Nellie the Elephant

James Dyer: Explorer Extraordinaire

Emma from Haverstock School’s journalists interviews the explorer James Dyer

In 218 BC, Hannibal Barca led 50,000 men and 37 war elephants across the French and Italian mountain passes to launch a planned attack against the Romans. The journey must have been very, very dangerous.

In 2017, explorer James Dyer set off on his bicycle to recreate Hannibal’s route. He took his daughter’s toy elephant, Nellie, for company. He travelled by himself, but when he got lonely he talked to Nellie. James reached a point on his journey where he could go no further unless he took the train. He felt that it was in the spirit of Hannibal to do whatever he had to do to get to his destination, so he took the train.

James Dyer doesn’t just cycle; he kayaks, climbs mountains and even descended into the perilous Red Blood River. He has explored rainforests and helped scientists uncover a new parasitic worm in the Manu Basin. Although James isn’t a scientific explorer, he told us that he always wanted to be one and when the scientists discovered something he felt it as a ‘vicarious’ experience.

I asked him: You have been in some very dangerous situations. How do you cope?

James told me that preparing both physically and emotionally is very important. His motto is: ‘Failure to prepare is preparation to fail’.

Shackleton was one of the world’s greatest explorers and James admires immensely. I asked him: Why?

James: First, for his leadership style. It has been well documented that he was loved by his men for the way he led: what we would now call inspirational leadership. Secondly, for his survival skills: his ability to understand the predicament he and his men were in, stay calm and put his men first. He demonstrated to them his positive mindset and then applied it to achieve rescue. He understood and trusted his key officers and deputies, and empowered his men to keep on the road to rescue by staying positive, doing practical things and keeping cheerful in adversity.

James takes expeditions of school students just three years older than me to explore places like the Amazon! We bumped into a group about to do a presentation in the corridor at the Royal Geographical Society. When I am older I hope to join James on an expedition too.

Thank you, James. You have inspired me.

Emma (Year 9)