Ain’t no mountain high enough…

Eight women recount their tales from endurance episodes across the world

Ain’t no mountain high enough…

E ight women presented insights and anecdotes from their amazing – and often fairly bonkers – endurance adventures around the world last night as the NLA hosted ‘adventure inspiration’.

The event, created to raise money in support of charities behind Club Peloton’s London to Cannes bike ride taking place in March including Coram, kicked off with journalist Sam McClary’s account of ‘The Challenge’.

The deputy editor of Estates Gazette cycled or ran 1,100 miles in 15 days, visiting 13 cities throughout the UK on the way. She told the audience that challenges were really about the ‘dark moments’ and suffering during the trip, which got very real and emotional on day two. ‘They’re about finding out who you really are, and being okay with that’. Before embarking on it, McClary had thought she was ‘not a crier’, ‘a kick-ass kinda girl who got shit done’, and ‘tougher than that’. ‘That, I have learnt, is entirely bollocks’, she said. ‘These moments teach us about the truth’, ‘which is why we must take them on’.

Ski touring in Arctic Norway was next, with impressive drone footage of their experiences shown by Sue Rowland and Rachel Shaw, where the battle was in part against the elements and stark landscapes. ‘We had quite a lot of face-down contact with the snow’, said Shaw, ‘but eventually we started to become competent skiers off piste’. Rowland told how it could be ‘utterly terrifying’ and had been hard work going uphill at altitude but the rewards included ‘creating fresh tracks through amazing snow’.

And then it was on to the talk’s main organiser Sarah Jenkinson, who spoke about the Baja Divide, her 2700km journey on 95% unpaved roads in south America with her boyfriend, conquering the main challenges of water, heat, remoteness, cactus thorns, snakes and spiders. ‘But the real challenge was fear’, said Jenkinson. She felt she would deal with it ‘like Wonder Woman’, but the main issue for Jenkinson was the technical ability and strength required for mountain-biking. On the upsides there was the beautiful terrain, including ‘magical’ sunsets and sunrises, birds of prey and wildlife, the generosity and kindness of locals who helped her along the way and, ultimately, the realisation of the benefits that the simple things of life can bring.

For Kate Horton of Knight Frank, her exceptional challenge was a Mission in Malawi with double Olympic gold medallist Dame Kelly Holmes and others, involving a 25km trail run up a mountain, extreme mountain bike ride and then 20km kayak under the blistering African sun. But one of the key joys of the ‘life changing’ event had been being greeted by appreciative singing kids from a local orphanage, learning about forward-thinking nutrition projects in the area, sponsoring school kids, and helping raise the profile of sport in a country where more than half its people are living below the poverty line. Horton would ‘seriously recommend’ the trip. ‘Never could I have known how much it would impact my life. Really don’t be afraid to give it a go’, she advised. ‘It’s easy to focus on the fears but these really are the moments that you learn so much about yourself.’

PedElle founders Jen Ross and Claire Treanor’s trip from Vancouver to the Mexican border by bike was, they admitted, a more relaxed affair. But it was still some 4,500km across four states which they did on sabbatical, whilst enduring only one puncture and one day of rain, and enjoying surfing and drop-in Yoga classes (really important for us) along the way. ‘It was all about allowing the world to unfold’, said Ross. The pair relied heavily on the Komoot app to plan their journey. The only downsides were getting lost, forest fires and the realisation of the scale of homelessness they witnessed along the way. But again, to those considering taking on similar adventures – even those requiring career breaks – the advice was: ‘do it’.

Finally, Zoe Sharpe took the audience through the gruelling Marathon des Sables event she completed in 2011, with its ‘Dune day’ and sandstorms to negotiate along the 156-mile total run over seven days in April. ‘The colour palette is pretty beige’, she joked, and the equivalent of the broom van was a pair of camels that, if they overtook you, meant you were out. Sharpe said it had been often impossible to judge distance, she used ‘diversion tactics’ with a fellow runner to help each other get through the days, had experienced the magical, unrivalled clear skies of the Sahara, and revealed that there were tears again from the whole group as they were read supportive emails from those back home. ‘I’ve always been a bit of an adventurer’, said Sharpe.

Discussion ranged from the ‘Instagram-isation’ of events versus feeling them for real, the necessity of planning and being prepared, and the ‘dark moments’ and difficult times that confirmed that it is okay to cry, and lifted such challenges into the memorable.
‘I think we proved tonight’, said Jen Ross, ‘that the word “can’t” is bollocks’.