just don’t see the appeal of an adventurous/ outdoor life - what are they missing?

There are so many moments of elation, emotion, and sheer intensity of being that I cannot imagine life without outdoor adventure! On a more philosophical and slightly ironic level, I think people who live a more ‘comfortable’ life do not truly appreciate comfort! Being in the situation where you can only focus on what you need (not what you want) is something that I think many people could benefit from. On a freezing bikepackng trip, something as simple as getting comfortable and warm in your sleeping bag in a sheltered corner of a farm building, feels like heaven! Riding all morning before stopping for a hot coffee feels like luxury! Eventually getting home, sitting on a sofa and eating a curry is indescribable! This process has made me really appreciate what we really need; warmth, food, shelter (and of course the love of my amazing family!). Everything else is decoration. 

Photo: Callum Swift

Are there techniques you use to focus when you are super tired?

I remind myself that I have been here before and got through it. I’ve only had the experience of complete physical melt down once or twice before, but even that was a combination of mind and body ceasing to cooperate. When the going gets very tough, I tell myself that it’s my mind that will get me through; my body will keep working as long as I keep feeding and watering it. I tell myself to keep going, one step at a time, get to the top of that hill, push through the next hour, then take stock. By then, you will probably be through the bad patch and if not, then refocus on the next horizon. It’s a rollercoaster and incredible how you can lift yourself up after feeling like you are on your knees and sinking.
Photo: Passing walkers

Have your experiences outdoors changed you in your day-to-day life?

Definitely! A 14 hour work day doesn’t feel quite as hard anymore. A lot of the tiredness we feel is mental and we can override that. I have an outdoor job so I’m in my element when I’m working outside. If I’m working inside behind a computer, it actually feels like a bit of treat, especially in the winter! Oh, and I’m always hungry and I never feel cold! I don’t think I could ever have a ‘normal’ job or a ‘normal’ life. I live strange hours that don’t fit a 9 to 5 existence and I like it that way. I’ll work or ride at night or early morning; I’m used to that and comfortable with it. Living in an outdoor adventurous life has made me more flexible!

Good gear helps but mentally how do you face the elements when you’re at their mercy?

Good gear and preparation is SO important. When I was a younger, I would ride in the Lake District in the winter in football shorts and a sweatshirt because I had nothing else! It was miserable and brilliant all at once! I knew no better but I was out there doing it! I could not go back to that again though! Good gear and planning for the elements is critical and can make or break a big ride, but there is no getting away from the fact that sometimes it’s just rough out there. I’m quite lucky; I like wild weather in wild places. It keeps me sharp and focused because I have to be. When racing I use it to my advantage. I figure that other people are hating the conditions and want it to stop. I apply reverse psychology and tell myself that they might quit, so I definitely won’t. This is a very powerful tool. No good if your bike falls apart and you can’t feel your hands and feet, though so preparation is key.

Photo: Exposure Lights

It’s said that travel broadens the horizons. Do you think having adventure in your life does the same?

It’s not so much that it broadens my horizons, rather it changes my perspective on what is around me every day. It keeps me fresh and invigorated and my brain is always ticking over. Keeping in good shape for the big challenges is also a year round process and that keeps me motivated and looking for the next big adventure. 

Bright sunshine and crisp, cold air; can you sit in the house or do you feel you have to make the most of it?

I have so many opportunities to get outside that I don’t sweat it! If it’s time to ride, I’ll ride. The weather is neither here nor there. A nice day is a bonus when you live in the north east of England!

Photo: Jason Woodhouse

How important has it been to get your children out from an early age and how did they take to it?

My son James is something of a phenomenon! He’s six years old and absolutely loves riding his bike! He started on a balance bike as soon as he could get on it. This weekend just gone, we did a bothy overnighter. A round trip of 35 miles with 900m of climbing. On very rough ground. Oh, and it had two inches of snow and was minus three! He loved it! Never complained. Never slowed down and rode with the skill level of a very competent adult! It’s very important for us that he is healthy and active. It’s just great that he enjoys mountain biking as much as I do! If he didn’t enjoy it, I would accept it, but as long as he keeps showing enthusiasm, and coming back smiling, I’ll keep giving him the opportunities to do it. It’s very sad the to see the effect that our Health and Safety, liability ridden, indoor lifestyles are having on children generally. Not in our house!

Are there things we can all share in adventure that aren’t exclusive to endurance or extreme activities?

I guess the big thing about adventure is that, if you think back on those experiences, you don’t remember the gear, the kit, or the physical aspects. You remember the people and places you have visited or travelled through. Adventure is a very simple pleasure and is remarkably accessible. As we found out on our recent winter bothy trip, you don’t need to go to far flung places to have an adventure and the memories were the conversations, the shared experiences, and excitement of riding over fresh snow in the middle of the night, miles from anywhere!

Rich rides a Trek Top Feul 9.8sl for Team Cycles and is a Director at Cycling Generation; a cycle skills, leading and guiding company in the north east of England. He has a bike mad six year old son and a very patient wife…

Catch up with him, here: