Over 400 people joined us on Brinsbury Campus for the third addition of Yestival, and each one came along for their own reasons. Glen Pilkington tells us about his...
by Rolfe Oostra
“pass world, I am the dreamer that remains, the man clear cut against the horizon” Roy Campbell.
My first venture as a mountain guide could not have been a better conceived. The backdrop was Africa, the mountain sat nicely balanced on the equator and my paying client was a good buddy. I had just turned 20 and survived some bad craziness in the New Zealand Alps and needed to escape the gloom and doom that followed. Researching for a back-door I found a black and white photo of a striking mountain in an old book by Eric Shipton. That mountain beckoned like a wonderful dream which you don’t want to wake up from - the Mountain was Mount Kenya. It set the stage for what was to come; years of shoe-string travelling and dirt-bag climbing
I had little money; no dirt-bag climber worth his salt does. Working as a farmhand I’d scraped together enough cash to buy a one-way ticket to Nairobi, and I had accepted my clients offer to bankroll the expedition. My plans for Africa didn’t extend beyond the mountain. I had borrowed the guide book and determined a route but had thought no further. Faith and Providence landed us on the porch of a Polish Lady called Mamma Roche. This huge utterly crazy vodka swilling lady possessed angel wings and a heart of solid gold. If ever I found a true home from home her ramshackle house jettisoned in the roughest part of Nairobi was it; the tropical gardens complete with monkeys and chameleons eventually served as our HQ for three years.
The mountain is 200 kms north of Nairobi and the villages at its foot are conveniently linked to the city by tarmac roads. Excitedly, we jumped on a local bus (a matatu) and headed the wrong way. We quickly learned to phrase things Africa style. The question “does this bus go to Mount Kenya?” will always be answered by “Yes”. The question “Where does this bus go?” goes a long way in getting you to your destination and not Lake Victoria where we first ended up. Days later, having found the right matatu, we loaded our stuff on the roof and headed north.
The park entry fees, although in Africa always open to negotiation, were well beyond our meagre budget and forced us to try diversionary tactics by going bush. This plan, from the onset a fine balance between adventure and stupidity, had its foundation in the bushland excursions we made in our native Australia when we were kids. That we’d be more likely to encounter a leopard than a wallaby we gave no thought to as we rambled up a steep bank and waltzed into the trees. Since we were trying to avoid park rangers we struck a course through the equatorial forest running parallel to the dirt road which our guidebook showed lead to the first camp.
The going was tough; thick stands of bamboo, thorns and spiky jungle vines caused endless delay. Clothes, hair, skin and rucksacks were each in turn grabbed, scratched and stabbed by millions of barbs and spines. The equatorial nightfall pounced on us with the suddenness of a wild beast. We had long lost the road and were well short of our designated camp. Camping where we stood had become necessary. We scratched out a level bit from the leafy forest floor and nervously struck our tent.
Night in these jungles have a curious rhythm to it. There is always a background noise your brain does it’s best to explain away with what is familiar; cicadas, mosquito’s horn-bills and frogs set up a wall of white-noise through which blared the occasional unfamiliar hoot and grunt. I tried putting on a brave face as we were going about the camping routine but the realisation that I had no idea what was out there was hard to disguise. As soon as the tent was up we leapt in and tried to sleep. “Are you still awake mate?” became my client’s catch-phrase as each hour he’d illuminate the tent with the light of his watch.
At three a.m. we heard a loud crash outside the tent; the noise was not a noise made by an insect or an animal but sounded like something ripping a branch from a tree. I turned on my petzl headtorch and shone it into the startled face of my client. “Did you hear that, mate?” he whispered. I opened the tent fly and beamed my light into the dark jungle night. I could see nothing until another loud snap about ten meters away revealed the outline of an enormous arse. Standing with its backside towards us was an African Elephant merrily tearing down a tree; branch by branch. “What is it, mate?” came a voice whispering behind me. The guide-book and prior experience had no way to explain how to react to seeing an elephant tearing down a tree only meters from our tent. So I did what that other African creature does and stuck my head in the sand. “It’s nothing, mate. Go back to sleep”.
Once we broke out of the forest we entered broad moorland and climbed steadily up to the edge of a huge canyon. This seldom trodden path to the base of our wall took us four days to complete. It led us through an enchanted landscape of tarns, pinnacles and weird plants that suggested both Tolkien and Planet of the Apes. Perhaps because this was my first mountain expedition I have developed a bias but I will always hold up Mount Kenya as a yardstick to some of the many stunning wilderness landscapes I have climbed in since. These days passed too quickly.
We arrived at the wall feeling strong and acclimatised. And as an additional bonus we had not been challenged by officialdom. The only people we had seen had been a large group of porters carrying down the body of a South African man who’d abseiled off the end of his rope. His young wife in utter shock trudged numbly behind the group. They explained that they’d sent a runner down to organise a chopper to evacuate the couple as soon as they’d been alerted of the accident but it had never made an appearance. The two climbers had made a successful ascent of the Shipton route but he had made the rookie error of not tying a knot in the end of his rope for abseiling. After he’d fallen his wife had continued down alone until she reached the glacier where she’d bumped into the porters bringing up loads for a group coming up the regular trekking route. We introduced ourselves and tried to offer assistance but she was in another world entirely. I knew how she felt and we left her to descend to the dark world below; another life shattered by the thing we loved the most.
Being dirt-bags we camped well away from the hut right against the base of the wall. Although we could see the hut across the glacier and watched several people moving around we revelled in our independence. I had settled on repeating the line of the original first ascent; the Halford Mackinder route. (Alpine grade D, 700 meters.). Mount Kenya is the original twin peaks. Both its summits are named after Massai chiefs with Batian (5199m) being only a fraction higher than its twin Nelion. Separating the brothers is the Gate of Mist; a sharp notch often cloaked by streaming mists. This choice of route was equally adventurous and naïve. The more often climbed Shipton route offers some great rock-climbing and is usually ice-free. By attempting the original route we’d be traversing onto the very steep diamond glacier and climbing into the Gates of Mist before reaching Batian. I had brought two ice-screws and we each carried crampons and an ice-tool on top of all our rock-climbing equipment. Still, we blustered that if fat boy Halford could climb the route in breeches and studded leather boots then today’s space-age kids would have no problems; naturally we were about to be impressed. Our tights, camera action moments reduced to insignificance by a singular monochrome image of a pipe smoking, bespectacled fat man.
