June 3, 2015
[03:50] Monty Halls
[08:04] Monty's Stint In Superhumans
[12:55] Lost Worlds
[17:10] Sleep Deprivation
[19:52] Diving With A Giant Squid
[25:20] “Seven Meals Away From A Savage”
[30:57] Learning About One's New Environment
[34:44] How Monty Deals With Leaving His Family
[39:03] Biohacks That Have Worked For Monty During His Adventures
[44:25] Monty's Favorite “Lost Worlds” Moment
[46:40.2] End of Podcast
Ben: Hey, it's Ben Greenfield, and I know it's been a few weeks since we've had our usual Q&A, news flash, and formal podcast episode with myself and Brock. And sometimes when that happens, it feels like I'm really not able to fill you in on what's going on these days in my life. So I want to throw a quick tip in for you before we hop into today's podcast with adventurer Monty Halls because I just finished this very activity which I'm about to fill you in on: keg carries. Yes, keg carries. So this is something that I first discussed and discovered in the podcast episode with Zach Even-Esh, Zach Even-Esh, which you can find at bengreenfieldfitness.com, in which he recommended that you can actually get a keg from a local bar, you can fill it about a quarter to three quarters full of water, and do keg carries. And I'll tell you what, just doing five one to two minute keg carries with some kind of recovery in between, like planks, or yoga, or something to let your grip recover before you do another set of keg carries, is actually an amazing full body workout. So that's how I spent my morning prior to recording today's episode was carrying a keg around and around the perimeter of my house.
So one other thing before jumping into today's episode. As I mentioned in the episode, I just returned from a week long wilderness survival camp and wilderness immersion with my kids, and I didn't shave the whole time. I actually came home with about the closest thing to a beard I've ever had. And of course, one of the very first things that I did was I grabbed my Harry's razor, and these razors are built in a blade factory in Germany that's been crafting some of the world's highest quality blades for nearly a century. But you don't pay what you'd pay for a high quality German blade. Instead, Harry's has cut out the middleman and they give you this amazing shape at a fraction of the price of drugstore brands. So the way that you can get a Harry's razor, and my wife actually uses my Harry's razor as well, I often find it stolen from my little cupboard in the bathroom and in the shower where she's been shaving with it. So ladies, you would like this too, but you just go to harrys.com. And when you go to harrys.com, you can use the simple code Ben to save $5 off any of the shaving kits or razors from Harry’s. So check it out, harrys.com and use coupon code Ben. And now on to today's episode with adventurer Monty Halls.
In this episode of The Ben Greenfield Fitness Podcast:
“He was suspended essentially off a platform 150 feet up in the air, and a heart rate monitor on hand, so you had a number in front of you on a big monitor and that was 500 heartbeats. And from the moment they said ‘Go', whoever got 500 heartbeats first, they basically dropped you down a 150 foot.” “I have people, other species, we split into three groups. About 25% are heroic and will try and help other people, 25% will just save themselves, and 50% of the people will just sit there and be told what to do.” “I’m saying it in a positive way same as you're capable of the most extraordinary feats of endurance and the most extraordinary feats of initiative, and you are a very, very resilient creature. And it sometimes only emerges in very extreme environments.”
Ben: Hey, folks. It's Ben Greenfield here. Now I've always been a fan of gritty adventure, survival, wilderness exploring, and even TV shows like Bear Grylls, and Survivor Man, and even occasionally when I'm really bored, Naked and Afraid. So anyways, I just returned from a week-long wilderness survival immersion at a place called Twin Eagles Wilderness School. Myself and my seven year old boys spent a week in the wilderness out there and it just turned out that upon my return, I had the opportunity, that you get to listen in today, to have a chat with adventurer Monty Halls. And if you don't know who Monty Halls is, then you're going to in a moment, and he's certainly a guy who is worth following, and it's worth checking out some of his books and TV shows.
So Monty is a broadcaster, he's a speaker, a naturalist, a former Royal Marine, a Marine biologist, a travel writer, and a leadership specialist who has experience with over two decades of leading teams in some of the most remote environments on earth for documentaries like “Great Ocean Adventures” and “Lost Worlds”, which is actually running right now as a new series on the Discovery Channel. He's written adventure books like “The Fisherman's Apprentice”, “Adventures On the Wild West Coast”, and “The Ultimate Guide To 60 Of The World's Top Dive Locations”. So he's chock full of some really amazing stories and advice, and today we're going to have a wonderful chat. Now I know that, Monty, you were head hunted as a competitor back in the day for the TV show Superhumans, which is this test of all these elite performers competing in a series of different challenges. And I'm curious, what was your life like leading up to that point that would've gotten you head hunted for that role? Why were you chosen?
