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Balancing work and play... Or in my case, not very well

Balancing work and play... Or in my case, not very well

I was told a memorable bit of advice when on an expedition in Svalbard for 10-weeks in 2011. For the whole team, it was the first long haul expedition we had ever been on. We had no outside contact at all, were completely self-sufficient in the Arctic wilderness. We were moving, climbing and partaking in science work for the duration and it took some of the team more time than others to adjust to this life. We were told that it would take each person different times before our 'spirit' traveled from the UK to Svalbard.

The idea being that our spirits would be left at home when we arrived in Svalbard whilst we adjusted to life in the Arctic. But when we were in the swing of things and the expedition became our world, our spirit would return to us and we would feel whole again. It would take even longer for our spirit to return to us when we got home. For many months post expedition it would be left in Svalbard as we adjusted to civilian life again. Thing is, I don’t think my spirit ever came back, my spirit is essentially always on the next adventure. That’s not a cry for sympathy, I love my civilian life but what makes it so great is that I can keep adventure a part of it. Without it I would have a big piece of me missing.

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Surround yourself with people you respect, people you admire, people you are inspired by and people that have a positivity for life and live a life they love. I truly think that it’s what drives me the most. I am affected by others mood. If someone is down in the dumps or bored with life, it gets me down. I hate that it can and I try to resist by taking myself away from those scenarios.

This weekend, Tim and I spent it with adventurer (one title of many) Neil Laughton. I have known Neil for many years now and he is a man I hugely respect and look up to. I have been on expeditions with him, partied with him and I go to him for advice. Saturday night we all chatted about adventure, past, present and future, our ambitions and love of life. We then hit the dance floor after one too many cocktails!! Sunday was a different story, I’ll go into that later!

I get such a buzz of excitement, interacting with those who are on the same wavelength as me. Tim and I have one another to bounce off, which we treasure but we get an extra high when there’s someone else who is more experienced and has new adventures and words of wisdom to pass on. I know that for as long as I live I want to have this lust for life. Doing things that I love and making them happen no matter what. There’s always a way to make your dreams come true and Neil is a shining example of that. The man seems to be able to make any idea a reality and has his fingers in so many different honey pots - he just makes time for everything. It’s a wonderful feeling to think and know you can do the same. I’ve proved it to be the same for me so far and I’ll keep proving it.

There’s this unique notion when around a table with likeminded people talking about dreams and ambitions. The energy, excitement and pure happiness with life is so contagious, as long as you let it be. It’s just so great to be with people who can recognise opportunities whatever they are and be proactive in making something that seems impossible, possible. I hope that I too can have that effect on people because I am so susceptible to it!

I really think people can get stuck in a rut all too easily by being around others who are also not making the most of their time and who live a life too comfortable. There’s something huge to be said for getting out of your comfort zone once in a while and meeting new people and trying new things. Be different and dive into the deep end.  I can’t think of anything worse than sticking with the same predictable routine.

As for Sunday, Neil invited us to learn what he’s been encouraging many others to try… Penny farthing riding! Why the hell not eh?! So on Sunday morning, we all rocked up hungover and a little off balance at St James Square to learn the art of the penny farthing. After just over an hour of practicing riding and getting on and off on quiet roads we hit the busy central streets of London to see the sights of the city! It was fantastic fun, a skill was learnt and I’ve never had my photo taken so many times in such a short space of time!!

Training for my biggest challenge yet

Training for my biggest challenge yet

My training for the Patagonia Expedition Race has well and truly begun. See featured photo of me having a mare as I climb up a stream. I would be lying if I said I wasn't nervous. I am terrified. This is the only challenge that I've taken on where I haven't been 100% sure that I am going to make it. That's exactly what draws me to it.

The race is for athletes; seasoned adventure racers. I am not a racer nor an athlete. I purely enjoy putting myself into situations where I have to live in the present and adapt to environments. I thrive on surprising myself with what I can achieve.

In the last few months, I've had to put a whole new team together due to my previous team pulling out on me. I was left stranded and had an ongoing battle in my brain for weeks on end, on whether I should continue the race, as I struggled to find a new team.

I don't know why I didn't pack it in when my original team left me. They didn't think they had it in them to take part in the race so why on earth do I think I do? Naivety? Stupidity? Delusion?

I had half an hour of panic after finding out I was alone and had to build a team again. I snapped myself out of it and something stronger than me took over. I was on the phone, emails, social media, every kind of contacting format I could come up with to find new team members, I was on it.

Within a few hours I had my first team member, Tom. Tom and I had met once, over a year ago. We had been introduced to one another because we both enjoyed adventures. Tom said yes immediately.

The next team member came at a chance meeting. After arriving in Bastia, Corsica I met Marty. (Before beginning the GR20.) I needed to hitch a ride 2 hours south to the start point of the trek so scouted for outdoor looking people at the airport.

I saw a man who held himself in a military way. I darted for him. He wasn't there for a beach holiday, I could tell he was there to trek. He turned out to be a group leader and happily gave me a lift. During the 2 hour journey, I very easily got him on board the team! Marty is an ex marine and perfectly skilled for the team.

Our last team member, Tim, came at another chance meeting. Neil Laughton invited me to attend the The British Chapter of the Explorer's Club. I mingled with like minded people and when Shane Winser (Head of expeditions at the Royal Geographical Society) introduced me to Tim, I almost immediately popped the expedition question. (Granted I'd had a glass of wine to provide such confidence.) With my surprise, Tim said yes. Tim's background is global adventure photography and he's in the marine reserves. Done. I had a new team!

Tim and I met at the Explorer's Club in London
Tim and I met at the Explorer's Club in London

Ever since we formed our new team, we've been hitting the training weekends hard. With only 4 months to go, the race is the centre of our world. It has to be.

As a team we've been yomping and climbing in Wales. Last weekend we were soaked to the core by torrential rain and wind as we navigated our way through Dartmoor (realising we need new, better waterproofs!) We climbed and abseiled alongside some marines in training and spent our nights (when we weren't night navigating) snuggled together in a floor-less tent.

The team balances one another perfectly and there's a real sense of family. I can't wait to continue getting to know everyone.

My individual training has been created by Professor Greg Whyte and it gets me training twice a day.  I am given my nutrition plan tomorrow and as I write that, I question why I haven't got a cheese plate and cold, fatty meats in for my last day of food freedom...?

I am concerned I will be the less physically able out of my strong team but with the external help I am confident I can get there. I'm pretty certain that there will come to a point in the race where we will all be the same and our strength of character and mental power will be what pulls us through.