“Halford might have had a fat arse but he sure had some balls too” puffed my client. We had just finished the first half of the climb to the South ridge. The initial pitches had not been too stiff and we even simu-climbed for a while. But as the outline of the ridge grew sharper the climbing had become increasingly tricky; enough to make me think that we had gone off route. I re-checked the guidebook and found that my client was bang on; old Halford really did have some balls. When we popped over the ridge we were confronted with a huge drop. Below us stretched the serious diamond couloir and the mighty south face. We scrambled over the ridge and crabbed our way to the couloir which linked up to the Gate of Mist. We climbed some way on ice and then a short rock step lead to the summit. We had done it! The route was in the bag! Eagerly we lifted the camera from the bag to take those irreplaceable Kodak moments. The views were non-existent; we’d been so focused on the climbing that the rudimentary weather checks had gone unheeded; the Gates of Mist were living up to their name. We took a summit shot that could have been taken in a steam room and began the descent to Nelion and the abseil route down its eastern flank. When we got there the weather turned for the worst; hail began to bounce all around us and loud thunder claps were growling up the valleys. Luckily for us a tiny coffin shaped structure has been built on the summit by the enterprising Kenyan climber Ian Howell. This largely unsung local Alpinist soloed the Shipton route thirteen times carrying sheets of tin and mattresses to create this unusual summit post. Still we were grateful to be able to escape the weather and scrambled inside. “It’s just like being in a coffin mate” said my client again. He was right; the last few people who had spent the night here had been the couple we’d bumped into on the way up.
The sun always shines again. And it did so the very next day. Stiffly we crawled out of the coffin and began the long process of rigging up nineteen abseils to reach the glacier at the base of the mountain. Once down we began the long walk back to civilisation.
There is not much more to add to the story except to mention that Mount Kenya had the last laugh. A mountain like anything else is nothing more than a sum of all its parts and on this mountain this includes a zoo worth of strange beasts. Having so far represented dirtbag climbers around the world by displaying exemplary resourcefulness in not paying park fees we felt the need to maintain form; it was back into the bush for us. We followed the most popular path down until we reached the forest and reluctantly tried the “sticking to the road whilst scraping through the forest” routine again. This time the going was easier and as we drew nearer to the gate and the noisy ranger hut we began to feel optimistic about passing by unnoticed. It was all going so well; the forest was relatively open and there were many tiny paths created by local people foraging the forest. We could hear the activity at the gate but the forest was dense enough to camouflage our presence. Fortunately the forest was not so impassable as to disguise the dozen buffalo blocking our path. “F**k mate!” began my client.
We were far enough away for the herd to have noticed our presence but not to be alarmed. Or so we guessed. “We need to get around them mate” whispered my client. I was glad he had begun to catch on. On tiptoes we began a journey off the paths into some dense undergrowth. We scrabbled through bushes, bent around trees and shuffled amongst branches in an ever-widening arc. Eventually, we were far enough away from the herd to make a run for it. And this we did at breakneck speed. It wasn’t long before we broke out of the forest and bounced into a neatly ordered banana plantation. A grizzled old man wearing a neat jacket and a pair of shorts was tending to his trees. He did not seem alarmed by our sudden appearance and smiled knowingly as he pointed out the direction to the road that led out of the forest and into a very crazy future.
Who is Rolfe Oostra?!
Rolfe is Co-Founder of 360-expeditions and has been travelling the globe on raw and exciting expeditions since he was 18 - the early years with his thumb stuck out and the later years always with a gaggle of excited trekkers and climbers. (Watch this space for some more exciting tales from his time on the road.)
Since setting up 360-expeditions, Rolfe has taken clients all over the world on exciting, fast paced and often very extreme expeditions, including summiting Everest! He is a Berghaus and Stubai athlete and lives life to the full.
If you want to join Rolfe or 360 and MAKE LIFE MEMORABLE check them out here.
GET INVOLVED and say YES! The Yes Tribe is off to Jordan and you can come too...
SayYesMore has partnered with 360 Expeditions and are offering an incredible opportunity: a huge campout in Jordan.
Emma Taylor from SayYesMore will be leading the expedition in May 2018 for 10 days. This magical adventure in the heart of Jordan will see you trek through canyons filled with lush clear water and desert plains while camping out under the stars with the Bedouins before reaching the magical awe inspiring Petra. Thereafter it will be time to enjoy your hard earned treat - two nights at the Dead Sea.
Find out more here.
Cycling around the world is never meant to be easy. By definition, to bicycle 50,000km is meant to be bloody difficult! The way is not always paved and the going is not always downhill. To bicycle around the world means cycling over mountains, through deserts and over many unpaved roads.
To quote Alistair Humphreys, “It doesn’t have to be fun, to be fun!” I have now been on a world cycle for two years and have peddled over 30,000km, through 28 countries. Although you may call me ‘experienced’, there are times when the going is so hard and the road feels never-ending; when you feel exhausted and lonely, and you ask yourself “why am I doing this?” or “what am I trying to prove?” “ Shouldnt I be back home, with the safety and security of a regular job, with my friends and family around me?”
But my reality is that I’m in the middle of the Atacama Desert, pushing the pedals relentlessly, on my own with only my thoughts for company.
The Atacama Desert is located in Northern Chile, and is the driest non-polar desert in the world. Often compared to Mars, this lunar looking landscape lies between the Andes Mountain range to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west, occupying a region of over 100,000sq kilometers and including climbs of 4500m. Needless to say, when you are cycling across the arid land you really feel small, a tiny dot on earth making a slow and steady pace.
I started my Atacama adventure in the town of Copiapo; my original intention was to head over the mountains from Chile to Argentina instead of cycling through the desert, but when I arrived at Copiapo, I was told that I was too late in the season: the border between Chile and Argentina is now close. So I had no choice but to head north for the more temperate borders and the beginning of 1000km of desert cycling.
The first 200km was actually quite pleasant since the road swung inland and took me along the coast with little shops along the way and the Pacific Ocean a constant companion. The road would climb up to give you majestic sea views before plummeting back down to sea level where I was able to purchase a snack or bottled drink. I was making good progress but once at the seaside town of Taltal, everything changes. The road begins to climb and you must climb from sea level to 2500km on very steep terrain and to make matters worse, the headwinds are constant and unforgiving. So my speed was halved meaning my supplies were also halved since it took me twice as long to reach the next re-fueling stop, therefore I had to carefully ration what I had. That was the start of my struggle with the Atacama;. I slowly made my way north, eating half rations and wondering why I was doing this. Who was I to take on the mighty Atacama?
I was really struggling with the wind, and to make matters worse, my bike began to click on every pedal stroke, not letting me forget I was pedaling, and this started to drive me mad! I would scream and curse at the wind and at my pedals, hoping that something would change to make the journey just a little easier. But I reminded myself how far I’ve already come; and so tough it out I did, and after six days, something magical happened. Reaching a toll booth I stopped and asked the police if I can charge my phone (so I can listen to podcasts and not have to listen to the squeaking pedals!) – he agreed but only to a decisive “five minutes!” After five minutes he comes out and instead of telling me to move on, presents me with a package of biscuits, yoghurts and a cheese sandwich!! Yes a cheese sandwich and I was so happy, it was probably this guy’s lunch and he had given it to me as token of goodwill. It was the tastiest, most satisfying sandwich I have ever eaten! Bread, butter and cheese but also sprinkled with the goodwill of humanity. I was so thankful to the policeman and cycled off with a massive smile on my face, and then to my surprise….he wind changed.
So instead of plodding along in the desert, it now felt like I was flying! I was full and I was happy. That night I found an abandoned train station so I set up camp and built a camp fire and watched the stars. Millions and millions of stars! And I was at peace with the world. I was happy and yes I was still alone, exhausted and asking myself again “what I am trying to prove?” but with the stars for company, I was content that whilst I hadn´t beaten the Atacama Desert, it also had not beaten me.
I love what I do and have accepted that sometimes the road will be hard and your head will drop; but the world is a beautiful place and if I never started this journey, or stopped when the going got tough.
The wind didn´t always stay with me after this day but my mood did, and I loved the rest of the desert and the big climbs and beautiful starry nights. It doesn’t have to be fun to be fun since if you did not have the hard times how would you truly have the good? Don’t be scared - simply SAY YES MORE…. And who knows what will unfold. Be open, surrender to what life brings, and appreciate every moment… the hills and valleys, the clicking bikes and the cheese sandwiches.
Read more about my world cycle on my blog.
Also plenty of nice pics on my Facebook page!
I’m perhaps not what might some may consider your stereotypical Adventurer/YesTriber. I was a pretty daring and adventurous girl; loved the outdoors, hiking, climbing, camping and the like. When I was 15 I used to scale our 2-storey detached house and sit smoking fags on the rooftop with the boy next door!
But somewhere along the way the twin forces of Fear and Responsibility began to shape my life. I trod the conditioned path of achievement and success: university, professional career in IT, bouncing locations for work, marriage, kids, package holidays....
Then, at 37, I found myself a single mum to my two young daughters, without the financial and emotional comfort blankets of all those outward successes. Socially isolated and overwhelmed by the unfolding car-crash of separation and divorce, I experienced a period of acute stress and anxiety, which closed me down even more.
During that time, I stumbled across the YesTribe; it flashed up among my Facebook feeds, and sparked my curiosity. The ethos, positivity and enthusiasm appealed to me instantly! Dave’s grinning profile photo was heart-warming and welcoming; so without hesitation, I clicked to join.
But then I saw the other tales of epic adventures and expeditions, and I backed off. ‘This is great, but not for me’, I thought. ‘All these 20- and 30-somethings with their freedom and youthful carefree outlook, in stark contrast to me: children to feed and clothe and house and school.
Still, I lurked on the group, peeking enviously at other people’s adventures. Whilst making efforts to overcome some of the issues that were constraining me, I ‘followed’ the YesTribe and the constant drip-drip of posts on adventure, expedition and alternative lifestyles - they began to rekindle my own curiosity for of the things that contribute to a meaningful, more adventurous, spontaneous and carefree existence.
I bought a couple of books on micro-adventure. I dug out my kids’ National Trust ‘Things to do before you’re 11 ¾’ booklets (a great resource). Most significantly, I began listening to the quiet whisper of my own fears and anxieties.
One day, I wrote them all down, every single one: falling, getting lost, pain, not being able to cope, financial ruin, homelessness...(there were nearly 50 in total). Seeing them on the page, I began to confront and accept them and for each, noted ideas of manageable things I could do to ease them; some with the children, some solo; some physical, some emotional.
The only way is up
Balance on a fallen tree, get the tattoo I’ve always wanted, have a camping trip with my girls, reach out and ask friends for help. Each time I felt a fear catch hold, I figured, ‘well, I’ve been through some pretty rough stuff; it can’t be much worse!’
With baby steps and gentleness I am re-connecting with my sense of purpose – I know it was only lost temporarily, it hasn’t disappeared forever. Time and funds are limited, and I might never summit Everest or paddle the Amazon but actually, the small adventures can be just as fulfilling. I’ve done simple and joyful things with my girls like hiking in the woods, summiting our local ‘big hill’, wading in a stream. Exploring the local area with them has been our starting point, and who knows what we’ll end up doing when they’re a bit older!
As for me - I celebrated my 39th birthday doing a guided white-water rafting adventure with a group of strangers. I have plenty more activities on my hit-list, which are all realistic with regard to time and money.
And I am finding that the more I do, and the more people I meet, the more opportunities that present themselves, including writing and sharing my story for Tribe Stories!
A new expansiveness
Most importantly I’ve made a commitment to being open to possibility and opportunity: be it making friends, falling in love or building my own business.
My advice to anyone in a similar position is this: don’t be envious or over-awed by others’ tales of adventure. Be inspired by them. Explore your own fears, challenge and question them and consider how you can shift them, gently and consciously. Recognise your constraints but don’t be paralysed by them.
To parents (especially single ones): don’t be limited by having children; they have an in-built sense of fearlessness and adventure that we grown-ups have often simply forgotten along the way.
