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patagonia

Gear that works

Gear that works

Don't you just love it when your outdoor gear simply works? I do. The Patagonia Expedition Race and my adventures after the race in South America put me in some of the toughest conditions for outdoor kit.

Unlike the pristine Arctic wilderness where the snow keeps kit clean and the dry air prevents things from disintegrating, the Patagonian wilderness is primarily damp, cold and windy. The weather can turn from beautiful sunshine to the most ferocious storm imaginable. Gear is vital here and with a good tent, a good stove and a good sleeping bag, you can't go too far wrong.

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One piece of kit worth mentioning is the OMM Mountain Raid 1.6 Sleeping Bag. Sleeping bags for me, are one of the most important pieces of kit. I am very particular about which I use as the idea of not being able to sleep because of being too cold is too terrible to think about - especially in a race scenario or a long expedition.

I've often taken big sleeping bags whether it be down or synthetic depending on how wet the destination is. Buying the OMM sleeping bag took some bravery. I read its weight and size online and I couldn't believe that something so small would allow me to sleep comfortably in the Patagonia conditions. I bought the bag anyway, prepared to sacrifice comfort over weight and size for the race scenario.

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I didn't sacrifice or compromise anything at all. After the first night of the race and over 48 hours of being awake (we hadn't slept during the build up!) I was exhausted. We stopped for the night and I got off the bike/fell off the bike due to the high winds. I realised just how exhausted I was. My body couldn't keep its temperature and I was becoming cold very quickly. I was scared that I would remain cold all night due to buying such a tiny sleeping bag... The bag kept me warm for the night (well as long as we allowed ourselves to sleep!) and I was suitably impressed.

I used the bag again and again when traveling around more of Patagonia in Argentina as well as Chile. We had some very cold temperatures but the bag continually kept me warm and was one of the lightest things in my bag.

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I cannot recommend this sleeping bag enough so if you're looking for a bag that'll keep you warm and take up almost no space in your bag and weigh very little - this OMM Mountain Raid 1.6 Sleeping Bag is the bag for you! Check it out here: https://www.theomm.com/product/mountain-raid-1-6/

See more gear in action on my Instagram - @lucysheps . Until now I've kept my Instagram a secret!  https://www.instagram.com/lucysheps/

Race Race Race... Crash

Race Race Race... Crash

The race didn't quite go to plan. Let's start at the beginning. After months of preparation, the day of departure was finally upon us. I had been working so hard to make sure everything would run as smoothly as possible and as we sat on the plane, I could finally relax, or so I thought.

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The 5 days before the race were exhausting and made all of the team very ill with flu and fever. After we passed all of the kayak, rope and equipment tests, there was the biggest admin organisation of all. We had to figure out which food bags and equipment would meet us at which check points which meant estimating speed of travel. This is incredibly difficult as Patagonian terrain is so unknown and unforgiving which means you guess the speed travelled.

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The route was given to us and it was just as horrendous as I had been imagining. It began with a 36km beach run (against the 70kmph wind) followed by a 272km bike ride (against the same wind) across the planes of Chile. Then there were 100km treks and a few short kayak legs. There was a buzz of excitement in that room as the route was given. Nervous laughter could be heard but the overall vibe was 'let's get out there and begin.'

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That night, we made the mistake of staying up all night to look at Google earth satellite images of the route to try and get an understanding of what we were going into. However useful this may have been, it meant that we began the race with zero sleep on top of flu and sinus infections.

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A 5 hour nervous bus ride to the start line at Dungeness lighthouse. This is pretty much as east as you can get in Chile. We arrived early in the morning and the wind was of course howling. Sand was being whipped up and hurt the skin so sunglasses and buffs came into their glory.

The race began at 8am on the 16th of February. Everyone there got the adrenaline rush and all strategy went out the window. We all ran. For a moment, everyone forgot that the wind was blowing so hard, and we all felt free as we sprinted west.

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Within the first few moments we had to cross a river. Just like us, most teams took the decision to stop running, take their shoes and socks off and go across. The river was strong and so a proper river crossing technique was necessary.

As a team, we smashed the beach run. We stopped every hour for 3 minutes to refuel then kept going, taking it in turns to be the front wind breaker.

