Monday, 17 April 2017

Head down and focused.....

Wow, it's been a few weeks since I updated my blog .... but for good reason. My life has been fully immersed in the white water kayaking and other worlds beyond...

Life just hasn't stopped - if I am not on the river or pool, I have been organising the upcoming trip - whether it's equipment, food, logistics or courses. So much has happened in a relatively short space in time. However, together it is getting closer to the goal... and that is more than off the scale exciting.

To think when I stepped off the plane in January - my focus was to kayak from source to sea - unsupported and unassisted - solo without any support or help along the way. Funny really.

Since January I have spoken to many of the folks who have travelled the same or similar route and so with this and other research, I gained enough understanding to know that a unsupported and unassisted journey would only be possible if I was happy to kayak big rapids alone and turn down food and gifts from communities along the river. This is something that would have changed the journey dramatically ... and certainly not for the better.

Although I am expecting the full journey to take 6months - I am not on a strict timeline - unlike Antarctica that had restrictions on time, seasons, temperatures and flights - for this journey - similar to setting out on the PCT - I want to be guided by the path and experience rather than competition, season or time.

With this in mind, I have decided to start at the source of  the River Mananon - the headwater  river with the most water, least amount of pollution and dams, most spectacular scenery and kayakable decent. For the whitewater section, I will have a guide (dying on the rapids is not a good look) before I continue the 3000miles alone along the full length of the River Amazon to the sea.  I really can't wait to get on the start line... knowing that there is over 4000miles between myself and the finish.

As I write, the plan is coming to life, slowly and surely - ok so it's not slowly .... it's at a rapid pace just like my kayaking. Although there are of course troughs, barriers and repeats ... forwards it is. It's happening.

2 months down the line, I have spent many an hour on the M4 (and other motorways), flown to France (another chapter in the journey), experienced many London Kayaking clubs and pools, kayaked the Thames,
Kayaked many Rivers in Wales, 






(Testing out a touring kayak)



kayaked the Ardeche,


and even slept in my hammock (a first).
 (Look in the background - it's there) 


Beyond this I have had the complete pleasure of meeting folks who are so supportive and enthusiastic about this trip (more about these folks later) and trialling kit and food. The kit is substantial and although I have now confirmed my touring kayak (less adaptations) and torch; the inflatable kayak for 200km of the headwaters section, main kayak for the main white water section, food and equipment is still in the trial period. What I know, similar to Antarctica, there won't be local kayaking stores hidden in the Amazon jungle.... so it has to be right, the best and will last the journey albeit filming devices, solar panels, kayaks, knives, dry bags, portage devices, clothing, medical equipment, paddle floats, food, footwear, lighters, filters and even underwear..... etc etc etc...... 


Cause 4000miles is a lonnnnnnnnng way πŸ˜€ ish....







Saturday, 11 March 2017

Moving forward....

And breathe..... 
Since arriving back from Antarctica I have taken myself out from the post-trail energy zapping low to the high thrill of being out there learning to kayak. 

Hikers, trail runners and outdoor folks will be able to relate to this. Is it because or caused when the realisation and experience of pure freedom hits the wall of 'normalisation' and trivia, or hormones? Who knows...

The last month has flown by... the intense but focused kayak training is in full swing and I am pleased that after 2 weeks of being on or near river water .... I am in a place where I seek and can work on grade three waters. So much has happened.... 




Of course there is still much to learn, practise and continue to refine and automise ... but thanks to Dan at riverstrokes.com .... much ground has been covered (more about this to come) and I cant forget Ollie at Monmouth Activities Centre (more on this too).

However, unlike previous trips, the feel, focus and considerations are different.... very different.. and miles away from the 'next chapter' thoughts as I stepped off the plane at Heathrow on 13th Jan 2017. Of course by the time I walked through the exit to the Heathrow carpark .... the 'hmmmm not done a jungle' thought had turned to stone. Amazing what happens within 1/2 hour... or was it a split second after walking through the doors...
Today, my thoughts turn to a serious survival mode... what if I lose my kayak in the rapids and I have to hike it through the jungle with only my wet suit and buoyancy aid? What if I come across the hostel interactions written about in books, speeches or the like? How will a lone female be perceived? What will I do if ..... one thing is for sure - the piraΓ±as, crocs and snakes are probably the least of my worries - interestingly.  The list is endless but as time progresses, I am able to cross items off one by one. 

Interestingly again the folks around me respond in different ways at different times (¥¥¥¥) so suddenly 'rocks' become my anchor.... the rocks that dont twist and turn, mold or morph, judge ....who are straight up and reliable.... steady. These rocks will happily and clearly state 'I dont know' , will openly state their feelings but equally, after the statement, put them aside knowing that there is serious work to be done. Ultimately we can either emotionally mince around or actively develop skills that will ensure my safety.... 

What is clear- it will happen.

I dont have time for bravado, to try to convince folks, get folks on board so that they feel ok or 'get it', fit into their programmes or even convince them of the seriousness (and not) of this trip....nor even my intentions..... in short I dont have time to waste .... i just have time to focus, develop and refine skills that will provide me with calm to think, get  myself out of trouble when things go wrong and therefore get safely down the river. Yes, its cut throat.... but ultimately if I eye ball a shot gun barrel after losing my kayak because 'i was spending time passifying folks' ....or listening to the I 'shouldnt be kayaking on grade three after 2 weeks' and 'you need to learn about how to put on a sling of a 303 just because...' I am not sure how much 'regret' I will have if..... 

So that lot is in the back of my mind..along with training and resource planning for the trip.  Guess that leaves little time for anything else! 

Exciting times.... 




















Thursday, 2 March 2017

Stoppers and Weirs

What a couple of days with Monmouth Canoe Centre.  

This week I was with guide Ollie Sandeson heading down the River Wye and the River Monnow. Although they are grade 1 and 2, with the rivers being up the low level grade 2 became high level grade 2 and there were plenty of 'obstacles' to make sure I didn't make contact with. This was great to experience.

 

We spent time just getting at one with the water, paddle and kayak (a different one this week).  This time was spent turning, feeling the pressure and having more faith in the equipment definitely helped with the confidence. 

 

There was also a good (easy) stopper to play in and although I caught my edge on the stopper and learnt first hand the power and  problems associated with a stopper - having Ollie there meant that I didn't need to bail and we could go back and practise it again and again and again ... always good after a head pin! Learning how to feel and use the current on such a thing was great!

 

 

 

The days passed really quickly and before I knew it, I was back at Monmouth Activity centre reflecting on the days activities and lessons. I have to say even though its a couple of days after, I am still giggling about heading blind down the weir! Great fun! 

 

So, lots of fun but serious lessons learnt .... perfectπŸ˜€

Thank you Ollie and Monmouth Canoe Centre πŸ˜€ www.monmouthcanoe.co.uk

But for now, its time for a quick respite at The Royal Festival Hall ... well for tonight anyway.... 

Friday, 24 February 2017

Whitewater

So, the starting pistol has been let off and the whitewater training for the Amazon is officially in full swing.  I have say I love it..... no, really really love it! Although its going back to basics and stripping all of the skills back; I am so pleased that my next challenge involves kayaks and water.

 

(Day 1 - going in a straight line... or attempting to πŸ˜€)

As part of setting up my training programme, I have been in contact with a variety of kayaking folks and to date, I have to say, on the whole, the kayaking folks are uber friendly, laid back and really supportive. Of course most will make the judgement that expecting to head down the Amazon so early in my kayaking career  is very ambitious and probably too ambitious in their eyes; but that is thought without knowing me, my history, my drive or knowing what I will be doing between now and the time that I head down it.  Yes, this is very familiar senario, echoed with every adventure that I do. 

Luckily the supportive ones can tell that I will do it anyway so 'its better to help as much as possible so that I am safe as possible rather than the alternative not'. I have to say, I am very relieved that I am not having to self teach myself on the river and rapids on my own .... 

Nonetheless, there are some, of course, that have shut down and closed the door; but thats life and fortunately unlike the rest of the kayaking world whom I am extremely thankful and grateful, their support and help has been truly amazing. I guess that is the reason that it is the fastest growing sport in the country (apart from being the most amazing fun too). 

This last week has been amazing (thank you Dan). I have made myself very comfortable in a canal and a couple of rivers in Wales and have loved breaking down each skill and repeating it again and again until it becomes automated and natural. There is still much to do and develop but at the moment it feels really good and miles away from my blind Bambi on skies moments in Antarctica. 

Today was spent on a river with rapids!! 

 
First rapid EVER! πŸ˜€πŸ˜€πŸ˜€ ok its tiny... but it was my first πŸ˜€πŸ˜€. 

But YES, I did actually say RAPIDS.... after just 2.5 days on slow moving water, I was able to head to the RAPIDS πŸ˜€ πŸ‘πŸ‘ although they were little ones (low level grade 2) there were plenty of rocks and tree obstacles that could, if I didn't have control, become a pressing issue.
 

 

 

However, these rapids meant that I could test my learnt skills but also 'play' and push my boundaries and see what the kayak can do such as doing repeated 360 turns in and down the rapids and even go backwards down them: 

 

(Yes I just reversed down this lip) 

 


and making sure that I could 'rest' and land in 'eddies' within the rapids. 

Yes, too much fun but also completed with a level of control (thank goodness!).

Of course, the day wouldn't have been so perfect if I didn't 'go in'.... all in the name of testing my 'evacuation drills' !!? Ok, it wasn't planned and yes, it was because I got a wee bit too confident for my own good and yes again, at the point that I lost momentary focus, was the point I had to reach for the eject cord! 

Nonetheless, what was really good as part of my development during the day was (from rapid no 1) - being expected to speak out loud my thoughts of how to approach and execute the rapids by identifying hazards, eddies and route through. I was uber pleased and relieved that my 'judgement and observation skills were strong and sound and each decision and process was right' (especially when I led). I suspect that this skill has been developed/refined by my previous experience of lots of solo time whether on trail and more recently on the ice. But wherever it has been developed - it very much gives a boost, hope and makes the upcoming challenge/goal a more realistic one. 

