96 Miles of Birthday Adventure

Abi braved the West Highland Way in the summer as an adventuring birthday treat: 96 miles of brutal loveliness, the WHW starts in Milngavie, follows the shores of Loch Loman, crosses Rannoch Moor, climbs over Devil’s Staircase and drops into Glen Nevis before finishing in Fort William: 

Here is a description of doing the West Highland Way as a run! I did it with my other half, over 6 days, finishing day 6 on my 40th birthday. He’d done bits of it about 20 years ago, but had cheated and caught the bus one day, so had always wanted to do it again! We’d bought the little guide book about 10 years ago, which turned out to be amusing in itself reading it – it highlighted in bold where you might find the internet – and for the weather forecast you had to phone a premium rate number!!! How things have changed!

First day West Highland Way: Milngavie to Balmaha – went OK. We’d spent the day before ‘carb loading’ at some of our favourite cafés in abiGlasgow, and the night in the Premier Travel Inn in Milngavie. We met our baggage carrying man Fraser early doors and enjoyed a good chat with him, before using the cash point for the last time. Then cracked on! Glad to get underway, through woodland and then disused railway line. We had actually done part of this section two years ago in the other direction, so hardly any map reading was required. And actually the waymarking on the West Highland Way is generally great everywhere! After near Drymen it started raining, at first we couldn’t decide whether to put waterproofs on or not – but instinct came in and we were duly grateful – as soon it was teeming down. Then one last push over Conic Hill – the first bit of real moorland we had seen, and I admit to walking some of this section. On the last mile we overtook what sounded like a young Italian man, who was impressed to see runners but shouted out he thought we were mad! Then we dropped down to Balmaha for chips and beer in a pub garden, in the sun, on the bonnie bonnie banks of Loch Lomond! Spent the night at the Balmaha bunkhouse, because our stuff was all wet we soon made our bedroom smell like a mouldy laundry! Made ourselves vegan burgers in the bunkhouse kitchen – yum.

Second day West Highland Way: Balmaha to Inversnaid: we had been warned about tree roots and stones on a difficult loch side section, but that turned out not to be today. No trip-ups on any trees at the edge of the loch and up through ancient oak / aspen / birch woodland. Actually quite a lot of today was in trees and woodland – some good forest paths, gently20150822_100924 undulating, and quite a good surface to run on – but not great for photos! We had a coffee at the Rowardennan Hotel, when the Italian man passed us again, waving out a cheery hello! Saw a tiny frog less than an inch long cross the path in front of me! We stopped our run for today at the loch side hotel and treated ourselves to more chips (salt cravings?!). We stayed at Inversnaid bunkhouse, which is a way uphill from there – walking it was a real leg stretcher after the running! Here we had a private double room booked, so we lounged in bed and read the paper in the afternoon, explored a bit before tea, then enjoyed the vegan meal that the bunkhouse cooked for us. There was a self-catering kitchen there, but the home cooked food looked better!

Day 3, West Highland Way – Inversnaid to Strathfillan: First part of the route incredibly difficult – the path barely clings on to the NE shore of Loch Lomond – scrambled over tree roots and rocks and up ladders. One mile took us 25 minutes! It had rained a lot in the night so some of the stream crossings were in spate. Combined with another really boggy area made for wet feet. Then we left behind the Loch, one last look behind us, as the path climbs up some bracken areas, really hot and humid here – the

bracken makes a microclimate. Finally up into some open moorland areas with a welcome breeze, I don’t mind about the pylons, as the drover’s road was a good surface! We met our Italian friend again, and this time stopped for a chat – he is a referee in Italy and had not come across people doing long-distance trail running before! Then, onwards – the route is close / parallel to a main road, which was eerily quiet. At the half way point (a deer fence!) we decided to make a detour for ice pops to Crianlarich, before heading on to our next base, our glamping wigwam, only to find we’d beaten the bags here! We discovered that was because there had been an accident on that eerily quiet road, so our bags and Fraser were stuck in the tail backs! We sat looking at our day-old socks and our small day packs, hoping we could eek everything out for tomorrow, in case our bags didn’t arrive at all. The wigwam place lent us a pair of towels so we could shower at least. Then the bags arrived and they even brought them up the hill to us in a land rover! We chose here so we could be self catering and so we made up a lovely meal with more of our vegan rations from the bags. Wild rabbits around our cabin in the evening, fab memories!

West Highland Way, day 4 – Strathfillan to Inveroran. A short early blast to Tyndrum where we treated ourselves to tea / coffee – legs feeling stiff but that soon wears off. Then a great stretch on old military road – fab path surface, views, gentle pootle downhill. Looking back on the whole trip, this section was one of my favourites. Felt we could go on like this for miles! Reached Bridge of Orchy for more coffees at midday, then only 3 miles on to tonight’s base! Which was the Inveroran Hotel. We beat the bags again! As we sat with a drink in the hotel bar, chatting to a man from Ireland who was just wondering how far he’d go before camping, Fraser arrived with our bags – he enjoyed another good chat, I don’t think he is used to seeing his customers during their trip! The accommodation sadly has seen better days, just catering for carnivores really, so we showered and WALKED BACK (would you believe) 3 miles to enjoy wifi and vegan side dishes at the Bridge of Orchy. Let’s hope we can check out any time we like tomorrow AND leave!

West Highland Way, day 5 – Inveroran to Kinlochlevan. A nice gentle climb up to moorland where we looked up and around on the off chance of seeing eagles. As we ran along, we passed two walkers with huge back-packs pondering along, and wearing hats with mosquito nets over them. I 20150825_122050heard one say to the other, “that is the way to do it!” and indeed, when running along you aren’t bothered by the midge one bit. However, don’t stop long to take photos! Plus the joys of not carrying tons of luggage are worth writing home about. Today we had views to Rannoch Moor and the route to ourselves, apart from a couple of people who looked like they had camped wild. At one point I thought I might have jarred my right ankle (this is an ankle I sprained about 8 years ago and it has always been weird since) – and I thought to myself, “must go steady, because one injury now would be game over for finishing the route.” We dropped down to Glencoe for a coffee at the ski centre, feeling like we were making great progress. Then off again, along the glen for a few miles (we met the Irish man again, who’d had a great time the night before photographing the sunset in Glencoe – this happens quite a lot of the route, you see the same people a number of times) before the “devil’s suitcase” (actually devil’s staircase but we kept saying it wrong – eventually I said devil’s wardrobe and my other half didn’t bat an eyelid – I wonder what the devil would put in wardrobe, or a suitcase!) – a steep climb on loose stones – admit to walking this bit on and off. The combination of the gradient and what felt like being on someone’s gravel drive made it impossible to run.

Then a long descent to Kinlochlevan – we got here early afternoon and treated ourselves to food from the co-op, and had a lovely chat with a Canadian couple on a bench outside. Lovely B&B tonight (beat the bags here again!) with a bath!! After which we explored the town – a really nice place with really interesting history from aluminium smelting and dam building just 100 years ago (we went to the heritage centre). We started to feel that the end of our goal was in sight!

West Highland Way day 6 – Kinlochlevan to “The Fort”. Beat the bags again! Open ground and a bit of rain to start with. Good highland landscapes. When it stopped raining it was nice to put the hood down as otherwise you just hear yourself! Views of Ben Nevis on the way down steepish forest tracks. Coming out of the forest and into civilisation I caught a glimpse of my shadow and realised the trail running looks quite slow! So I dug deep and tried to run at my normal speed for the glory mile.2015-08-26 15.08.18 This last part through the town a real slog! – they have moved the end point from outside of the town (where you can get a free certificate) to the other end of the high street, seemingly to ensure you pass every pound shop, tat shop and mini Tescos on the way. Anyway, we got to the ‘new’ end point (a bench with a walker statue) before making our way back to the luxury hotel we’d booked to celebrate my birthday in! Had a sauna that afternoon and felt like we had new legs afterwards and could have done it all again! Then, that evening, we went for birthday curry, then we met our Irish friend in a bar for a drink together. He was going to do Ben Nevis itself the next day, 20150826_122824then a week on Skye. We were impressed – quite an active fortnight, for camping too! He is an artist and photographer – and something he said stuck with me … he said he’d often looked forwards and looked back on the path and never felt like he’d been on his own. All the people camping on the route were like a caterpillar, moving forward at roughly the same speed. But as runners, we had OFTEN felt like we were on our own, as we had overtaken the caterpillar each morning, got up in the open sections, before dropping down again.