Gently does it
Don’t attempt mission impossible. Start with baby steps and build from there. Gradually, you may find yourself beginning to experience every day as an adventure, opening to fears and opportunities large and small.
Finally, remember: Saying YES isn’t necessarily about how far you travel or how high you climb. Adventure is a state of mind.
I am not someone who spends much time just sitting still. Even at some of the most demanding times in my life - working in New York, flying between Houston, Chicago, Phoenix, London – when I was working hard, playing hard - the idea of slowing down or having a lie-in, or just being still, rarely felt like a good idea.
It’s usually my insatiable curiosity and drive that gets me out of bed, often with a jolt, every morning. The mantra of every day: “Go go go! So much to do and so little time”.
My friends and family have always understood this about me and accept me for it - being on the go is just part of being Phillipa. They never told me to ‘slow down’ or ‘chill out’. But it became clear, even to me, that living life in the fast lane was leading me down a path of certain self-destruction. It just wasn’t sustainable.
I realised that much of my motivation comes from my mischievous monkey mind and learning how to work with it, rather than trying to cope with it, has been life changing. Now, I no longer try to keep it behind bars, as it’s actually far more fun and effective to go adventuring with it! This led me out of the city and into the wilderness, where my chimp could roam free. In these wild spaces, I realised that tuning into all of my senses made me feel more alive than I’d ever felt before…thriving, rather than just surviving.
I can still summon up the total clarity I felt when I finally made the decision to fully reconnect with nature on a deeper level on a retreat in Spain with Way Of Nature. Just sitting still and ‘being’ … it was like my real ‘self’ had been awakened for the first time in 30 years. I suddenly connected with so many of Way of Nature founder John Milton’s teachings. Feeling like I was nothing and everything all at the same time was humbling to say the least.
That 24 hours ‘solo in nature’ in the Spanish wilderness gave me the support and courage I needed to remove myself from the corporate world I’d become so wedded to, and instead, let myself be guided by my heart and gut instinct to other avenues. This resulted in me starting up my own life coaching company. And I fully embraced the completely different lifestyle this entails.
Senses for self-care
Nowadays, I consider one of the best things about being a Life Coach and Change Agent, apart from witnessing breath taking transformation in the people I work with, is that I HAVE to be diligent in my self-care and personal development practices. Ain't no point in thinking I can be of any help to anyone if I’m coming apart at the seams, frayed around the edges or barely holding my sh*t together. For me it’s about finding ways to show up as my very best self in order to support others to do the same.
My evenings and weekends get booked up by my clients pretty quickly, so with self-care in mind, I am now careful to take a day 'off', and this is no longer restricted to weekends. Giving myself a day to re-boot is one of the best gifts I can give myself, and it’s truly essential.
The great outdoors
As I get more practised at listening to my mind and body, and feeding them what they need, I am realising that the things that nourish me the most are being outdoors, discovering new places, breathing fresh air, appreciating places with no artificial noise, getting my heart pumping by outdoors exercise, eating healthy food, meditating outside, snoozing outside, swimming outside, chatting outside – spot the pattern?!
On my most recent day ‘off’ I teamed up with a close friend to hike Kinder Scout in the Derbyshire Peak District, have a dip in the stream, eat fresh fruit and salad, snooze on the rocks, listen to the new lambs, marvel at the technicolour time of year, learn about the area's history (in the pub) and then sleep like a lovely, heavy, moss covered, grub filled, hedgehog homing log.
Ready for the world!
Now, with all senses stimulated but satiated and rested, it is back to 'work' with my whole revitalised sense of presence, balance and focus. I am fully charged and in the best shape to support others to discover what nourishes them the most.
Being on go-go mode 24-7 just isn’t healthy for me. It’s easy to get swept up in all the distractions, bright lights, deadlines, targets, late nights and living in the fast lane – but saying YES to prioritising my health was the best gift I could have given myself.
John Milton helped me understand we have more than just our five senses keeping us connected to our inner and outer nature. In addition to sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell, John explained there is also balance, movement, experience of life force, emotions and thoughts. Tuning into all these senses enhances our experience of life and enables us to connect in much deeper ways to the world (and nature) around us, until we can truly realise that we are nature, part of a huge, complex, beautiful, interconnected system.
So in between the big adventures, marathons, lengthy cycle trips, or the long work days, spare a thought for how you might tune into ALL of your amazing senses to boost your own self-care. What ‘slow motion glow moments’ could you pursue to nourish your mind, body and soul? Let me know in the comments section below.
As well as her private practice as a Life Coach, Phillipa is also currently completing her Basic Guide Training with Way Of Nature UK, supporting nature connection retreats on The Land in Derbyshire and spearheading an Health and Empowerment Collective in Derby City to bring about social change and community skill sharing.
Mine were, which meant so many opportunities missed, and all because of this one emotion. I think many of us avoid trying certain things for fear of failure, or the opinions of others, or looking awkward or incompetent.
At the beginning, my relationship with running was driven by fear, but soon it became the escapism I needed. Later I realised that my motivation to run was less to escape anything, rather a way to return to my real self, rather than the guy who created walls to hide some aspects of his self. I preferred being the guy who was happy to grin manically, to do things that others said couldn’t be done, to feel frustration and anger openly and to seek out adventure.
Running helped me return to a mentality I had when I was younger where I felt totally invincible, my self-belief was unshakeable, and I was determined to overcome every obstacle whether I understood the ‘right’ way to do something or not. Certainly, the open mind-set of my early youth often put me in situations where fear would rear its head and try to control me, but I was too focused on the task at hand to let it win!
I realised quickly that it was ok to feel fear, but it wasn’t ok to lose myself to it.
The wilderness doesn’t always allow room for mistakes – one slip and you’re tumbling down a cliff. Fear’s ability to rob me of my capacity to think, to act without hesitation, could have led to injury or even death. I spent my time running Europe battling one fear after the next until eventually, I could embrace fear like an old friend.
Fear’s harsh warning tones became gentler. Its visions of pain and discomfort became the subtle encouragement of a friend, and as my relationship with it evolved, the mood of the journey became lighter. I stopped running from the cold harshness of winter and instead began to enjoy the beauty of a cold, frosty early morning.
