Dreams.

I sent a link to my old blog (the 2012 photo-a-day one) to someone the other day and while I was on there getting the link, I noticed I’d done a ‘dreams’ page. Just stuff that I fancied doing. Since I stopped that blog I’d not been back so this list so I’d totally forgotten I’d written it. I was therefore pleasantly surprised to see I’d actually done a load of them since then, unintentionally (although I guess it figures that they’re all stuff I want to do in the first place). I now need to update the list; I’ll have a think.

These are things I want to do, see, experience or achieve. I’m going to give the list a good go starting in 2012 but I’m going to keep updating it when I think of new things so it’s likely to be a never-ending list 🙂  Well, that’s one thing I didn’t do – I promptly forgot all about it
 
  • Go to Peru and trek the Inca Trail – Booked for July 2012 😀 Done 😀
  • City break alone – Done 😀
  • Complete a photo-a-day project in 2012 Done 😀
  • Eat more healthily Kind of did, on and off…
  • Drive across America
  • Volunteer in Africa Done
  • Keep running Done 😀
  • Travel around Vietnam Done
  • Visit Australia and New Zealand Done
  • Do another bungee jump Done
  • Do another parachute jump
  • Visit a rainforest – Will be visiting the Amazon in July 2012 as part of my Peru trip 😀 Done 😀
  • Go to Cornwall – Booked for October 2012 Done 😀
  • Climb Snowdon Done
  • Run along the beach Done 😀
  • See the sunrise after staying up all night Done
  • Do the Sydney Harbour bridge walk Decided against it when I had the chance
  • Go back to South Africa Done
  • Get a tattoo Done 😀
  • See my grandparents more Moving away and bereavement hasn’t helped with this but I do try and ring my Nan regularly
  • Make someone feel happy
  • Run a half marathon – Entered for September 2012 Done 1:57:28 😀
  • Complete the Wolf Run (http://www.thewolfrun.com/) or similar Done 😀
  • Grow my nails – Done – November 2012. How long they will stay grown I don’t know but for now they are grown 😀
  • Visit more places/attractions in Lincolnshire – Moving away didn’t help with this
  • See Stonehenge Done
  • Go on the bone marrow donor register Done
  • Make a will Done 😀

Only three things not crossed out. A lot has changed since 2012; lots of different things now that I fancy doing. Another post on that will come soon.

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Joe’s Yarns: an evening of stories

When I was little I loved stories. All kinds of stories. I loved reading them, writing them and listening to them. Hours and hours spent with my head in a book or on the early-80’s apple computer at school writing pages and pages and pages (and pages) of stories.

I remember both my Nans would tell us stories at night time if we were staying over. They’d either read from a book or make them up. The made up ones were the best. The Big Tractor and the Little Tractor was a particular favourite of mine, I loved the picture that was painted in my head of two little cartoon like pieces of farm machinery zooming around the countryside exploring and having adventures.

I still love stories. It *may* have been known for me to ask people I don’t know that well to “tell me a story”. It’s a great way to get to know people (and sometimes it’s because I’m tired and can’t be arsed to talk myself and love listening). It’s all about the chat.

And that’s how I ended up dragging BMF Nige to a storytelling night in Cheltenham last night. We’d not had a proper catch up since I got back and I’d spotted this thing on Facebook that looked interesting so we headed on down to a cafe called Smokey Joes just off the High Street in Cheltenham to see what the craic was.

Walking in I immediately wanted a milkshake (it’s a retro diner) but stuck to Wednesday Club tradition with red wine (I have totally forgotten my hangovers of the last 3 weekends of course) and walked through the back where we were greeted by Charlie, a giant white-bearded man with a hat and a booming voice who told us he was the compere for the eve.

Nige got seduced by the retro games machines and went off to play pac-man or something. I sat down and tried to figure out how to stop my phone from making a noise when I got a message, even though it was on silent. [Spoiler: it didn’t work]

The stories started. A storytelling evening is basically just someone sat on a stool with a microphone and telling a story. Funny, sad, wacky, odd, normal, your own, or someone else’s, it doesn’t matter. Tonight there was a theme “things aren’t always as they seem” but also a bit of a free for all. Kind of like an open mic night but without any singing or joke telling, the usual awkward silence followed Charlie’s opening gambit where, with the mic offered up to the room, no one dare go next. Until one person did. And then another, and another. I got up and spoke twice; a couple of stories about things from my bike trip in Chile. I think my favourite bit is when I was trying to tell my little story and my phone kept shouting out because I’d set up voice commands to unlock my phone. Yep, my phone thought I was talking to it through a microphone and despite the silent do not disturb mode, it joined in my talk with “I’m sorry, I didn’t quite catch what you said” in that OK Google voice. Honestly, we couldn’t get the bloody thing to shut up. Nige had to hide it on the floor under the table like a naughty dog in the end.

There were some great stories. All quite different, all told in a unique way and all engaging. Really nice to spend a couple of hours doing something pretty different. You don’t have to speak, but you can if you want.

Joe’s Yarns is held on the last Wednesday of each month at Smokey Joes. Next month is their year anniversary; I’ll definitely be going again. Give it a try if you’re Cheltenham way.

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Adventure withdrawal.

