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hard

Holiday? What holiday?!

Holiday? What holiday?!

“Going on another holiday again?”

People often think I’m off on another holiday when I commit myself to another expedition.

Truth is, I haven’t been on a holiday since 2011. Expeditions of my type are not a holiday. They are everything but. Yes, I look forward to them and get a sense of escapism from city life, but those are the only comparisons. They are hard going, they take grit and determination to get to the other side and a lot of questioning on why I’m doing it. They are often uncomfortable, scary, exhausting, make me hurt in ways I didn’t know could hurt, involve lack of sleep, (lack of oxygen a lot of the time too), are too hot or too cold, take a lot of brain power worrying and then there’s the making of quick life determining decisions. I cannot say enough how far away from a holiday they are.

The last time I went on a holiday! The difference!

The last time I went on a holiday! The difference!

Not looking my best! Sunburn, no shower, cold!!!!!

Not looking my best! Sunburn, no shower, cold!!!!!

On Denali, myself and Tim swore to each other that our next trip would be a beach holiday with no bag carrying. I can’t see that beach holiday happening anytime soon but I must say I do long to be by the Mediterranean! Of course at the same time I look forward to getting my teeth well and truly into the next big trip. It’s what I live for and I’m not complaining in any way about the toughness of them... The tougher the better!

Coughing my way up! Feeling pretty exhausted on this photo. Not a holiday but a test!

Coughing my way up! Feeling pretty exhausted on this photo. Not a holiday but a test!

The feeling of vulnerability and having to roll with whatever nature throws at you is a humbling experience. You have to know what you're doing otherwise things can easily get out of hand. Knowing you have a situation under control is a rewarding experience however, if anything goes wrong it's easy for that rewarding experience to turn nasty and life threatening. 

I know it’s a privilege to be able to actively put myself into such a challenging and extraordinary position but it is something I work hard for in order to make happen. I thrive on the better person I become after each trip and I am addicted to making wonderful, proud, incredible memories and addicted to the bonds I make with teammates that go on to become the closest friends life can give.

So next time someone uses the word holiday to describe one of my expeditions I’m going to crack down on them. I came back from Denali and it took me over a month before I had caught up on sleep and recovered. A month of bad sleep, lack of oxygen and being cold does that to you. I could not keep my eyes open after 12 noon and had to retreat to bed for 4 hours! Thankfully, I’m over that now and I’m now back after that hardship again.

This is what we woke up to every morning. We breathe in the night, our breath freezes to the tent, it snows on us in the morning. Not a pleasant start to the day and I'll never complain about getting out of bed again.

This is what we woke up to every morning. We breathe in the night, our breath freezes to the tent, it snows on us in the morning. Not a pleasant start to the day and I'll never complain about getting out of bed again.

Having hardship means that you appreciate everything again which is another addiction of mine. One moment that sticks with me after Denali was when we flew out from the glacier. A very short plane ride from the bottom of the mountain back to Talkeetna was out of this world. We went from full expedition mode in freezing temperatures on a barren mountainous landscape to landing in Talkeetna to their summer.

Leaving the mountain behind!

Leaving the mountain behind!

It was full of greenery, the smell of flowers was in the air, warmth on our skin and we were met by Sheldon Air Service crew who carried a plate full of fresh fruit all cut ready to eat! I’ve never felt so high in my life! If ever I’ve felt immensely happy to be alive, that was it!! That’s the closest that came to a holiday! (And knowing a shower could finally be had!)

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.