Monty: Well it's an interesting thing, Ben. I think sometimes you do things out of necessity, or you're almost forced into a position of making a choice that turned out to be a very good choice long term. And what happened to me, I was a Royal Marines Officer for eight years, and I left the Marines and went off and did the marine biology degree because I was always fascinated by the sea. And when I finished the degree, my life sort of slightly fell apart. My marriage split up and I couldn't find any work that I really wanted to do, and it's during the course of these times that I think you really explore the dark places in your soul and you find out what you're all about, you find out what your hard drive is like really. Because I couldn't really find a profession that I wanted to do, I ended up setting up my own expedition company. It was a kind of moment of epiphany over a cup of coffee when I thought, “You know, the only person who's going to turn my life around is me really. And the only way I could to the thing I've always loved, all my heroes were explorers, and the things I always loved doing were organizing projects, and expeditions, and physically pushing myself.”
So I ended up setting up an expedition company and ran that for a little while. And then just had a bit of dumb luck with the Superhumans show. Woody Allen came up with a great quote. He said, “98% of success in life is turning up.” And what that means is just being in the right place at the right time, and it was a channel called Channel 4 here in the UK, and a phone rang in the Ministry of Defense, and it was Channel 4, this TV channel, calling the Ministry of Defense looking for an actual Marine or an ex-para to enter this show, and someone who had a bit of a track record of exploration, and sort of elite performance as it were, and a friend of mine answered the phone. It was a simple as that. There's thousands of people who work in the Ministry of Defense here in the UK, and it just happens to be a friend of mine. And they said they wanted someone from Superhumans, and he said, “Oh. Monty would be ideal.”
Ben: Wow. Amazing. So what was that show like? What was one of the more difficult or crazy adventures that you had to set out upon while filming that show initially?
Monty: It was a fantastic show. It was really well-put together, and sadly we had a big thing in the UK for a long time called “event television”. And what that means is shows that are two hours long. So instead of having like four half hour shows, you'd have the whole thing in one two-hour burst. And it was a disaster in terms of ratings 'cause people don't watch a TV program for two hours solid. And the program actually went out during this phase of event TV. So it didn't do very well. And it's a real shame because the test they devised for us was just fantastic, and they're put together by the experts in human performance from kinetic laboratories here in the UK who are the people who test test pilots, and special forces people, and all that. And it wasn't just physical tests, it was things like memory, there was emotional intelligence, there was sleep deprivation, there was fearless. Now the fearlessness one in particular I remember vividly 'cause you were suspended essentially off a platform 150 feet up in the air with a bungee attached to you and a heart rate monitor on, and you were suspended next to someone else, one of the other competitors. You had a heart, you had a number in front of you on a big monitor, and that was 500 heartbeat. And from the moment they said go, whoever got to 500 heartbeats first, they basically dropped you down the 150 foot thing. It was all about controlling your fear. You had to make your pulse rate lower than their pulse rate.
Monty: Yeah. It's a really, really clever set of test, and there were 10 tests like that. And as I said, it was such a shame it ended up going out in this event TV format because it didn't quite resonate as much as it should. But fantastic, great experience.
Ben: Now I know that lots of folks who are like either snipers, or extreme competitors, or base jumpers, they'll do things like box breathing for example to lower heart rate. Did you have a specific strategy that used in a situation like that?
Monty: I didn't. But here's the interesting thing. Certain people, it turns out, that when they, it might be what you just talked about, box breathing, that when you hold your breath, your heart stops. It literally stops for a couple of beats. And it was an audible beep, so you could hear the beep and you watched the number in front of you. It actually counted down from 500, so you watched the number count down and you had this audible beep, but you could see your opponent's monitor as well and there was this audible beep as it counted down. So it was just straight competition that you get, and it's really frightening situation. You get your heart rate low than their heart rate. But it turns out I'm one of those people that when, I think it's like extreme bradycardia. You hold your breath and your heart literally stops, and my beep would literally stop for two or three seconds and then start again. And we had a doctor monitoring us all the time throughout all the tests we did called Hugh Montgomery who's one of the top, sort of Everest, and high altitude, and extreme doctors in the UK, and he explained it to me afterwards. He said, “Oh, yeah. You're one of those for the strange folk that when you hold your breath, your heart stops.”
Ben: Wow. Amazing.
Monty: But only for a couple of seconds. It's not like you're talking 30 seconds that's your heart's stopping, but literally for a couple of seconds you throw it out of rhythm. The weirdest thing, and I had no idea that was the case with me until I did that test.