We got to the checkpoint and put together our  bikes. We were in middle place at this point (despite the race records incorrectly stating we got here last!! There must have been an error here.)

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Biking in the wind was harder than we could believe. Even downhill, if you didn't peddle, you stopped. It was ridiculous. The bikes weighed a tonne with the mandatory kit on the back of them. People were getting blown of their bikes left right and centre. I fell down dozens and dozens of times but it was all part of it.

As we struggled through the wind, trucks would go by and beep their horn and wave and smile out the window. Unfortunately we couldn't let go of the handle bars to wave back!

Hours went by and occasionally we'd see other teams. Most teams were using tow ropes to keep the team together. We didn't have one so made a make shift one out of a climbing sling. It wasn't retractable like other teams (they used retractable dog leads) but it did the trick. The idea of a tow rope isn't to pull the 'weakest' team member so to speak, instead it's to improve the teams efficiency. The tow rope meant that whoever was struggling to keep up could be held in the strongest bike rider's slip stream which would allow the team to stay together. I went on the tow rope behind Tim, and my gosh it made a world of a difference. We were suddenly flying.

It got dark quickly and after a stop for dinner (a rather entertaining stop that I may write a separate post about), we continued through the night.

We were covering distance as best we could considering the wind. As we got more and more tired our minds played tricks on us. All of us could've sworn we were last but when you looked closely at the sides of the dirt track road, you could see tents where other teams had stopped.

At around 2am we called it. We were falling asleep on the bikes by this stage. Getting off that bike, I could tell I was exhausted. I was freezing and my butt hurt like hell!

We set our alarms for 2 hours time but infact slept through all 4 alarms and work up at 5am. A quick pack up followed by a slow and painful manoeuvre  onto the bike seat and we were off again.

We once again flew! The quick nap had restarted our engines and we all felt so fresh. We were covering so much ground. The sun was rising and it seemed like it was going to be a fantastic day. Don't get me wrong though, it wasn't like a bike ride on a summers day at home... From the day before it meant our butt's were killing with every bump on the relentless dirt track (these bumps were EVERYWHERE) and our backs ached as they curved over the handle bars. The tow rope took a lot of concentration, because it wasn't retractable it meant I had to watch it's slack like a hawk. If it was tight, that meant Tim was having to pull me which defeats the point of getting the most efficiency out of the team and if it was too slack, it risked getting caught in the back wheel. There was a very fine line. The endless bumps in the road meant that Tim would have to weave in and out which required me to act quickly and follow his line.

Then came the main event. Somehow, the rope got wrapped around Tim's back wheel which caused me to crash. I'd fallen so many times in the last 24 hours, it couldn't be any worse... Or could it? I went smack onto my elbow and head and as it happened, I knew something was wrong immediately. All I could feel was anger.

To cut a long story short, I had to be taken to hospital and was told I had concussion and hairline fractures in my elbow. The race was over for us.

It wasn't easy to come to turns with. A lot of tears were shed that day. I'd let my team down as a result of a tiny misjudgement of the tow rope. I felt like a hole just needed to swallow me up as I weeped into Tim's arms.

Within a few hours, more teams were retiring or disqualified or injured. This meant that out of the race, we pretty much had a club of retired teams. By the end of the race, 4 teams out of an original 21, finished.

We want to do it again. How easy it would seem second time round! We know the drill, we've got the kit, we'd start out healthy - piece of cake!

Despite what happened, the build up to the race were some of the best months I've ever had. As said by the winning team captain, it is incredible to even get to the start line.

It takes so much to get there and I have to say, as we had our photo taken in the opening ceremony that introduced all the teams to the press, I've never been so proud in my life.

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Winding Down

Winding Down

I am currently sat at the kitchen table in my childhood Suffolk home. It would be easy for one to think that I've come home for the weekend from London to pop in for some home cooking and a log fire as a break from the city.  However this would be wrong. I haven't been in London, nor Suffolk, for two months.

What an adventure I've had. In early February, the team and I headed out to Chilean Patagonia for what I now know for sure, is the toughest endurance race in the world.

After the race, Tim and I stayed on. We had another six weeks worth of expeditions from high altitude mountains in Argentina to huge icebergs in the wilderness of Patagonia. We witnessed first hand some of the effects that climate change is having on the landscape of Chile and Argentina. When we returned to internet land, we were all to happy to hear how well Elon Musk's sustainable companies (and SpaceX!) like Tesla and SolarCity are doing.

