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Travelling by man power alone

Last updated 05:00 10/11/2013

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Relying on anything but an engine, Rob Bell used 25 different forms of transport to travel across several continents.

Why did you ban engine power?

I'm an athlete and engineer with an adventurous spirit. I was born in the UK but spent most of my childhood in the United States and France before moving to London. Itchy feet drove me to pursue the path less travelled, which led to this journey, and to filming it for a TV series, Man vs World.

What's the series about?

I undertake six point-to-point journeys through some of the world's most dynamic landscapes and demanding terrains, including South Africa, Poland, the Czech Republic and the UK, relying solely on manpower, my wits, an array of adventure sports, and alternative means of transport to get to each destination in a day.

Modes of transport you used?

By the end of the series I'd travelled by land, sea and air via 25 different modes of transport including horseback, abseiling, dragon boat, paragliding and zip-line. I also tried coaststeering - traversing a rugged coastline using a combination of swimming, climbing, scrambling and jumping off cliffs. Then there was swimming through shark-infested waters in South Africa, although the only sharks I saw were in my mind, as I conjured up images of the gruesome way I'd depart this world.

How did you prepare?

I keep fit in my day-to-day life and regularly compete in endurance events such as the New York Marathon and Ironman France, so I thought this would stand me in good stead, but it really was a whole different ball game! There were times when World was close to beating Man. That's when it becomes a mental battle as well as physical. The philosophy of mind over matter fascinates me no end. If you can dial in to a never-say-die attitude and just keep going, it's amazing what you can make your body do - even when it's screaming at you to stop.

Most challenging part of the journey?

I had a pretty hairy moment when preparing to launch myself off Bloukraans Bridge on a bungee rope in South Africa. Staring into the 216 metre abyss of the world's highest bridge bungee jump, I felt like I was staring death in the face. The fear is palpable when you see the episode - watching it still gives me goosebumps.

Other tough moments?

Riding the northern hemisphere's longest and fastest zipwire, at speeds of up to 160 kilometres per hour was pretty scary, as was swimming in shark-infested waters in Cape Town.

Highlights?

Spending a warm summer night at the top of Mt Snowdon in Wales, 1085m above sea level was absolutely spectacular. As the sun set and clouds rolled through, the colours, tones and shadows were so dramatic and memorable. I love it when nature leaves you in complete awe at its beauty and that's what I experienced up there.

That said, it's hard to beat sipping fresh coffee with giraffes strolling about 15m away, and hippos roaring in the background, as the sun rises over distant mountains. Par for the course at the Plettenburg Bay Game Reserve, apparently .

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Stand-out experiences?

Befriending a local can lead to some interesting culinary

experiences. Two stand out for me. The first was at the home of the manager of a game reserve in South Africa. I now understand the hype behind the South African braai (barbecue). The vast amount of perfectly cooked meat was such a welcome end to the day. In the Pieniny Mountains in Poland, I had bigos (hunter's) stew - A beef and vegetable dish served in a bowl made of bread. It was exactly the stomach filler I needed after another very long and challenging day.

Wisdom gained?

I learnt that travelling to new territories with the aid of a local guide is a great way to go. I'm naturally very inquisitive and locals can tell you so much more than any guidebook can. Also, a healthy dose of optimism and a bit of confidence - whether founded or not - are always good things to have with you.

Six of the best: 1. From top of Table Mountain to central Cape Town, South Africa by hiking, abseiling, cycling, dragon boat, yacht, wind-powered blokart and running.

2. From summit of Mt Wdzar to Szczawnica, Poland by rock climbing, scull and canoe.

3. From Wadebridge to Watergate Bay, UK by sea kayak, bike, coaststeering and stand-up paddle board.

4. From Salt River Gorge to Pletennberg Game Reserve, South Africa by canyoning, swimming, abseiling, sliding, jumping, cycling, trail running and horseback (completed in two days).

5 From top of Mt Snowdon to Isle of Anglesey, Wales by mountain bike, zip-wire and swimming.

6. From summit of Mt Jested to Spinleruv Mlyn, Czech Republic by paragliding, cycling, and trike (downhill ski scooter). 

Man vs World begins on Travel Channel (SKY 025) on Wednesday 13 November at 8.30pm.

- Sunday Star Times

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