Mr. Tom: ‘Minimal Impact is Cooler than Riding Roughshod Over People’s Cultures’

5 mins

Brit Tom Morgan, 38, is the founder of The Adventurists, the go-to company if you want to enrol on a crazy race – think flying over South Africa on a garden chair attached to helium balloons. But there’s money in the madness – the firm has donated almost £8 million to rainforest-saving pioneers Cool Earth and other worthy causes. By Mike Peake

How did you get into this, Tom?

Me and a friend bought an old car while studying in the Czech Republic and drove it in the direction of Mongolia. We never got there, but we had a great time and I discovered that I had the most fun when everything went horribly wrong. A few years later I set up the Mongol Rally, which is 10,000 miles across the mountains, desert and Steppe of Europe and Asia, and created a website, using the royal ‘we’ quite a lot and pretending it was all very well-organised. I thought thousands of people would come but only six teams signed up. The following few years it grew to 40 and then 200 teams and suddenly I realised it was either going to take over my life or I had to operate it as a sustainable entity.

You travel all over the world for crazy competitions with The Adventurists. Which has the most spectacular scenery?

They’re all different. The Mongol Derby and the Mongol Rally are obviously in Mongolia and that’s one of the most epic countries on the planet. The Icarus Trophy is incredible too, because you’re flying a paramotor (a powered paraglider) over everything. And we upped the scenery stakes with an adventure called The Ice Run, on Lake Baikal in Russia. The cracking sounds of the ice underneath you as you thunder across the frozen surface at minus 40 is pretty incredible.

Where in the world are you given the warmest welcome?

Everywhere, really, and I think that’s partly because what we’re doing is so obviously stupid that people seem to warm to us. I generally find that once you get past their cultural nuances, people are roughly the same and pretty welcoming everywhere. Despite their bad reputation, I’ve found that Russians are surprisingly welcoming. There’s been a few times we weren’t welcome but it might not be politically expedient to list them in case we’re never allowed back!

The Adventurists

Tom flew 15 miles at 8,000 feet while strapped to a lawn chair and 100 giant helium balloons. Image: The Adventurists Facebook

Despite your slightly roguish side, there’s a responsible side to The Adventurists, too, such as insisting that no one abandons their clapped-out vehicle in a remote corner of the world. Why are things like that important?

Ultimately these adventures are awesome fun, and I think it would be slightly self-defeating to make a mess of the world whilst doing them. If you can do things in a way that has minimal impact, then that’s way cooler than riding roughshod over other people’s countries and culture.

What’s the appeal to you of your charity partner Cool Earth?

The appeal to me is that they are taking an incredibly practical approach to what they do, and they’re just unbelievably successful. I think they protect more rainforest than the UN or any other sovereign state combined. There’s no messing around with them either; they say what they mean and they do it, and they’re protecting the rainforest from a human point of view, rather than just putting a big fence around it. They’re working with local people to actually solve the problem, which is great.

When did you decide that getting people to contribute to charity was going to be part of the deal?

From the very beginning, and it’s as obligatory as we can make it without having to pay tax on all the donations. If we make it obligatory you have to pay tax, which is slightly self-defeating, but if we make it almost obligatory by putting lots of pressure on people and also by choosing good charities then we don’t get taxed a huge amount.

The Adventurists

The Icarus Trophy 2016 in Montana. Image: The Adventurists Facebook

How much have The Adventurists raised?

We’re at around £8 million (AED40m) so far. The teams have done really well. I probably assumed we’d be raising hundreds of millions of pounds straight away back when we started, but this is an awesome total and I’m really proud of it.

Do you find that entrants really get into the charity idea? Do they perhaps see it as a kind of righteous way to offset their lunacy?

That’s a good question. I think everyone’s primary motivation for doing something stupid has got to be the stupid thing itself, whether that’s climbing a mountain or whatever the adventure, otherwise you could just give all of your time and energy to raising money for charity. But I think it’s a bit of both. We’re flexible about what charities people raise money for, and some people have a personal attachment to the cause. They tend to be the best fund-raisers. But as long as the money comes in, we’re all good.

Do people get competitive about the fund-raising?

Yes, and we give awards for whoever raises the most. The highest anyone’s raised was around the £100,000 (AED 500,000) mark, which was a pretty amazing effort.

What have you learned about travelling to far flung places?

Patience is the key to learning – and that it will all be fine in the end. I think the biggest insight I’ve stumbled across is that whatever you do and wherever you go you should avoid planning. Try and get stuck or lost. It’s way more entertaining.

What do people often say they’ve learned about themselves after one of your adventures?

I’m a pretty blunt philosophical instrument so I don’t usually ask people anything deeper than ‘you alright?’ Plus, I think we should stop trying to learn about ourselves because we’re probably all pretty much variations on a theme of eat/procreate/sleep and we’d be better off learning about the world instead.

Lift off. Garden chairs over Africa

They only went and did it. Tom took to the skies of Africa after no small number of set backs. Looks like this adventure is a go. At some point soon we'll let you know how you too can waft across the sky on a crap garden chair by taking part in the world's most ridiculous air race. What shall we call it?

Posted by The Adventurists on Monday, October 23, 2017

To find out more about The Adventurists check out their website here

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