Known as Louphi the Versatile Explorer, Louis-Philippe Loncke has embarked on some extraordinary expeditions. He first started hiking on a weekend trip to Ireland, but it was when he went to Australia that he started backpacking in earnest. Armed with a Lonely Planet walking guide, Louphi started trekking in Blue Mountains. After 6 months he had covered more than 1100km in 40+ bushwalks. Moving his sights onto bigger adventures, Louphi trekked the across West MacDonnells National Park and along the entire length of Frazer Island. In Tasmania he hiked from Cradle Valley to the South Cape on a 49 day solo and unsupported “insane” expedition. Spurred on by these adventures, Louphi became was the first westerner to hike solo and unsupported, north to south across the Simpson Desert in 2008.
I prefer to go solo, especially on unsupported treks. It’s very hard to find a partner who wants to share the same preparations, commitments and aims. Even if this was ok, he/she should be able to have the same fitness as I have (not stronger, not weaker). A difference pace will in total increase the time to cover the distance and in some ways decrease safety (catching up someone who waits can lead to less focus and this is where accidents happen).
Louphi’s next adventure took him back to the European side of the world, where he completed the first half of a two part adventure. He hiked on a north-south route across Iceland during the summer and wishes to repeat the journey during winter. One of the major aims of this expedition is to find out about the differences between making the expedition in summer and winter conditions.
Louis-Philippe Loncke Interview
With the spirit of wanting to try new things, Louphi recently took on a new experimental challenge, to canoe around the waterways of Belgium. What would make anyone want to do this? We asked Louphi to tell us more about the trip and also about part two of his planned winter trip to Iceland…
CheapTents: What made you decide to kayak around the waterways of Belgium?
Louis-Philippe Loncke: A friend of mine asked me 2 years ago if I wanted to kayak a Saturday afternoon on a canal near Tournai in Belgium. I had no idea we could but said yes. After the 2 hours of paddle, I went back home and checked Googlemaps to see where we’ve been. I noticed all major cities in Belgium were connected by a dense network of waterways, the largest in the world with the Netherlands of course. The idea of the tour became obvious as training for bigger kayak adventures.
CheapTents: How did you train for this expedition?
Louis-Philippe Loncke: With my current job and no cash-sponsors, adding up the large part of administrative preparations, I only took my first kayak lesson ever 2 weeks before the start. A course of an hour only, then I tested my Seabird Designs kayak for 30 minutes and that was it!
CheapTents: Were there any difficult, funny or unusual situations that you encountered during this expedition?
Louis-Philippe Loncke: I had a few surprises, part of the learning. The hardest part was clearly the end as I entered the North Sea (leaving the harbor of Ostend) with the tidal current against me and heavy wind. I was accompanied by Johan a local seakayaker who is trained. It was difficult for him as well and he told me after reaching the beach that if I had capsized in the sea, he would not have been able to rescue me and I had to crash on the rocks or be otherwise rescued.
The fun part were really the encounter and reaction of birds who were not used to seeing a kayak and were very surprised. The ducks are the biggest cowards of all birds I’ve seen! I also had the privilege to go down the 4 boatlifts of Strépy, which are UNESCO world heritage listed. Especially as one was in repair for 2 years and was just open to touristic navigation 2 months before the expedition start.
CheapTents: Many of your expeditions have been solo, unsupported treks across isolated parts of the world. Has your kayaking expedition brought you any new or different challenges?
Louis-Philippe Loncke: Sure. I like kayaking as discovery mean, so this was just a warm up. Now I have to learn seakayaking skills like surfing, re-enter after capsizing, rolling etc… So it opens new opportunities.
CheapTents: Do you have any more kayaking or packraft expeditions planned for the future?
Louis-Philippe Loncke: Yes, BelgiKayak was a multi-weekend expedition. The next kayak expedition is in early phase (feasibility study) and will be 10% mountain trekking, 5% packrafting and 85% kayaking. Too early to tell you everything.
CheapTents: What has been your worst injury (if any) during an expedition and how did it happen?
