Defying the Impossible
Oli France, is an adventurer whose journey is as captivating as his spirit. The courage it takes to venture into the unknown is colossal, but Oli makes it clear that, for him, the greater risk would have been to stay in the comfort of the known.
What struck me most in our conversation wasn't just the physical feats he's conquered, but his deeply humane perspective in recalling his encounters with strangers and the kindness they extended to him. It's a poignant reminder that even in the remotest corners of the earth, the human spirit thrives on compassion and connection.
He also emphasised the untapped reservoir of the human mind. For Oli, whether he's scaling a mountain or traversing a desert, it's mental focus—staying rooted in the moment—that carries him through. For someone who has accomplished so much, his humility is genuinely refreshing.
I'm incredibly proud to feature Oli France in our line-up of Speakers. His story is an inspiring blend of physical daring, human connection, and mental resilience. I genuinely hope you find his interview as enriching as I did.
Stay inspired. Stay curious.
Tracey: Thank you for taking the time to chat with me, Oli. You’re a professional expedition leader and an adventurer. Your exploits are the stuff of legends, in particular the one that took you across Asia. But let's start with something foundational: What does 'adventure' mean to you personally?
Oli: Adventure is a very personal quest; an internal quest. For me it’s not about climbing a mountain or crossing a jungle or a continent even, but more about conquering something within yourself. Adventure can be anything relating to pushing yourself in an unfamiliar environment and, really seeing what you’re capable of. To me it’s so much more than just an activity; it's a way of life.
It's about pushing not only physical boundaries, but also psychological ones. The real quest begins when you're hanging on by your last thread and still decide to keep going. That's when you explore your own limitations, and often, you find out that they're far beyond what you thought they were.
Tracey: You’ve just mentioned some examples of where you’ve led expeditions; you’ve faced some incredibly hostile environments. What draws you to these inhospitable places?
Oli: There's a brutal honesty in these hostile environments. They're unforgiving; they don't care who you are. It's in those harsh conditions that you experience an almost cleansing solitude. This solitude, this isolation, allows you to connect with nature at a primal level. It's you and the raw elements, and there's a sort of purity, a sort of truth to that interaction that is addictively liberating.
Tracey: Tell us about the leap from a safe, corporate job & the perks that came with it, to deciding to be an expedition leader.
Oli: The truth is, I hated my job. I was deeply, deeply miserable and very unmotivated. I could feel the passion draining out of me by the minute. The only thing that had ever really brought me huge joy and excitement was this life of adventure I’d had before the corporate world. And so, in 2015, I quit my job with no future job prospects. I had a wedding lined up with my fiance. We had just bought a house and we were undergoing a major house renovation. So the timing was terrible.
I was leaving this job behind, but I was so miserable and so down that I just knew I needed to get back to this life of adventure.
And so this big journey across Asia was what I came up with. It was a bold plan and I was pinning everything on it being a success. Failure was not even worth considering.
When I faced challenges it was never a case of quitting. It was ‘how do I find my way out of this situation, because I am not willing to sacrifice this goal’. It was just absolute determination and belief in a vision.
The biggest risk, by far, would have been staying where I was.
Tracey: What was the biggest sacrifice you’ve had to make to get to where you are now and has it been worth it? Oli: The biggest sacrifice has been time away from my family. I've got a wife and two young children, and I’m often away from home. There's a part of me that asks, 'Is this selfish?' But then, I think back to when I was stuck in a job I hated and was truly miserable. I was a shell of myself. The experiences I've gained through these adventures are not just for me; they're strengthening me as a person. I believe they're making me a better husband, father, and a better person overall. So, when I zoom out and look at the bigger picture, yes, the sacrifices have been worth it. I believe these sacrifices are enhancing not just my life but also the lives of my children and the audiences I get to speak to. So for me, it's a worthy trade-off. Tracey: Your 2020 expedition across Lake Baikal, the deepest and oldest freshwater lake in the world, was fraught with challenges. How did you find the strength to keep going? Oli: The challenge across Lake Baikal came just three months after I had been hospitalised with meningitis. On top of that, my expedition partner pulled out, leaving me to reconsider this massive undertaking. But facing adversity, ironically, steeled my resolve. It gave me a focal point to regain control of my life at a moment when things seemed to spiral. So I committed, knowing full well the enormity of the physical and logistical tasks ahead of me. Fast-forward to the lake, in harsh, brutal conditions, I faced a critical decision. My wife revealed she was pregnant, triggering a flood of paternal instincts. But the identity I hold for myself is that of a person who doesn't quit when things get hard. The question for me was, 'Is this the example I want to set for my unborn child?' The answer was clear: quitting didn’t align with who I believe I am. So I pressed on, fighting through physical breakdowns and utter isolation. Being completely cut off from the world, your thoughts can either be your worst enemy or your greatest ally. For me, it became a tool. Positive self-talk became my mantra. I would tell myself, 'You are a sled-hauling machine. Your sole purpose right now is to haul this sled.' I had to remain zeroed in on that objective. Anything less would've been a disservice to the commitment I had made to myself and, by extension, to my soon-to-be-born child and