Yes, more time in the water is needed (what a hardship πŸ˜‰), more skills and experience needed .... but on track a the moment. 

......And i cant wait πŸ˜€

 
(Loving my new look).






Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Time flies!!!!!! Really

Gosh doesn't time fly... it's been 3 weeksish since I flew away from the ice. Over the last few weeks I have had an enforced rest even though my body just wants to hit the trails and carry on the intense exercise. Sadly with my polar thigh, that was 'under control and being managed' on the ice, got infected whilst back in camp.


I was initially told it would take about a year to clear up.... but I am very relieved to say that I am giving my legs just one more week to completely heal.  To think of the mess that they were in as I hit Punta Arenas clinic - the wonders of the body strike again.


But I have to say, I have already moved on from my Antarctica adventure - it's already been packed away into yet another chapter of my life. This has been needed as I am already focused, planned and putting into action my next adventure. Oh dear!

True to form, it, of course,  has to be a step up from the previous - a challenge, an adventure and a way of finding my breaking point. The cold, baron and most extreme place in the world didn't break me - far from it. So, my next adventure had to try the opposite. What?? I hear you ask....

A place that's hot, humid, teaming with dangerous wild life and people with machetes/guns and moving water. Guess that's the jungle .... and just to take it to a different level (beyond my experience) - I will be kayaking down the River Amazon from source to sea all 4000+ miles of it. Oh and did I mention that I am aiming to do it solo (although for safety reasons I may have an interpreter with me for the notorious section to help me negotiate the 'deals' with the drug lords or 'organ harvesting folks'! Whether I take this option remains to be seen.


So, I have two windows, the first in September 2017 or the second in March 2018 .... I want the September start of course but that depends if I can raise funds and sponsors. There is of course the need to develop my training and make sure that level 5 white water kayaking is strong and I am capable.


So, after the disappointment of only skiing solo to the South Pole (rather there and back due to delays at the start), the excitement begins again as I focus on my next challenge.


Already it's started, I have booked my lessons in kayaking, booked a course on self defence, trying to finalise a recce of the jungle  in march,  and (oh yes, I have to wait a week more) the fitness training will begin. What I can guarantee though, is that for the next year ... I will be spending a lot of time in the water πŸ˜€πŸ˜€ thank goodness I am a 'fish' - hopefully the water will give me a little bit more luck than the last one πŸ˜€πŸ˜€ 







Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Life back in the Uk has been slightly different to what I was expecting. Unfortunatelty my polar thigh got infected and meant that trips to medical establishments have been necessary and a lifetime of videos have had to be watched. Usually by this stage, I would have attended the royal festival hall to immerse myself back into the sounds and pulses of the classical music - something that I now associate with home- but until now that hasn't been possible. Nonetheless, on Thursday, yes tomorrow, I return once more to the RFH for an evening of Bruckner's Symphony No 5 with Philharmonia Orchestra ... and I can't wait.

The journey is over and real life kicks back in one more time ..... but before I put the final fullstop on the chapter, I would like to thank everyone who has supported this journey on many different levels each playing a very important part that got me to the Pole. Looking back now after listing key events of the jouney, with all of the challenges that were presented before, during and after the journey - its a wonder that I made it to the pole at all. However equally it shows how instrumental your support and kind words were. Thank you. 

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Made it!

I made it to the South Pole - the 6th solo woman in world history to do so. So this journey had its challenges and disappointments but more it gave me freedom like no other experience, challenge and a solo journey that extended, confirmed and enhanced who I am.

 

After 46 days you would think that I would be ready to come back inside, but I wasn't, so the last few days were spent dragging my skies, having half days and pigeon skiing until my food ran out. 

 

51 days of solitude has been an amazing experience and although there were times that I craved human contact, realising that I was far more social than I thought and wished I didnt have to ski....  but this gave me the opportunity to contemplate what I want my next chapter or phase in life to be like.

 

Although the biggest disappointment and knock during the journey was finding my fuel canister that held the majority of my fuel wasn't robust enough for the temperatures and sastrigi and thus resulted in the canister splitting and spilling its contents into my sled contaminating serveral days food -at this point the journey automatically became supported and unassisted. I know that above all else, this was the hardest moment of the journey and the point that I had my biggest mental battle in order to carry on. The disappointment was huge -it was at least 35yrs worth of dreaming with a 2 year dedicated focus and preparation, filled with hope and expectation perhaps 'disappointment' is not the correct term. Yes, it was big and yes I felt it to my core. Nonetheless, the process that I took myself on, whilst picking myself up was equally/ probably one of my finest moments of the journey too. Of course, it wasnt the only knock/challenge/bad luck/disappointment of the journey whether before or after, but hey, a smooth ride, plenty of luck wouldnt have given me half the challenge that I had to overcome on this journey and without there certainly wouldn't be a book or after dinner stories to come out of it either. 


In short, this journey had enough to break a person /me.... 


But it didnt. 
 
 
So, as I take a little time to rest and recover ..... I cant help look for my next challenge.......