Louis-Philippe Loncke: I’d say 2. Last year in Iceland I fell in a small lava crack and scratched all skin on my tibia to uncover the tibia bone. I saw one of my bone for the first time in my life a second before the blood started to cover it. The bleeding wasn’t too bad but I got in shock. Luckily I had enough time to sit down, take water, food and put on my jacket to avoid fainting. Energy came back after one hour and my aim of the day was to reach a safe place with a water stream, sleep and decide the next day to stop or not.
Then in 2007, after an epic 49 day unresupplied crossing of Tasmania’s wilderness, I ended up like this http://louphi.blogspot.com/. Lost all my fat and most of my body mass. During the last 2 weeks I had a bad foot infection called the trench foot disease and lost all sense in my toes for 18 months. This disease can be worse than frostbite and it can become gangrenic and spread to the entire body. Just Google trench foot and check out what I could have had if left untreated. I took 16 different pills 3 times per day for 6 weeks to unswell both foot (yes the disease decided to spread to the other foot during my flight back to Belgium.)
CheapTents: How do you keep motivated when an expedition becomes difficult?
Louis-Philippe Loncke: Before Tasmania, it was remembering a part of my 20ties where I wanted to commit suicide as unhappy with no purpose. Now I know I can’t go as low than that right ? After Tassie, well I remember these last 2 weeks where due to a lack of food and water I even became delirious so an episode like in Iceland feels like a small hangover compared to it. I believe my mental spirit is very strong now.
CheapTents: What are the major difficulties that you expect to encounter on your planned 2012 winter expedition across Iceland?
Louis-Philippe Loncke: First I’ll delay again the expedition to 2013 as in 3 months I can’t prepare and built the new prototype pulka I want to have. The major enemy in Iceland is the wind. It can be very strong. Not to minimize the hard and various terrains the island offers. Anyone who’s been there a bit off track can understand that the progression will be slow. Also I want to do this in the dark in January. It links to the previous question: I want to go back to something extremely hard for the mind and try to measure what happening to the mind, which is the scientific part I’m doing that should help prevent accidents in the future if we can diagnose when an adventure or white collar is so much under stress that he’ll do stupid things / go into burnout.
And in case of burnout in a storm I need to be safe. A tent in Iceland isn’t enough. A carbon fiber shell on a pulka should be.
CheapTents: Do you think that your winter route will deviate much from the route that you took in summer 2010?
Louis-Philippe Loncke: The start and end won’t change much. The central part will certainly change. I don’t want to go on the glacier. I guess 50% of the route will deviate of more than 1km from the original line.
CheapTents: What are your favourite bits of gear, and why?
Louis-Philippe Loncke: There’s one item I have since I’m 9 years old which is a small classic Victorinox swissknife. It has just a knife, tweezers, toothpick and a pair of scissors. I used it in every expedition.
I started to use the GoPro cameras and have plenty ideas to do have fun shooting uncommon urban areas with it. I’m currently compiling a list of 3D shots to do with it.
CheapTents: Any people or sponsors that you’d like thank?
Louis-Philippe Loncke: Australian Jon Muir for the real spirit of adventure.
Chris Bray to introduce me in the Explorers Club.
All my gear sponsors to trust me and the latest major being Seabird Designs, RODE microphones, GoPro, THULE and Select Paddles.
CheapTents: Anything else you would like to say?
Louis-Philippe Loncke: I’m still expecting a new nonsense world first record on the Everest. Who’s going to kayak or zorb down the summit?
If any corporation wants to sponsor world first expeditions, they can contact me. Someone has told me about a major first to be done that will attract the world press. He’s the world specialist in his field and he’d like me to do it but it needs large funding.
If you enjoyed this interview, why not read some of our interviews with other adventurers?
- Leon McCarron – Cyclist, Adventurer and Filmmaker
- Alastair Humphreys – Long distance cyclist and Microadventurer
- Andrew Skurka – Ultrahiker and Expeditionist
- Mikael Strandberg – Legendary Adventurer and Explorer
Louis-Philippe Loncke trekked across the Simpson Desert in Australia, pulling a cart with “sexy yellow wheels!