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Fearghal O'Nuallain explains why you should go to to the Explore conference at the Royal Geographical Society

It all started at Explore 2007. I’d been planning to circumnavigate the globe with my old friend Simon Evans. Everyone we’d told about our plans said we were bonkers. 30,000km on a bicycle for 18months through 30 countries seemed like an audacious plan. What about money, food, visas, terrorism? Surely the altitude would get us in the Andès or the heat in the Taklamakan or we’d disappear in the Stans or be arrested as a spy in Iran? These were the naive suggestions that friends and family gave us. Well intentioned, but not based on fact or personal experience.

Was it possible we wondered or was it foolish. We needed to hear from people who really knew what was going on in the world. Not because they’d read it in a newspaper or seen a program on it, but because they’d been out in the world and were connected to it. I did a bit of googling and stumbled across Alastair Humphreys, a long distance cyclist and prolific blogger. A post on Explore, and annual conference for Exploration and Research at the Royal Geographical Society caught my eye so we booked two Ryanair flights and two nights in a hostel in South Kensington.


Paul Deegan gave the opening address, drawing on Paul Sagan’s pale blue dot metaphor as a call to arms for critical and sensitive exploration. After that we were sold! In the Ondaatje Theatre our grand plans seemed more than doable. Al facilitated the adventure cycling workshop and assured us that we had nothing to fear. Ben Saunders facilitated the communications workshop and encouraged us to share our story from the field (and to join Twitter). Shane Winser was the ring master for the whole weekend helping shy types like us network, working the room like a master. Little did I know that she’d become a mentor and that a decade later I’d be missing Explore because I’d be leading an expedition of my own.


If I haven’t been on an expedition, I’ve attended every Explore since sitting on the Education, and Human Sciences panels and chairing writing panel. Each year I come away fizzing with ideas and the buzz of hanging out with like minded people. The RGS is a special place, where you can rub shoulders with people who actually can actually answer your questions about cycling around the world, or climbing K2 or skiing solo to the South Pole. But also, people who will ask you questions in return. What are you trying to achieve? Have you properly researched your claims?


Michael Palin, Nicholas Crane, David Attenborough, Ran Fiennes have drank in the bar. Darwin ate supper there when he returned from his journey on the Beagle. Hilary planned the first assent of Everest there with his team. In an age of plastic adventure stardom on Instagram the RGS stands as a totem to meaningful journeys past and present. We're honoured to be travelling under its standard to be making my small contribution to Geographic knowledge and helping further that knowledge with educational resources.


I’m also sorry to be missing Explore this year though I feel like I have an acceptable excuse.


Make sure to tune in for our week daily broadcasts @3.30pm GMT to learn about the journey and the Geography and Science of the terrain we’ll be passing through. Don’t worry if you miss the start of the broadcast as they’ll be available for viewing for 24hrs afterwards. We’ve also got some limited places for one to one class sessions so be sure to email to book one for your class. And if you’d like to hear all about the adventure and do some expedition planning and digital mapping workshops sign your school up for the RoadShow in 2018 (places are filling up fast so book now to avoid missing out).

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