What living on the streets of India taught this world record holding adventurer
Updated: Jun 2, 2020
If there was a mix of James Bond and Indiana Jones personified – it would be Richard Bowles.
Multi-award-winning adventurer, Richard Bowles, was the first person to run the Bicentennial trail – a feat which involves running 5,330km over five months. He’s pushed himself to his absolute limits which includes spending thirteen days running across an Israeli desert during conflict, being threatened with a shotgun, and faced disembowelment by Japanese Monks. But his latest adventure in India bears a message we could all learn from.
How it began
In 2012 Richard was established in a corporate sales career. During one of his morning runs he asked himself what would happen if he didn’t stop running – where would he end up?
“That thought played in my mind for months and months,” Richard said.
“And one day I decided to leave my career to run the longest trail in Australia – the Bicentennial Trail.”
This is no small accomplishment considering the trail stretches across three states, starting in Cooktown in far north Queensland, down New South Wales and finishes off in Healesville, Victoria.
Since then, Richard has gone on to obtain five world records in running. He’s proven strength in other areas too, often placing himself in situations where severe injury or death is a real risk.
I asked Richard why he puts himself in such extreme situations.
“That’s got to be the most profound question anybody could ask,” he said.
“Why does anybody do anything?”
Richard says he relies on his intuition. When it’s telling him to go down a path that is potentially dangerous, he’ll do it, even when he doesn’t want to.
“If you avoid those paths then you’ll miss out on a great life,” he said.
“I think intuitively we all know what path we’re meant to be on but we fail to follow it.”
“So I’ll see these dangerous paths and be concerned that I may never come back to see my partner again but it’s my intuition telling me that it’s something I need to do.”
At the core of why Richard pursues adventure is to understand the human response to challenge which he turns into valuable lessons for his learning and development organisation, Richard Bowles L+D.
“The saying goes ‘to know a man you have to walk a mile in his shoes’ and that’s what I’m doing now and I’m trying to learn lessons within the process,” Richard said.
The value of routine
Just before Christmas – a time when international travel was more commonplace – Richard went to live on the streets of India with Rickshaw Wallah. These are people whose business is transporting others with only a cart and their own strength to carry the combined weight.
“It’s one of the only places in the world where rickshaws are a proper career move,” Richard said.
“And these guys are at the very bottom of the poverty chain – living on only two dollars a day.
“I was sleeping on the streets, eating on the streets and working the exact same job as them,” he said.
“I was sleeping with rats, there were thieves in the night and I didn’t have any money.”
On top of all that – there was no bathroom.
“You can work that out for yourself,” Richard said.
It’s no doubt a tough existence and one many of us would struggle to face.
“Most people put into that situation would think ‘how do I make sense of this and how do I survive?,’” he said.
“But because I’ve been through so many tough situations I was able to focus on the psychology of the people who live this way and how they survive.”
Richard discovered that people living in poverty used one of the same strategies we have been told to adopt during the coronavirus lock down.
“They’re very strict on routine," he said.
“Their days are very heavily scheduled – they wake up at 3.30 am to be at the train station by 4 am to start work. They work straight until 10 pm then go to bed.”
“If they don’t stick to their routine and get up at 3.30 in the morning to wash themselves then they could get sick and die from infections."
But there is a caveat to Richard’s insights – that you can have the best routine in the world, but if you don’t manage your emotions, then your well intended plans will come undone.
“These guys are very good with managing their emotions and not letting it get the better of them which allows them to function.”
While Richard and his organisation have some more adventures in the pipeline, he says due to COVID-19, we are all living in an adventure.
“An adventure is going through something massively uncertain and risky. How people are reacting to this crisis is something we’re looking into,” he said.
There is so much more to Richard’s perspective on life and I’m not sure an article can do it justice, but in my conversation with him I’ve gotten a glimpse into what it means to push yourself to the complete edge – it means you can fully trust in your intuition and gain the skills required not only to survive but also thrive.
While his methodology is rather unorthodox (I can’t see myself running across an active volcano, for example), there is something to be said about someone who can live in danger and come out the other side with a clearer picture on what people across the world can adapt to.
“Even before the coronavirus we lived in a world that was high pressure. People struggled to keep up with their workload and now there’s no weekend anymore, so people are tired on a Monday morning before the week has even started,” he said.
“People are already out of their comfort zones, there’s no pushing anymore.”
Instead of pushing people further, Richard and his team focus on giving people the skills they need to “manage the chaos.” And he says the first step in doing so is to understand yourself.
“We’re the ones that cause all the problems and dramas in life but once you have better self-awareness you can understand how you respond to the things around you," Richard said.
"It allows you to rise above your emotions and get better clarity and perspective. That gives you confidence, which gives you courage, which enables you to take the actions necessary to navigate the current crisis.”
So what’s next for Richard Bowles? Living on a landfill in the Philippines, of course.
All images supplied by Richard Bowles L+D.