Discussing education, talking to businessmen and chatting to school pupils may not seem much of an adventure – but, for Fenland-based explorer Justin Miles, it’s the most important part of his job.
Justin, 44, has travelled the globe seeking adventures, exploring some of the world’s most hostile climates from the Amazon jungle to the Arctic Circle, but bringing those experiences to life and sharing them with others is the real adventure for him.
“I’m not a teacher, I never have been and I have no ambition to be one, but I try to bring my experiences to the classroom, providing useful resources for teachers to use with no cost attached.
“WhatI try to do is empower young people, so they can understand the world around them, be more tolerant of different cultures and realise they have the power to change things,” explained Justin.
He also gives inspirational talks to companies and that work helps fund his adventures around the world.
His most recent undertaking was to kayak the length of the River Danube this summer. He spent nearly 18 months training and preparing, with plans to speak directly to schools around the world via Skype along the way.
However, the summer’s freakish weather had other ideas and unfortunately the attempt failed.
“I left Fenland knowing there had been a massive heatwave across mainland Europe the previous few months. I also knew it was going to end at some point, I just hoped it would hold until I had completed 1,000 of the 3,000 km.
“In places the river was so dry there was not even enough water to float the kayak and I ended up having to drag it for over two miles. Unfortunately the rains finally started and when they came they just kept on coming. I eventually made it to the German border and the river level was finally beginning to rise.
“But that brought different problems. All the branches and other debris that had just been sitting around waiting for the river to flow again was lifted and it made the river a real hazard.
“I was going to carry on, but I met a couple of men who said they had kayaked the river from the Black Forest to Budapest every year since they were teenagers.
“They told me they were planning to get off the river and I thought their knowledge was better than mine and I decided to follow their lead.
“I was due to go into schools further downstream, so it was disappointing to let them down, but I will be providing resources for schools to use from the expedition, so not all was lost,” said Justin, who has had two children’s books published and is planning a third.
Justin said ‘The Ultimate Explorers Guide for Kids’ and the ‘Ultimate Survival Guide for Kids’ have been written to make it easy for children to follow.
“I did a lot of research into the way children learn before writing the books, so they are written in bite-size chunks with plenty of illustrations. I tend to work mainly with seven to 14 year olds when I’m working with schools and I find it a great experience.
“Skyping thousands of children in different countries from places like the top of Mount Kenya and talking to them about the environment I’m in is fantastic.
“And I guarantee there is one question that always comes up – ‘have you been to the toilet yet?’. That question comes up even when I’m giving talks to top executives in a big corporation – everyone seems fascinated by it,” said Justin.
Justin is also involved in the ‘outdoor classroom’ scheme, which encourages learning in the open air through adventurous play.
Thursday was international ‘outdoor classroom’ day. He has over two and half million teachers following him via the internet around the world and making use of the resources he provides from his adventures.
He also speaks to educationalists about the value of global education and how the process could help solve issues like radicalisation and intolerance.
“When I was growing up in Devon all I wanted to do was have adventures. I was out building camps enjoying outdoor pursuits like fishing. It was great. I then grew up and thought I had to get a proper job, which I did for a while.
“I had a serious car crash, which left me with severe brain injuries when I was 26, and I had to learn to walk and talk and everything else all over again. I was told I would only ever be capable of a sedentary type of job and probably only work part-time.
“But I was determined, I decided then and there I was going to be an adventurer. Within nine months I had trained for and completed a marathon and then after that I ran a marathon every week for a year – just to make the point.
“I have travelled all over the world, I have climbed mountains, trekked through the jungle, crossed deserts and experienced life in the Arctic Circle – which is all fantastic.
“But for me the greatest adventure is getting to share that with thousands of school kids and seeing how excited they are to talk to me and learn more about the world – that’s just fantastic,” concluded Justin.