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The mountains are calling and I must go, and I will work on while I can, studying incessantly.

- John Muir


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Athletes & Explorers

Dec 05, 2018

What Does Fear Mean to RJ Ripper, the 2018 Adventurer of the Year?

Globally known and admired for his prowess as a mountain biker, Rajesh Magar shares his approach to managing fear and evolving.

WRITTEN BY

Jahnvi Pananchikal

Rajesh Magar, “RJ Ripper” or just “RJ” to his friends, is a name that not only the people of his native Nepal know well, but also the adventure sports community around the world. This was solidified when Rajesh recently became the 2018 Nat Geo Adventurer of the Year. Rajesh is a star mountain biker from Nepal, who built his own bike from scratch, before pushing it to the limits and attracting the globe’s attention.

“One should have fear. It’s a good thing,”

In Joey Schusler documentary entitled RJ Ripper, Mandil Pradhan of H+I Adventures referred to Rajesh as “A kid from Nepal is taking on the world.” That world has grown to not only admire his ability, but for also making the most of the opportunities available to him given the humble context. If you need to give yourself an introduction to Rajesh, RJ Ripper is a powerful and hugely inspiring film that tells his story. It can be found below.

More than anything else, RJ’s attitude has been such an important factor in his success as a mountain biker. The commitment he has demonstrated has been well covered, however The Outdoor Journal wanted to talk about something else. We reached out to him about the role of fear in his story, what kept him going back for more, and how he could push himself so hard, on a bike that he had built himself from scrap metal.

THE EARLY DAYS

RJ’s talent is not confined to the saddle, he’s also a self taught bike builder. Photo: Joey Schusler

In Rajesh’s life, limits have always been evident. From the outside, breaking those limits often required a disregard for fear. However, according to RJ, that is not the case. Throughout his life, fear has always been there, he’s just taken it in his stride. “One should have fear. It’s a good thing.”

When Rajesh’s mother brought home a bicycle, he didn’t know how to ride it. Grateful to receive one, he simply taught himself how to ride. “When I started to try and ride, I would take the bicycle on the main road everyday. I would try, and try again, to stay on my wheels, but fall again, and again. At the time, I wasn’t great at turning, so I fell many times. Of course, there was also an additional risk of cars that could hit me. Therefore, I instead went off road to try and learn how to ride the bicycle,” Rajesh recalls.

With friends, Rajesh would ride around Kathmandu and compete with them. At times they noticed other cyclists performing stunts on the street, so Magar and his friends would visit cyber cafes to pick up tips from online videos. When he wasn’t riding, Rajesh would regularly sit and observe mechanics working at a local cycle shop to figure out how he might customize bicycles for himself. That’s what being a self-starter is all about.

“I thought, ‘If they can do it, we can do it too. Let’s try.’ I learnt how to make a cycle, how to fix a puncture, how to change tyres, and how to install brakes. I then started trying that on my own cycle, by removing and adding parts. When I did that, the cycle started looking smaller, so I’d do things to make it bigger,” RJ explained.

TACKLING FEAR AND INSPIRING OTHERS

Mountain biking in Nepal means spending your time in some of the world’s most beautiful landscapes. Photo: Joey Schusler

Rajesh wasn’t looking for fame, fame found him. Joey Schusler, an experienced mountain biker and documentary filmmaker, met Rajesh while visiting Kathmandu. The two immediately hit it off during a tour with Mandil Pradhan’s H+I Adventures, and this relationship inspired Schusler to film a documentary aboutRajesh Magar’s story.

When asked about RJ, Schusler immediately jumps to fear, and his admiration for the way in which he faces it. “Magar has his head on pretty straight, and is very aware of his skill-set when riding. He knows the level he is at, and understands that it takes time to slowly progress and move past his fears to each new level. He never seemed too scared when we were riding and filming together.”

“Fear plays a big part in mountain biking. It is what keeps us in check, so we don’t try to progress too fast.”

RJ progressed slowly but very effectively, continually building confidence. When RJ started to compete, the goal was winning, and speed was necessary to win. However, this was a skill that required much patience and repetition to master. Much of his training was pursued alone, repeating routes and timing himself again, and again to improve his speed. Each time he would tinker with his approach by keeping a check on his balance. “I would take it section by section, and once I was comfortable on the tracks, I’d tackle speed. Where I wouldn’t be comfortable, I would go slow and try a few times until gaining speed and then it would work.”

RJ does not disregard fear, as you might expect. In fact he pays a lot of attention to it. “If you just go for it, anything can happen. I made that mistake but I’m still alive, I’ve learnt from experience. Of course, there will always be moments when I think, “wow that was a close call! Thank God, I survived.’ This is always the way in adventure sports, there is always a risk, but good things can happen too,” RJ says, with a smile.

“The fastest mountain biker in Asia”. Photo: Joey Schusler

Only a few know how to actually handle fear that way.

Whilst shooting the documentary, Schusler was aware of RJ’s measured and intelligent approach. “He’s such a natural on the bike. You can tell that he is just at home and full of comfort when riding it. His focus is so good, and he’s so dedicated to his craft,” Schusler told The Outdoor Journal. “Fear plays a big part in mountain biking. It is what keeps us in check, so we don’t try to progress too fast,” he added.

Perhaps this is the thing that really sets RJ apart from the rest, the know-how to manage fear. RJ makes a conscious choice. The good thing is that it can be taught and it’s infectious, when others see this approach, they often adopt it for themselves. RJ is in a position to spark change within an entire community.

“Some would watch me and think, ‘wow that’s amazing, he did it.’ Some would be discouraging, but I wouldn’t pay attention. My purpose is to demonstrate that  you can do anything if you’re prepared to offer complete dedication. Once inspired, people can do great things and further inspire each other.”

LIFE AS THE ADVENTURER OF THE YEAR

RJ would repeat the same routes, again and again in an effort to increase his speed. Always paying attention to his balance and how it could be improved. Photo: Joey Schusler

All these years of learning how to handle fear in a productive way has added a huge amount of value to RJ’s life. The world now knows about his talent, and he feels humbled by that unexpected fame. More than anything else, RJ is happy to just be.

“As of now, everything is good. I’ve got work, friends, family, and everyone is happy. My family and friends are happy because of what I’ve become, and I’m just happy with that. I haven’t yet thought about anything else apart from this. I never expected any of this,” RJ says.

For five years now, since his meeting with Mandil Pradhan, RJ has been leading tours and is the head mechanics at H+I Adventures. It’s via this role that RJ met the founder of AT Cycles, who was inspired by his story and made the offer of brand ambassador.

Since RJ now represents Nepal, he is no longer mountain biking just for fun. It’s a huge responsibility that he takes very seriously, but we’re pretty sure that he’s still having fun too.

RJ is very proud of his Nepalese heritage. Photo: Joey Schusler

“People have different expectations. I often hear things like, “You will have to win, bro”, meanwhile others will still just say “Hey, go have fun!” he laughs. “More than anything else it’s a good feeling to know that I’ve done something for others, and perhaps made them see that they can do it too.”

RJ is grateful to all the people who supported him in his endeavour of mountain biking. Whether it was with their words or by offering the materials that he needed to pursue his passion. The future? RJ plans to cycle until the day his body stops allowing him to do so, but more than anything else, simply wishes to do something meaningful with his life. For the next five years, he plans on participating in racing championships, but that’s not a life-long goal.

“I want to race with the fastest mountain bikers in the world. I just want to see where I stand among the fastest riders. But as far as cycling goes, I’ll never leave that and keep it with me for as long as I have life inside of me,” he says.

RJ’s fear led to innovation, personal development, strength, and success. His inspiring story shows that the right attitude goes a long way, and we shouldn’t disregard fear.

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Athletes & Explorers

Dec 13, 2018

Steph Davis: Dreaming of Flying

What drives Steph, to free solo a mountain with nothing but her hands and feet, before base jumping? “Bravery is not caused by the absence of fear."

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WRITTEN BY

The Outdoor Journal

Presented byimage

In the coming days the Outdoor Journal will release an exclusive interview with Steph Davis, follow us via our social networks and stay tuned for more.

Do you have to be fearless to jump off a mountain? Meeting Steph Davis, you quickly realise: no, fearlessness is not what it takes. It’s not the search for thrills that drives her. She’s Mercedes travelled to Moab, Utah to find out what does – and to talk to Steph Davis about what it takes to climb the most challenging peaks and plunge from the highest mountaintops.