When you finish an adventure, I think it’s good to test what you’ve learnt about yourself and your relationship with your surroundings and emotions. I knew I wanted more adventure. Who doesn’t? So I thought hard about my next challenge.
Irrationality of fear
In thinking about fear, I tried to understand what triggered it - was it based on the beasts that live in the depths of the deepest lakes and seas or was it simply a fear of drowning? Pondering this eventually led me to realise that my fears were based on totally irrational thoughts. Knowing this, I wanted to find out if I could make friends with my fear, to make it a familiar sensation, where I was in control, so I said YES and took on my toughest, biggest, scariest adventure yet: #ProjectBigSwim.
Why this challenge? I AM PETRIFIED OF OPEN WATER! So there is really nothing more mentally and physically challenging to put me to the test!
Acknowledge small progress
The first steps were to re-learn how to swim, otherwise jumping into deep open water would be foolhardy and dangerous.
I took a quick dip in a local reservoir with a group of open water swimmers, made a handful of visits to Buxton swimming pool and taught myself to relax in that unfamiliar watery world. I practiced breathing into the water, which took 20 minutes of insistent and dogged determination; eventually, I made it into the lakes of the Lake District, swimming short distances(3-6m max) supported by my incredible friends who realised that dissuading me from my swimming challenge is pointless.
I swam to the centre of Derwentwater, accompanied by a friend; the swimming was slow but there was abetter level of understanding. I felt the fear but the presence of someone else in the water helped familiarise me with the sensation and instead of losing all control, writhing in the water like a hooked fish, I stayed calm.
Then the swims got longer - I attempted a SwimRun challenge called the Frog Graham Round with a friend and completed the longest swim I have ever done in my life: a whopping 1.6 miles across Derwentwater. Success! Maybe a small success on the grand scheme of things but still, it’s acknowledging the small successes that lead to bigger ones.
“It’s not for me” mentality
Amongst the effort to stay in control, the panic attacks mid-swim, the frustration that I wasn’t in control 100% of the swimming time, that I didn’t quite swim as far or for as long, there have been some moments of pure beauty.
Seeing the fells around me bathed in the golden glow of late spring sunlight, beams of light shimmering through the water creating a mesmerising pattern on the aquatic plants and rocks below the surface, reminded me of those pure and simple moments whilst running in the wilderness. The felt a deep privilege at being able to witness these moments and I realised that life at its simplest is beautiful and precious.
The voice of my fear is changing its tone and I feel I’m on a path that will show me yet another kind of happiness and all that it means to be alive. And to think…
For years I’ve sat on the shore, watching friends surfing, swimming and generally enjoying the open water, maintaining that‘I don’t like swimming. It’s not for me’. I convinced myself that I wasn’t scared – I just wasn’t interested in water. What struck me hard was realising how misguided this was, and how this “cant do wont do” attitude had quietly invaded other aspects of my life.
Perhaps it’s time to say YES more often. Get past the initial frustrations, the fears, and see what you’re missing out on.
If you’re intrigued by #ProjectBigSwim or just curious to follow the journey from land lover to reluctant long distance swimmer, follow me!
Would be great to have you along on the journey and hear your thoughts
Have fun! Be more feral!
You've all heard it before, the comments coming from friends and family down the pub or wherever, who claim they are going to do 'this or that' one day. What actually is ‘this or that’ is anyone's guess. Most of the time, we convince ourselves that at some unspecific point in time, we will break free from the chains of normality so we can disappear into the sunset. Yet sooner or later, the realisation of what it takes to achieve this dream hits home – and we stumble at the first hurdle, because actually, the hardest part of ‘this or that’ is just getting to the start line.
I've always liked to travel, experience new things and be on the move, so I was well suited to the military and all the moving around it entailed.
After returning from my last tour in Afghanistan, I decided to settle down…. you know, do the things you're ‘supposed’ to be doing at 33 years old. Well, I tried to settle and embrace the 9-5 structure that keeps other people ticking along, but something inside was screaming at me. Ever since my exit from the army, I felt as though I was constantly battling some inner demons – they go by the name of Anxiety and Depression.
Trying to be the proud tough soldier, I didn't want to be labelled with anything and have to deal with the consequences of being told I had a ‘problem’. Later, my engagement ended with my partner, and so I started the process of living with friends and moving around a lot whilst self-medicating with a party lifestyle and the instant gratification of shallow attention from the opposite sex.
After disastrous attempts at finding a new relationship and telling myself that my job was great because it was easy, I decided I was in desperate need of a total shake up…something dramatic. I needed the old Aaron back. I knew it was going to take something big to restore me to the world.
A plan starts to form
I had been riding motorbikes for about two years at this point - not much time at all. And certainly not enough experience to go anywhere far, right? Well, sod it. I had this crazy idea in my head for about two months. One day I visited my parents and told them: “I'm going to ride a motorbike around the world. Oh and I'm going alone too.” That was my Yes moment! My dad's reaction was: “That's great son!” My mum's was: “Is that even possible?!”
I was certain it was possible. I heard other people had done it, so why can't I?!
A plan comes together...
I spent the next year or so planning the trip. Everything I did revolved around some element of the trip! I was throwing everything at it…saving money and selling many of my possessions – I thought to myself, “If I can't carry it on the bike, then it gets sold, and I will turn it into fuel money instead.”
The trip became the new focus I’d been searching for. My next mission, if you like. Sure, I still had some shit times. Mental issues don't just go away overnight but I was slowly learning to understand my issues and how to live with them manageably, so that I could still get excited and passionate for life, and the thought that revolved around my head most days, and often got me out of bed in the morning, was “I'm going to ride my motorbike around the world and nothing can stop me!”
The last couple of days before I left were unreal. I couldn't sleep because my anxiety was in overdrive. But when I looked in the mirror, I was beginning to recognise the face staring back at me. I was rock climbing almost daily, doing long distance assault courses, and I had stopped drinking - all these things meant I was feeling fit and strong again. But was I ready for the trip?
I don't think you're ever ready. You just have to go with it: cross that start line and embrace everything that comes your way. It's been just over a year on the road so far - right now, I am in Colombia, which is country twenty two and continent number four! I have made friends with people I will be connected to for the rest of my life, which is more than I can say about some of the friendships I was struggling with back home in England.
So where do I go from here? I still have a destination to get to: Ushuia, the most southerly town in the world. I am still making it up as I go and I'm grateful to be learning every day as new challenges present themselves. Motorcycle touring is my life now. I’ve gained so much self confidence, and am immensely proud of myself for making this happen, rather than being someone who daydreams about doing ‘this or that’.
I'm putting plans together for future trips and expeditions when I return to England. If you're reading this and have been chewing over an idea for a trip, lifestyle change, or perhaps a new business idea, then my advice is this: take some time, breathe, create some rough plans, and let the plans evolve as this can guide you towards taking the first step.
As cheesy as it sounds, just say Yes! I doubt you’ll regret it.
It’s been quite a journey for me so far over the last eight years.
Akin to floating down a river; sometimes coming across rapids and waterfalls, other times long calm stretches that meander along; and quite often, stopping to meet a fun tribe, try a new float, have a go on a tyre swing, or hear a few words of wisdom from a wizened monk.
Most recently, I’ve exchanged floats and embarked on a new journey of creating, and hosting a podcast called The Lilly Wild Show to help you become unstoppable, to unleash your potential and forge new connections with other like-minded souls.
The Lilly Wild Show
When I started finding mentors for my own health and business, my life transformed. I would now love for you to have that experience too.
Each week, I’d love for you to join me, as I jump into the nitty gritty of how to unlock and unleash your best self with some of the brightest, most badass world changers and forward thinking minds in adventure, health, fitness, entertainment, science, entrepreneurship and much more!
Intimate, raw, open and often intense, these are conversations that will motivate, inspire, empower and provoke you to discover, how you can become the best version of you and create a life you truly love.
This has become my passion over the duration of my winding journey of ups and downs, that I would love to share with you, openly, honestly and vulnerably, so that you feel you can create a life you love too.
It All Began With…“If They Can Do It, So Can I”
Sometimes it’s the simplest questions that prove to be the key to unlocking and unleashing our best, most extraordinary self.
Tony Robbins says the quality of questions you ask, creates the quality of your life.
I now know what he means…
It was a cold blustery morning in Vancouver, where I was studying for a Geography degree. I stealed myself away into the student union, a large glass building, it’s gloominess reflecting the outside weather. It was empty at 6am.
When I got onto Skype to talk to my life coach, I felt despair and sadness encroaching in, silent tears rolled down my cheeks. I wanted to quit, but fear was holding me back.
He asked me ‘Why can’t you quit and do something you love?’ Why can’t you create your own brand and business like Al Humphreys, Rich Roll or Sophie Radcliffe?
I hadn’t been challenged in this way before and my rather pathetic counter argument was.. ’but I can’t’, to which he replied ‘Why?’
It was like a light had been switched on and I suddenly thought to myself, ‘ Well if these people who I follow and love, like Christmas Abbott, Belinda Kirk, Tony Robbins Tim Ferriss, Brendon Burchard and Anna McNuff are creating a successful life for themselves doing what they love, then maybe I could do it too.’
That was all I needed. A whole new world suddenly opened up to me. I used this as my mantra and decided to quit University for the second time, the first being due to ill health. Almost instantly, I signed up to Escape The City.
I was met with resistance, but all I kept saying to myself was; “If they can do it, so can I!’ This gave me the momentum to follow my intuition and heart.
During this time I also created a vision board of how I wanted my life to look; this continues to evolve as I grow to know myself, but now I have my vision and I know I can arrive there.
My vision is to create a life that intertwines the worlds of adventure, action sport and start-ups with life transformation coaching and brain training.
My passion lies in self-mastery; pushing the boundaries of your mind and body, going against the grain of conventional wisdom, the pursuit of adventure and unlocking and unleashing your best, most extraordinary self - regardless of gender, background or experience.
Creating A Life You Love Starts With Your Mind
The key to thriving is your mind. I have learnt this lesson many times over and it’s finally hit home.
The first time I learnt this invaluable lesson was four years ago, when I fully recovered from four years of moderately severe Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Irritable Bladder Syndrome and Irritable Bowl Syndrome.
Using a powerful combination of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), Hypnosis and Coaching, in 3 days I was trained to recognise when I was using my body, nervous system and specific language patterns in a damaging, stuck way and how to develop new, healthier, wonderful neurological pathways.
I’ve found these tools to be incredibly powerful and fascinating, so I’m now training for my Masters in NLP, Hypnosis and Coaching.
Together, these tools have enabled me to be a catalyst for transformation, for myself and others.
I can help people uncover and put into action the tools, resources and strategies that they need to unleash their most extraordinary self, achieve astonishing results, reach incredible levels of personal fulfillment and live a life they love.
I believe that everyone is a genius, either at useful or not so useful behaviours.
We all have the resources we need within us to get what we want out of life and most importantly, we always have a choice of the emotional state we’re in at any given time.
Learning and understanding how we can create powerful, useful emotional states and choosing to be in the most useful states at any given time, is crucial to living a life you love. This allows to surf the waves of life, instead of crashing into them.
The Importance Of Mentors
I’ve been fortunate to have three amazing mentors, who have come into my life at the perfect time and have pointed me in the right direction.
My life coach was the person who empowered me to take action and gave me the confidence and courage to stand up for myself, as previously mentioned.
Another mentor that stands out to me, was one I met in Australia…
Having just arrived back from a thrilling time working on a cattle station, we were sitting in a bar talking about the future. He sensed that I wasn’t very excited about studying Geophysics at Southampton University the following year.
So he asked the simple question; ‘What the f*ck do you want to do that for? Just quit and do something you’re passionate about’.
I never knew that it was an option available to me!! So I withdrew my application to university pretty much the next day.
Be Like Water
I have something to confess…I’m a self-improvement geek and junkie.
I love making mistakes, failing fast and receiving feedback, because I can then improve, develop, grow, and take another step closer to my best, most authentic self.
My life coach first taught me to go with the flow by being like water.
If you try to hold onto water tightly, then it will just run through your fingers and you’ll never get anywhere.
However, if you allow water to flow and cup it in your hand gently, then you will have more success in holding onto it.
