A couple of weeks ago I attended The North Face launch of their Mountain Athletics range, the new line of kit that helps you to train for your extreme adventure. The whole event really resonated with me (and not because my name is North and I have a face).
That morning as I made my way to the event’s Tower Bridge location I was not exactly firing from all cylinders. There was a bitterly cold wind rattling through my ears and as any South-west Londoner will tell you, travelling anywhere beyond Soho is unknown territory. I was feeling about as adventurous as a cat looking out of the window on a rainy day. In fact, the spirit of adventure was heard whistling off into the ether with the beep of my Oyster card as I trundled through the tube barriers at Putney Bridge.
When you’re worried about travelling 13 stops on the District line, you are in dire need of an ‘adventure intervention’ to get your head out of life’s daily grind.
The District line – not an adventure
Within moments of entering The North Face event my District line malaise had evaporated and was replaced by instant inspiration. The word ‘inspiration‘ is so over-used with the ascent of the hashtag but I can’t think of another one that sums up my experience quite so well (and they call me a journalist).
I walked into a room buzzing with lithe climbers, explorers, endurance athletes all tanned of face and brimming with joie de vivre and I must say, it was catching.
I made a beeline for Laura Scott, a fellow cyclist that I had been Insta-stalking for a while. She told me her project this year is to embark on the Trans America Bike race, a 7081 km, solo, unsupported race across America that she hopes to finish in 30 days. Laura explained how she will be sourcing her own food and water, carrying all her equipment, single-handedly, sorting out dilemmas she may encounter in the wilderness and catching a few hours sleep in a bivy bag. I recalled myself an hour earlier barely able to navigate the queue in the coffee shop and suddenly perspective was restored.
Laura Scott fat-biking on a frozen lake in Iceland.
I could sense that Laura was excited about preparing for something so huge, an experience with memories that would last a lifetime and one that if recorded on Strava would probably shatter the platform in its mega-ness. I needed a big goal too. Something beyond the perils of the District line.
The last time I ever did anything like that was during the four years I spent as a nomadic twenty-something travelling overland, alone through West Africa as a journalist and then in Southeast Asia as a guidebook writer. I must say, those adventures shaped my twenties and I still get asked to talk about it today. But the question I suddenly had that morning was what about the thirties? What is this decade going to bring me and why haven’t I started thinking about it yet?
Travelling through West Africa on overland trucks in 2006
The North Face’s motto is Never Stop Exploring and so it was appropriate that their keynote speaker for this event was Sir Ranulph Fiennes who at the age of 72yrs shows no visible signs of slowing. Sir Ranulph is one of the greatest living explorers of all time and the only man alive ever to have travelled around the Earth’s circumpolar surface. Hearing details about how he circumnavigated the world along its polar axis (with Charles Burton) over three years was just mind-blowing. He travelled 52 000 miles through some of the most savage conditions, an odyssey that took intricate planning, 1900 sponsors, a 52 person team, complex communications, and iron will.
Sir Ranulph Fiennes at The North Face event
Obviously the content of his speech was powerful and impressive but what was also striking was his attitude towards his expeditions. Sir Ranulph told his stories in such a frank, dry and matter-of-fact way that made you want to sit up straight and re-tie your shoes laces. It was an old-school, vintage position on going out and seeking adventure and he had such an evident thirst and curiosity for the world. Sir Ranulph certainly doesn’t seem like the type of bloke that would waste any time umming and arrring about his next move. When someone asked him why he did all these crazy expeditions, he simply said “because the Norwegians would have done it first otherwise”.
This is when I realised that I was over complicating things. The pursuit of adventure is quite simple and there are no excuses to getting out there and exploring.
So what am I doing about it?
This might sound like cliché but I have decided to say ‘yes’ to more things. I’ve started reading The Chimp Paradox by Professor Steve Peters, the book that Sir Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton attribute a lot of their success to. In a nutshell it’s about how to manage our inner “chimp”: the name for the part of the brain that runs on emotions and gut instincts, makes snap judgements and thinks in black and white. This is in contrast to the human part of the brain which thinks more rationally and less catastrophically. If an opportunity arises, my inner chimp might see all the risks and the negative outcomes it could possibly have and that might prevent me from going on really fantastic opportunities. I’m going to try and use the human brain a little more to unleash my potential, go on more adventures and be all the richer in experience.
5 Things I’ve said ‘yes’ to in the last month
1. I have signed up to the Rapha ride from Manchester to London – 220 miles in one day
2. I went on a last minute press trip to Majorca on behalf of Total Women’s Cycling where I interviewed and cycled with the women’s Wiggle High5 professional cycling team. (Story soon)
Image: Nettie Edmondson
3. I will be joining the Ride25 team in May to cycle from Rome to Naples in two days before whizzing back home for a family wedding.
4. Next week I am taking the Caledonian Express sleeper train to Scotland to join adventurer, Sophie Radcliffe (of Challenge Sophie) for a weekend getaway of trail running, hiking, camping and hopefully a night in a bothy!
Sophie Radcliffe. Image by James Carnegie
5. This weekend my riding chum KPP has convinced a few of us to ride a century on Saturday – our first one of 2016!
KPP knows how to get me out of bed. Image: KPP
Let the adventure begin.