Ben: So it's a natural bradycardia. So different from a guy like, say, Lance Armstrong who has a very, very low heart rate from just a heck load of training. You actually have this natural lowering of heart rate just by holding your breath?
Monty: Yeah, yeah. Sure. I wouldn't describe Lance Armstrong's heart rate as being low due to natural things, but…
Ben: Well, yeah. That's a whole different discussion.
Monty: Yeah. It turns out there was this sort of natural, almost extreme bradycardia. Now I hasten to add, I actually lost that test because the person I was up against was the free climbing champion of South Africa.
Ben: Oh, wow.
Monty: And it was a girl called Rachel Kelsey. And I'm Rachel's whole thing was about controlling her fear of height obviously. So she had this amazing discipline. She only just beat me, she beat me by a couple of beats. But, yeah, it was a great test. And the whole series of tests we did were just fantastic. And I hope the show gets revitalized actually 'cause it was a fascinating glimpse into the human condition.
Ben: Well, I'm certainly going to put a link to the show and also lots of the other things that we talk about. If folks are listening in, you can go to bengreenfieldfitness.com/monty. That's bengreenfieldfitness.com/MONTY to get some of the resources that we talk about in this show. Monty, but you just finished filming a newer series called “Lost Worlds”, which I know is on the Discovery Channel right now. What were some of the crazier adventures that you experienced during that filming?
Monty: Well the “Lost Worlds”, the format was very, very simple. The idea was to go places that camera crews and scientists have never been. And you'd think wouldn't you nowadays, here we are 2015, you've done the whole world, you've done every environment. But of course you haven't. We've unexplored 30% of cave systems, for example. We know nothing about the arboreal side, which is the rain forest canopy. In certain areas like South America where you've got these vast expanses of rain forests. we know nothing about what's going on there. There were a number of experiences, we explored the Mulu cave system, and that will live long in the memory. It was about four days inside this swelteringly hot cave system. And you can see why only 30, it's an estimate because of course they don't know how many caves around the world remain unexplored. But all the estimates say 30 to 40% have been explored. At least 60% remain unexplored. And the thing that sets the limit for those exploration is often human endurance. It's such a difficult environment to move around in. And it was…
Ben: Do you mean because it's so small or because it's dark?
Monty: Both of those things. You sort of have a mental image of a cave as having a nice flat floor, like a Flintstone cave, and a nice like cathedral sized overhead. And of course it's a series of constriction. And it's totally three dimensional. So those constrictions might go straight upright, like a chimney. Or they might go you know off at 45 degrees. It's full of drop offs, and it's a very, very dangerous environment indeed. If you lose your footing inside the cave, and you are two or three days into that cave and you break a leg or you break a pelvis, it will take weeks to get you out because you've got to go back through all these. And the only way to do it is man power, the only way to do is throw scores of people at the problem. So that was quite intense. And we used up all of our nine lives, we really did. There was a crew of 11 of us who went in, and there were plenty of people who fell over and plenty of things that went wrong. But fortunately, we all walked back out.
I think to me, I don't like heights very much and we climbed a thing called the Melinau Gorge in Borneo. And that was an amazing experience for me. I think I really had, I'm 48 now and you don't really expect too often to really sort of have an experience, a new experience that's so demanding that it makes you really look right inside yourself. I'm not a big guy with heights, and this was a 1,000 foot limestone rock face that hadn't been climbed before. So we wanted to get to the top of the Melinau Gorge and had sample for insect life and things as we went up and explored the caves, and the caverns, and things that pockmarked the front of a gorge. So that was a really intense experience. I'll never forget it. We had a Portaledge, and right at the top, Leo, who was my climbing partner and the guy who got me into all these places, set up the Portaledge, which for the non-climbers amongst you is like a kitchen table, a canvas kitchen table, and we stood on this Portaledge. And you look down, and you've got a thousand feet beneath you. Vertical. Just straight down into the rainforest canopy. And that was, it was intense. It was really intense. For someone who doesn't climb, it was very, very intense.
Ben: Yeah. One of the things that I notice when I look at, for example, this TV show Superhumans that you were initially on is you guys had everything from like memory tests, to extreme hypoxia, to extreme G-force, and all sorts of things that you experience. But one was actually sleep control, where I guess they kept you awake for 48 hours and then you spend 12 hours alternating between 30 minutes of sleep and 30 minutes playing some monotonous computer game to test alertness. And I'm curious for you when it comes to sleep control, when you're doing things like these climbs and a lot of the filming that you did for “Lost Worlds”, what do you do as far as sleep? Do you simply engage in extreme sleep deprivation and catch up later? Or when you're on it, on a ledge like that, are you sleeping?
Monty: I've had intense training for the last three years 'cause I've got two toddlers, one is three and the other one's one. So when it comes to sleep deprivation, I'm an expert. I've always been quite fortunate in that I haven't needed a huge amount of sleep. And that particular test you mentioned in Superhumans, it was a 48 hour test. And I didn't sleep at all in that 48 hours, and I sort of didn't feel like sleeping. It was the weirdest thing. I was very competitive. I was this young ex-Marine and had it all to prove, and all that. So it was super focused and super competitive. And actually the reason, that particular test, I came second. And the reason that I didn't sleep at all, and part of the test was that you had to be able to sleep, just get little chunks of sleep. And, yeah, so because I didn't have the discipline to go to sleep, as it were. They downgraded me a little bit from winning. But I've always, it's not something I consciously think of. I certainly think your body can survive on a lot less sleep than we tend to think we need. And I was quite serious a moment ago when I said having a three year old and a one year old, anyone with kids will tell you the times when you sleep for one, two hours a night, and I think myself and my girlfriend did that over periods of several months. And I think your body, one, two hours a night, four hours a night, that your body slowly adjusts I think. And the weird thing about all this, by the way, is I've always found that I'm fine on not very much sleep. I love my sleep. If you give me a chance, I'll sleep for 8 to 10 hours.
Ben: Right. But you're not one of these people who just naturally sleeps four to five hours a night, just being genetically hardwired…
Monty: No. Certainly not. Well I need seven to eight hours. And one of the things that Marines taught me on various expeditions and projects is you can get by without one night's sleep absolutely fine. You'll be a bit tired the next day. But the moment that goes into two night's sleep, then you're in trouble. Then you start sort of getting a bit trippy, and you start making mistakes, then you start nodding off standing up, and all this sort of stuff. But I've certainly found that one night's sleep without sleeping at all, you'd be fine for the next day. But the moment you start pushing it to another night, then you start really struggling.
Ben: Yeah. Now another thing that I know that you're known for is having dived with a giant squid, I believe, in one of the episodes that you did. What was it like to dive with a giant squid and how did that actually happen?
Monty: Well, an important kind of delineation there is that these were Humboldt squids. Giant squid is an animal that's fascinated people for centuries. Architeuthis dux is its Latin name, and it's very, very rarely sited. A Japanese crew filmed a giant squid for the first time properly only about three or four years ago. So we were diving something called Humboldt squid, and Humboldt squid are about seven feet long, six, seven feet long. But it was very frightening indeed. And the reason was that by that stage, I was doing an awful lot of diving and organizing a lot of projects, and a lot of expeditions, and sharks were very much our thing. We did shark encounters all around the world, really, either for paying clients, or filming them, or whatever. And the thing with these Humboldt squid is we had no idea how they were going to react to people being in the water. And you have to dive with them at night. You can't dive with them during daylight hours because they're too deep. So they only come to the surface at night.
So it's very intense, very, very intense 'cause we just hung in the darkness, the pitch blackness at the Sea of Cortez and waited for these animals to appear out of the gloom. And they gave us a good old bit of a ragging, they sort of got hold of us and tugged a leg or two, and experimentally sort of, almost the tentacles were sort of feeling us just to figure out what we were. But the moment we flicked on our camera lights to get good shots on them, they disappeared into the gloom because squid communicate with light. And the minute we clicked the camera lights on, we were the biggest squid in town basically.
Ben: What happens to your heart rate, and your fear, and your feelings when something like a tentacle of a giant squid rubs up against you? Because most people would absolutely freak out. Are you hardwired, or did you have enough Marine training to where that kind of stuff just rolls off your back?
Monty: It's interesting. I think when you prepared yourself for a situation like that, you stay, there's almost this state of sort of preternatural calm. You think, “Right. We're in to see these animals. We need to stay calm. And the way we're going to get through this is by staying calm and making logical decisions.” And I think when you have such a build up to something like that that you do stay calm. And the situation was always under control. The situation never got out of control. It might have been a very different kettle of fish if we'd been attacked. I'd have no idea how I would have reacted if we'd been properly attacked. I think the situations that really test you are the ones that just come out of nowhere. You're walking down the street something horrendous happens as you walk down the street. There's no preparation, there's no mental preparation, there's no psyching yourself up, there's no talking it through on the boat beforehand about what you going to do if this happens, all the relevant safety gear that you've got. Something that just comes out of nowhere. So that's the real acid test.
