Photography Adventuring in Wales with Ash Dykes

National Geographic: Walking the Yangtze. 

Book: Mission Possible

3x World Records. 

Motivational Speaker. 

Joe Rogan Experience #1410

This story goes back four years (wow that is a long time ago now) when I originally started listening to podcasts. Ian Farrar’s “Industry Angel” podcast for the North East was suggested as one of the podcasts to listen to. For whatever reason, one of the first ones I listened to - don’t know why it jumped out, just one of those things - was a young, Welsh lad called Ash Dykes that had just done his two significant travels to-date - walking across Mongolia unaided with a drag trolley and then Jungle treking through Madagascar where he contracted the deadliest strain of Malaria, held up by the military, dodging bandits, and avoiding all manner of wildlife. The whole enthusiasm he had for his travels for being such a young man was really inspiring and interesting so I followed him on LinkedIn (LI) - not friended, just followed - I didn’t feel that was right at the time. Following him across social media and just watching his journey, I admired his passion and determination. 

Fast forward to Christmas before the pandemic, so December 2019, and I was on a training session with Nicola Little ( MINT Business Club). I sat with that day’s guest speaker, Celia Delaney, at lunch when she asked me a very tough question. “What would your dream shoot be? What would be the best thing that you could shoot as a photographer?” This sounds like a simple question but in reality, it made me really think. I started to question what photos I was taking. I was busy taking lots of photos but they were all for other people. What about me? Did I really want to look at my business and think, ‘Actually I’m not shooting what I want to shoot.’? So it was a good question and a real eye opener of a thought process - What did I really want to do? She prodded me and I said, “I’d like to shoot an adventurer on the top of a mountain à la Sidetracked magazine,” which is a magazine I read regularly and appreciate the content. And I thought that was the end of it. Just a cool ice breaker type question. It wasn’t the end of the conversation! She pushed me again and said, “Right, what are you going to do to make that happen?”

So I filled my face with a sandwich and asked myself, “What am I going to do?” After a while, I threw the idea out there. “I know of this person on LI. I could message him and see if a shoot is possible.” So she said, “Go on then!” So I sat there Father Ted-style, “Go on, go on, go on!” and then I did. I messaged Ash out of the blue on LI and said, “Is there any chance we could have a chat?” 

Unexpectedly, he replied saying, “No worries, drop me an email.” I dropped him an email and said I was a photographer of many years’ experience but something that’s in my head is this adventurer on top of a hill. It would be fantastic to come down to Wales and do a shoot.

And to my surprise he turned around and said, “Yes, that sounds fantastic. Let’s do it!” So that was the middle of December. The week before Christmas we were throwing some ideas around. He sent me his number to talk on WhatsApp to do things a bit easier and we said, “Right, we’ll sort it out the first week after the new year,” because we were both busy over Christmas. All great, so that was massive progress - to even be talking along this dream shoot line was significant. Thinking back to that initial ‘prodding’ when I threw the idea of this dream shoot out there I never expected to get this far. 

Roll on the first week of January, I’m about to send him an email to say, “Yeah, let’s get this sorted,” and he drops a video of himself saying, “Hey everybody, I’m just jumping on a plane to Los Angeles. I’m going to be on the Joe Rogan podcast.” This is actually just after he’d come back from China anyway. So his next big adventure which was walking the route of the Yangtze River, which nobody had ever done before from source to mouth and he’s obviously incredibly well-known over there now - and now across the world because of his feature on the biggest podcast in the world.

So there I am going, “Oh, there goes my idea of a dream shoot. Alright, we had a good journey, let’s see how things go.” So he goes on the podcast, the podcast is brilliant. Obviously, I watch it, he’s really engaging with Joe and I’m thinking, “What do I do now?”

So I sent another cheeky email along the lines of, “Hello Mr world-famous adventurer, Joe Rogan guest - is this still something that we could get arranged? Let me know what you think.” He replied straight back, “Yes, of course we are. We’ll do it.” Absolutely fantastic!

So we picked some dates in the middle of February for me to go down to Wales. I’d organised second photographers and video people and stuff to be with me to make a big deal of it - if this dream shoot is really happening then I needed to do it properly. Then I had some tragedy in my life - my mother’s health nosedived. She’d not been well for a long time but it was a significant nosedive and it was clear that she wasn’t going to make it out of the month. I spoke to Ash through all of that and let him know what was going on at home. I got some lovely messages from him - my younger cousins were totally confused that I was talking to such a famous person and that he was wishing my mam well. It was a very difficult and emotional time.

My mother unfortunately then passed away and then literally within a day of that happening we went into the first full Covid lockdown. Again, this shoot was getting further and further away. We had dates, we had times, we had everything planned and then it just couldn’t happen. Obviously it was a tough situation in life but it was also tough from a mental point of view as we’d worked hard on this for such a significant amount of time but it was slipping away. 

Roll forward a little bit to August 2021. After I’d had an incredibly busy June and July, as a family we had planned to go away on holiday and we booked a holiday to North Wales. It was nice to get away. We usually go to Scotland but North Wales was a nice change and Llandudno turned out to be a lovely place. I had a look at the map and a name jumped out at me which was Old Colywn which is where Ash lives and it just jumped out at me and it was like, “I can’t be this close to this four-year little worm in the back of my head and not at least approach the question again.”

So I did. I sent him an email from the same chain of emails that we’d sent before and just said, “Ash, fantastic stuff mate. I love what you’ve been doing and the motivational stuff you’ve been doing through lockdown. I know we chatted about this pre-Covid but I happen to be around the corner from you in two weeks’ time. Any chance I can have 20 minutes of your time?” That was all I really wanted. It was very much a mental thing for me as opposed to a big shoot. I just needed to get it out of my system now. To tick it off my list of things that kept slipping away. 

“So 20 minutes, I can do a shoot close to you and it would just sign off a little thing in my head - an achievement that we’ve gone through this process and sign off something I talked to my mam about that didn’t quite happen.” Unsurprisingly (again) Ash said, “Of course, let’s do it.” So the family holiday - don’t tell the wife - went on pause and it was all about planning for this shoot. I packed lots of extra kit for the holiday, loads of planning, loads of back and forwards with images that he likes that I’ve got in my head. I did a really good Google Maps scout which is something I do for most of my jobs where I’m not local or I need a slightly different overview of it. Lots of Streetview stuff and finding those locations. I still couldn’t quite believe it was actually going to happen this time. 

I found a great location just up the valley from where Ash lives. It turns out it was one of the “places to go” in Wales which was fantastic and so all of a sudden I’m there in this park looking at this amazing scenery. I scouted it out a bit while I was there instead of just looking at Google Maps and up pulls a Land Rover Defender (he’s sponsored by Land Rover). It was as if we’d met 100 times before and we were instantly having a chat and a laugh. After 20 minutes I said, “What time are we finishing on this shoot as I don’t want to take up all of your time,” and he was like, “Well it doesn’t get dark until half eight so we’ve got about three hours. Is that ok?”

Wow, fantastic. So we’ve got three hours shooting on a job that I thought was going to be 20 minutes. The range of work that we got - the different styles of stuff that we got - was just fantastic and Ash has already been sharing a lot of these. He’s now changed his profile picture to one of mine (which is probably the big one for me) from one that he’s had for years from when he finished Madagascar. That’s a fantastic sight to see! 

To go on this journey for four years and to go through kind of the ups and downs of it, it meant a lot and to be as reactionary as I was on the day - a lot of my shooting is very reactionary and very in the moment but this one I had to be because I went from having 20 minutes with a load of ideas that may or may not happen to having three hours to go, “Wow, I can really smash this and really do a load of stuff.”

There were so many little locations within the place where we were. So much potential. Yeah, we didn’t get the man on top of a hill which was kind of the original theme but we got so much of the feel of being an adventurer where we were. You’ll be able to see in the behind the scenes video that it was a cool little location but it wasn’t full on Yangtze River but that’s fine because we got some really cool pictures that had the feel and emphasis we wanted. 

To top it off Ash then said, “Right, what are we doing next after we’ve finished the shoot? We’ve done everything, signed off, had a great evening, what are we doing next?”

So we’ve started to talk about plans to see what we could do and you never know where things lead.

I hope you appreciate the pictures and hope you see the journey and the process behind this has been a long one and something quite significant for me and my own mental health. So hopefully we’ll see some more shoots with me and the man, the maestro, the legend, Ash Dykes, very soon.

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