Not many people can legitimately put “adventurer” under ‘Occupation’ on their annual tax return.
But for the last ten years, Aussie adrenaline junkie Mark Kalch has worked full-time as a professional adventurer in Africa, Asia, America and Europe, stopping only to tell many of the exciting tales of his travels along the way.
“Awesome and hard work” is how he describes his job, which he prefers to call “an epic adventure holiday.” With the financial help of sponsors, Mark has now successfully navigated through some of the most obscure corners of the globe. Expeditions have included going down the Omo river in Ethiopia, climbing Mount Everest and trekking solo from the northern to the southern border of Iran.
So what drove him to follow such a bold and bumpy career path?
“Before making adventure my full-time occupation, I did various outdoor jobs- guiding people on rivers, on the ocean and up mountains,” says Mark (35). “In the downtime between trips, I would go on my own small expeditions. Slowly, they grew in size and difficulty until I thought that perhaps other folk might like to hear about them. It turnd out they did, and slowly my passion for adventure turned into a full-time job. It’s pretty cool to combine the two.”
Wherever he goes, he says, he always prefers to stay with local people - sometimes in a mud hut - or to pitch a tent rather than book into a hotel (“how boring!”)
“While I dig the adventure side of my expeditions, I truly want to explore and learn about the areas through which I travel. There’s no better way to do this than spending time with locals,” he adds.
That’s all very well, but how does he engage with locals who don’t speak English?
“The language barrier can be a problem but, with enough planning, I have managed to get by,” he says.“Having a handful of phrases, coupled with sign language, is always enough. Sitting around a nomad encampment, with a fire blazing, in the mountains of southern Iran and chatting with guys who speak zero English has never been a problem – the message gets across.”
Though he is constantly encountering individuals and communities with strikingly different lifestyles from his own, Mark claims not to suffer from culture shock. “People everywhere are pretty much the same: friendly, helpful and just wanting to live their lives. Unfortunately, far too often we confuse the battles between governments as battles between people. This is almost never the case.”
His solo trek through Iran’s vast deserts, mountain ranges and tropical rainforests in 2009 - which he singles out as the high point of his adventuring career – was a particularly enlightening experience for him in the way that it revealed “a country much misunderstood and misrepresented in the West.”
“I journey with an open mind and heart. I am not a politician or a campaigner. I am an explorer,” he insists on his website.
Last weekend, Mark began a 4,000 mile paddle down the Missouri and Mississippi rivers – the second stage of his epic ‘7 Rivers 7 Continents’ project, for which he plans to travel the full length of the seven longest rivers in the world – including the Amazon in South America, the Yangtze in China, the Onyx in Antarctica, the Volga in Europe, the Nile in Africa and the Murray-Darling River in Australia.
“The great rivers of the world have shaped the very existence of humans and the ecosystems in which they live,” writes Mark on the project’s website. ”The chief aim is to bring these river stories to life. From the fisherman, the hunter, the family and the power company worker, to the farmer, the trees, the predator and the prey – all have inspiring and thoughtful stories to reveal.”
Mark began the project in 2007, when he trekked, paddled and rowed an incredible 6,800 km along the Amazon from its source in the Peruvian Andes to the Atlantic coast of Brazil. Though he originally set out with four companions, only he and fellow adventurer Nathan Welch made it to the end, making them just the seventh and eighth individuals in the world to achieve this feat.
Described on his website as “the most frightening and exhausting days” of his entire life, the 153-day expedition was no easy ride. “Among other trials,” writes Mark, “we suffered acute mountain sickness, dysentery, were shot at by both the military and narco-terroristas, survived a month of nightmarish whitewater and battled a tidal river that became more than 30km wide in the final month.”
Despite frequently going through what most people would consider to be their worst nightmares, Mark usually glosses over the most harrowing aspects of his journey, maintaining a cool Aussie optimism.
“Sure, I’ve been shot at a bunch of times,” he says. “I’ve been lost in some pretty tough parts of the world, run some epic whitewater and had to overcome some hard scenarios. But all this pales in comparison to the lifelong battles that that so many people on the planet face, like being trapped in an area of conflict or having limited or no access at all to clean water, medical facilities, education or employment. Those guys face the true problems – and they’re my heroes!”
the Experience Network