Story by David Rutter
Ripley Davenport is a desert explorer, a man who has built a reputation for pushing the boundaries in harsh environments. He has crossed the Namib Desert in Africa, the Karakum Desert in Central Asia, and has also crossed the Gobi Desert in Mongolia. He is not only an explorer of deserts, but also of the nomadic people that inhabit desert environments, and their way of life. Among other planned adventures, he is planning to take a team of would-be adventurers along with him on two journeys through the Gobi Desert in May, and September next year. Recently I posed a few questions for Ripley, with his answers below.
Tell me about your planned expeditions. Why did you choose them?
I have always been spellbound by the great steppes and deserts and the various cultures and I always seek a country that can offer a variety of landscapes including a desert environment. Deserts, for many people, hold a special attraction.
My planned expeditions are unique expeditions and will be conducted in the world’s most remote deserts, high plateau’s and the great steppes using traditional four-legged transportation such as camel, yak, horse, reindeer, husky, donkey and llama. Apart from the Gobi in 2011, I will be exploring and spanning the Atacama Desert in Chile in 2012 and Thar and Taklamankan Deserts.
2. Why desert exploration? What do you like and dislike about it?
I’ve always looked up to individuals that have pushed back the boundaries of their particular field or niche, and that was always a place I wanted to be myself: at the forefront, living life at the edge of the envelope. There’s a thrill in doing or creating something new, and I thrive on that. I hope also that my expeditions will inspire others, particularly young people, to follow their own dreams, and to be a bit more daring and passionate with their lives.
The desert is a special place. I love everything that comes wrapped in this nice little package and adore the feeling of isolation. Deserts have always been a part of rich cultures, history and have a unique environment.
The legends [of desert exploration are people] such as Jeremy Curl, Benedict Allen, Carla Perriotti, Michael Asher, Robyn Davidson, Frank Cole and Bruce Parry.
There’s nothing I dislike about being in the desert. It’s a wonderful place to immerse yourself in.
3. What have been the major challenges in getting the expeditions underway? And what challenges do you expect to face once you’re back out there in the desert?
Absolutely tons. There’s been a steady trickle of tribulations and most seemed impossible to navigate around at the time but we got there. It’s been challenging doing this all myself and I mean everything.
Doing this engages many different qualities and it is a duty worthy of the few things I have actually been good at – however odd they may seem. You need persistence, stubbornness and optimism in the face of hardship.
There’s no real hard thing about making anything happen. If you really want to do something then nothing obstructs your vision of doing it. The largest problem for most, I feel, is thinking too much about nothing and causing the big picture to be blurred by a pessimistic mind. Shut down to negative input and turn on to the goal you want to accomplish.
I know that the hardest is yet to come. The mental challenges of this expedition will be difficult and continuous and extremely magnified. Besides being away from home and family, I must adapt positively to the daily stress and risk of walking through an unforgiving terrain, and to a great deal of discomfort. It is the mind that keeps the body going. It’s that simple.
As for the challenges yet to come, the ones out in the desert, I’ll deal with them as they happen. There’s no need to think about it now. I know there will be daily problems but everything is doable and easily solved with a little optimism.
4. At The Outdoor Type we have delved into our memories to find our earliest memory of being in the outdoors. What is your earliest outdoor memory?
It’s hard to hit the nail on the head and locate that one outdoor memory that started it all especially when I was always attracted to the outdoors.
I believe we are all born explorers and adventurers. From a young age I was extremely curious by the unknown and had no fear. I didn’t need anything except my imagination, a few cheese sandwiches (essential survival food), a Mars bar and a packet of the finest salt and vinegar crisps backed up with a tin of pop. Dressed in my wellies, green parker and blue jeans I would normally hang out at a place called Bure Park close to where I lived. The area wasn’t really anything special but I always managed to find something to do and stayed there until darkness or until I was hungry.
The first flame was certainly ignited in the organisation run by Lord Baden-Powell called the Cub/Scouts. I joined the Cubs and slowly progressed to the Scouts and enjoyed the adventure, and I suppose the discipline that went along with it. The cubs was certainly my first experience of camping, and my first taste of real endurance would have been in the scouts in an event called “Night Owl”, where you basically walked all night to certain check points non-stop and were then subjected to various tasks like changing a car tire. It was all very real and exhausting and during a cold winter night. It was 12 hours of walking hell, being cold, wet, tired and hungry, but I loved it.
5. How did you become an “outdoor type”? What were the formative or defining experiences that lead to the life you live today?
There’s a whole packet of reasons. At school I was constantly told that I was lazy, I was a daydreamer, that I didn’t work hard enough, lacked motivation, and that I’d never go on to achieve anything in life. Years later, I was told by many people (often experts in their fields) that crossing the Namib Desert was “impossible”. One of the biggest things I’ve learnt is that we all have huge innate potential. I’ve amazed myself by achieving what I have, yet I’m also amazed that I don’t think I’ve yet come anywhere close to my limits. The more I do, the more I realise I’m capable of doing. If I’d listened to those who said I couldn’t do it, I’ve never even have taken the first steps on this journey.
The military did it. I was, as I said, always interested in the outdoors but the military taught me how to feel comfortable living in it and put the cherry on that cake, packed it up and sold it.
That was also my first taste of real fitness and I hated every minute of it. Surprising really when you think that I served 7 years in a special forces unit of the British Royal Navy and keeping fit was an every day event. Even today I hate running but do it because it’s all part of the big picture in doing what I do.
When I left the military in 1997, and after endless job refusals, I decided to follow my own path and create myself a purpose, so I began to plan my first real solo expedition to walk across the Namib Desert. That expedition was a tough one but it acted like a springboard and gave me the thirst and drive to continue my life as a adventurer. I know that if you want something out of life you have to reach out and grab it because no one will do it for you, and if they do they will not take the consequences of any failures. It’s best to pursue your own path and switch off to negative thoughts and input.
More information on Ripley and his expeditions can be found on his website: