The Adventure Business
14 Oct 2009
Despite this amazing feat James doesn't really see himself as an adventurer. Rather, he sees himself as an astute businessman who had the capability to plan well and use basic business skills to achieve his goals.
After completing a Bachelor of Commerce degree at the University of Sydney, James was snapped up by one of the big four professional firms as an accountant. This was the respectable stable career he'd been focused on since high school and working for a renowned multi-national company was icing on the cake. After a time however, James had trouble reconciling the 'corporate James' who was focused on his accounting career with 'weekend James' who lived for the outdoors. Something had to give.
'I was working in a good job and had my life all mapped out,' said James. I had done everything I was meant to do but I was bored with corporate life and felt confused about my place in the world. The only time I really felt alive was when I was pushing myself to the limit on long weekend bush walks.'
James' good friend Justin, who he'd met when they were in year ten at Knox Grammar School in Sydney's northern suburbs, felt a similar way and the two continually found solace from their hectic lives in the great outdoors.
James' and Justin's weekend adventures became an escape from the daily grind and were an opportunity for them both to think about what they really wanted from life. James began to embark on more challenging bushwalking adventures, ultra-marathons and extreme climbing expeditions in increasingly remote areas. Their love of exploration culminated in a 30-day trek down the Murray River where they became the first in history to kayak its entire length - from a trickling stream in Wombat Flats, NSW to Goolwa in South Australia.
It was during the Murray River adventure that the crazy idea to 'cross the ditch' was born.
'To this day I put it down to heat stroke,' said James. 'As we were paddling along, Justin came up beside me and I asked him how he felt about paddling to New Zealand with me. Of course he thought I'd gone completely mad.'
After the initial shock had warn off and Justin realised James was not going to let his dream go, the two began to formulate a plan.
James says at this point his Economics and Business training became invaluable. 'I was able to draw on everything I'd learned at University and formulate a water-tight risk management document that answered every potential problem we could envisage. Without this we would never had made it.
'Things like, where we would sleep, what we would eat, what medicines we'd take all had to be answered. We had no idea how to cross the Tasman and we had to use all our resources to research how it could be done. That was more of a challenge to me than the paddling itself. Once we could answer every one of these questions on paper there was theoretically no reason why we shouldn't go.'
Apart from the obvious danger, the trip had some other major 'cons' including the deep concern of their families and the fact they were putting careers on hold.
'Probably the person who made me take that final jump was one of my Chartered Accountancy lecturers. I had 18 months to go when I met him for coffee.He told me I'd regret it forever if I didn't pursue the dream.
To help find the answers to all these questions in a comprehensive risk management plan, James and Justin sought out the best individual experts in each field. These included the best meteorologists, navigators, doctors, engineers, nutritionists and boat builders in the world. James says this proves his real skill was the ability to manage a world class team.
'When we called people and told them we were planning to paddle a kayak from Australia to New Zealand they thought we were complete idiots so we had to prove them wrong.'
It was a Catch-22 situation Joseph Heller himself would have been proud of. These two university graduates went to great lengths to prove to potential investors and supporters that they weren't mad so they could embark on a very crazy adventure.
To help prove their case, the pair created the brand Crossing the Ditch, designed a website and finalised the risk management plan before they went to meet to anyone.
'We dressed in our suits and presented our plan to every person we met. In hind-sight, I guess this was a bit over the top for many of the people we were meeting but we were determined for people to take us seriously.'
The plan worked, and after 13 months of careful planning, James and Justin had raised more than $350,000 and addressed each issue in their risk management plan. They left Forster on the NSW coast on 13 November 2008 with the hope of reaching New Zealand before Christmas. The journey actually took more than double the anticipated time and the men arrived at their destination 62 days after they set out greeted by thousands of enthusiastic supporters. They had endured ocean storms, a buffeting from sharks, exhaustion, severe food and sleep deprivation and injury during their journey. James also had to overcome terrible sea sickness and Justin had to find a way to psychologically manage his claustrophobia.
While James has written a detailed account of the pair's incredible adventure in a recently released book called Crossing the Ditch, Justin has put his energy into producing a soon-to-be-released documentary of the same name.
These inspirational young men are now planning a sled-hauling adventure in Antarctica which will include a yet to be revealed twist and another 'first'.
There's no doubt that their next adventure will rely heavily on planning and teamwork and will again be the perfect combination of business and adventure.
To read more about James and Justin's incredible journey Crossing the Ditch is now available in all good book stores nationally or visit www.crossingtheditch.com.au.