family." Tracey: Let’s talk about the solitude of that journey. Most people might dread that isolation, yet you call it a "blessing and a curse." Can you elaborate? Oli France: The solitude in such expeditions can be incredibly polarising. On one hand, being completely isolated offers a sort of purity; it's just you, your objective, and nothing else. But it also means you're alone with your thoughts, which can be a double-edged sword. This isolation gives you the room to have a dialogue with yourself, which can go in either a negative or positive direction. For me, it became a tool during that expedition across Lake Baikal. The absence of distractions enables a unique form of clarity, but it can also incubate negative thinking. You have to actively fight to stay in control of your thoughts. On this particular journey, after hearing the news about becoming a father, I had zero communication with anyone. It was just me, alone with my thoughts for days. That's when self-talk becomes not just a psychological trick, but a lifeline. My mantra, 'You are a sled-hauling machine,' was as much a tool for survival as any piece of equipment I had with me. In that isolation, you're the only source of motivation, of judgment, of reward, or reprimand. There are no externalities, no audiences, no cheerleaders. There's a freedom to it but also an enormous responsibility. Your thoughts become your compass, your motivator, your critic, and your comforter. It's a deeply introspective experience, and the only way to navigate it successfully is to keep a tight watch over your mental state. Tracey: On that same expedition, you were hauling a 60-kilogram sled. Walk us through the physical and mental stamina required for that feat. Oli France: To put it mildly, it was brutal! I was dealing with gale-force winds, temperatures plummeting to -25°C, and a landscape that was as unforgiving as it was beautiful. My body took a massive beating. At one point, both of my Achilles were swollen to twice their normal size, my feet were bruised, and fatigue was through the roof. I was covering roughly a marathon distance per day, which is arduous under any circumstances but takes on a whole different meaning when it's in such a harsh environment, dragging a sled that weighs as much as a grown adult. That brings me to mental stamina. My mantra, 'stamina equals safety,' really sums it up. Your mental fortitude has to be even stronger than your physical. I used a strategy of breaking down my journey into smaller, more manageable 'chunks.' During the hardest moments, I counted 100 steps at a time. This made the task psychologically digestible. When everything seems overwhelming, it’s essential to focus on the immediate, the 'now,' and for me, it was those 100 steps. I also relied on another mindset tool, identifying 'priority number one' at any given moment. This is a mental trick I use both in my expeditions and my everyday life. Whether it's taking another step, hydrating, or something as mundane as melting water, focusing on a single most crucial task helps in eliminating the clutter of overwhelming thoughts or emotions. And on expeditions, sometimes it’s as fundamental as 'you just need to keep walking.’ This mental stamina was a lifeline for me, especially when you consider that failure isn't just disappointing; it could be life-threatening. You have to continuously calibrate both your physical state and mental state to ensure they're working in harmony, which becomes a 24/7 task in such an environment. The margin for error is incredibly thin, and the cost of a mistake could be insurmountable. So every step I took had to be both physically calculated and mentally committed. Tracey: You talk a lot about the concept of identity and how that feeds into your expeditions. How would you articulate that identity today? Oli France: Identity for me is an evolving concept shaped by experiences, challenges, and the people I meet along the way. When it comes to expeditions, my identity is very much interwoven with my relationship to risk, resilience, and the concept of 'pushing the envelope.' I am someone who thrives on uncertainty and challenge, but not recklessness. This approach is deeply tied to who I am and what I believe in. I view risk as something that can be managed and mitigated through planning, experience, and continual learning. It’s not about being fearless but about understanding fear and using it as a tool to make better decisions. In practical terms, my identity as an explorer feeds into the expeditions I choose to undertake. I'm inspired by untamed landscapes, rich cultural exchanges, and places that don’t see many tourists. These choices aren’t random; they are a direct reflection of who I am and the kinds of challenges that make me feel alive. It's a continuous loop; the expeditions shape my identity, and in turn, my evolving identity shapes the adventures I’m willing to undertake. However, it's not just about 'me'; it's also about the teams I bring along, whether it’s the local teams or tribes we collaborate with or the small group of travellers seeking bold adventures. My identity extends to being a guide, a mentor, and even a student learning from every new experience and individual I encounter. My identity I guess, is that of an explorer who takes calculated risks, a guide who thrives on the cultural and human aspects of exploration, and a continual learner who seeks out the extraordinary in the world. It's this identity that informs every expedition I undertake and is key to understanding not just where I go, but why I go there. ----------------------------------------- Ready to redefine what’s possible? If you're captivated by Oli's compelling insights into the worlds of exploration, risk management, and resilience, now's the chance to dive deeper. As a sought-after speaker and seasoned adventurer, Oli offers a unique lens on the capabilities of the human spirit and the intricate relationship between identity and ambition. Whether you're a conference planner, an educational institution, or a corporation looking to inspire your team, Oli's talks are a journey unto themselves—rich in narrative, deeply researched, and unforgettable. Contact us to learn more about how you can bring Oli's transformative perspectives to your next event.