They did some very interesting work after the 7/7 Tube Bombings here in London of how people reacted to those bombings. And they found that us as people, as a species, we split into three groups. About 25% of people are heroic and will try and help other people, 25% of people will just save themselves, will only think about saving themselves, and 50% of people just sit there and be told what to do, wait to be told what to do. And I don't know which one of those categories personally I fall into because I've never been in a situation where I've been on a tube train, and you're reading a book, and you're just on your way to work, and suddenly a bomb goes off. So it's interesting. And I don't think you know which one of those groups you're it until something like that happens to you.
Ben: It would be really interesting to see if there's any corollary between that and genetic testing. Because there are certain genetic snips associated with being, for example, a warrior versus a worrier. You can have a double copy of the gene responsible for being a warrior, and so you just naturally respond in stressful situations by being calm and fighting accordingly. And I know that worriers, for example, are very good at solving problems and engaging in good activity when they're not under stress. But they tend to react very, very stressfully under conditions like that. So it'd be interesting just to see a genetic analysis.
Monty: Yeah. I agree with you. I also think you change during the course of your life. I mean I've mentioned my kids a couple of times, my kids are the most fantastic thing that's ever happened to me. And nothing I've ever done, no place I've ever been compares to being with my kids. You suddenly, in that situation, if I was dangling in the darkness now, all of this was 10 years ago, 12 years ago doing the Humboldt squid dive. If I was dangling in the darkness now, I'd sort of feel I've got a hell of a lot more to lose now. And more people rely on me. I just wondered my reaction would be more extreme because of that.
Ben: Right. Yeah. I know that, for me, having children, I certainly have a far different approach to bombing down a steep hill during a triathlon on a bicycle now that I have people, little people dependent on me versus my attitude before. Now Monty, I've heard you say that we're all seven meals away from a savage. What exactly do you mean by that?
Monty: What I mean by that is, and this is something I've seen on expeditions. I've seen qualities emerge in the people I've been leading on expeditions that are a real sort of basic hunter-gatherer, survivor qualities. To elaborate on that little bit, most of the time during our life here in living in the affluent West and our first world existence, we aren't really pushed to the limits. Certainly physiologically and certainly in terms of being put in situations, we kind of have to survive. And the “seven meals away from a savage” means if you missed your next seven meals, you would be very, very, very hungry indeed and you'd do almost anything to get food. And I'm not saying it in a negative way, the seven meals from a savage. I'm saying in a positive way, saying that you're capable of the most extraordinary feats of endurance and the most extraordinary feats of initiative, and you are a very, very resilient creature and it sometimes only emerges under very extreme, in very extreme environments or under very extreme circumstances. So that expression, “we're seven meals away from a savage” is just sort of slightly unfortunate, almost colonial. Yeah, it's an unfortunate expression, but it's quite emotive.
Ben: What's an example in your adventuring where you've found yourself seven meals short and acting like a savage in a good way?
Monty: I'm not really going to use an example from me. I'm going to use an example from a guy that did I project with in Northern Malawi. We went to a place called the Nyika Plateau in Northern Malawi, which is at altitude, it's at 1500 meters. I think it's 1500 meters, might be a thousand meters. So it's basically a kilometer up in the sky, this plateau. Beautiful, beautiful place. Golden grasslands and it's absolutely huge. We were there on an anti-poaching project, and I had a volunteer with me who was a middle-aged guy whose marriage had just broken up. And we worked really hard on that project, and we had some pretty scary things that we ended up having a little sort of exchange of gunfire with poachers.
We had someone got very, very sick on that project to me that we literally had to physically carry them out of the Nyika Plateau to a first aid station where they could be treated. And I watched this guy change from a slightly devastated husk of a man, this guy whose life had completely fallen apart to a feral beast basically. His confidence just soared. He suddenly realized he didn't need all the fripperies, he didn't need support. He could get through all this sort of stuff himself because of the situations we put him in during the course of that expedition, or the situations that arose. I'd love nothing more than an expedition that just runs perfectly. That means I'm doing my job. But occasionally things do go wrong, and plenty went wrong on my expedition. And this guy, I watched him turn into this tremendous sort of athlete, this tremendously capable, confident guy who just knew he could deal with anything that was thrown at him.
Ben: Yeah. It's amazing how the body responds like that. I had the same experience last week when they sent us out into the wilderness and we didn't have any food. The very first thing you do is, especially there was a thunderstorm rolling in, and I'm sure that you're aware of the idea that you have the whole like three hours without shelter, three minutes without air, three, what is it, three days without water, three weeks without food, that type of thing. So the very first thing that we were doing was scrambling for five hours to build a debris hut large enough to sleep ten folks, and we were all just hungry and chewing the inside of our cheeks, but were working like savages, working like animals to finish this debris hut so that once we did get a fire going and once we did get food, we would at least have safety when the thunderstorm arrived. And it's amazing how being hungry like that just sparks a fire within you.
Monty: Yes, it does. It can be a positive and a negative thing. Sometimes you see people, you see that 25% emerge sometimes. You'll see people do absolutely anything for the people around them, become true team players. And that only emerges when people are cold, they're tired, they haven't had a lot of sleep, they haven't had a lot of food, and suddenly you see people going that extra mile to help the people around them. Or you see them turn into these appalling, sort of self-centered, they'll do anything to get that bit of food and eat more than they're actually due. It's a really interesting sort of glimpse of the human condition. Thinking about it and talking about it, so I think it reflects to a degree that 25%, 25%, 50% thinking about it at the back of my experiences. That's a fair breakdown, I think.
Ben: Yeah. Now you obviously, with all these documentaries that you're shooting and all of the survival and adventure trips that you go on, I would imagine that learning is probably relatively intense part of what you do, having to learn new skills, or adapt to new situations, or find out how to do things in a new environment. What's your trick for enhancing your learning process when you're in a place where you need to survive or you need to learn your environment quickly?
Monty: Well here's the strangest thing. This would be the strangest answer, but have a camera crew with you. Now the reason I say that is I'm the classic sort of tightly wrapped Brit, middle class Brit called Monty, and I like to keep myself to myself. But whenever you're filming, you're making a show. And when you make a show, you need knowledge, and you need to go meet people, and you need to go and interview people and local people and learn about the environment that you're in. It's almost contractual that you have to interview people, and then you have to try things out. I made a three series called “Great Escapes” on the west coast of Scotland, and the only way I could really prosper during the course of those series and do the things I wanted to do was working with local people who live in these remote regions, and know all about the landscape, and know about fishing, and know all about this sort of stuff. And I kind of have to do it 'cause all the time I had a camera in my face. And you can't just turn to the camera and say, “Today, I'm just not in the mood today. I'm not going to them today,” 'cause you had a filming schedule.
So I know it's a very strange answer to your question, but that made me come out of my classic, but we are all bothered when we travel. And the vast majority of people, I think, are bad at it when we travel. We're a bit shy. We don't particular approach people. We don't particularly want to impose on people. But actually it taught me that if you just go up to someone and ask them, if you ask them how they do a certain thing, or if you ask them how long they've lived there, or you ask them what a certain flower is, or whatever, they're very, very happy to tell you. They're really delighted to tell you. So, yeah…
Ben: So your strategy is to defy that assumption that everyone makes about men and actually ask for directions?
Monty: Correct. And I think people love nothing more than sharing their knowledge with you. And I think there was an epiphany for me when I was working on the west coast of Scotland, and then I had to go up to people and say, “I don't know how to do this. Can you show me how to do this?” And as you say, it's a classic saying, classic bloke, you don't look at the instruction manual, you never ask for directions. You try and cuff it, and you make a terrible mess of it. Well I couldn't do that, so I had to ask people. And I learned just huge amounts. So now I'm much, much better at it. And like I said, the thing to bear in mind is people love showing you and sharing their knowledge with you.
Ben: Yeah. And I think it's humbling to ask for advice, but it also teaches you how to communicate well with people and how to overcome your fears of communication. There's this thing that I've seen going around the internet lately where you, everyday, try and ask someone where you're shopping or you're purchasing something for a discount. You ask them if you can get a discount on this, like a 10% discount, or a 5% discount, or some kind of special insider sale. And what it's supposed to do is grow your ability to be able to communicate and negotiate. And it sounds like this also could be a skill for surviving in a new situation, just learning how to actually ask how to survive.
Monty: Yes, I agree. I completely agree.
Ben: Interesting. So with all of your adventures, Monty, you've obviously mentioned your family a couple of times, how do you manage the process of being away? How do you cope with the potential guilt or discomfort associated with just leaving your family for an extended period of time to go, say, shoot a documentary or climb up some giant cliff face?
Monty: I find it very hard. Now, I used to have no problem with it all. And Laird Hamilton, the big wave surfer came out with a lovely expression. He said, he was really grumpy one day and his wife asked him, “Why are you so grumpy?” And he said, “‘Cause it's flat out there. There's no waves, and I've got to slay dragons.” Yeah, you need to go out and slay a dragon every now and then. So I still feel the urge to go out and slay a dragon, to do whatever, either do a bit of exploration or a dive, or whatever. But I find it really hard, being away from the family now.
Ben: So would you say that we are, to a certain extent, as humans and obviously people say this more about men than women especially, that we're hardwired to need to go out and slay dragons?
Monty: Yeah. It's a very motive argument now. Are men more genetically programmed to go out and slay a mammoth? Now I know an awful lot of my female friends get pretty hacked off with what a big generalization that is because of course we're all probably hardwired to go out and slay woolly mammoth. But certainly you do need to go out and we need to be challenged, and you've got Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, this famous pyramid thing. And right at the top is fulfillment, professional fulfillment. And what that means is you're challenging yourself, you're being pushed. I think to go out every now and then and do these little projects, but I find myself on the real horns of a dilemma nowadays because I've sort of made a brand for myself as someone who goes off on these adventures and does all these expeditions and projects. And yet nowadays, I hate leaving the kids. We've agreed a time limit now, me and my girlfriend, of three weeks. Basically three weeks is the longest I can go away. But I imposed that on her. I was like, “Alright, no more than three weeks.” ‘Cause after that, I just become miserable. And ironically in July, I'm away for a month. It's the first time I've been away for that long a period since the kids were born. And I just know by the end of it I'll just be desperate to get home, absolutely desperate.
Ben: Well, distance makes the heart grow stronger right?
Monty: Yeah, absolutely. And it gives you that perspective. And I think one of the things I've mentioned before is the best part about going away, in my previous life, was that you were off on an adventure, you were leaving somewhere that was boring and you were going off on an adventure. Now the best part about going away is coming back, I think.
Ben: Yeah. I completely agree. That's interesting to hear your perspective because I often run into the same thing in my life, in going around and doing obstacle races, and speaking at events, and constantly travelling. That is the difficult part, to realize that, or to accept the fact that it's okay to leave to go slay dragons as long as your ultimate purpose is to come back and to be doing this, to a certain extent, for the good of your family right?
Monty: Yeah. I remember having a very good chat with a friend of mine about this very thing. I was pretty miserable in some projects, I think it was the “Lost Worlds” thing. I was pretty miserable toward the end of one of the shoots, they were three week shoots and I just wanted to go home. And he sat me down and said, “Mate, you're supporting your family. That's what you're doing. You're putting a roof over the head of the kids. You're supporting your family, and you can't beat yourself up about supporting your family.” Certainly I was away six months of the year last year on various projects, so that's something I'm really trying to get a grip of. I'm trying to sort of control a little bit more. I think when you've got a little one, six months is too much. Cumulatively over the course of the year is too much.
Ben: Now, we have a lot of listeners who are using things like special diets, supplements, biohacks, things of that nature, and I'm curious if you have ever had a specific exercise program that you follow, or a diet that you found to work really well, or supplements that you use when you travel, or little tricks that you've used to be able to do as well as you have with all of your survival and your adventuring?
Monty: I think everything in moderation. That's a very sort of generic thing to say, but my great advice is coffee. And as I sit here, chatting to you now, I've got a mug of coffee and it's sort of, what time is it now, 20 to 7 in the evening here in the UK. That's probably the one thing I don't have in moderation, as it were. But it's quite interesting. There's a huge emphasis now on the paleo diet and all these very ancient diets, and that's really commendable. I think nowadays, your diet can be very simple and very good with the old lapse I think. That's probably the way I would describe my diet. I tend to try to eat, there's this thing with vegetables that are above ground. You don't eat too many tubers because they're very starchy. I tried to sort of lay off the carbs, and bread, and things like that.
It's quite simple to cut down things that are bad for you in your diet. And having the occasional lapse is a huge thing here in the UK at the moment about sugar, about how utterly dependent on sugar we are as a nation. And I know that's reflected in the US as well, and so everyone's furiously trying to cut down on their sugar. But I tend to eat white meat, I tend to eat fish, and I tend to eat vegetables that are above ground vegetables. And if you have done something like a particularly hard event, or a hard run, or whatever, the best simplest thing you can do is have a bit of fish and a big pile of broccoli and beans. That's what your body is, that's feeding everything that your body requires basically. And it's just so fundamental and simple. But I'm an occasional sinner, I think is probably the best way to put it. I'd like to keep things nice and simple. I don't drink a lot.
Ben: So when you're doing something like climbing or hiking, are you using meal replacement bars and shakes, or energy bars and jerky, or are you kind of like living off wild edibles and living off the land?
Monty: Yeah. I'd say the latter actually. Now I hasten to add we're not going off gathering our own food when we do these projects. We tend to work with local people and we bring things like rice in which I make it brown rice when we can, and local vegetables, and we catch local fish, and it's wonderful. You can live very, very healthily. Things like supplements, I'm not a huge fan of supplements. I think you get a sugar spike frequently. Occasionally that's required when you go a bit hypoglycemic when you're doing something. An awful head spinny thing 'cause you know your body's just craving sugar. And it's incredible…
Ben: Right. And by supplements, you mean all these sports drinks, and energy bars, and things like that?