The Adventure Declaration would love to hear your stories- whether it’s about your favourite adventure item, or sharing one of your adventures, all adventure stories are welcome. Click here to find out how to get in touch.


Adventure socks, shoes or sunglasses?

Is there one thing which just makes you feel ready for adventure? Have you got a trusty compass, the perfect pair of socks or favourite top? A battered pair of sunglasses really epitomises adventure to Carmen- what’s your ‘I’m ready for adventure item’?

Seeing as we’re all adventurers together, I’ll let you know my guilty secret… I’m emotionally attached to a pair of sunglasses. Of course, these aren’t just any pair of sunglasses these are the ones which mean adventure is sure to follow! Nothing special to look at because they’ve been dropped, stamped on, chipped and repaired more than a few times in the past 6 years or so, but blimey we’ve done some miles and had some fun along the way.

I’d been on the lookout for the perfect pair for a long time, and these little beauties caught my eye in a specialist mountain bike store- admittedly there are questions to be asked about why someone who lives in fear of being on a mountain bike (the downhill really freaks me out) was in the store in the first place. Anyways, we found each other, the perfect fit even after jumping up and down in the store with my eyebrows near to the floor: practicing just in case I ever decide to run that way.Up to April 2015 001 (2)

I put them on and feel super powered- who needs a cloak of steel! They keep me focussed when I’m racing and let me enjoy the view when I’m not. They’ve kept me from going snow blind on long winter days, saved me from the glare of the sun and stopped the rain from blocking my way. Sometimes, on bad days, they’ve even hidden my tears where I’ve fallen or lost my nerve part way through something silly.

My armour, a lucky charm. We’ve been through a lot together, sometimes lost, other times running into the night and back out through dawn. The chips are starting to make it a little tricky to see in certain lights, but I still cling on and keep my fingers crossed every time I put them on, that it won’t be the last time we head out to the hills together.

The Adventure Declaration would love to hear your stories- whether it’s about your favourite adventure item, or sharing one of your adventure, all adventure stories are welcome. Click here to find out how to get in touch.

Adventure, Girls Weekender and the Police

Braving an early morning, a long day in the hills and managing to avoid the police from interrupting our plan for a large post run pub meal, our girls weekend meant, not only did some of us learn new tent pitching skills (me!) but also that it’s really great to spend time with other women who love the freedom and fresh air which comes with playing outside.

In the spirit of a group outing, we’re sharing our weekend fun:

Hannah: “8 of the Harrier Belles (from Holcombe Harriers running club) set out for a day in the Dales. We were missing a few of our buddies, but they were with us in spirit. We set off in the damp low cloud but seemed to pretty quickly reach the top of our first Peak. Along with the first bit of insider knowledge from Claire…Gent means wind. And wind, cloud and no visibility is what we got at the summit of Pen-Y-Gent. Quick photo and down we went with a great run on the decent and on to the prolonged drag to Whernside. Quick stop for a snack at Ribblehead and Claire’s next piece of info that the viaduct is in Harry Potter. It was a pretty frustrating tramp up Whernside with joining the lemmings on a very busy day- finally our second peak was done with a better view from the top. After a quick photo and a random alternative for “say cheese” from our photographer…who knew “electric sex” was the way to go, hey!!


