How I...

How I… learnt to ski

Going to Svalbard is going to be a huge learning curve for me, but the biggest challenge is skiing.  The cold, the camping, the days on my feet covering long distances are all extensions of things I have done before: I have a vague idea of what I am letting myself in for and know I coped.

But skiing is a completely new skill.

I couldn’t afford to just go to somewhere snowy abroad (I didn’t have the holiday allocation anyway) and Scottish snow is not something to rely upon, especially as it would almost certainly be perfect conditions on the weekend I couldn’t go! So I needed to find another way to learn.

My Skikes

Back at Yestival 2018, when I announced I was going to Svalbard and that I couldn’t ski, someone suggested roller skis. I filed it in the back of my mind until, while on a course in London, I saw someone roller skiing in Greenwich Park. Some research later and I discovered Skikes. These are a little different – sort of what would happen if rollerblades and a mountain bike had a baby. They are German and looked very bad-ass: my shiny toy sensor pinged and I contacted, John at Skike Sports North.

John was very keen to help and I became the proud owner of a pair of V9 Fire Skikes. It’s always worth joining the Facebook groups for obscure sports or interests, they are often full of keen people with a passion that want to share it, I was soon directed to instruction videos, hints and tips and offers of help and encouragement.

Skikes on my feet

It was on a  week’s holiday that I really started to get the hang of them.

Outside the cottage was over a mile of barely used rough tarmac leading to a forest track. I spent hours up and down, up and down while my calves screamed at me to stop. The next challenge was to Skike round the forest at home. This added the excitement of people and bikes and kids on bike darting around like over-excited squirrels, dogs and dogs on leads that stretched across the path in front of me.

I nearly bottled it. I reached the gate and a huge dose of imposter syndrome hit. Who on earth am I, a 42 year old woman wearing novelty rollerblades and elbow pads? What if I fall over in front of someone? What if I rolled, out of control, taking out small children as I catered towards the lake? I had a moment. I did have a bit of a cry. And then I remembered Zoe Langley-Wathen’s 100 Scary Days, a challenge to get out of your comfort zone. I hoiked up my brave pants and set off. And guess what? It was fine. I didn’t fall over and didn’t visit the ducks in the lake. No one paid attention to me but my feet got lots of admiring glances with exclamations of “they’re cool!”. So, on to the next stage. Snow.

Feeling smug having not fallen over in front of the crowds

Imposter syndrome again. Sat in my hired ski boots and salopettes, surrounded by cool looking people in funky ski wear while I sweated uncomfortably in my outdoor gear. I was fearful of finding out I was really crap at skiing. I had made one good decision to have a full 6 hour lesson at Chill Factore in Manchester, rather than broken in to 3 lessons. Other groups were spending the first half an hour recapping what they did the last time, whereas we just kept going. And I discovered I loved it. And I wasn’t too bad at it either. Our instructor Paul B was brilliant, he adapted the lesson so all eight on the course got individual attention and got the most from it. By the end I was happily parallel turning and a bit sad I had to go home.

Getting the hang of this skiing malarkey

Done. Next stop, Polar Training in Kvitåvatn. Eek.

Journey to Svalbard, Uncategorized

How I… Decided on a cold adventure

It started, as I think may adventures do, in the queue for mulled cider at Yestival.

A felt penguin wearing a fair isle jumper and bobble hat

I finished cycling the Camino in October 2017 (blog here) and was feeling a combination of the post-adventure blues and a lack of direction.  My husband had given me a felt penguin as a present from a business trip – The Penguin of Future Adventures.  I named her Isabella Bird. Isabella Bird was an explorer and the first woman elected Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, so it seemed a good name for an adventurous penguin.

A chalk board sign "say YES to new Adventures"

I had taken Isabella Bird to Yestival, stuffed in the side pocket of my back pack.  It was while queueing for the bar I met a friend i had made the previous year.  We chatted about our adventures and he asked me what I planned to do next.  I said I wasn’t sure: there were so many things I could do, another cycle tour, walk a trail, climb a mountain and that I was a little overwhelmed by the options.  After listening to me a while, he said “well it has to be a cold adventure or the penguin can’t go”.  And suddenly I had a direction: a cold adventure.

Cold is pretty much covered by places far north, far south or up high.  Far south seemed expensive and too big a challenge to dare to do.  Which left the arctic or a mountain.  A smaller pool of possibility, but still pretty big.  A opportunity arose in the form of the Fjallraven Polar, a dog sled expedition in the arctic.   Even though I had no expectation of getting enough votes to participate, I was surprised just how many people voted for me.  I liked the idea of a journey,  maybe a traverse; and though I like the idea of a dog sled, the idea of a human-powered journey  appealed.  Years of stress at work had made me unfit, I was not comfortable in my body.  I didn’t dislike my body, rather I had neglected it as was beginning to pay the price.  A human-powered journey gave me a reason to train.

The final refinements of the plan came from talking to three amazing women: Sarah Williams, Adelaide Goodeve and Helen Turton.  Sarah invited me on a Facebook live chat in the Tough Girl Tribe to talk about my adventure ideas and get some support from the tribe.  This sparked the memory of Adelaide’s Svalbard adventure, after a good chat about it and allaying some of my fears she put me in contact with Helen and her company, Newland.  A call to Helen and the plan was fixed.  Svalbard! 

Back at Yestival in October 2018, I stood on stage and told everyone my plan.  No turning back.

Me with Isabella Bird the penguin of future adventure on front of the Say Yes More sign
Yestival 2018 – putting my brave-pants on to speak on the stage