Dave Cornthwaite on Crossing the Atacama Desert By Whike

Dave on a whike
Dave on his trusty whike in Chile.

Dave Cornthwaite is a British ginger adventurer. He’s also likely one of the kindest and humblest people you’re likely to meet. He’ll be the first to emphatically explain to you why he’s no different than anyone else, despite the fact that he’s completed nine (soon to be 10) non-motorized expeditions of over 1000 miles, such as skateboarding across Australia, swimming the Missouri River, and stand-up paddle boarded the length of the Mississippi, which are not things that normal people do.

These expeditions are part Dave’s Expedition1000 Project, which is to complete 25 journeys of 1000 miles or more using non-motorized forms of transportation. The reasons behind these journeys are simple: 1) to raise money for the breast cancer charity CoppaFeel, and 2) to inspire other people to get off their fannys and do more of the things that enrich their own lives through his “Say Yes More” campaign.

On the evening of April 21st, 2014 Dave and his riding partners pulled into Calama, a mining village in northern Chile, as the sun set marking the end of his ninth expedition: crossing the Atacama Desert by whike (a recumbent tricycle with a sail on it). The following morning we hopped on a Google Hangout for our second interview (you can see the first here) to talk about whiking across Chile, how it compared to his other trips, and what he has planned for his next trips.

Below is an abridged Q&A with Dave. For the full interview, check out the video or grab the podcast below.

Matt: Good morning Dave. How are you feeling after finishing your Atacama Desert whike trip? You finished last night, is that right?

Dave: That’s right. I’m in Calama, a little mining town in the heart of the Atacama Desert. We crossed the 1000-mile mark last night just as the sun set around 8pm. We rolled into town in the dark, got to sleep in a proper bed, and feel awesome.

M: So, this was trip number eight, right?

D: This was actually trip number nine. So, only 16 to go now.

M: Just 16? That’s nothing. The whike is a pretty unique mode of transport. How was this trip different from others?

D: The whike has always interested me because it couples two ways to travel. You can pedal because it’s a recumbent tricycle, and it also has a sail so you can be wind-assisted when the conditions are correct. I chose Chile for this journey because the prevailing winds run from south to north. Ironically, most of the winds were prevailing in our face throughout the trip. We actually only ended up getting about four hours of sailing in and the rest was superbly hard pedalling. In 19 days we climbed over eighteen thousand meters—more than twice the height of Mt. Everest.

Dave skateboarding across Australia.
Dave skateboarding across Australia.

Some people have said that whikes can’t go up hills. They can go up hills. We proved it.

M: You were with a friend on this trip weren’t you? Who was that?

D: I was traveling with a couple of mates. One was Ned, who was one of the inventors of the whike who is just 21 years old. The other was my buddy Jamie who runs a startup called Only Bloody Human and is an amazing filmmaker and photographer. He came along to capture everything that happened and turn it into a short film.

M: You’re pretty used to doing these long trips. But how did your friends hold up?

D: I’m definitely used to doing these things now. I’m fairly good at plodding along and measuring everything. If I need to eat I eat, but not too much. If I need to sleep I sleep. You get into the mindset of getting through the slow menial process.

Ned and Jamie hadn’t really done anything like this but they fared brilliantly. They’re both superb guys. I haven’t always had the best luck with my expedition teams. It’s difficult when you’re in an intense fatiguing environment, but we’ve all ended up good friends.

M: It sounds like you put this trip together really fast. How was it logistically compared to others?

D: It’s something that gets better over time. It took me nearly two years to organize my first expedition. I think I had the idea for this one in January and by mid-April we were away.

It’s just a case of making a quick list. We want to do an expedition in Chile? OK. We need to get the whikes there. So, work out the shipping. But after that, let’s get some food and just peddle.

It doesn’t really take a great deal. Once you’re out there the costs are really low.

M: You had an accident right at the beginning of your bike-car trip. How was it being back on the highway for the majority of this trip?

D: I try to take control of almost every aspect of my life. When you do a trip on the road you cede some control to the drivers that you’re sharing it with. Getting hit is always my biggest fear.

Getting hit at 80mph four hours into that bike-car trip right outside of Memphis in 2012 was a massive shock. Luckily I walked away with nothing more than a slightly aching shoulder and completed the trip.

South Americans have a reputation for being, let’s put it bluntly, bad drivers. But Chile was the best country to do a road trip. I was blown away by the hospitality, awareness, and support. Every other driver tooted their horn at us. I felt safer on the roads here than any other place in the world.

Dave hasn’t chosen the modes of transport for all of his trips yet, and I’m thinking of joining him on one.

What do you think we should do? Dogsled the arctic? Cross-country ski Siberia?

Tell us in the comments below and maybe we’ll just do it!


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