Down we went. With shouts of “runners on the right” and alternative tracks found to break away from the troops of stompers. Claire’s local knowledge meant we all soon knew that this is the setting and home place of the Mr Men and we could absolutely see it. However childhood talk moved on to Postman Pat which meant the tune was firmly lodged in my brain. Grrr.

Time for a water refuel a lemonade ice lolly and a pint of juice and off to our last peak, Ingleborough. Probably the steepest stomp, Carmen split and took a speedy scramble. Meanwhile Jo was keeping the area clean making sure the dog walkers were taking responsibility. We all wanted to say it but she still did it with a smile. Zoe took us to the final trig point and past the crowds. It was blimmin’ windy, cold and no sight of the scenery. Time to get down and then we found Nicola who had come to meet us. Shattered legs (personally) and back to Horton. All done. 25 miles. Moving time 6hrs 30. Followed by a life and death shower, bitey bitey midges and an interesting pub experience. Sharing stories and a fab end to a fantastic day with the ladies. I learnt a lot about these lovely lot I only normally get an hour or so a week with. Let’s organise another one soon please!”

Nicola: “Unable to start with the Harriers I made my way to Yorkshire on Saturday afternoon. I was a little apprehensive as I’d never been walking (other than little pootles) or camping without the safety net of company. I dusted off my map reading skills & set towards Ingleborough to try & meet up with the Harriers at the top. It was actually really refreshing walking alone & all my appreciation blew away with the breeze. I had some time to clear my head but also met lots of friendly, tried faces as they were finishing their 3 Peaks challenge. I spotted the Harriers about half an hour from the top as they came charging towards me. Considering how far they come, they all looked fresh faced & were full of beans. I joined them on the route down & shared stories, getting to know each other.

Within an hour or so we were back in the village with the Harriers having completed the Yorkshire 3 Peaks! Back at the camp site we got set up & enjoyed a well-earned beer before heading off to the pub for refuelling. I had a really lovely weekend & will definitely be doing it again. I’m also going to make the point of venturing out on my own more too!”


Carmen: “After plenty of chat and running we hobbled our way to the local pub, a few drinks later we happily tucked into our meals, some of us balancing our plates on our knees in the squash. Not an easy feat on tired legs. Luckily we hobbled just quick enough to get our meal before the immigration police arrived and further food was cancelled- far more excitement on a Saturday night than we were expecting. I can’t wait until we organise another weekend- all inspired now albeit in a tired way”

Renee: “I’d love to do it again, though will have to wait till I can walk, never mind run, sore legs ooch!!”

Jo: “I felt fine yesterday…..turns out I was totally lulled into a false sense of security! Sideways stairs today!!”

Carolyn: “Home, showered, glass of bubbly. It was such a great day. I had a fab time, thoroughly enjoyed every minute, bring on the next challenge!”

If you enjoyed reading our Adventure Declaration there’s 4 things you can do…

  1. Share it with your friends so more women hear about the brilliant adventures happening every day.
  2. Join The Adventure Declaration on Facebook or Twitter so we can have a chat about your latest adventures and chance to keep in the loop.
  3. Tell your adventure story- the Adventure Declaration is for all women with hearts of adventure and all adventures count. We’d love to hear from you. Click here to find out how to get in touch.
  4. Make your declaration to enjoy every second of every adventure!

Everest, Volcanoes & The Problem With Adventuring

Claire asks herself, ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’

“Being adventurous is simply who I am – whether it be nature or nurture I’m not sure, but there are stories of me wandering off as a two year old seeking my own adventures, much to the anxiety of my parents, yet it’s also from their influence that I have the desire to try new things instilled in me.

As a child I wasn’t aware that I was particularly adventurous, as going camping in the wild, hiking over the moors and finding new hideouts was the family norm most weekends.CK

However, it was only in my late twenties that I started to push myself beyond my comfort zone and I became more aware of the adventures other people were having, which made me envious, and I developed a thirst for wanting to push myself more and more, often not really sure if I was capable but at the same time not really thinking it through either. I developed an attitude of ‘what’s the worst that could happen?’ and the more I pushed myself, the more I wanted to see what else I could do.

