Q&A with Ash Dykes: Explorer, Extreme Athlete and Motivational Speaker
Ash Dykes, Shares Some of His Biggest Challenges and How He Uses Worst-Case Scenario Visualisation to Tackle the Life-Threatening Situations.
This month, we were lucky enough to catch up with one of our newest speakers to the Prime Performer’s Agency: Ash Dykes.
Ash is a well-known explorer, extreme athlete, motivational speaker and three-time world first-record holder. In 2015, he was awarded National Adventurer of the Year, after completing a solo trip in Mongolia, trekking 1,500 miles over the Altai Mountains, through the Gobi Desert & across the Mongolian Steppe, all whilst pulling 120kg (18st) of survival supplies on a homemade trailer.
More recently, Ash became the first person to walk the length of the third longest river in the world — the Yangtze River — a 4000 km journey that took almost a year to complete.
Some of the challenges he has faced include:
- Contracting the deadliest form of Malaria in Madagascar
- Almost dying of dehydration in the Gobi Desert
- Coming within dangerously close proximity to bears and wolves whilst trekking the Yangtze.
Now back in the UK, Ash has been featured on leading podcasts, delivered motivational corporate talks, and is a TEDx speaker, just to name a few.
His stories are eye-opening, inspiring and motivational, encouraging his audience to take a different perspective in the way they frame challenges and react to fear.
We caught up with Ash to find out more about his incredible experiences and how he uses them to inspire those around him.
What inspired your initial drive for adventure, and, in particular, a desire to not take the conventional ‘backpacker’ route?
It was a number of things. The first was a lack of budget. I set off at the age of 19 after working a ridiculous amount of hours back home in Wales to save up the funds I needed, but when I arrived in Cambodia, I found I was spending a lot on overland transport, hotels etc. So I said to my friend, look, let's, let's find a way to save money.
I was also really passionate about the experience I could gain from travelling — meeting the locals, getting to know their traditions, their culture. So, we got some cheap bicycles and cycled the length of Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam. This is what I was doing in the early days when I was only 19, but my passion and desire for adventure just kept growing.
What led you to go from embarking on an adventure, to attempting a world record, the first of which was the 1,500-mile journey over the Altai Mountains and across the Gobi Desert in Mongolia?
After the initial trip, I completed lots of other trips across Southeast Asia and Australia, including hitchhiking across the north of Australia and cycling the southern section of Australia. At 22, I was living in Thailand as a Muay Thai fighter and scuba dive instructor, but I started to miss my previous adventures. I think from that point, I came up with the idea to take on an adventure across Mongolia. I wanted to rely solely on myself to survive. And that was when I started to take it seriously because I realised it was not a case of winning or losing, it was a case of living or dying. And so that's when I thought you know, I really need to be on point with the planning and training.
Nobody had completed a solo, unsupported trip across Mongolia, and at the time, only a Royal Navy soldier had attempted and failed the trip three times. Did this make you doubt your ability to complete the mission?
I didn't have a military background and I was very mindful that someone older and more experienced, especially back then, had attempted the mission and been unsuccessful. So, yes, there was a lot of doubt, and I was very scared about the Mongolian trip, I must admit. But I also knew that just because no one had found a way to do it, didn’t mean it couldn’t be done. With the right logistics, the right planning, and the right training — Yeah, I did have that belief.
That got me excited, but I had a lot of doubt because I had only ever cycled to countries where there were roads, people, water, and safety, whereas, in Mongolia, there would be none of that. I would have to go maybe at least a week without seeing a single human. I would be out there against the snow blizzards, against the sandstorms. I would be stalked by a pack of wolves. I would have to pull the trailer behind me that weighed the same weight as Tyson Fury (18 Stone /120 kilogrammes). And I had to pull that for 78 days across the world's harshest environment, and the doubt was there because I had never done anything like that before.
How did you overcome that doubt and mentally prepare for the mission?
I'm a big believer in the law of attraction and visualisation. Many people only think of the highs when they visualise — crossing the finish line, getting the goal, achieving a university degree — but I think of the worst-case scenarios: ‘If there are wolves, expect the attack. If there are snow blizzards, expect them to be big. In my mind, if I'm thinking of the worst-case scenario, at least it wouldn't come as a surprise and send me into shock when it came. It was something I anticipated, meaning there was no feeling sorry for myself, I just had to deal with it and struggle on through. I think that's a good way to look at it — visualising the dark times as well, not just the highs.
What was it like filming for National Geographic whilst trekking 6,437km of the Yangtze River over 352 days?
6 weeks into the expedition, 10 of the 16 people who joined me, were all evacuated and left the mission due to altitude sickness, a landslide, and fear of wildlife. We were there in the wrong season, where the bears were actively searching for food before hibernation. It was tough. 70% of the documentary ended up being self-filmed. My life was still very much in danger. I felt comfortable in numbers, but then they would bail and I’d be on my own. It was scary and worrying.
When I finished the mission, I had a surge of excitement and realisation that I’d completed it and I didn’t have to wake up and walk the next day. I had members of the public, celebrities, and my family joining me for the last few kilometres. After the mission, I was suddenly constantly on call to radio stations and TV shows, and I felt ecstatic. The Yangtze was that trip that made it for me — it was big news, and from then I was invited on The Joe Rogan Experience, and my adventures started developing real traction in the media, both in the UK, China and globally.
What’s next on the cards for your adventures?
We’ve just finished the 6-part documentary of the Great Wall of China, which I hope will air soon. Once that airs at the beginning of next year, it’s a case of just keeping going with the next adventure, the next TV show. I’ve got lots in the pipeline — A couple of TV concept ideas, and a couple of world-first records.
Ash is an incredible motivational speaker for any event.
- Mindset & mental health
- Overcoming adversity
- Life lessons learnt from the extreme
- The importance of knowing the difference between motivation and discipline.
To book Ash for your next event, call us on 01943 611015 or fill in an enquiry form.