Beau Miles on Why curiosity is the key to leading an interesting life
Beau Miles is an Australian adventurer, film-maker, writer, speaker, runner and general do-er of weird and wonderful things.
Ultimately, he’s curious. And, he satisfies his curiosity by undertaking immense adventures like running 655km along the Australian Alpine Trail and kayaking around the Southern tip of Africa. On top of the truly epic adventures, Beau also enjoys exploring his own backyard, in new and creative ways.
Beau’s currently gearing up to release his first book – The Backyard Adventurer – and I spoke to him at 06:00am Jindivick, Victoria time. Beau was sat in the front seat of his car, in relative pitch darkness, to avoid waking his daughter May up. By the end of our call, the sun was rising over his paddock, and it seemed like a fitting end to a great conversation.
Aidan: Let’s start with your book, Backyard Adventuring. How’s that going?
Beau: I went and did a signing of it yesterday actually. I must have signed almost 2000 books. And, man, that was hard. Honestly, that was as bloody hard as a lot of things I’ve done. It was on the other side of Victoria, so I caught public transport to get there and back, just because I hate wasting time in a car. Which I’m sure you’ve realised from my commuting content – Walking 90km to work and Paddle to Work. I hate being bored, and everyone’s bored on their commutes, so every now and then I like to spice it up!
Aidan: And is there an underlying message in the book?
Beau: I’m not much of a preacher. But, the underlying message is to just go and do stuff. I’ve got a natural curiosity for life and for things and for stuff. Curiosity doesn’t really have boundaries. I think in some respects, you’ve either got it or you don’t, and I’ve got it in spades.
You lead a pretty interesting life when you’re curious, because everything is interesting to you. So I just try to relay that to folks, I suppose. Now you’ve still got to be a good writer whether you’re curious or not and that’s the craft. So I hope I’ve done an okay job of translating that curiosity and its benefits to folks. Only time will tell.
Aidan: Your adventures often come across as quite spontaneous. What’s the structure like behind the scenes?
Beau: Yeah totally. I like to do things that I don’t quite know the outcome of, but there’s still calculation behind it all. I think you can still be a good decision maker, with ad hoc decisions. If that makes sense.
I also don’t particularly like doing things that I’m not gonna finish or that I’m gonna get lost, or I’m gonna get dehydrated, or I’m gonna get sunburned or not have a good time. So my adventures are all really calculated decisions.
As a storyteller, I know that you can come across a bit more loose and ad hoc and it’s just a bit more fun that way. But in my heart of hearts I kind of know what I’m doing.
Aidan: Is that ultimately what you’re trying to do with your content, tell unique stories and teach people something new?
Beau: Yeah I suppose I’m an ok teacher and I’ve been doing that a long time. That’s really my bread and butter. And in a sense, everyone is a teacher, everyone’s a communicator, everyone’s a storyteller. People don’t think that someone working in a service station, or as a cleaner, or a builder, or a farmer, are storytellers. But they are.
Everyone communicates via a story, that’s just how we do it. So that was always my strength as a teacher; to teach stories, to make things relatable. And that’s the same with my adventures and videos.
Aidan: Before you embarked on your 655km run of the Australian Alps, you said that you used to be a jogger but now you’re a runner, what do you mean by that?
Beau: To be honest that was kind of a shitty statement on my part. But to me it’s really when running becomes a big part of your life. If you’re a jogger you do it every now and again, to sort of reset your every day. Whereas running for me is my everyday, it’s just ingrained in my life. You know, I’ve been running most days now for 20 odd years.
It also becomes part of your job in a sense. Jogging you can take it or leave it, running is so habitual that it’s like eating breakfast. It doesn’t talk about speed, you know, I’m not particularly fast anymore. There was a time where I was fast, and wanted to be faster. Now, I just want to be strong and fit and I want to get out of the house. So I think that defines me as a runner. But it’s a very personal definition.
Aidan: Have you got any other big running adventures in the making?