In 2009 I took a year out, rented my house out and set off on my biggest adventure yet. I booked 4 flights, Manchester to Mexico, Argentina to North Island New Zealand, South Island New Zealand to Hong Kong and Nepal back to Manchester. And that was as far as my planning went. All I knew was that I was craving a culture shock. Although Mexico was a great country, thick in customs and tradition, it also had a large American influence and it wasn’t until I headed south to Guatemala where I started finding life very different and a lot more uncomfortable. I thrived off each nerve-wracking experience, asking myself ’what’s the worst that could happen?’ – It was a love-hate sensation, well more hate (at the time) and love (once I’d succeeded).

I travelled my way by chicken bus through the very poor but beautiful Latin American countries, largely keeping off the tourist path, living with local families, learning Spanish and meeting fantastic people along the way. I made my plan as I went along, either from recommendation or by reading the travel guide whilst being bashed about on a packed out, rickety, old bus on muddy tracks, finding it hard to concentrate as Latin music blurted out of the speakers and at every stop several ladies hopped on trying to convince you that you need to buy yet another snack.

The only goal I had set myself from the outset was to go running in every place I went to, as you see so much more when running around places, and doesn’t require any preparation. Running was the one thing I had in common with people where ever I went, and I often ended up with a local who running alongside me, wanting to chat, intrigued by me (usually as they were often running in jeans, sweatshirts and woolly hats and I was in a t-shirt and running tights).

In Ecuador, I joined a local’s mountaineering group who taught me how to alpine climb and I had some great adventures with them, summiting several of Ecuador’s highest glacier topped volcanoes. Ironically, it wasn’t the mountains which I was most nervous about but whether I would be able to understand a thing with my not so fluent Spanish (at this point I had only been learning for 8 weeks) but I thought ‘what’s the worst that could happen?’ Well, when I struggled to understand they simply repeated it louder (and my reaction tended to be smile and nod). I did become a bit of a mascot for the group and gradually made some great friends (as my Spanish improved).

The thing I found was that whatever I was doing, I always met someone doing something ten times more adventurous than me whether it be mountaineers, or people on their own hunt for adventure such as charity workers, using their time and skills to help others, such as the volunteer vets helping the sloths and turtles and the aid workers supporting orphaned children and women who had escaped violent homes. This spurred me on to push myself even more and make the most of every opportunity.

As Nepal was my final destination, and my 30th birthday, I had decided to treat myself and had booked with a company to do a 3 week expedition, incorporating three 6000m mountains in the Everest region. I headed to the Annapurna region and raced around the circuit and sanctuary in ten days, a) to get some fitness and b) to see as much as I could as I only had 2 weeks before my expedition started. On returning to Kathmandu, I found out that my expedition had been cancelled – I was so disappointed. I started walking around the tour offices to find other adventures to do and came across the Tenzing-Hillary Everest marathon. This would be the perfect finale to my goal of running in every place! However, I had never run a marathon – and the running I had done throughout my trip had been an hour maximum at jogging speed. I wasn’t really sure if I was capable but ‘what’s the worst that could happen?’ I asked myself…well my flight back to Manchester was on 1st June, and the marathon was on 29th May – that was quite a major factor (as I was pretty homesick by this point and was looking forward to going home). I told myself to stop thinking and just do it, after all I still had 4 weeks to train for it J.

I set off to the Kumbu region, trekking from teahouse to teahouse and visited most of the villages in the area. I met many brilliant people, all doing amazing and inspiring things, people who had either summited, or were en route to summiting Everest; I had afternoon tea with David Walsh, the famous Sports Sunday Journalist who was writing about Lewis Pugh who was there to swim in a glacial lake at 5300m in just speedos to make the world aware of the problems of climate change. I met a guy sponsored by Skype setting up internet links between the primary schools around the region so that they could support each other more and I was humbled by the work of the volunteer doctors who had set up medical rooms in tea houses to treat the porters who often suffered maltreatment.