So this is what I try to do: go with the flow of the universe with ease, comfort and a sense of calmness and a knowing, that whatever happens, it has happened for the best, even if you can’t see the wood for the trees at the time.
As Steve Job’s says, “You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something - your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.’
The Yes Moments
For me there is no singular Yes Moment that has transformed my life and led me to where I am today, but rather, a series of Yes Moments.
The feeling to break through the constraints of conventional wisdom had been bubbling powerfully away inside me since 2012, when I heard Paul Rose’s talk about Frank Wild: Antarctica's Forgotten Hero at the Royal Geographical Society. I heard Wild’s quote and thought, THAT’S ME!
‘Once wedded to Nature there is no divorce - separate her you may and hide yourself amongst the flesh-pots of London, but the wild will keep calling and calling forever in your ears. You cannot escape the "little voices” - Frank Wild
The dream of embarking on a polar adventure drove me to fully recover from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and so my most powerful Yes moment was a year after this. In April 2013, I said Yes to learning how to re-wire my bran (in three days) with the powerful combination of NLP, Hypnosis and Coaching.
This has been the single, biggest transformation I have ever experienced.
My Next Yes Was To Adventure…
I had never been adventuring before, but decided to join an Explorers Connect event soon after fully recovering. Safe to say, one microadventure had me hooked on exploring, pushing my comfort zone and having fun in the great outdoors.
The next Yes moment was withdrawing from university for the second time and joining Escape The City’s Startup Tribe. This gave me a spring board for learning how to create a business, including The Lilly Wild Show, and my new coaching business.
Dave Cornthwaite and the Say Yes More Tribe continually inspire me and give me the incredible energy to Say Yes More. Without them, the Explorers Connect community, Project Awesome, and the Escape The City communities, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Every member is unique and whether they realise it or not, they have all inspired and motivated me every day to continue along my path.
If you’re intrigued by my story and curious to know more, plug into The Lilly Wild Show to listen to my short n’ sweet episode '0' where I talk about my journey, or you can dive straight into one of the fabulous episodes! A few of my guests have been Yestival speakers too :)
Host and Founder of The Lilly Wild Show, a weekly podcast designed to delve deep into how to become the best version of you, with some of the most badass world changers.
Transformational coach | I can help you unlock and unleash your most extraordinary self in minutes, when normally it would take years.
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I bought my first van during my travels after university because I got fed up with trying to sleep in noisy dorm rooms! My YES moment to buy the van was actually quite spontaneous and was based on the need for better sleep, more freedom, and knowing that I could also handle any DIY required.
I instantly fell in love with the freedom it gave me – I could choose where to go based on how much I liked a location. I was no longer constrained by cost or the availability of a dorm bed.
I have always been fond of living the simple life, unrestrained by unnecessary ‘stuff’ and owning things, which end up becoming a huge anchor! Planning what colour of sofa or wallpaper to buy has never interested me – what appealed to me far more post-uni was drawing a scale plan of a tiny space and figuring out how to live most comfortably in the confines of that space. And I still feel the same way.
My first van was a Toyota Liteace. I bought it from a few travellers so it was already kitted out and ready to go. However, I always fancied doing one up myself, so in 2011 I bought a Nissan Serena and installed a bed and curtains. It’s a small van so there’s not much room for anything else.
My latest van has definitely been my biggest project. I bought it as a nine seater VW Transporter; the first thing I did was reduce the seats to five and levelled the floor (seat anchor points are a converter’s nightmare!) Other upgrades include a new elevating roof, solar panel, second battery, low consumption LED lights, swivel around passenger seat, fridge and a small unit with a wash basin. In total there are two double beds: one in the roof and one down.
I bought my latest van during a period of uncertainty in 2015, during a redundancy situation at my work. However, the uncertainty was motivating, and encouraged me to part with my hard-earned savings – this felt better than simply hoarding my pennies and fretting about what to do next!
I knew that, worst case scenario, I could just move into my van permanently and therefore free myself of all the expenses of renting an apartment in Barcelona. After all, I’d lived in a van for 18 months previously. Living in Spain also meant I could head south and enjoy milder weather even in winter.
In the end, I retained my job, so I still had a source of income to fund the renovations to make the van my dream home on wheels! I could also take more time to think about how I would upgrade it, rather than having to move into it and then improve it based on immediate necessity.
A priority for me was upgrading the van so that I could live in it as self-sufficiently as possible. I installed a fridge but wanted to avoid the use of gas canisters to popwer it – so I turned to solar panels.
Whenever I hear the thermostat click on, I’m still mesmerised by the simple brilliance of the fridge being powered by a square black 100w solar panel on the roof. My little cooker is butane but I’m eyeing up some neat compact solar ovens for the future.
I’ve spent 24 months making incremental improvements to my current van.
The van heals
Having a van means space is limited, and this has been a helpful constraint as it tempers a less-welcome side of me: a need for more. Living in a van means you are restricted to only buying and retaining things that are genuinely useful.
This is hugely freeing and means I take more pleasure from the few possessions I do have, as well as from situations, such as when I find a new spot where I can park up the van and make some food, camp up for the night, and decide the next day if I want to stay or carry on the journey.
I still toy with the idea of full-time van dwelling. I’ve recently discovered the joy of making and drinking spinach, melon and kefir smoothies – perhaps one day I’ll set up a smoothie business, selling out of the van to passers-by.
However, as life unfolds, the realities of this existence, and the footloose and fancy free lifestyle, are becoming less plausible. But that’s ok: I’ll always have the van and can still take shorter trips with my fiancée, who owns the new elevating roof! The van has become a labour of love, a shared love that represents our thirst for adventure and our enthusiasm for the simple life.
Some advice if you’re thinking of buying a van and/or living on the road for a period of time:
1) Start with the basics
I’ve known a few people that kitted out their dream van from day one and they have all regretted it. Get the basics in there, probably a bed, and see how you interact with the space. Small, incremental improvements are wise – this could be as simple as making a pocket in your curtains in a strategic place to store your glasses! Experiment with the space by doing some trips and then adjust according to your needs.
