Levison Wood: “The Car Went Hurtling Off a Cliff”

(Image credit: Unknown)

Who inspired you to become an explorer?

I’ve been inspired by people who’ve been dead for a long time. I was always a history geek, so I’ve studied the lives of Victorian explorers, the David Livingstones… Reading about those guys as a kid inspired me to want to do it for myself. Having said that, there are explorers, people like Ranulph Fiennes, Chris Bonington… growing up, I remember looking to those guys as a motivation.

How many times has someone saved your life?

Too many to remember. The last time was when I fell off a cliff in Nepal, and an entire village came out to carry me out of the jungle. That was good of them.

Can you talk Coach through it?

Because of all the political problems, we were forced to stay in the car to get from one village to another to find a place to stay for the night. The brakes failed, it was night, the car went hurtling off a cliff, down a 150m drop… I thought I was going to die. We rolled about 10 times. I wasn’t dead but my arm was pretty mangled. Everyone had broken ribs and things. For about 45 minutes we were lying at the bottom of a jungle ravine. Then we saw the first torches and people had come out to try and find us. They carried us. It felt longer than it actually was; it was maybe half a mile or something like that. They were carrying us on their shoulders through rivers and stuff like that.

Any other times someone went above and beyond to help you?

Once I was hitchhiking across Afghanistan. There were about 15 of us in a minibus, me and a load of locals. The brakes failed [on a mountain]. We were trying to throw people out the window, we threw all the kids out and they were OK, but I was right at the back and couldn’t get out. The driver could have bailed at any point, but he didn’t. He purposely crashed into another truck that was parked on the edge of the cliff. Rather than going over the edge he sacrificed himself to save everyone else – he was flattened. Fair play to him, if it wasn’t for him then I’d have been very much dead.

Do have a favourite mountain guide?

Binod, my guide in Nepal, that was quite a special relationship. I met him when I was 19 on my gap year. He saved me, actually. It was 2001, there were a lot of problems there. It was when the royal family were all massacred, in the middle of the civil war. I found myself in a riot in the streets so I went off with him and he looked after me. I had no money as it had all been nicked. He said, “Don’t worry, you can pay me another time one day.” I don’t think he expected me to come back 14 years later and make him walk the entire length of the Himalayas. That was nice to go back and to see his family, and pay him back a little. He’d never been to India so I took him to Rishikesh and to see the Ganges, which was a really special moment for him.

Are there any communities that stand out for their generosity to you during your trips?

Yes, two communities in particular. The Bedouin, in Sudan, are some of the most hospitable and amazing people I’ve ever met. Then the Kurds in northern Iraq. Despite the fact they are surrounded by their enemies, they are really hospitable and they will always look out for a stranger.

Levison Wood was talking at the launch of Virgin Active’s new obstacle-based training class Mudder Maker 2.0

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Nick Harris-Fry
Senior writer

Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.