I managed to summit two 6000m mountains before heading to the Everest Base Camp to start the marathon. The marathon was the best (and hardest) thing I had ever done to date and I was high on adrenaline during the whole race, being cheered on by teahouse owners who I had befriended along the way. I made it to the finish at Namche Bazar in one piece – much to my amazement!

The ‘problem’ with being adventurous is that you’re never satisfied – once you’ve achieved something you thought you couldn’t do, you gain that little more confidence and start looking for something that little bit harder (and scarier!)”

If you enjoyed reading Claire’s Adventure Declaration there’s 4 things you can do…

  1. Share it with your friends so more women hear about the brilliant adventures happening every day.
  2. Join The Adventure Declaration on Facebook or Twitter so we can have a chat about your latest adventures and chance to keep in the loop.
  3. Tell your adventure story- the Adventure Declaration is for all women with hearts of adventure and all adventures count. We’d love to hear from you. Click here to find out how to get in touch.
  4. Make your declaration to enjoy every second of every adventure!

The Freedom Fizzle

Hetty talks about socks, sandals, checklists and getting outside:

Adventure is addictive, for me it is an essential and fundamental part of living. No matter how big or small it sends that fizzle of excitement through me that reminds me that I am alive.

For those of you who don’t know me I am Hetty, writer of the outdoor, adventure, travel blog – Mud, Chalk and Gears (www.mudchalkandgears.com)! Throughout my life I have always been a keen sports woman, especially when it comes to things that involve being outside exploring and adventuring. I really love pushing myself both physically and mentally to find my limit, often discovering some amazing things along the way. For me, it is also as much about loving the environment I am in, as to giving something 110%, be that mud, mountains, oceans or rain – it’s all part of it. hetty

A few weeks ago Carmen asked me to write a post for The Adventure Declaration on how I get my adventure fix, what it means to me and how I got into it all. This set me thinking – for as long as I can remember I have been adventuring. From climbing every tree in my parents garden – including some particularly tall and precarious ones, which resulted in a very concerned neighbour – to current, bigger explorations around the UK and beyond. I remember going out walking when I was little and refusing to take the path, instead insisting on the “long and dangerous route” clambering over every obstacle I could find. So when it comes to answering the question of how I got into adventuring I guess I can’t tell you – it has always been a part of my life.

I can however tell you what has inspired me to keep exploring and push myself as far as I can – my parents. Growing up I was always encouraged to take every opportunity that came my way. Some of my best memories are out walking and scrambling with my dad and the dogs. Always a keen mountaineer and climber I loved hearing about his trips and stories. These were often combined with grainy photos of him out adventuring with a massive beard and dodgy tan lines – I believe sandals and socks also featured! Regardless this triggered the start of a long checklist adventures I plan on ticking off.unnamed

Without launching into a much longer and heavy story, health-wise both my parents have not had the easiest time to put it lightly. Although I struggle to deal with this, throughout everything they have only ever motivated and supported me. It has taught me to seize the moment. That thing you are thinking about doing – go and do it! The niggling doubt or fear that stops you – push it aside, you can. My mum has a million inspirational quotes to back this up)! The majority of the time the only thing that is holding you back is yourself. It’s not easy but it’s worth it.

Like I said earlier, adventures can be big or small. Whether you are on a micro-adventure nearer home or a scaling a mountain, the key thing is that what you are doing makes you feel alive. There is so much I could write here, however I am choosing to keep it short and sweet. And most importantly I think it’s time we all got outside!

