A Rough 1,000-Mile Desert Journey on a... What?

This trip across the Atacama desert is a mad-cap adventure on wind and wheels.
Dave Cornthwaite whiking through the desert.
Thankfully this desert is short on sand © davecornthwaite.com
By Tarquin Cooper

There’s no question Dave Cornthwaite lives life to the fullest. The man is known for (almost) always saying ‘yes’ and claims he ‘hasn’t been bored in about 10 years'. He's swum the Missouri, skateboarded across Australia and completed a host of other mad-cap adventures. His current trip? One thousand miles of desert in a rather unusual fashion.

Where are you?

The Chilean Atacama. It's the driest hot desert on the planet and famous for its winds. We’re riding 'whikes' from Santiago de Chile north into the heart of the Atacama. A whike is a recumbent tricycle with a sail, so we've been coupling pedal power with wind assistance to make this journey possible. It's pretty awesome when the wind picks up!

Dave Cornthwaite whiking with the sunset in the back.
You can still sail off into the sunset © davecornthwaite.com

Are you enjoying the trip?

Absolutely. In many ways it hasn't met expectations because our whikes are designed to harness favorable winds and sail, and the prevailing winds haven't been prevailing anywhere except in our faces! But, Chile is a wonderful place for a road trip – the Atacama desert is ruthlessly empty and raw. It's a pleasure to be out here.

How does it ride?

It’s like pedalling a Formula One car! It has a really low profile so handles superbly, even at 40 mph down a hill or across a desert plain. It’s great when the wind starts coming in from the side, fills the sail and gives a boost uphill. At times we've been heading uphill at 25 mph, it sure beats a slow plod!

Dave Cornthwaite's view from his whike.
Keep on pedalling © davecornthwaite.com

What's the bigger project? Is this part of something else?

Good question. I have a project called Expedition1000, which involves 25 separate journeys each 1,000 miles or more, and each using a different form of non-motorised transport. This whike journey is the ninth journey of the project (assuming we reach 1,000 miles). Past journeys include skateboarding across Australia, stand up paddling the length of the Mississippi and swimming 1,000 miles down the Missouri River.

A little faster than the skateboard…

Definitely! Although, the hills in Chile have made slow going. So I probably traveled further on average per day during my skate trip!

Highlights so far?

A bunch! The occasional coastal road, winding and dropping down to deep blue waters. Or topping out after a 10 km (6.2 miles) climb then speeding downhill for the same distance, surrounded by vast, flat plains and towering red mountains with music blasting in the ears. Hard to feel more alive than that. This is a truly awesome landscape.

Dave Cornthwaite camping between the streets.
The perfect place to pitch a tent © davecornthwaite.com

What time of night do you think of stuff? The ideas are… ahem... original!

Hah! You'd think they all involved a good bit of beer, but actually as soon as I came up with the overall concept of Expedition1000 the decision making process – not to mention the incentive – became a lot easier. I'm in love with travelling under my own steam. And there's a way to do it, whether it's sailing or swimming or skating or pedaling (don't you dare suggest pogo-sticking!), my life makes sense with these journeys.

We hear you say ‘yes’ to everything?

Ah, I don't! This ‘Say Yes More’ mantra of mine is about taking opportunities that are going to enrich life, but it's saying yes MORE, not to everything, that's dangerous! It's easy to let new experiences slip by because of excuses, fear or stigma. Saying yes is about giving myself the opportunity to reach my capacity as a human. Plus, it's fun never knowing what's around the next corner.

What's next?

The next one starts in just a few days! I've been invited to speak at a non-motorised transport show at the end of April. Over the course of the show people can vote online for which mode of transport I should travel on, and then I'll sit on whatever it is for the first time and ride 1000 miles in a couple of weeks! Get voting from Thursday 24th April on Facebook and Instagram.

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