Steph Davis, getting ready to jump. Photo by Jan Vincent Kleine

At noon, when the sun is at its highest point above the deserts of southeastern Utah and when every stone cliff casts a sharp shadow, you get a sense of how harsh this area can be. Despite Utah’s barrenness, Steph loves the orange-gold landscape with its towers and elegantly curved arches of sandstone. But Steph is not here because of the natural spectacle. Here, in this area which is as beautiful as it is inhospitable, she can pursue her greatest passion: free solo climbing and BASE jumping.

Castleton Tower… Look closely. Photo by Jan Vincent Kleine

Today, Steph wants to take us to Castleton Tower. We travel on gravel roads that are hardly recognizable, right into the middle of the desert. Gnarled bushes and conifers grow along what might be the side of the road. Other than that, the surrounding landscape lives up to its name: it is deserted. Steph loves the remoteness of the area. “One of my favourite places is a small octagonal cabin in the desert that I designed and built together with some of my closest friends. It’s not big and doesn’t have many amenities but it has everything you need: a bed, a bathroom, a small kitchenette … and eight windows allowing me to take in nature around me. That’s pretty much all I need.” Steph Davis cherishes the simple things. She has found her place, and she doesn’t let go.

No ropes, no safety net. Photo by Jan Vincent Kleine

Castleton Tower is home turf for Steph. She has climbed the iconic red sandstone tower so many times she’s lost count. The iconic 120-metre obelisk on top of a 300-metre cone is popular among rock climbers as well as with BASE jumpers. Its isolated position makes it a perfect plunging point and it can easily be summited with little equipment – at least for experienced climbers like Steph Davis.

“It would be reckless not to be afraid. But I don’t have to be paralysed by fear.”

Steph is a free solo climber, which means she relies on her hands and feet only – not on ropes, hooks or harnesses. She loves to free solo, using only what’s absolutely necessary. She squeezes her hands into the tiniest cracks in the stone and her feet find support on the smallest outcroppings, where others would see only a smooth surface. Steph climbs walls that might be 100 metres tall – sometimes rising up 900 metres – with nothing below her but thin air and the ground far below. She knows that any mistake while climbing can be fatal.

Flying. Photo by Jan Vincent Kleine

The possibility of falling accompanies Steph whenever she climbs. Is she afraid? “Of course – it would be reckless not to be. But I don’t have to be paralysed by fear.” She has learned to transform it into power, prudence, and strength. “It’s up to us to stay in control.”

“You have to learn to face your fears and accept them for what they are.”

That’s what, according to her, free soloing and BASE jumping are all about: to be in control and to trust in one’s abilities. “It’s not about showing off how brave I am. It’s about trusting myself to be good enough not to fall. It takes a lot of strength, both physical and mental. You have to learn to face your fears and accept them for what they are.”

Touchdown. Photo by Jan Vincent Kleine

Steph Davis likes to laugh and she does so a lot. She chooses her words with care, and she doesn’t rush. Why would she? There’s no point in rushing when you’re hanging on a vertical wall, with nothing but your hands and feet. Just like climbing, she prefers to approach things carefully and analytically. That’s how she got as far as she did. “I didn’t grow up as an athlete, and started climbing when I was 18,” she smiles, shrugging. But her work ethic is meticulous and she knows how to improve herself. Whenever she prepares for an ascent, she does so for months, practising each section over and over again – on the wall and in her head – until she has internalised it all. She does the same before a BASE jump and practices the exact moves in her head until she knows the movement is consummate.

Steph loves the orange-gold landscape with its towers and elegantly curved arches of sandstone. Photo by Jan Vincent Kleine

“Bravery is not caused by the absence of fear.”

Would Steph consider herself brave? She says that she wouldn’t know how to answer that, you can see the small wrinkles around Steph’s eyes that always appear whenever she laughs. In any case, she doesn’t consider herself to be exceptional. “I’m not a heroine just because I jump off mountaintops,” Steph says she has weaknesses just like everyone else. But she might overcome them a little better than most of us do, just as she has learned to work with fear. “Bravery is not caused by the absence of fear. It is brave to accept fear for what it is, as a companion that you should sometimes listen to, but one you shouldn’t be obedient to.”

She slows the car down. We have reached Castleton Tower. It rises majestically in front of us while the sun has left its zenith. If Steph started walking now, she’d reach the top at the moment the sun went down, bathing the surrounding area in a golden light. She takes her shoes and the little parachute; all she needs today. Then she smiles again, says “see you in a bit”, and starts walking. Not fast, not hastily, but without hesitation.

All photos by Jan Vincent Kleine

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