To follow my adventures check out Mud, Chalk & Gears (www.mudchalkandgears.com). Alternatively you can always find me on Twitter (https://twitter.com/MudChalkGears) and Instagram (https://instagram.com/hetty_key/)

If you enjoyed reading Hetty’s Adventure Declaration there’s 4 things you can do…

  1. Share it with your friends so more women hear about the brilliant adventures happening every day.
  2. Join The Adventure Declaration on Facebook or Twitter so we can have a chat about your latest adventures and chance to keep in the loop.
  3. Tell your adventure story- the Adventure Declaration is for all women with hearts of adventure and all adventures count. We’d love to hear from you. Click here to find out how to get in touch.
  4. Make your declaration to enjoy every second of every adventure!

Head Torches & Finding the Friday Feeling

The way Viv talks about wild camping will make wish you were spending Friday night under the stars:

I have realised over the years that generally the plans that seem least sensible are often those that make me smile most – you know the ones that make the majority of people look a bit puzzled, wondering why you would do that strange and unconventional thing instead of going to a the pub like everyone else.Picture1

Thankfully I have found a few friends that know exactly why, that feel equally free and happy and connected to the world when heading out to the hills with a tent and some food (and one with a camelback of wine) on a Friday night.

We walked up a big hill filling our lungs with fresh air, watched the most beautiful sunset filling our hearts with awe, and ate and drunk together filling our bellies with a random selection of tasty treats. We ran around in the dark jumping from stone to stone, and we messed around with head torches inside the tent until the photographer in the group got the right light for his shot. We talked about the week and how strangely this felt more like ‘home’ than home sometimes. One friend had been feeling quite down, and suddenly there she was with a wide smile and bright eyes, back with a feeling of hope and a spirit of adventure again.

Picture2In the morning we found a new route down, heading back to reality, but with the whole weekend ahead of us. I think of that Friday night more than most, a secret night out that most will never know. I hope it will be the first of many.

If you enjoyed reading about Viv’s Adventure Declaration there’s 4 things you can do…

  1. Share it with your friends so more women hear about the brilliant adventures happening every day.
  2. Join The Adventure Declaration on Facebook or Twitter so we can have a chat about your latest adventures and chance to keep in the loop.
  3. Tell your adventure story- the Adventure Declaration is for all women with hearts of adventure and all adventures count. We’d love to hear from you. Click here to find out how to get in touch.
  4. Make your declaration to enjoy every second of every adventure!

Mortality, Leeches, Bucket Lists & Craving Adventure

Emily talks about being a coiled spring, surreal dreams and running away with a tent:

Why I crave adventures is a really difficult question to answer, and to be honest not one I’ve really thought about before. No more than why I climb mountains (because they are there) or walk long distances (because I can).

I was bitten by the adventure bug early in life. My favourite book when I was very little was ‘Around the world with Ant and Bee’ – about two unlikely friends who decide to travel the world and see fantastic places. From that point on any documentary I saw or image in a magazine made it on to a mental bucket list of places I had to see before I die. In my 20’s I made that bucket list real as there’s no time like the present to start ticking off must do trips.

Quiet contemplation

Quiet contemplation

I was very lucky growing up as we travelled a lot and my mum’s fearless approach, such as taking us for a wander down backstreets in Luxor combined with my dad’s passion for history led us to a variety of exciting places. Sitting on a beach all day was never our style.

We’d hiked and camped a lot growing up and while I don’t remember the first mountain I climbed, at 17 I climbed Ben Nevis and made the decision that day that I had to finish my Duke of Edinburgh award before I got too old. I didn’t realise how life changing that would be, as the year after completing my gold I began volunteering to teach other young people outdoor skills. Over the next 8 years I became obsessed with ticking mountains off and working towards my Mountain Leader award. Any opportunity to escape with my tent was taken.

I love sharing my passion for the outdoors – there’s nothing more amazing to hear on a Lake District mountain in the rain than a girl from inner city Manchester saying how magic it is to be able to touch the clouds. That said there’s also nothing more fantastic than seeing a group of unfit young people manage to survive 4 days carrying their kit over mountain passes and see the relief on their faces at the end.