2) Magnets and clothes pegs
These two simple things can solve a lot of issues when you are too scared to drill your precious home on wheels. Drilling is scary, especially when something is brand new. My current curtains have magnets sewn into the corners, and I use a mosquito net pegged around a half open window to keep the mozzies out at night.
3) A sock and cat litter
As odd as that one may sound, condensation is always an issue. Cat litter is hugely absorbent so throwing a load in a tied sock and just placing it under a seat or in a cupboard will keep your van nice and condensation free.
4) Making furniture
If possible, work right alongside your van so you can constantly cut, and test out. This speeds up the process enormously. For my latest van I built all the installations on my balcony of my flat which made the whole process far more challenging. If you have the same dilemma, try using paper or card to test the addition of new pieces into challenging shapes and spaces.
by Catherine Edsell, Expedition Leader
"10 days, 10 women in the Namibian wilderness, tracking elusive desert elephants (the most iconic matriarchs there are), having an adventure, dawn yoga under huge flame-red skies, group coaching round a camp fire, sleeping out under a myriad of stars, meeting with Namibian women and hearing their story and all else that expedition life has to offer…..”
I was writing a heartfelt letter to my friends, conveying my wish to open up my world of expeditions to women, like them, who had never done anything like this before (or at least not for a very long time), either because they had been rearing children, or were bogged down with work, or just hadn’t taken the plunge…yet.
I could relate to how they felt, because I had recognised the need in me, and explained how, as a woman and a mother I had noticed the limitations around what we allow ourselves to do. “We are always compromising”, I explained,” multi-tasking, taking the slack, holding the fort, and this is all great, except when we do this ALL the time, and don’t give ourselves even a few days to go off on our own, to re-connect with ourselves, to challenge ourselves physically, to marvel at the wonders of nature, to learn, to grow, and also to strip away, to get back to basics, to clear our thinking, and to change, where necessary, our mindset. When we even THINK about doing this we meet amazing resistance – particularly from ourselves, even if its what we actually really need.”
I was offering them an adventure to explore not only the wonders of the world, but their innermost selves. I took a deep breath, and pressed ‘SEND’. It was out there, and now I had a responsibility to myself and to those who read my words to make ‘The Matriarch Adventure’ a reality. That was my YES moment!
Eight years ago, my life couldn’t have been more different; I had received a birthday card from my brother with the words, “I wanted to go out and change the world but I couldn’t find a babysitter” written in kids plastic alphabet letters. He meant it to be funny but, actually, it was so painfully true that it physically hurt. I laughed – and then cried. I felt stuck: I had two clingy children, no childcare, and I realised that instead of being ‘an expedition leader’ (my profession before having children), I was a frustrated housewife who had big dreams but no way of making them a reality. The card got lost, packed away, forgotten.
Two years later I discovered that very same card in a drawer and was instantly hit by that familiar wave of pain and disappointment. My situation was pretty much the same: still two rather clingy children and no babysitter. But something stirred in me that day, and I stuck the card to the breadmaker (that I never used), and looked at it long and hard. “Stop making excuses!” I thought to myself.
That was the start of a new chapter of my life, and of our life as a family. First I took the kids on an adventure to Thailand, working in an elephant sanctuary; they loved the hands-on contact with these massive beasts, and I loved being out there, in the heat away from the humdrum of everyday life. Shortly after my return, driven by a desire to incorporate my family and my skills even further, I trained as a Divemaster and applied for a dive job with a biodiversity conservation expedition company in Indonesia, on the condition that they let me bring the kids. I could dive and teach, and the kids could play on a beautiful coral atoll in the middle of the Banda Sea. What could be better?!
The next few years were punctuated leading other expeditions, (with and without the kids), both diving and terrestrial, and became quite an expert in marine conservation, but most importantly: I WAS BACK!! I was an expedition leader again, I didn’t have to talk about myself I the past tense, and even without a babysitter I had managed to change MY world.
Back to present day….
So, on 1st March 2017 the ‘Matriarchs’ met for the first time. It was a very surreal experience, all sitting round the table for dinner – it felt uncannily dreamlike, mainly because up until that point that was exactly what it had been, a dream, a design in my imagination, words on a piece of paper. But here they were, real life, eager, visceral, exuberant women ready to embark on a transformational adventure, and they were all looking to me to guide them safely through it.
The days were filled with the practicalities of tracking and monitoring herds of elephants who deviously camouflaged themselves as rocks by spraying the red earth over their backs, mixed with the physical demands of trekking in 40 degree heat to witness amazing geological formations and ancient petrified forests, and with the bonding and openness facilitated by group coaching, quiet reflection and good old belly laughter!
It was an intense ten days, but in the words of one of the participants, “I felt like I got back to ‘myself’ on this trip. It would have been so much easier to cancel, and say that I had too much on my plate, kids didn’t want me to go, blah blah blah. Thank god I didn’t. The kids were fine and the world went on turning without me. It was a wonderful and amazing experience, and I’m SO glad I did it!”
So I guess it worked!
Now, back at home in rainy London, I’m still pinching myself. Did this actually really happen? Did I actually manage to conceive the idea, put all the logistics in place, find women who actually wanted to come, make it a reality, track the elephants, feel the heat and breathe in the expanse of the desert, facilitate a transformative experience for the women who joined, and come home and write about it all in just three months?! YES.
Quite amazing actually seeing as I, by my own volition, ‘am not a business woman’, ‘cannot do social media’, and am a complete ‘technophobe’ - it just shows where there is a will there’s a way! I cannot lie, there were days when I woke up and had to override my inner critic who was telling me that there was no way I could pull this off, that I just didn’t know enough, or have enough time, but the commitment I had made in the moment of writing my intention to my friends was enough to hold me accountable.
I have grown in ways I could not have imagined by embarking on this adventure, as it was an adventure for me too, (in a different way). Now the fire has been lit- The Matriarch Adventure is to set off into the Namibian wilderness once more in November this year….
Let me know if you want to come too!
Facebook: The Matriarch Adventure
Catherine Edsell FRGS is an adventurer, a global expedition leader, PADI divemaster, Reef Check Trainer, yoga teacher and mother of two. As an avid naturalist she has demonstrated her passion for adventure and effective conservation through independent and collaborative expedition work around the world. She often brings her children on expedition and is now embarking on a series of transformative adventures solely for women.