Monty: Yeah. And I think in a way, it's almost an artificial spike you're giving yourself. And I try and stay off those if I can. And the big thing is hydration as well. I've always been a big one for staying really well-hydrated. When we did the thing in South America where we went off and found two waterfalls, part of the Lost World series, that have never been filmed before, blimey, that was hard. It was really hard going. But our guide insisted we all had a three liter Camelpak with us all the time, and he insisted at the end of every day, that three liter Camelpak was empty. And emptied a couple of times. We were really banging out so much sweat, and we all felt fantastic. It was the simplest thing. We just stayed really well-hydrated throughout the course of the…
Ben: Yeah. It's crazy how that happens. I've had two experiences like that, I did the Navy SEAL Kokoro camp last year. When you came in, they had two giant canteens, and your initial instructions were to drink all these. And the people who drank the two canteens, which almost made you feel bloated with water, did really really well that day and the following couple of days in terms of their hydration. And the people who didn't, didn't. And then last week, same thing we did during this wilderness survival and Indian sweat lodge experience where you're in here for three 30 minute rounds. And so that entire morning, they kept telling us, “Drink another water bottle. Drink another water bottle.” And the people who did felt pretty good during that entire experience. It's amazing how something as simple as just drinking boatloads of water can help.
Monty: Yeah. We're pretty simple creatures really. The mechanics, the biomechanics of us is fairly simple. We generally ignore the sage advice about drinking lots of water. If you drink lots of water, you feel, and it's day to day life as well, the 4 o'clock slump, dehydrated, energy losses. It's generally obviously, it's lack of water. It's not drinking enough during the course of the day. I've always tried to get lots and lots of water down my neck. Particularly when I'm doing something hard because I think your performance is affected so radically if you do become dehydrated. Almost more than anything else. And also it's dangerous, extremely dangerous obviously if you add up properly dehydrated, it'll polish you off.
Ben: Well, Monty, I have one last question for you. In the filming of this latest “Lost Worlds” show, what was your favorite moment?
Monty: I think standing on that Portaledge was pretty special. And I've got a photo of that, and it was special for me just because of what it's taken to get me up there as a non-climber. And Leo was this great guide, Leo Holding, he's a world famous climber and one of the great climbers of his generation, and he got me up there. And it was a really unique moment in my life and I'll never ever forget it, sitting on that Portaledge and looking out over the valley, the Melinau Gorge. It's just fantastic. And I think working with a group of people I ended up working with, that team of 11 was one of the best teams I've ever worked with. And the entire course of those projects, of all 4 projects we did took almost four months to film. There wasn't a single angry word amongst anyone during the course of that project. It was a really great team and absolute pleasure to travel with.
Ben: Wow. It's amazing. Well if you're listening to this episode with Monty, you can access the notes and the resources, I'll link the old Superhuman show, which is actually pretty cool, along with a list of all the different tests that they did because some of them might be interesting for you to try yourself, under adult supervision of course, as well as Monty's books, his TV shows, and his website. And you can check all that out at bengreenfieldfitness.com/monty. And Monty, thanks to you for your time and for coming on the show today.
Monty: No problem. My pleasure.
Ben: Alright, folks. So this is Ben Greenfield and the great adventurer Monty Halls signing out from bengreenfieldfitness.com. Have a great week.
I'll always been a fan of gritty adventure, survival, wilderness exploring and even TV shows like Bear Grylls, Survivor Man, and yes, occasionally even Naked & Afraid.
Monty is a broadcaster, speaker, naturalist, formal Royal Marine, marine biologist, travel writer and leadership specialist with experience covering over two decades of leading teams in some of the most remote environments on earth for wildlife and adventure documentaries like Great Ocean Adventures and Lost Worlds (which is currently a new series on the Discovery Channel). He's also written adventure books like Dive: The Ultimate Guide to 60 of the World's Top Dive Locations (Ultimate Sports Guide), The Fisherman's Apprentice, Adventures On The Wild West Coast and Adventures On The Atlantic Coast.
In today's episode you'll discover:
-What Monty's life was like leading up to that point that got him head-hunted as a competitor in the flagship show Superhumans, a test of elite performers, competing in a series of challenges devised by the QinetiQ testing centre in the UK…
-What it was like to dive with a giant squid…
-Monty's philosophy on combining sleep with adventure…
-What it means to be “seven meals away from a savage”…
-When you first encounter a strange or new environment, how you can accelerate your learning process or chances of survival…
-How Monty manages combining adventuring and survival trips with managing a family life…
-Monty's take on exercise, dieting and biohacks…
-And much more!
Resources from this episode: