Over the past decade, explorer Jamie Maddison has lived and adventured with eagle hunters in Western Mongolia, ridden horses 800 miles across Kazakhstan, worked with nomads on the border of Afghanistan, ran with camel herders in Uzbekistan, found ancient artefacts in the high mountains of Tajikistan, come off several galloping horses, been irradiated, fallen down two cliffs, had a case of frost-related nerve damage, and exposed to who knows what on an abandoned experimental Soviet weapons testing facility.
As the newest addition to the Christopher Ward Challenger Programme, we caught up with Jamie to ask him a few questions about his wild adventures in Central Asia, and to get the latest update on his upcoming trip, a 100 mile ultramarathon across the Saryesik-Atyrau Desert in Eastern Kazakhstan.
Hi Jamie. First up, what exactly does a ‘explorer’ do these days?
Good question! Well, you’ll often hear that the world has been explored and that there’s nothing left, therefore you can’t possibly be an explorer. I disagree with that. What I’m trying to do with my travels in Central Asia is to focus on pockets of the world where no-one back home knows anything about it. Take my 7 marathons in 7 days run across the Betpak-Dala; before that trip very few people in the English-speaking world had ever heard of it, and certainly no more than a handful had ever visited it in modern history.
What’s your background?
Nondescript to be honest! I was born in Lancaster Hospital, moved to Gloucestershire when I was about 8, attended Marling Grammar School for Boys and that’s where I did my first ‘expedition’ if you will, a four-week trip with World Challenge to Kenya. Then a degree in Journalism at Cardiff University, which sparked an intense love for rock-climbing and from that, ultimately, trips to Central Asia. I moved all around the country in between these expeditions too, living in Sheffield, Falmouth, Camborne, Newquay, Kendal and now finally London.
What was the favourite adventure you’ve done so far?
Far and away the trip I’m most proud of was my unsupported horse-ride across Kazakhstan. Myself and a friend, Matthew Traver, rode for over 750 miles from the north of the country to the south. The journey took us 64 days, and was fraught with difficulties, big sections of empty steppe to cross, a lack of food and sometime a lack of water too. It was the hardest challenge I’ve ever done, but I was very proud to finally finish it.
And you’re also quite a runner; what is it about running that you’re so attracted to?
Running is simply amazing for anyone with an obsessive, wilderness-loving mindset who find themselves confined to the big city. I started running because it seems like a great way of keeping fit in a time-constrained environment. But then I got really attached to the activity: you can literally step out of your door and subject yourself to that same flavour of physical and mental stress you’d expose yourself to on a big trip.
What running achievement are you most proud of?
Definitely the City of London mile race I did last year. It’s one single mile, 1760 yards, and I did it in 4 minutes 34 seconds. It was the hardest I’ve ever run; it felt like the world had caved in on itself by the time I reached the finish. Just pressure and pain.
And now you’re planning the complete opposite; a hundred mile ultramarathon, right?
Correct. The plan is, this September, to run across the Saryesik-Atyrau Desert. It’s situated in Eastern Kazakhstan, underneath a place called Lake Balkhash. The route has been measured, it’s just under 100 miles, and I’m going to attempt to run across it in one go, all in under 24 hours. I’ll have a support vehicle with me, but I’ll be the only runner, and we’ll have to navigate as we go.
Christopher Ward are supporting you on this journey through the CW Challenger Programme. What is it about watches that you find fascinating?
I’ve been a fan of horology for a while now. I’m even taking a clock repair course at the moment, trying to figure out how it all works! But yes, I love the Christopher Ward range and I’m proud to wear a C60 Trident COSC 600. It never leaves my wrist and I do all my runs with it.
How has the programme helped you with this expedition?
Christopher Ward and the Challenger Programme have been instrumental in helping me bring this expedition to life. Not only have they supported the endeavour with funding for the logistics side of the trip, but the team have also completely inspired me.
Christopher Ward is a challenger brand, and I absolutely love their fighting spirit. It’s what I’m trying to emulate with this trip. I don’t have it all on a plate; I need to train harder than I have ever done before. I need to work hard and I need to hustle if I’m to create an expedition of true quality and merit. I think there’s a lot of crossover between our mission statements!
Okay, three quick-fire questions to finish: who’s your hero, name something interesting you’re working on currently (aside from the expedition), and what would your ultimate adventure be?
2. I’m currently writing a novel. It’s been ongoing for four years now; who knows when it’ll be complete.
3. A traverse of the legendary Chang-Tang plateau in Tibet. That would be a dream.