10 min read

A rollercoaster ride with SAS veteran Ray Carole

A rollercoaster ride with SAS veteran Ray Carole
A rollercoaster ride with SAS veteran Ray Carole

Nite Watches is soaked in military heritage and has always been a huge part of who we are.

Our background is something we are incredibly proud of so when we heard of local SAS veteran Ray Carole and his mission to complete an intense trek across Antarctica, we had to know more. Ray shares his remarkable experience in the SAS and his equally thrilling life following his departure from the service. Whether you feel inspired by his story or takeaway some words of wisdom for future endeavours, there is no question that we all have something to learn from his journey. So buckle up as we handover the reins to Ray.

“Joining the Royal Marines in 1996 seemed as natural a choice as breathing when good old Dad made me aware of the huge opportunities, unique experiences and friendships that could be forged through military life. I was set on the idea as a spotty teenager and the idea of extreme physical hardship of being an elite soldier consumed my mind night and day. 

What it takes to be a special forces soldier is simpler than you might think if you’re in the race for the right reasons. Recent exposure through television has painted an extreme view of the SAS where hardened characters look into a camera and paint a brutal picture of the process and list numerous qualities needed. What’s the honest answer? You clearly have to be smart, capable and committed, but the one key factor I believe is authenticity. You have to pursue extreme challenges for all the right reasons. If it’s an ago trip then people crack instantly under the first exposure of real pressure. If you’re not vested to endure suffering, sometimes mind boggling boredom, cutting criticism or self-destructive mind games then you best get back down the job centre and reconsider the options. There are easier ways to impress your girlfriend that’s for sure. 

Leaving an iconic organisation like the SAS was driven by instinct and impulse, the same traits that got me there. A decade of operations is exhilaration and shapes someone’s thinking for life. When you get up in the morning as an SAS sergeant and can’t really be bothered to turn up you know it’s time to go and search for bigger things in life. Maybe an element of beating the clock too. That means walking away and not meeting the ultimate fate possibly."

"Three words to describe my time there? That's easy. The motto - WHO DARES WINS."

You completed a remarkable 715-mile solo unsupported and unassisted effort crossing of Antarctica in 2011. The plan was to be the first person to walk to the pole AND back – 1430-miles. Can you tell us what happened? 

"A FEAR of normality will never leave me and it scares me to be “normal” I was pulled to Antarctica by a force I can’t articulate, but knowing no one had walked 1430 miles to the South Pole and back with no support triggered a challenge, and a much needed void to fill.

It was a known challenge amongst the polar community to achieve this, and after a 500 mile race to the magnetic North Pole, a guy called Conrad Dickinson inspired to me to do it with his dismissive idea that you had to be a polar legend or train for years. “This year Ray, it’s yours for the taking lad” infamous advice at Ottawa departures lounge. 

In Punta Arenas the weather window delayed my insertion to base camp by 3 weeks. The dream was slipping away each day where realistically it was now deemed impossible to create history. 64 days to walk 1430 miles instead of 85 days. I made a decision to prove it impossible instead of predicting it. I set off fully laden with the return journey in mind. Experts anticipated me reaching the pole in 50 days plus because of the 160kg start weight of my pulk. I made it in 41 days encompassing days of no visibility, gale force winds, minus 15-30 degrees and most critically NO iPod! That broke on day 2. The actual one way record with half the kit was 39 days so this got people’s attention. With only 23 days to walk out I abandoned my expedition with sadness but pride in what I’d achieved. 

When external factors sabotage a challenge it cuts you deep and leaves a bitter pill floating around in your mind. My shot at carving out my small legacy in Antarctica was taken from me and it’s unfinished business. The only realistic solo expedition left to complete that will take a human to the edge of personal exploration is a 1600 mile Trans-Antarctic crossing. This would be 90-100 days. If I can raise the 200k then that’s my ticket back to put a few demons to rest!"

You’ve recently released your first book, The Clinic. This is quite a leap from other pursuits you’ve previously thrived in.  What made you want to go into writing?

"I wanted to be a war journalist before I left so writing was always a natural habit. The inception of “The Clinic” was inspired by the expedition with a psychological conspiracy at its heart. Actually writing a novel myself was so important, instead of using ghost-writers. I see it as another challenge and boy was it a tough journey. It’s set up for a trilogy so more suffering to come, but it’s nice suffering. The feedback has been amazing and that feels so rewarding. 

This brings me onto ***The World’s Worst Ever Book Signing Tour

In June I will be peddling 3000 miles around the UK coast on a Brompton bike stopping at a pub each day to promote my debut novel, The Clinic. It’s a quirky tour to inspire micro-adventures, support the Bowra Foundation and write my first non-fiction book about this adventure. I’m hoping to use this first trip as a promotion for a potential TV series of extreme Brompton bike adventures around the world as a quirky travel writing program."

You have always challenged yourself whether that was throughout your time in the military, your arctic expedition or writing your first book. What is it that pushes you to do these things? Is there something you’re still chasing?

"It’s a fear of normality that drives me. I don’t like experiencing voids of nothingness in life. When I stagnate in daily life I start searching or I get inspired from unexpected sources. I see life as the Olympics where I want to achieve at least something massive every 4 years. Everyone knows when they are cruising in life, I just recognise this and an impulse tells me to have a go at myself in the mirror and start thinking big again. 

I’m a boom or bust character that can sometimes be extremely fit or slip into a junk food and continental strength lager man as I ponder the next move. In general I always win the day early with a cycle or run, and get in the gym 3-5 times a week. If I’m in pursuit of a hairy ass challenge I hit it hard, if not I’m just happy to fit in my clothes without popping buttons. With diet I just avoid eating crap and use my fitness pal to streamline what I’m consuming."

"I'm no health freak and as they say - no great story started with a salad!"

Naturally a lot of our community want to push themselves and try new things. Can you offer some advice or words of wisdom those of us who need it?

"It’s all about turning ideas into ambitions then achievements. Daring to prove yourself right and wrong is so important, and I know it’s the reason why so many people fail to pull the trigger in life and follow their impulses. You have to craft the story you want to tell one day without regret. 

Focus on what you really want and do it for the right reasons. Understand what it is that actually drives you naturally. It’s only you against you, don’t waste energy on worrying about what others think and have a high opinion of yourself within. When I struggle I remind myself of who I am and what I stand for. “You are Ray Carole, you’re in control and you are going to get through this” is enough for me in my worst experiences in life."

"I have a history with Nite Watches from the good old SAS days where we trialled the MX10 model around in 2005 so used it in a few undesirable places and it stood the test of time, sand, oil and shrapnel! Now I wear the Alpha as it suits my lifestyle at the moment where it’s a great piece for formal wear, but has the sophisticated sports look when I’m doing activities that don’t require a rugged watch. I absolutely love it and truly respect the journey the company endured that is local to myself."

Just reading about Ray’s life is an adventure in itself. His life has taken many different turns and in many ways is the definition of a roller coaster ride. Throughout it all, Ray has relied on his purpose and mind set to get him through the most demanding environments imaginable. We must say a huge thank you to Ray for sharing his journey with us. Make sure to take a look at Ray’s website to learn more about his life on the edge and get your hands on a copy of his latest book.

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