Interview: Ivan Kilroe
Ivan Kilroe is an avid adventurer with his primary form of transport being his bicycle. In 2016 he was chosen by Blackburn Design to be part of their ranger programme. "The ranger programme hosted by Blackburn, chooses 6 individuals and sends them out on a series of adventure cycling routes.... My route was the 4228.5miles coast-to-coast route known as the Transamerica trail."
I came across Ivan via Instagram and took great joy in following his expeditions and loved his candid, mostly film, photography of life on the road. I was keen to hear more about why he started documenting his journey and what he hoped others would learn from it so we chatted and this was our conversation...
Q: Can you start off by telling me a little bit about what you do and how you came to be doing it?
A: I guess first and foremost I'm an outdoor enthusiast, passionate about the environment, photography and immersing myself in outdoor life.
These days I'm just happy to be outside doing whatever I can, but I guess it all started when I got into mountain biking. My favourite holidays as a youngster were always skiing, I loved the sensation of speed and just being in the mountains. Mountain biking seemed the logical equivalent living in the UK.
I and a few friends got our first ‘proper’ mountain bikes in primary school and persuaded our parents to do the same (so they could take us). Soon they were almost as keen as we were, and from then on we were up in the Lake District most weekends rain or shine, and regularly venturing off on camping trips to Scotland and Wales.
Looking back we were very fortunate to have had such supportive parents, that actively encouraged our interests.
These early experiences were the foundation for my interest in the outdoors, and although I didn't realise it back then and occasionally followed other pursuits I always returned with new eyes and an eagerness to rekindle the flame.
It’s amazing looking back at the evolutionary process of what I valued back then to what inspires and motivates me now, and how the tool (the bicycle) has remained the same. When I was in my teens it was all about going the fastest jumping the furthest and developing a high skill level. Although this is still very much a part of the enjoyment, I'm much more motivated to be exploring new places, seeking out new experiences and chasing the thrill of the unknown.
Q: Your website is called www.theeasypeeler.com. Where did that name come from?
A: I knew I wanted to start a blog, but I really wasn’t sure where I was going with it or what to call it: ‘theeasypeeler’ just happened to be in my head at the time and it just had an appealing laid back feel (excuse the pun) without any real connections or connotations associated with the outdoors. Which I think gives it an attractive degree of ambiguity.
Q: What is it you love most about the great outdoors?
A: Although seemingly a bit of a cliche, it is a form of escape. I feel a sense of freedom in the slower and seemingly simpler existence that comes with being outside. With no distractions, I can find myself present in the activity: the mere goal of getting to somewhere, discovering new places, and waking up outside. Even the enjoyment of often mundane activities like eating and drinking gain an increased intrinsic value and appreciation.
It’s also where I feel the most alive, the senses feel engaged, in tune with the surroundings and the changing conditions. I find this to be particularly emphasised whenever I find myself vulnerable or at the mercy of the weather; feeling the wind in your face, the bite of a cold frost, or even just listening to the rain tap away at your tent. It all culminates to an unusual combination of addiction and therapy.
Q: If you had to spend the rest of your life in one place, where would it be?
A: That's a tough one. There are still so many destinations I have yet to visit, but if I had to choose one off the bat, i’d probably say Scotland? There’s a wealth of land to be explored up there and although the weather can be less than than ideal at times, there’s something about that, that makes you appreciate and respect the landscape. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but it always leaves me wanting more.
Q: You were recently selected to be one of 6 rangers by Blackburn Design (congratulations!) and were tasked with cycling the Trans-america trail. What did it feel like to be chosen for this incredible opportunity?
A: It was amazing! I felt very fortunate to have been chosen for such an opportunity, and it came at the perfect time: I’d been gaining some momentum with some smaller trips, and I just felt ready to take on something longer and more challenging. I really just wanted to throw myself into a range of new experiences that would take me out of my comfort zone and leave me with memories for life.
The U.S has always enticed me as an outdoor destination, and to get the chance to ride across was the perfect way to see it. Being able to represent Blackburn and a host of other brands, equipped with, and testing some of the best gear in the business was an added bonus.
Q: Had you ever cycled that kind of distance before?
A: Not even close. I'd done plenty of overnighters in the Lake District and my longest trip consisted of riding around the Isle of Man for a week. I think I'd only been camping on my own on four separate occasions before this, so the prospect of riding for 4 months alone spanning the width of the U.S was a little daunting.
It felt like a big step in that respect. I wasn't even sure how I’d cope with potentially long periods alone, or whether I’d actually make it. But these unknowns were part of the challenge I was looking for, and why I wanted to do it. Fortunately, I wasn't alone for the whole time and I was able to meet and ride with some great people along the way.
Q. It’s great that you’ve started a blog. Why did you decide to start documenting your journeys?
A: I had really been warming to the idea for a while and it just seemed like the right time: I was doing things I wanted to share/document, getting more into photography and not really doing much with it. I never even realised I liked writing until I actually wrote about something I was interested in: Whilst everyone at university was complaining about their dissertations it dawned on me that I was secretly enjoying mine. I found the whole process: researching, learning and making it all fit together to be, although stressful at times, an enjoyable and rewarding experience. Sadly, I never wrote anything after that, and I guess it just took me a while to find something I wanted to write about again.
It’s been a great way to reflect, to remember how I felt in a particular moment and the details that usually get left behind with time. I’m really looking forward to using this project as a reason to push myself, experiment, ask questions, and try new things. Whilst also serving as a record of trips and experiences that I’ll be able to look back on with fondness for time well spent.
Q. How do you think technology influences our connection to nature?
A: This could definitely warrant a considerable essay but I’ll try to keep it brief.
On the one hand it is easy to see the negative influences of technology on our connection to nature. It’s ingrained in all aspects of our lives now, it’s addictive, it’s distracting, and its almost become an extension of ourselves. So much is quite literally available at our fingertips.
It seems that a knowledge and fluency of a range of technological devices is as necessary for survival in the modern world as a knowledge of our natural environments was for our ancestors.
Just thinking back to my childhood my grandad would always make a conscious effort to teach me about the local environment: identifying birds, trees, and plant life etc. Perhaps it was just because he lived off the land that his knowledge was so bountiful, but I feel that this kind of knowledge was a lot more common in previous generations. Whereas now, even though I take an interest I still know very little in the grand scheme of things. I can identify but a few trees, and plant species and with the advent of year round food I have but a basic understanding of seasonal produce.
With more and more people now living in cities, this kind of understanding of natural systems seems alien relegated to tv shows and a minority, who remain in rural industries or actively cultivate a specific interest.
And yet, if I wanted to begin for example: growing myself a vegetable patch (and one day I will) the internet would be a great place to start. These days you can pretty much find out the practical information on what, and how to do anything. Books are a great source, but you can’t ask a book a question, connect with a community, or watch a detailed video of someone teaching you how to correctly prune your Bonsai...
I think visual media in general and places like Instagram are a great example of where technology and the digital world actively encourages you to get out and connect with nature. It's a constant source of inspiration. The amount of bloggers, storytellers, photographers, filmmakers, and environmental campaigners that can reach a wider audience through the internet and our handheld devices is asstounding. They can educate and inspire at the click of a button, or the touch of a screen. Imagine having to go to an exhibition or buy an outdoor specific publication to see news and photos of the natural world. I mean we still do these things, but just imagining not having that digital version so readily available, on the bus, the train, wherever. Seems kind of crazy now.
I think it’s especially powerful when you see an image of one of your friends ‘out there’ doing something, and ‘you're like hey, if they can do it...’ I think that makes it all the more attainable and encouraging. I mean just a few weeks ago my friend said he’d just booked a flight out to the U.S because he’d been following my ride.
Q. What are the items you take on every adventure/trip that you couldn’t do without?
A: Aside from the essentials for survival, I always try and take my camera despite having to forgo its sometimes awkward obtrusiveness. Whether I use it or not my harmonica is so small that it always finds its way into a bag, and good coffee is always a ‘necessary unnecessary’. If i’m just off for a few days I’ll usually be equipped with some whisky and dark chocolate, especially in the colder months when you need something to warm the soul.
Q. What is it you hope others will learn from your work?
A: I hope that this project will not only be a space to share a passion, make connections and log some great memories, but also provide some useful information, stories, ideas and inspiration for others. Some of the most beautiful and profound moments I’ve had have been outside, and if I can share what inspires and motivates me perhaps this can encourage others in a similar way.
I think just spending time in the great outdoors is a valuable first step toward forging that much needed connection with nature. Now more than ever it is becoming increasingly important for us to establish a respectful and coexistent future with the natural world.