The Art of Preparation - 4 Lessons From Grant "Axe" Rawlinson, Explorer

I have always been fascinated by the capacity of explorers to prepare for what seems impossible to achieve. The objective for them is not only to break records, but to come home safely. Although there will always be something out of their control, they minimize their risks by researching, mapping, and repeatedly visualizing their course as if they were there. Their ability to prepare should be an inspiration to all of us in the face of challenges.

I had the pleasure of meeting Grant “Axe” Rawlinson a few weeks ago in Singapore and asked him questions about preparation for his new expedition. Axe has over 50 expeditions on 5 continents under his belt, from the summit of Mt Everest, virgin peaks in Kyrgystan to the wilderness of Patagonia. Since 2010, he has committed himself to human-powered exploration, making massive journeys across oceans and continents completely “under his own steam”, as he puts it. His new challenge is the Tasman Sea, which is one of the most dangerous waters to cross in the world.

Axe, what are the five biggest challenges you anticipate for your new expedition?

"The biggest challenge, really, initially, is raising money to design and build a really specialist craft, a unique boat, which is human powered, but using a different kind of human power, something which has never been tried on the Tasman before. So, the biggest challenge is to come up with the money to finance the project.

And then, there are other things, which are very standard, such as the weather, choosing which time of the year to go…(that’s) a huge one… really try fitting in with life when you are a father, you run your own business and you are a husband. You don’t want to destroy anything in the process — your life, your balance, your relationship with your wife….so making sure you’ve got everything ok and you don’t let any particular area suffer to the point it will be destroyed in the process.”

Would you say that your next expedition consists 70% in preparation and 30% in effort?

“I think it is about 50-50. Preparation is huge, but effort on the expedition is huge too.”

How do you prepare mentally and physically for such an expedition?

Having a lot of experience on expeditions before helps me to prioritize what I need to do and what I don’t need to do. In the past, I wasted a lot of time in my preparation, but these days I know fairly much what to do. For instance, I spent months preparing my food supply for previous expeditions. Now I have all the system fine-tuned much more efficiently.

For me, the preparation is a very enjoyable part. I really enjoy preparing expeditions. I do a lot of analysis of weather, looking at weather patterns everyday to see how they change throughout the year. I also do historic kind of research on previous attempts or attempts in other parts of the world which are similar. So there is a big part being research.

Then, there is physical training, which is a whole lot of stuffs very similar to what you will be doing on the expedition, but the key to that is consistency and discipline doing it on a day-to-day basis.

The biggest thing to prepare for, really, is what happens if things go really wrong. A critical value of the expedition is always coming back, whatever decision you make and regardless of the expedition being a failure or success. You have to prepare for all the negative eventualities, all the issues, the challenges that come up, ways to avoid them coming up and what to do in the event they come up.”

You are an explorer, entrepreneur (motivational speaker). Although I am sure there is a lot of sacrifice and hard work involved, what pieces of advice would you give to someone interested in following the same path?

“I am living a life that I love. It has purpose and is extremely fulfilling. But it took a journey to get here…over 45 years. There were and are ups and downs and it has taken a lot of experience to realise what I don’t want and what I do want. So don’t expect things to land at your feet, be prepared to make sacrifices and big decisions in order to love a life which fulfills you.”

Thanks Axe! Wishing you good luck and fair journey!