It’s all been a bit of a whirlwind since I got back from Chile. I got straight stuck into celebrating my return by promptly getting pissed for most of the weekends since I’ve been back. Whilst fun, it’s not sustainable and I knew the post-adventure blues would hit a little bit once the initial excitement/hangovers had worn off. They always do, I know exactly how it works for me:

  • Stage 1: Excitement at getting home and catching up with people
  • Stage 2: Over stimulation being around people after spending weeks in limited company
  • Stage 3: Become a hermit for a while and enjoy pottering around in my own company
  • Stage 4: Run lots
  • Stage 5: Rejoin civilisation and start socialising again
  • Stage 6: Plan next adventure

I’ve now made it through all the stages! Earlier today I booked flights to New Zealand to go over Easter. This wasn’t part of a plan and was a bit of a spontaneous decision and is mainly so I can go buy my friend Mike the beer I’ve owed him for about 3 years now. I met him in Hong Kong briefly and he lent me – a complete stranger – his truck when I was in New Zealand so I could do a road trip. He was in Oz so I never got to see him again to thank him properly. So when he moved back to NZ and the option of being able to have just over two weeks off work when only taking a few days holiday (thank you Easter bank holidays!) came up, it was a no brainer.

OK, so I’m pretty skint after Chile but this is what that savings pot that I shouldn’t touch is for. Sometimes you have to grab an opportunity when it comes up.

And so that, dear readers, is how I am flying off to New Zealand in just over a month for some (in Mike’s words) “insane hiking”. And a visit to Queenstown, NZ’s alcohol/party capital to celebrate my birthday. Expect lots of pictures of mountains, adventure stories and possibly drunken photos. But hopefully this time, wearing my own pants and no bar stool incidents.

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Rat Race Dirty Weekend

Finally got around to writing about the recent Dirty Weekend. Not, not that kind of dirty weekend (tsk), this was the Rat Race Dirty Weekend event at Burleigh House in Stamford earlier this month.

20 miles, 200 obstacles. They claim it’s the ‘world’s biggest obstacle course’ and invite people to come and show whether they’re hard enough (similar to that other type of dirty weekend really). I’d heard about this event a couple of years ago when Vic B had suggested we do it (I think we’d not long done the Wolf Run). I think I remember telling her she was a twat and to sod off, like how the hell could I run 20 miles, let alone with 200 obstacles. So, it was with bemusement that I found myself standing in the starting pen for that very race this year, asking myself not for the first time, what the hell I was doing.

When I took someone’s ticket in about October last year it was far enough away to promptly forget all about it. Back then, it sounded like a fun weekend that loads of people from BMF were off to and I’d get FOMO. I basically just wanted to join in the after party really, but I know I’d also not be able to stand by and watch everyone else go running. And besides, I do actually really love throwing myself into mud and over walls. No really, I do. When I used to watch the Krypton Factor as a kid, I’d always want to do the obstacle course. That and the film where you’d have to look out for difference and stuff. Observation round – that was it! Sod the shape sorting thing, get me outside. Me and my brother made various obstacles when we were younger but never a whole course. Think we ran out of spare wood.

Anyway, winter skipped along. Christmas came and went. I went on holiday. Spring started. Work project went live. Easter brought chocolate. My birthday happened. Then, all of a sudden, that weekend was a week away. I think all of us from BMF who were doing it collectively thought “Fuck!”. It crept up, the sneaky little bastard. So, with training consisting of runs when I could, hikes, hitting gym classes and trying to BMF the shit out of the week I was as prepared as I could have been.

First things first, this is not just an obstacle race, this is a weekend. Friday to Sunday with pre-parties and after parties and everything in between. It’s brilliantly organised from start to finish, so hats off to Rat Race for making everything run like clockwork (or at least seem like it). From the booking process online all through the email comms, then parking, registration, facilities, race and marshalls, finish, after party and clear up, it was top notch.

I’m not going to go through everything because that would a) take AGES and b) probably be dull for you. So let’s try and keep it in a nutshell-cat-page . The dirty weekend started on Friday with a ROAD TRIP. Everyone knows a road trip has to involve SHOTGUN and the worlds ROAD TRIP in capitals. We did this with Adam being a sore loser about shotgun, Sian slating my music choices, me trying (and failing) to work Ben’s SD card media thingy and Ben just trying to make sure he’s going the right way.

Arriving in good time (but still later than we’d thought) we parked up and skipped off like four eager beavers to find registration and the campsite, only to realise how fucking far away the car park was. For people that were planning on running 20 miles the next day this seemed unnecessary energy wastage. We got through registration, felt sick marvelled at the last obstacle (5 shipping containers high) and found the BMF campsite at near full capacity. So with some fence manoeuvring we claimed our corner patch with the same triumph as I imagined Christopher Columbus felt when discovering America.

Most of us had our tents up before Adam had even got his pole out so had time to figure out where all the most important facilities (toilets, showers, bar, waffle truck) were. Elena arrived hoping to smash the record for the smallest tent in the world and actually smashed the quickest tent erection record. We never did try the ‘most people in the smallest tent in the world record’. Next time. Next to the smallest tent was the Mansion Tent, still put up before Adam had finished whatever he was faffing around with. Surprisingly, Bev was not on the cider at this point, preferring to abstain, but we made up for her and had a good luck beverage. Not as many as the Dutch Mud Men and Mudstacle groups though, who presumably had read a study about how getting smashed and staying up late (and being LOUD) the day before a 20 mile ocr is excellent preparation. I’m not sure my body could handle that amount of preparation.

Race morning comes, and we had to get up at something like 6am for our start at some time around 8. I never actually knew what exact time we were starting, instead choosing to do what I normally do at BMF and rely on someone else to know what is going on. It was an exciting morning for me, as I got to try out my new Trangia mini camping stove for the first time to cook my porridge. This was important as this is the stove I’m planning on using if (when) I go on a bike adventure, and needed to test out whether I could work it without setting fire to myself, my tent or someone else. Test passed, hurrah!

Lucy brought out the camo paint for the obligatory BMF stripes. Harry, founder of BMF gave us words of encouragement (and a t-shirt). Ibuprofen taken, snacks prepared and various body parts were strapped and taped up. Sian’s head was not complete without the camo buff and Toby got into the beo-uff spirit by making his into horns. Pre-race joviality amongst the slight nervousness (yes, Adam actually admitted he was nervous, but shhh, don’t tell anyone). For anyone who doesn’t know, these races have ‘waves’ where a certain amount of people start the race at the same time. This mean that we are all herded into pens where we all wait, the air tight with anticipation and impatience. There was a pre-race warm up where there is a extremely attractive BMF instructor; which distracts the nerves of most of the women for a short while. And then all of a sudden, there’s some incomprehensible words shouted into a microphone! Some music! A countdown! Air horn! Flares! AND WE’RE OFF! Reach and jump to touch the inflatable start line. Why? Because. That’s. What. You. Do. Running! Into a throng of people, flare smoke, cheering, spectators. And so it begins. “Do not think about it’s 20 miles. Do not think about how tired you are already. Do not think about how little sleep you have had.” says the little voice.

And so you don’t. Not for a while anyway, you try and keep up with the rest of your group and have a laugh jogging, climbing, jumping, crawling and admiring the views. Helping your friends and making sure everyone is through each bit. Making sure Bev is OK when she hits her back and head on a trampette after slipping. Congratulating Elena when she jumps off the top bit of the water jump (it was bloody high, involuntary scream-type high). Cheering Rich on for going on the monkey bars over the water while having a bit of a boogie to the singer. Being helped onto the water platforms by Toby, and helping him through the tyre birth canal. Jogging with Linda on the long stretches and all having a laugh at the food stops, especially the one with crisps where we were all shovelling them in like we’d not eaten for weeks (believe me, the 6am breakfast was a long time ago by that point). We had a combination of serious running, clambering and jumping and then a bit of dicking about. Toby and I enjoyed a gentle float and splash about in the reservoir (while Elena and a friendly chap from Belgium made sure Bev got safely across). I enjoyed doing somersaults over the bars in the forest pretending I was 8 again.

Mile markers were measured against Bev’s garmin, and each time it came out different, but at least it gave us something to talk about and distract from the fact that we were still only at 3 miles. We were carrying a BMF flag, that became as precious to us as a newborn baby, cradled and carried the whole 20 miles (although you probably wouldn’t throw a newborn baby over some of the obstacles like we did).

The weather was pretty fab too. Because YES, weather is important. Not too hot, but warm enough that you didn’t get hypothermia as soon as you hit any water. Sunny enough for strange tan marks and that “been outside all day” look. This also helps conversation afterwards when you’re running out of things to say because you’re tired or drunk and so can just point to body parts instead, and that person knows exactly what you mean.

Elena and I ended up splitting from the rest of our group at some point. Not sure exactly where, but it was before the 13 mile mark, as this was the point you could finish at a half, or carry on for the full 20. There was no question what we would do, but this point was marked with some weirdly shaped box things to clamber over. I tried one but had run out of a energy as it was just before a food stop, so I ended up being pulled up in a most ungracious fashion by one arm and one leg by some Dutch bloke. I ended up sprawled out on the top shouting “thank you” while him and his girlfriend shouted “no problem”, already leaping over the next one like gazelles. The Dutch preparation was clearly working well.

Elena and I made our way over the next 7 miles getting to know each other a bit more, chatting to strangers and realising our previous lives had more in common than we thought, like a secret club no one actually wants to be a part of. Before we knew it, we were on the last mile! That 19 mile marker got a whoop-whoop. We arrived smiling at an obstacle where the incredibly enthusiastic marshall told us there was only one more obstacle to go. Hurrah we thought! But no! That cheery-faced cherub WAS LYING. There was at least 3 or 4. With some last surges of energy (and a rather painful mishap where I fell off one of the obstacles and slid down the wooden battens and onto the floor on my back like a comedy sketch) we emerged down the final straight, running head first into The 5-Storied Beast. That final wall/cargo net/slide. We looked at each other! We could do it! Off we shot, like rockets (as fast as rockets go that have already been let off 20 miles previous), reaching the top like triumphant adventurers. I imagine it was rather the same feeling as Roald Amundsen must have had when he was the first man to reach the South Pole.

Stopping for a quick photo shoot13179260_10154081316726341_5012695865979688295_n and look around, we threw ourselves down the last water slide with more gusto than you’d expect of people that had just ran 20 miles. Easy to do when you know you’re nearly done.

And that was it. We’d done it. YAY!

A more civilised photo shoot later, with medals is the requisite proof that the event was actually completed, in case you wake up and think it’s all a dream.

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Race done, first up was a quick chat with the guys who’d already finished, but most importantly it was then time for a shower. This simple daily task that most people take for granted suddenly takes on the same importance scale of what you’re going to name your first born. It’s one of the Best. Feelings. Ever. Especially if it’s warm.

Then, all dry and cosy (especially if you have a DryRobe) it’s time for food and BEER (or just beer, but I wouldn’t recommend this – see below) and a chat with fellow survivors team mates about all the best bits, how great it was, who fell off what, who completed what and any funny bits along the way. All this while also shouting congratulations to all the people coming in, looking weary and muddy and tired but deliriously happy. Probably at the thought of beer and that they don’t have to climb over another bit of wood (for at least a few hours until they get drunk and forget there’s an entrance to the campsite).

Then, the party extends to other groups of people (either the wider BMF group or Sian and I infiltrating Mudstacle). Then the Party becomes the Official After Party where we head to a big tent to drink more drink, dance like mad loons (because we are all surprised our legs still work, and feel the need to show this with various high-knee type dancing, facilitated by the Reverend telling us to “fookin bounce”) until it gets late and we are thrown out of the Big Tent and we head back to the campsite where it’s like the race is actually a weird futuristic society-controlling drug that has put everyone into a coma by 12pm.

And so we wake on the Sunday morning, bleary eyed and weary but triumphant, each one remembering what we have achieved, both as individuals and as a team, proud as punch.

We move slowly to pack up, both to enjoy the sunshine some more and also because of stiff legs and sore heads. And after hugs and fond farewells, the road trip back home begins. It is no longer in capitals. There is no shouting of shotgun, just a slightly subdued journey (me with my head out the window but that’s more because of the amount of beer imbibed). The sense of achievement does not need to be spoken about (mainly because speaking takes effort) but is known amongst us all, waiting to be taken home to be shared with loved ones.

As a post on Facebook says [something like] “This was not just an obstacle race. This was a Dirty Weekend”.

As this is a kind of review (it’s not really, but nevermind), here’s a few handy tips for if you’re thinking of doing it next year:

  • There are plenty of snacks at the food/drink stops so there’s really not much need to carry extra with you, especially in a running bumbag which either cuts you in half or bulks up underneath a t-shirt making you either look odd or pregnant in photos. It is NOT flattering, although this could just be me. I have yet to find ANY race photos I’d actually confess they were me. Maybe carry gels if you like them, they can be stuck down socks/pants/bras/arse cracks. Apparently. I’ve not tried them but I have tried similar ‘sports’ bar type things when doing London to Paris which well, let’s just say, it wasn’t good. I’ll stick to the bananas.
  • The camping is miles away from the car park. Take a wheeled contraption to take over the million and one things you will need for camping. Prepare to completely forget where you park your car, even if it’s right near the front gate.
  • Stick with your mates or find someone who is interesting for at least the second half. Towards the end you will need someone to talk to to distract you from the countdown of miles (“seriously, how is it STILL only 17 miles?”) and hallucinations of beer you get from about mile 15 (“mmmm is that beer? Oh, no, it’s a rabbit.”).
  • DO NOT forget ibuprofen. It’s useful for EVERYTHING.
  • Eat something after you finish, preferably with protein and carbs. The temptation to just hit the beer is overwhelming and WILL result in a massive crash in the days afterwards. I have tried and tested this many times, so take my word for it. These kind of events take so much more out of your body than you realise, even if you feel OK. Be kind to your bod and give it some TLC after, it’s the only one you get (unless your shares in cloning or human robots come to fruition at some point in the future).
  • But DO take more booze than you think you’ll need. There is a somewhat frivolous atmosphere requiring a high level of celebration.
  • DO speak to as many random strangers as you can. They are interesting and funny and make for a fully rounded experience. Hug them if you can, especially if they are foreign and don’t understand you. They WILL love it.
  • Go for a shower as soon as you can after you finish. That shower will feel amazing and having a beer knowing that you’re not sitting with mud up your arse is pretty special.
  • Take lots of pictures but don’t forget to stop and look around and up every once in a while. Remember the smiles and look of satisfaction on the faces of the people around you, the constant positive energy of the marshalls, the bright lights of a party done well and the stars in the sky once it’s all over and the world is quiet.

Don’t just take my word for it, oh no. Watch Ben’s most awesome gopro video of the weekend here. It’s bloody AWESOME, has great music and just sums up the whole weekend.

All this is more than just running around outside and getting muddy. It’s about trying something new and pushing yourself. It’s about facing fears and doing it anyway. It’s about seeing what your body is capable of. It’s about doing something different with your weekend and not watching the world through someone else’s screen. It’s about maxing the shit out of life, if this is your idea of fun. But most of all, it’s about the people you do it with. The people that help you over that fence, old friends, new friends or strangers. The people that help you on that water jump. The people that keep you going when you think you’re fading. Being part of a team, a collective. The people that make you laugh. The people that share their prosecco or big tub of rice. The people that you make memories with.

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That’s what BMF is so great at. It provides you a ready made team, a set of buddies to do crazy shit like this with. Full of friends from the off, whichever park you’re at.

Give it a go, what you got to lose?

 

 

JFDI.


Just fucking do it.

People think this is easy for me. And perhaps it is in some ways. Now. Not always. It’s been a bit of a journey to get here. After a long time (too long) in an unhealthy relationship (for both of us) I had to redefine myself. I had become a shell of who I was. In fact, I didn’t know who I was. I remember very clearly a moment in a shop where I had to buy something for my new home when I first became single (towels I think). I was so overwhelmed with the feeling that I didn’t know what I liked any more. Because I couldn’t tell whether I actually liked something or whether I liked it because actually my ex would have, or actually because he wouldn’t have (I went through a slight rebellion phase). After putting someone else first for my entire adult life, it was completely alien to me to purely only have myself to please.

I started to realise that I could do anything I wanted. Anything. I didn’t have to check with anyone. Ask anyone’s permission. Worry about what they might think. Consider whether it fitted in with our plans. Worry that I was prioritising time alone above time with them. I could make decisions knowing I was pretty much the only person they affected. And let me tell you, that was a fucking liberation. It started with towels, but it soon grew like mushrooms in a dark damp forest. I realised I loved running more than I ever thought possible and started doing races. I discovered hiking and mountains. I started going places. I fucked off for weekends to visit people I hadn’t seen in years. I chatted to strangers and got myself embroiled in different social circles. I started saying Yes more than I said No. I started travelling on my own. I tried new things.

And I realised the whole fucking world had started to open up.

I saw a life beyond my front doorstep. I saw different viewpoints and ways of life. I realised ‘normal’ was only what you made it. I understood what it was to fail. And figured out that actually, there is no failure, just a way to learn. I realised that by doing stuff, I was educating myself. Developing, growing, however or whatever you want to call it. By doing the same stuff I’d always done, I would get what I’d always got. I didn’t want that. I found new stuff exciting, the unknown becoming this mythical magical land where I wanted to skip around forever. I didn’t want to know what was happening next. Like a child, I wanted every day to bring me something new.

And that shit won’t come to you. It’s up to you to go out there any get it. It means going out of your comfort zone. It means seeing something and wanting a piece of it for yourself. It means putting yourself out there. It means taking risks and being scared. It means making yourself vulnerable and open to hurt. It might mean sacrificing stuff, whether that’s money, material things, relationships or careers. It means looking deep inside you and trying to figure out what your gut feeling is telling you. And going with that gut feeling. It means ignoring what other people might think or feel and doing it anyway because it means so much to you.

When I was little my Dad told me that I could do or achieve anything I wanted, and that the only person to stop me was myself. Somewhere along the line I’d forgotten that. As adults, we quite often do. We get bogged down with ‘real life’ that seems to be driven around those life events we’re expected to achieve; job, house, partner, marriage, children, retirement, with a nice two week beach holiday each year if you’re lucky. Why shouldn’t real life be the dream? What are we waiting for? Financial security? To be a grown up? We’d be waiting forever.

Alongside this I’d been told in my relationship that I was an idealist and a dreamer. That I should be realistic and that life was as it was and I should be grateful. That I was stupid for thinking there was more than work and the weekends and the occasional weekend away. That I couldn’t do some of the things I wanted to. That I wasn’t good enough to achieve stuff.

I never believed that. Not deep down. I just let it slide until I couldn’t any more. Until I realised that one day if I didn’t start to do the things I wanted to then I’d get to an age where I couldn’t. And I’d regret it. And one think I don’t want in this life is regrets. Or regrets of things I haven’t done.

So one day, I thought “F*ck it, Do it.” And I did it. And then I did it some more. Yes, I was nervous. Yes I was scared. Yes, I had a crisis of confidence. Yes, I didn’t think I could do certain things. I still don’t. But, how do I know if I don’t try? Only one way to find out. I let go of any fear of failure, because now I know there is no failure. Giving things a go and trying does not mean you will let anyone down. It means there will be no ‘what if’s’. If you’re going to do something, give it your best shot and see what happens. The unknown is scary, like a dark wooded forest. But it’s also a forest where unicorns skip around and rainbows shine once you get in there.

Someone told me yesterday “You’re the person I want to be. Carefree, not frightened to make a decision”. I told them they can become that person. They just need to feel the fear and do it anyway. Fuck it, do it. Think ahead in the future and figure out the worst case scenario. Is being unhappy but not rocking the boat for the next 10 years better than ripping a plaster off and short term pain? Hanging around the bottom of a rainbow with no pot of gold or riding on the top with sunbeam in your face and a view to beat a million.

Life is too short to hold yourself back. To be the best version of you that you can be. To live a life true to yourself. To exist in black and white.

And I’m not just talking about skipping off around the world or adventure if that’s how you’re reading this. I’m talking about anything you want to do but are unsure of. Learning a new skill, deciding whether to try a new activity, being more sociable, taking the kids on holiday, leaving a relationship, starting a new one, giving the cute girl in Boots your number, running a marathon, quitting your job, applying for a new one, getting a new hairstyle. Literally anything. Everyone is different. You have to figure out what it is that makes you happy and remove those barriers you stick up.

Ah yes, those barriers. Money! Mortgage! Kids! Job! “I can’t just drop everything”.

For example, travel. We’ve all seen the internet memes. Go explore the world. It’s that easy!

No, it’s not. BUT. It’s not impossible. Actually, it’s a lot easier than you think. But people don’t even start to look.

If you really want to do something, you can do it. You might just have to be a bit creative about how you do it. Or it might take you a long time. But it is achievable.

Got a job? How about asking for a career break or unpaid leave? How about quitting or working abroad? If you don’t ask, you don’t know. You might even get a better job when you come back. People forget if you go travelling and aren’t paying all your bills, you don’t need to earn a shed load of cash (e.g. when you come back) straight away. Think about the skills your travel can add to your CV. The stuff you can learn.

Mortgage? Rent your house out. The rental market is strong. Get a professional house sitter. Air bnb it. Save up extra to cover your mortgage. Sell your house and move into a caravan.

Kids. OK, a little trickier. But again, not impossible. Take them with you. The life education they will get will be immense. I met quite a few families when I was travelling. The kids were amazing (like the Meeks). Go in the summer holidays. Go on different types of trips. Make them into adventures.

“It’s so expensive”. Well, this is subjective. If you want to stay in 5* hotels then yes, it probably will be. There are so many ways to travel. It is NOT an extended holiday. Go to countries where it is cheap as chips (£5 a night guesthouse in SE Asia for example). How about volunteer programmes where you get your food and accommodation covered? Cycle trip and camping? No accommodation or transport costs. Set a budget and save up for it. Stop buying a coffee and lunch every day. Do you really need that 10th pair of shoes? Rent a room rather than a whole flat. Walk to work and get rid of the car. Don’t go out so much, or stop some of that expensive hobby (or cut down). Honestly, if you really want it, then you can achieve it. It just takes a bit of effort.

When you’re sat in a nursing home thinking back on your life, what do you want to remember? All the extra hours at work, the big TV and the flashy car? Or the moments that count. That sunrise, that look on someone’s face, that time you gave something to others? The time you took a risk or tried something new. Who gives a shit what the outcome was? You’ll remember giving it a go.

So why not try it? Go on, see if there’s something you can give a go. Something you’re maybe not sure of? Something you’ve been putting off?

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Day #13 13.01.16

Today was more driving to get to Cape Town. Again I hadn’t actually planned on getting to Cape Town today but I changed my mind while driving and decided to push on round the coast road (through some SPECTACULAR scenery) and get to Cape Town. And I was rewarded. I decided to book a hotel in the Seapoint area as I’d not stayed around there before and after getting upgraded to the biggest hotel suite I’ve been in yet (it’s bigger than my flat at home!) I dumped my stuff and got outside to explore and went for a stroll down the Atlantic Seaboard promenade, which is basically a massive seafront prom all the way along the coast for a few miles. Full of people running, skating, walking etc. My kind of place!! Loved the feel of it.

And THIS is the backdrop. Signal Hill, Lions Head and Table Mountain (which, in this photo, is underneath the big white cloud. Honest.). Beaut eh?

Oh yes, I could live here….

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Day #12 12.01.16

Today was a day of driving. Hours of it. From Storms River Mouth to Swellendam. Around 370 km. I wasn’t originally going to end up in Swellendam to overnight but I changed my mind while I was driving and decided to push on a bit rather than stop in Stillbaai which is where I’d planned to stop. But the weather was shit and it was another 20 odd km down to Stillbaai from the N2 so pushed on and ended up in Swellendam and found a fab little hostel, where I got my own room and became anti social Tara. It was GREAT.

I’m loving driving in South Africa, it’s a real pleasure rather than an ordeal. The roads are mostly great condition (well, the tarred ones anyway), they’re wide and have yellow lanes (for people to move over into so faster cars can overtake), people generally don’t seem to be in a mad rush, there’s WAY less traffic than the UK, there’s always so much to look at (scenery, people, animals, people crammed into the back of pick up trucks hanging on for dear life etc.) and for some reason I really like 4 way stops. Singing along in the sunshine to music blaring out from some SA radio station or other (my favourites were Goodhope and Five FM) while driving with mountains all around is a damn good driving experience in my book.

Figaro the hire car is a delight to drive, even if he does need a run up to get up hills or overtake. ESPECIALLY if you have the A/C on (which, let’s face it, I’ve not turned off since I picked him up). But I drove old minis for years, so I’m used to that.

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Image is everything.

Image is everything. Or is it? Today’s world and social media says so. Especially for women. Airbrush this, stick a filter on that, photoshop the fuck out of everything. So many apps that allow you to change your photos to make them look ace.

Which, let’s be honest, they do look ace. You can make something look pretty damn sweet with enough filters and editing. This is nothing new, photographers have been doing it for years. But now everyone can do it with their day to day photos, and then use that to present their life to the world. Which is OK, apart from that makes it intrinsically false and fake.

There’s been loads of talk of this in the media over the last few months, lots of people writing similar posts and sad stories of people who presented the perfect life when reality was actually far from it, some ending in tragic circumstances. I kind of posted about this back in May when the #lifeunfiltered hashtag was doing the rounds.

Today I read a story about a teenager who was making money from social media – mainly the pictures she was posting and the clothes she was wearing – when she decided to remove most of the pictures and edit the captions of certain pictures to reveal the truth behind the pictures.  How she didn’t eat, would take over 100 shots to get the ‘perfect’ picture and so on. What a great thing to do to try to raise awareness of the reality behind these ‘perfect’ lives.

I hate the world today in terms of the media and what we as women get told we should be, what we should look like, what kind of life we should be living. Who is anyone to tell us what we should or shouldn’t do? The life the media and advertising gives us is totally unattainable for most people, and can cause so much unhappiness and low self esteem. It’s like chasing a unicorn across a rainbow; unrealistic.

We should be teaching our daughters, nieces, friends etc. to love themselves. To be happy from within. That looks are not the be all and end all. That how much you weigh doe not dictate your happiness. That being healthy and loving yourself is much more important. That you do not need validation from others to feel worthy. That confidence is much more attractive than make up or clothes. That following your dreams and listening to yourself is a pretty good Thing To Do.

The older I get the more I see younger women unhappy and uncomfortable. I’ve found the older I get the more happy I become (and having chatted to a lot of my friends of similar age or older it’s common). Because the older I get the more I realise what is important (and what’s not). That worrying about what you look like in your 20’s is such a waste. Get to your 30’s and more and you’ll realise that looks wise, your 20’s is a prime time. That you weren’t fat. That you didn’t have wrinkles. That old saying of youth is wasted on the young. And I’m sure it will be the same in my 40’s. And 50’s. And so on.

Back in 2012 I did a photo-a-day blog to document my first year of single life – a year I knew would be spent rediscovering myself. One post was some advice I would give to my 15 year old self. It’s a fairly short post but still stands true today. I’ve recently seen a post about what older women would also say to their younger selves too. And similar articles on the internet. It’s all fairly similar. Tricky though, as I also know that had someone told me this back when I was 15 I totally wouldn’t have listened. Because of course I knew everything, I was a teenager. I was lucky enough to have parents who made me believe I could do anything, and even though events in my 20’s could have quashed that belief, they didn’t, luckily. It just took me a few more years to start putting it into practice.

People need make and learn from their own mistakes, but if we could foster a world where some basic principles become the norm, I’d like to think that the lessons would come from where people had reached for the stars rather than cried over what stares back at them from a mirror. If someone is only interested in you for what you look like, then do you really want to know them? Does their opinion really matter? Why do you feel the need to be validated by them, and especially why do you feel the need to be validated on what you look like?

I don’t know what the answer is, but I do know there are a number of things out there trying to break down the notions of a ‘perfect life’. To encourage and inspire women (and men, this isn’t a gender-specific problem) to believe in themselves, ultimately boosting self confidence and self esteem. And I’m going to try to do that at any opportunity. I don’t have kids, but I have a niece, a god-daughter and many friends with children. If I can be some kind of role model to them and try and pass this message on, then that’s the least I can do.

In the words of Nelson Mandela:

“Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate, but that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, handsome, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?”

Hell YES!

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Say Yes More. The tagline to a weekend spent in a field somewhere in Surrey with over a hundred strangers. Sounds a bit weird if you say it like that. But it wasn’t. It was pretty damn special. A weekend festival full of camping, adventure, positivity, hugs, inspirational speakers and unicorns. Led by Dave Cornthwaite, founder of Say Yes More and the Yes Tribe, a movement designed to encourage living the life you want, outside the usual confines of 9-5 life.

It’s the kind of event that if I just wrote down what went on, it wouldn’t do it justice. Or convey the energy and the effect it had on people. It was potentially life changing for a lot of people, me included. It was an event that everyone came away from buzzing, wired and high on life. Ready to face the world and anything that was out there. Imagine the highest high and triple it, stick a unicorn on top with a cherry on its horn. I didn’t take any photos (or even turn my phone on all weekend) because I wanted to fully throw myself into the experience. So there won’t be any pictures from me. But you can find plenty on social media if you just google.

There were speakers. Inspirational people. From professional adventurers to people who had decided to live life a bit differently, or been on an adventure. All normal people, just deciding to live a bit differently. So many amazing people. Not just the speakers, but everyone who went. I’ve never been surrounded with such a brilliant bunch of people. Everyone so super positive, friendly and encouraging. This is what really made it. Two days of intensely charged positive attitude. It’s intoxicating. Like the way there’s a cheer if anyone mentions quitting their job (YES! ESCAPE!). It’s the hugs you give to and receive from strangers like you’ve been friends for years. It’s the way I only met some people for 48 hours, but already my life feels richer with them now in it. Almost a bit too intoxicating though. SO MUCH AMAZING STUFF IN ONE GO. I got totally pissed on it. And like any high, there’s been a comedown. I got a Yestival hangover. Yesterday was a bit flat. Normal life seems a bit shit after that, even though I feel my life is pretty bloody sweet as. I felt like I needed to go sit in a dark quiet room by myself. Concentrating at work on Monday was HARD. How the fuck am I supposed to follow a weekend like that?

By creating a YES LIST. Not a bucket list. Or a fuck it list. A Yes List. Stuff I’m going to say Yes to. Mine is still a work in progress. I’ve spent the last 4 years without a list, but just doing anything and everything, and it’s worked pretty well so far. But, I know sometimes [read: lots of times] I get a bit lazy and procrastinate to SHIT. So, I’m going to take Dave’s advice and have a Yes List to give myself a kick up the arse when I need it. I’ve got loads of ideas, I just need to figure out what to start first. Going part time in 2 weeks time with my new job will help. Only working 4 days and having a 3 day weekend. YES. Fridays will become Fucking Do It Fridays. F-DIF. Helps to have a handy abbreviation I find; let’s brand this shit. Joke, I’ve got no idea about stuff like that. What I mean is I will write things down in a book under a heading of F-DIF. Step in the right direction, right?

What was pretty ace for me though is that I felt like I was a proper part of it. There were people just like me. On the same wavelength. This amazing group of people and I felt like I am one of them. Not stood on the sidelines, unable to join in because I’m not quite doing what everyone else is, or that I’m not part of the clique, or that I haven’t done a massive adventure. No, I could join in. And the nice thing is that I haven’t done a massive adventure, and aren’t doing half the things that other people are or haven’t got a crazy thing planned, but it’s not about that. It’s about mindset and ideas. The mindset of saying yes, regardless of what may happen. Of taking the leap, taking the risk. Saying yes or saying no to make more room to say yes. Being open to other ways of doing things, of looking at life differently and willing to explore, just for the sheer fucking hell of it.

It helped me realise you don’t have to be a full time adventurer. Or do a crazy adventure. Or get sponsors. There are no comparisons. Just have the attitude and mindset and the rest will follow. Be aware there is a different way. Ignore the people that say it can’t be done. The people who say that you have to return to ‘real life’ eventually. Who says what real life is anyway?

I can’t mention all the speakers but I do feel I have to mention the Meek family. Parents and two kids who have been on a journey around the UK in a caravan for the last 18 months, and who are about to upgrade to a campervan and start touring around Europe. They sold their house, quit their jobs, took the girls out of school and went off on a family adventure, and aren’t about to stop any time soon. And I think that is bloody amazing. Anyone who thinks anything but what an amazing thing should meet this family. Meet the two girls who are a credit to their parents. Confident, adjusted, educated and well rounded. Speakers at the festival at ages 12 and 10. Fully grown adults would shit themselves at that, but not these girls. Are they missing out by not being at school? Meet them and decide for yourself. I’m a firm believer that education is so much more than sitting in a classroom for hours a day; the Meek family are a prime example of this. They call it ed-venture. Inspirational. I don’t have kids but if I did, well, I’d be a prime example to want to follow the Meek’s lead.

Oh, and Project Awesome. How can I not mention Project Awesome? A free fitness movement led by Danny Bent and Anna McNuff. Mainly in London but now expanding to Bristol and elsewhere. SO much fun, happiness and craziness is squeezed into these sessions and mega energy radiated out of every single person doing it. I only did a little taster session at the Festival but I know if I lived in London I’d be right there at 6:30am to start my day shouting, cheering, hugging, pledging affinity to unicorns and doing killer burpees. Absolutely fucking awesome.

I still don’t quite know what I’m here to do in life, I don’t know my purpose yet. But that’s OK, because I know I’m doing the right things to maybe eventually figure it out. Maybe I won’t ever figure it out, and maybe that’s the point. Who knows? I’ll just keep on plodding on, doing what feels right and trying new things. There were several open mic sessions to give everyone a chance to share anything they wanted. A story, a commitment, or just a comment or thanks. I didn’t, I didn’t really feel I had anything to share. I told some parts of my story to individual people, but not into a microphone. But, now I’ve thought about it, this is what I would have said “4 years ago I had an epiphany and left my job [CHEER], my home, my [now ex] husband and my cat to live life alone and head off round the world on an adventure to see what was out there. Since then I’ve said yes much more than no, and discovered things about the world and myself that I never would have dreamed of. I’ve brought adventure into my life and am not about to let that go. I’m now back in ‘real life’ but about to work part time instead of full time to give me more Yes time and carry on the adventures, big or small, and carry on trying to figure out what my purpose is.” [LOTS OF CHEERING AND SHOUTING AND WARM FUZZY FEELINGS]

That’s my story so far. Still so many pages to fill and hopefully many more adventures to come. South Africa at Christmas, that’s the next travel adventure. And next year has got a few things in the pipeline but I don’t like to plan too far ahead. Let’s see what the next few months bring first eh?

HUGE MASSIVE thank you therefore has to go out to Dave and his team who did an amazing job organising Yestival in just 8 weeks. It just shows what can be done with a bit of effort and the right attitude. I think it’s pretty certain that there will be a re-run in 2016. And in between there are Yes Tribe events popping up. Mainly in London but not exclusively. So if you like the sound of it (and come on, you have to admit, it sounds pretty fucking incredible right?), check it out, join the tribe and change your life, someone else’s life and the world.

And of course a massive thank you to every single person at Yestival. You’re all bloody ace.

Let’s go change the world.

 

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Sliding door moments.

You know, those moments that could go either way, in a split second. And then the way moments do go define what happens next and shapes your life. Life is full of them really, and I’ve always thought that it’s better to regret things that you’ve done, rather than things you haven’t done. I hate ‘what if’s’, I find them harder to deal with than the ‘oh fuck, why did I do that’s’. And I’ve got a few of them, believe me. But, they’re all life lessons. Even if they don’t always stop me sometimes making the same ‘oh fuck’ mistakes. Sigh. Anyway, I digress.

So yes, the sliding door moments. The blink-and-you’d-miss them moments, or the make-a-decision moments, or the right-place-right-time moments.

I’ve had a few of those too. I don’t mainly think about what would have happened if things had gone a different way, but this weekend I did. Because I realised that what I was doing was partly down to a sliding door moment. Mainly because the person I was doing it with was met in one of those moments.

Back in 2013 I met Vicki in a dingy hostel dorm in India, which in itself is a one-in-a-few moments because there aren’t that many hostels in India, it’s more guest houses where you don’t always get to mingle with other guests. So there I was, sat on my £1.20 a night damp bed with a barely-there mattress and a pillow you’d never want to take the case off, when Vicki swept in with with a tiny backpack, a northern accent and a massive smile. Over the next couple of days we went hiking, climbing about in waterfalls and ate forgotten birthday curry, and she told me about her plans to cycle the Manali to Leh highway. On her own, with no real plans as such and no bike as yet. I was amazed, inspired and in total fucking awe. That was some serious shit. Part of me wanted to do it with her, and part of me was glad I didn’t have the time, and part of me didn’t think I could anyway. That was what other people did, not me.

We kept in touch, and when I had moved onto China I was pleased to hear she had made it OK and had a sweet little adventure. I was blown away by her pictures and the stories of the ride. And so, a seed was sown. That was the moment that gave me the inspiration to bike round Tasmania. And after doing that, that’s when I knew I could do something like London to Paris earlier this year. And then, that’s when I knew I could cycle to Brighton with Vicki last weekend (we don’t just go to the pub for a catch up like most people, we go climb mountains or ride miles before hitting the pub).

If I had gone out for dinner back in Mcleodganj 10 minutes earlier, would we have met in the same way? Would we have hiked to the waterfall, or laughed at Richard Gere’s picture? If I hadn’t have met Vicki, would I have biked round Tasmania? I don’t know. Maybe, maybe not. But she helped showed me that adventure was out there, if you just get out there and do it. And ordinary people can do the stuff that I used to think only explorers and adventurers did. Well after all, they are just normal people too.

So I’m 100% glad this sliding door moment went this way. And I’m glad I can call Vicki a mate, glad I have a fellow adventure seeker to do crazy shit with and be inspired. She’s moving to NZ for a while at the end of the year, so maybe I’ll just have to head out there next year so we can go climb a mountain or two.

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