Beau: Yeah, I had my biggest foray back into serious ultra running a couple of weeks ago with an exciting expedition I’ve been planning for a while again. There’s been some pretty intense training in the lead up as well and I was training about 12 hours a week in the mountains.
The run itself was 210kms in 3 and a bit days across some mountains – which I won’t disclose just yet. That’ll be a film coming out at some point in the future, so keep your eyes peeled.
Aidan: How often do you fail when you set out on endurance adventures?
Beau: Well, I first tried this last big 210km run, in December and failed. I had to really come back and change my training up. At the time I was doing 8 or 10 hours a week of training then, but I was doing too many flats and smaller hills.
So I came back and said: ‘Right, Beau, you’re not a 30 year old anymore.’ You can’t just rely on a younger set of legs. So I had to train harder, simple as that.
Aidan: Your ultra runs are always spent alone. Do you view running as a personal, rather than shared experience?
Beau: I get asked to a lot of running events and I really like them. I actually MC’d an ultra running event last weekend and it was really good fun. They’re really good people, runners are great people and that’s what makes these environments so great.
But running is very personal to me, mainly because I’m social the rest of the time. I was never attracted to sports or running by the want of being around others.
Running, for me, is completely my own time. I’m looking, and feeling where I’m going. And yes, I’m thinking about the rest of my life. It’s a place of clarity, which you get to crave after a while, it’s a place where you can think things that are completely and utterly your own, and that you’ll never share. I suppose non-running life is all about sharing, but running is very personal, internal and abstract.
I sometimes even question putting it on film as well. During my last long run across the mountains I had to dig really deep a couple of times when I was out on the trails. There were lots of vertical climbs, lost tracks, blackberries, river crossings, and other wonderful things. And I really just wanted to do it, but as a film-maker and a runner, you need to do twice the work – it’s bloody exhausting. Although it makes a hell of a challenge.
Aidan: Alex Honnold talks a lot about that in Free Solo. Does filming your adventures take away from the experience?
Beau: It’s always a compromise. But now I’ve got a great team of filmmakers around me who are really close friends and generally the film-making and the adventure feels separate.
The film takes time: you revisit things, you edit, you cut, you reshoot, you fill in gaps. The adventure itself goes from A to B to C to D, and I’m really just doing my own thing.
Aidan: Is there a certain selfishness to your adventures, a reliance on your team?
Beau: Yeah, and I struggle with that sometimes. But there’s only 3 / 4 of us and they genuinely have a great time out there in the hills. So it’s not just the Beau experience.
I’m often very envious of what they’re doing. I mean they’re sometimes in helicopters, or sitting at the top of a mountain watching the most glorious sunset, drinking coffee while I’m busting my arse off to be where they are! So in some respects, it’s pretty selfish. But what workplace isn’t?
Aidan: How do you come up with adventures like the mile an hour?
Beau: I think a lot of people think about doing strange projects or think weird things, but don’t actually do them. I don’t say yes to everything, but I think alot about all these things and then I do 1 in 10 of them, or 1 in 100, to actually see it through. Maybe that’s my message: to think weird thoughts. And you know what, every now and again, do it. Because why not?
Now it becomes complicated if you want to film it, or show someone else. That’s a whole other step – you’re a bit more vulnerable, because you actually have to back it up and justify why the hell you’re doing it.
Whereas if you just choose to walk to work, or paddle to the office, you can just do it because it’s a hell of a good experience. It doesn’t need to be showy, or glossy, or a hard fought story. You just do it. And I think that’s liberating.
Aidan: But how do you make that first step towards doing it? Personally, I find events are a great stepping stone for people wanting to live a more active lifestyle.
Beau: Yeah totally and my wife’s the same. She’s a really motivated person, but she’s more motivated when there’s something like an event, or one of her friends is doing it, or she’s meeting someone at the park to do it. And I think that’s especially big for people who are used to playing team sports.
That’s where the accountability of an event or commitment with a group is so useful. The message is the same though, whether it’s a marathon, a kayaking adventure, a weird commute to work, or building a shed. Just do them. Pick something, and try it. You’ll probably find you love it.