My urge for adventure comes from the same place in me – a sense of mortality and a need to cram it all in before I die, or can’t. And yet adventures provide me with a feeling of invincibility as I reach a summit, smash my longest distance in a day or just get my bike up that next big hill. Adventure also provides me with distance from all the buzz and noise of life, and the headspace to just be. There’s nothing more satisfying than running away with a tent for the weekend and I know I have a limit in how long I can go without that feeling (its weeks not months!). I can become unbearable to be with if I don’t get the release of being outdoors; I’m like a tightly sprung coil that eventually snaps in your face (or so an ex once told me!)

Adventures overseas, beyond just holidays to exotic destinations, started quite recently for me. My first was the Tour du Mont Blanc in 2012, a 170 km circuit of the Mont Blanc massif. Piece of cake, that’s only 106 miles or so! It was the first time I’d done a long distance walk which included massive cols to cross in searing hot sunshine, snow and driving rain. It was a fantastic experience to walk through 3 countries around an awe inspiring mountain – which has of course made it onto my bucket list!emily1my first night about 3000m on the acclimatisation trek up Mount Meru, with blood rushing in my head and surreal dreams was an experience I’ll never forget. To find that altitude didn’t affect me too badly, beyond nausea and mild headaches was a relief. If not for it being the first time I’d been at a high altitude, Kili would have been a tad disappointing – (sorry for anyone who’s got it on their bucket list). It’s featureless and desolate on the northern Rongai route and teeming with charity trekkers on the south marangu route. The day’s activities are short and filled more with sitting around eating than walking – it’s important that it is that way to ensure altitude doesn’t debilitate you, but it did leave me feeling that it hadn’t been hard enough. It didn’t challenge me mentally – and that’s the difference for me.

Then a good friend suggested the GR20, the toughest trek in Europe and rated more difficult than Kili. At 180km long and following the ridge line of the island’s mountains, in 2014 I completed the long distance trek in Corsica – easily the hardest trek I’ve done to date with over 1000m ascent and descent every day over walks around 15 miles a day. My knees felt shattered by the end and in the Cirque de Solitude I was nervous as hell descending vertical rocks just holding a chain. If you’re extremely fit and confident I would highly recommend it as the landscape is truly amazing and it is a feat of body and mind.

I ended 2014 with a ‘proper holiday’ in my dad’s opinion, with a trip to Cambodia. Though I still managed to have a week in the jungle trekking – which frankly is on the edge of my mental endurance. Leeches are not my favourite creatures and I didn’t sleep well in my hammock as I imagined I’d wake covered in them. Physically not that demanding but mentally excruciating! Spending time with families in their communities was however an experience I’ll never forget – sleeping in someone’s home listening to the rain outside and giant beetles flying around as I lie like a starfish in the humid air under a mosquito net.

I used to have a map of the world on my wall with pins in it, and whilst the map has disappeared, the urge to cover it in pins still exists. I aim to see everything I can when I go somewhere – I may not get the chance to go back and frankly the world is too big to visit somewhere more than once. It’s also made a once introverted girl much more confident and bold – I don’t care that I travel the world alone and I love the exclamations of hikers who see me wild camp alone. Because I can.

My bucket list is never ending and if someone presents me with a challenge I’ll try it. I like to find the edges of what I’m capable of and push them. Because I can. The trouble with challenges is that I struggle to just say, ‘right that’s over, now relax’. I can’t climb one mountain I have to climb them all (if a list of something exists – like the munros – I’m hooked!). I can’t just climb one grade up rock I have to go harder. I can’t just walk 25 miles I have to walk further. So most of my adventures lead to new even tougher ones.emily3

Adventure for me has to push me mentally as well as physically. It has to take me to places where I learn about other cultures, and more than anything it has to take me to landscapes of amazing beauty. I love the outdoors and can’t ever imagine living in a city – Hong Kong was one of the most claustrophobic places I’ve ever been and I’d rather fly half way round the world to the jungle than to a huge forest of buildings. This all makes me very difficult to travel with!

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