Risking all ‘intelligently’

2013-09-09 00:00

HE was the first person to cycle around Africa and, later, to circumnavigate Madagascar by kayak. More recently, he paddled more than 2 300 km around Iceland. Now, Cape-based adventurer Riaan Manser is planning an odyssey that will put the love of his life, Vasti Geldenhuys, in the limelight.

“She has stood by me for the past 14 years, through all my crazy trips. This trip will be about her. She is going to be the lead character — and it is going to be a massive inspiration for women,” Manser said in an interview this week.

“It will also provide us with a great stock of stories for the grandchildren we want to have someday.”

While he’s not giving much away about the expedition until its launch in November, Manser did reveal that the four-month long trip will begin in mid-December in New York and will require that both he and Geldenhuys, a lawyer, are super fit before they leave.

“This is going to be a trip that captivates the imagination of women — and inspires them to be adventurers. Throughout my years as an adventurer, I have had numerous women coming up to me to tell me how much they want to do these kind of trips,” Manser said.

“To incorporate a woman in an adventure will be ticking another important box for me. Girls also want to do adventure. They want to travel and see crazy places.

“Vasti is going to be doing that on behalf of a lot of other women now. And I will be right there beside her.”

In 2003, Manser set off on a circumnavigation of Africa by bicycle, a trip that took two years and saw him cycling about 90 km a day, often in extreme conditions. He travelled 36 500 km through 34 countries, during which he had numerous adventures. This included being taken hostage by Liberian rebels and thrown into jail by border police in Equatorial Guinea.

In 2006, he was named Adventurer of the Year by Out There magazine . And, in 2009, he set another world first by becoming the first person to circumnavigate Madagascar — the fourth largest island in the world — alone and unaided in a kayak.

The 5 000 km trip took place at a time of political conflict in Madagascar and Manser even spent two nights in prison after being accused of mercenary activities.

But neither of these trips was a match for his 2 300 km circumnavigation of Iceland in a sea-kayak between March and September 2011. He was accompanied by Dan Skinstad, who has mild cerebral palsy.

In his book, Around Iceland On Inspiration, Manser described the trip as his toughest challenge yet, mainly because he was required to take responsibility for another person’s life.

Manser is in high demand as a motivational speaker in-between trips. He said he felt “traumatised” by the expedition, which saw the pair facing harsh weather, physical exhaustion, numerous logistical nightmares and many life-threatening situations.

Worst of all were the draining and often tense dynamics between the team that accompanied Manser and Skinstad on their trip — as well as serious tensions between the two of them, which remain to this day.

He described the book as “a coming-of age-book” in which he spoke honestly about the huge challenges that come with such an ambitious trip. “It’s not all candyfloss and lollipops,” he said.

These days he uses his experiences to assist big international companies that are going through tough transitions and need to have discussions about “real leadership” in seemingly impossible situations.

“I am not just an entertainer who says, ‘look at this big mountain I climbed’. I speak openly about my failures,” he said.

The forthcoming trip, Manser said, will make daunting physical demands involving “the sea and the land” as well as bicycles and kayaks — and, as is par for the course, will more than likely see them risking their lives.

“It is going to be a very creative adventure, a monster project which nobody else has ever done or even thought of doing. It will amaze you,” he said.

While he has a great deal of experience out of his comfort zone, this time, it will be Geldenhuys’s chance to do the same.

“She is a lawyer who works in court all day. People will be amazed to watch her as she leaves her comfort zone to go to places she should never be.

“But we are doing this together because we want to get married maybe and have children and grandchildren to share our stories with.”

When we met for our interview, Manser was suffering a broken bone in his wrist from a recent bike fall, as well as torn ligaments in his knee as a result of a recent skiing trip in Canada. “I haven’t been able to do any exercise. It’s been bad. People don’t understand that this is my business. This is what I do, but I have to keep reminding myself that in 14 years I have not had any major injuries.

“But I just see this as part of my story. I have to show tenacity and say a broken wrist is par for the course.”

According to Manser, Geldenhuys is already very fit. “She also has tenacity. She definitely has what it takes.

“Our slogan for the next journey is ‘Risking Everything Intelligently’. I will never sit in a kayak and risk my life for someone who expects me to risk my life for them every day, but does not love me. I have learnt that I am only prepared to do that for somebody who loves me and would do the same for me,” said Manser.

He added: “This journey will be the maturing of Riaan Manser. I will be at the side of the woman I want to spend the rest of my life with.”

Recalling how, on his first trip, he was seen off by “five friends and a dog” at the Waterfront, Manser said the next trip will be “me going back to Riaan Manser style”.

“We have an amazing opportunity with Discovery Channel and we intend having an 80/20 split on commentary in the documentary produced. When we have press conferences, most of the questions will be answered by Vasti.”

Of the forthcoming adventure, Manser said: “When we stand proudly at the finish line, we will be proud. Other women will see what Vasti has achieved — and will feel empowered and inspired.”

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