I am struggling to wind down from all of the excitement and I'll have to make sure I keep myself busy so not to fall into PED (Post Expedition Depression - a horrible mindset to be in!)

I have many stories to tell but for now, I stare at a mountain of kit to be sorted and hours of washing to be done. Here's a few pictures from the trip as a taster of what's to come.

Scared of failure

Scared of failure

I am downright terrified. It's now less than two weeks until I fly out to do the Patagonia Expedition Race and I can't quite come to terms with it. It's not the race I'm nervous about. No, it's the possibility of failure, of letting my team mates down, of not going fast enough to make the check point times.

I know I can do it, I can go on and on in pain and suffering but it's whether I can do that at a pace that will get us through each round. My team are incredible and I feel honoured to have them but I do feel a huge responsibility to go much faster than my legs would like. They all seem to have an immunity when it comes to speed and endurance that I so envy.

To be honest, I'd be happy to go faster but lately, especially on the bike, I reach a point on hills where I simply cannot get the bike to move any quicker as my thighs burn to the point of exhaustion. All I can hope for is that as long as I push through, we will make the time and complete the race. My gosh, I want to complete it. All I can do is try my very best and believe in my mind as much as possible that finishing will happen and that I will achieve the impossible.

A more upbeat blog will come shortly, I just needed a little panic time.

The Trials and Tribulations of planning a trip

The Trials and Tribulations of planning a trip

Last night I had a dream that I was with Ranulph Fiennes having a long chat about what a mission in itself planning an expedition is. This chat I had with him in my dream, isn't that far fetched from when I met him the other day. Within a few short seconds of meeting Ran (in real life) he was giving me advice on life in general  and also expeditions.

If Ran still finds planning an expedition hard work even after all these years, I thought it would be something to make a point of here in this blog. Especially as most people just assume you buy some kit then get up and go. Sadly, it's not that simple.

For Patagonia, despite the actual race being organised, there has still been a surprising amount of logistics to work out. Other than the obvious, personal kit and flights, it's been quite a puzzle.

Being the Captain means I am responsible for making sure things run smoothly right up until the start line (then it's all for one and one for all). There is so much paper work that I have to get from every team member which includes medical certificates, first aid qualifications, kayaking certificates, insurance details  and more. Trying to organise that with four very busy people can be quite time consuming.

On top of that, you've got the biggest kit list I have ever seen. Now, I used to think that the Arctic was bad for kit, but at least that was one, maybe two disciplines rather than four like this one. Patagonia is a mixture of hiking, climbing, sea kayaking and mountain biking. Then there's the safety equipment e.g. sat phones and radios. The only way you can do this affordably is to hire the expensive items like sat phones, call in favours and figure out deals for specialised items like the bikes. We are lucky enough to be working with Beacon bikes who are designing our brand new bikes for us - Thanks Beacon!

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Sometimes with the really important gear you just have to bite the bullet and spend the money. At the end of the day, it's worth going for the jacket that you know will be 100% waterproof but is £100 more than another or, you're holding off buying items because you might (just might) be able to get them at a discounted rate... When it really comes down to it, the gear is what could save your life and in order to know that the gear works, you have to test the hell out of it, so don't wait around too long.

Luggage is a pain too. It's the little things that add up and cost money. We have a lot of gear and will have to book more bags on the flight. As well as this, the complicated bit comes after the race.. Myself and another team member are staying on to explore more of Chile and then Argentina with a little mountaineering in there too. Yet we'll need to ship race bags back to the UK... All things to consider when planning adventures.

Getting the word out is something to take note of too. For the last three months, I've been meeting with various well known explorers to let them know about the trip and about our team. The Royal Geographical Society have been wonderful too. A big shout out to Shane Winser for helping us with stalls at the Explore 2015 weekend (a great event that anyone interested in adventure, expeditions and fieldwork should go to). The benefit of doing all of this is really so that when we return, we will have a take off point and be able to take what we learnt from the trip, further.

So there's a snap shot of logistic planning for this trip.. I do spend a surprising amount of time at my laptop when in pre-expedition mode. Yet, as any 'adventurer' will tell you, it's all part of the fun and gets the excitement going!

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