Explorer Ed Stafford: 'All my experiences have taught me different lessons about life'
Explorer Ed Stafford talks about how much he's learned from his adventures, and how he hopes today's kids will strive to have their own escapades, writes Lisa Salmon
Explorer Ed Stafford may have tackled snakes and machete-wielding tribesmen in his record-breaking attempt to walk the Amazon, but his latest challenge may be equally daunting - to encourage kids to have their own adventures.
The 40-year-old, who's engaged to fellow explorer Laura Bingham, has loved adventure from an early age, and with Father's Day on Sunday, he credits his dad for giving him the bug.
"Dads often end up being the ones given the responsibility to advocate adventure - it was my dad who pushed me into Cubs, where I had my first adventures, and playing rugby. I'm glad he did.
"I think that level of traditional male support is really important. It's not that mums can't give it, it's just that it often ends up being dads."
Stafford is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the first person to walk the length of the Amazon, a two-and-a-half-year 6,000-mile journey that he completed in 2010.
"Walking the Amazon is the biggest thing I've done - it's something I'm incredibly proud of," he says, although he points out that his next project, when he lived on a deserted tropical island for 60 days without any pre-provided food or equipment, was "equally, if not more, intense".
"The isolation had huge ramifications in terms of what I learned about myself," he remembers.
"All my experiences have taught me different lessons about life.
"But I don't consider myself an adrenaline junkie and I'm not using this as an escape. It's almost the opposite - these challenges, and being humbled by different things like the stress of not being able to get a trap working, end up teaching me things I can use in everyday life."
While he's not suggesting kids should attempt adventures on his epic scale, Stafford does think children should be introduced to adventure with at least a bit of risk.
"It's really important for their heart rate to go up and for them to try activities where there's a possibility of them hurting themselves or getting lost or disorientated - not in a life-threatening way, but in a way they can learn from," he says.
To help parents find initial 'safe' adventures, Stafford is promoting the current Fruit Shoot Mini Mudders, a series of one-mile obstacle course mud runs held throughout the UK for children aged between seven and 12 years.
Contrary to popular belief, many children don't want to be in front of the computer all day - a Mini Mudder survey found almost half (47%) would prefer to be outside.
"Kids and adults spend lots of time in front of computers, and as a result, there's a real yearning to have more tangible, real experiences that are more exhilarating," Stafford observes.
"It's never been more popular to go on adventures, because of the detachment of everyday life. It's really important that we try to facilitate it."
Stafford recalls how as a nine or 10-year-old child in the Cubs, he took part in night exercises to navigate a rural course alone in the dark.
"It was terrifying, but extraordinarily rewarding when you realised the skills you'd learned had got you to the place you wanted to go," he recalls.
He laments the fact children are more "wrapped-up" these days, as he believes taking at least small risks helps them learn some valuable lessons.
"A lot of the things I did as a kid wouldn't be allowed today, and I think that's a real shame because, for me, the difference between play and adventure is risk. Risk is important because it teaches kids to be responsible for themselves - I think the more you wrap kids up the less they learn from these activities." He stresses that controlled risk is very important, and points out: "We mollycoddle our kids too much and we worry too much. Anything that kids learn from, that you can't learn in a classroom, like looking after yourselves, will give them more self-esteem and confidence."
Although he doesn't have children yet, Stafford hopes that when he does, they'll be up for an adventure - and with parents like him and Bingham, any offspring are bound to have an innate love of adventure.
"I'm getting married in September," he says, "and fingers crossed we'll have kids before too long. I really, really want to be a dad, and I'd like to be the sort of dad that gently pushes his kids into doing really adventurous stuff.
"I'm not talking about unnecessary risk, because I'm not reckless, but I want them to do things that are exciting so they can learn how to stand on their own two feet and learn to make their own decisions."
Despite his constant adventuring - he's spent just five nights in his new house since he bought it in January - Stafford confesses: "I really, really want to do boring things.
"I dream of having enough time to cut the grass, and ironing in front of EastEnders would be amazing. But I'm not complaining - I'm making hay while the sun shines and it's definitely a lucky position to be in."
- For more information about Mini Mudder, visit www.fruitshoot.com/minimudder/great-britain/events