Thursday, 17 December 2015

Facing negativity

Some people – namely my boyfriend Del – would say I have a negative mindset. I would argue I’m just realistic. But when I came up with the stupidly ambitious idea to set myself a quest of climbing 40 volcanoes by the age of 40, I think I was neither negative nor realistic. I was in the realm of wishful thinking. 

Having missed by target to climb volcano number two before the end of this year, while also excelling at procrastinating on all other research, planning and preparation for next year’s volcanoes (now eight after failing to climb Mt Teide this year), I have spent the past couple of weeks mopping about feeling sorry for myself.

But what a kick up the backside a work Christmas party can be. The conversation with a former work colleague went something like this:

“This sounds like a very ambitious idea. You have to climb, what, eight volcanoes a year. Hmmm. Perhaps too ambitious, I think,” the former colleague (FC) said.

Another former colleague piped up. “Have you considered looking for sponsorship? Maybe approach some sports companies.”

I ummed and ahhed at the idea. “To be honest,” I said, “it’s not really something I’ve thought of.”

“But you would have a much better chance of achieving your 40 volcanoes,” the first FC countered.

He continued: “How do you plan to climb these volcanoes? Independently or with a guide?”

I explained that with some (probably many) I would invest in the skills of an expert guide – I could tap into their knowledge base, you see, and it could make good commentary for stories. Plus I would get around the faff of organising climbing permits as some tour guides would do it for me.

He looked unconvinced. “You’re not going to get sponsorship that way. Sponsors prefer people to climb things under their own steam. Hmmmm,” he mused. “You’ve climbed one volcano so far, how did you climb that?”  

“Well,” I felt the red rising to my cheeks, “I sort of cheated and got a shuttle bus halfway up.”

He looked astounded, shook is head, and said: “You’re definitely not getting sponsorship then. This idea is just too ambitious.”

I felt deflated. Just when I needed a motivational pep talk, support and encouragement, I’d had my idea pooh-poohed and kicked into touch. I pushed the kale in cream sauce around my plate.   

Despite how insurmountable and whimsical (or stupid) my quest had become this conversation had left me indignant. Why should someone else’s opinion define the outcome of this goal? I suddenly felt that I could not let myself be overcome by negativity.

And then a friend sent me a link to a Kiwi bloke’s blog. Dave Williams, a teacher, aims to be the first person to scale the highest mountain, from sea level, on each of the seven continents. In 2013 he climbed Mt Kilimanjaro (5,895m) in Tanzania. Despite near crippling altitude sickness he reached the summit. His account of the climb hit a nerve.

He writes:  “I have no qualms in stating that I found this six hours to be some of the toughest I have faced. Many times I thought I was not going to make it and that I wanted to turn back, but it’s not what we think but what we do that defines us. If you have dreamed of doing something but pushed it aside because it was too hard or too expensive, then I urge you to put that dream back on the table and somehow make it work. If you are scared of failing, the only true way you can fail is to continue to make excuses and not even try.” 

Here I am stumbling at the first hurdle. Note to self (and New Year’s Resolution): Must try harder (and who cares what other people think).

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Baby steps

Here is my attempt at getting my A into G. The start of a list of things to do.

Apart from the fact there appears to be heaps to do (think overwhelming), this is at least progress.

Have I forgotten anything?

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Time to stop making excuses

Right now I should be getting excited about what should be an impending trip to the tropical island paradise of Tenerife, one of the seven islands that make up the Canary Island archipelago off the west coast of Morocco. There, I was intending to make an ascent of volcano number two, Mt Teide, in my 40by40 quest.

But I’m not going.

There are a variety of reasons ranging from money to being generally disorganised to not having crampons (which might be required if there is snow on the summit, which is highly possible in early December).

These are all big fat excuses. A load of bollocks really.

I’ve done some naval gazing and ultimately I’ve let fear grip me – at 3718 metres tall, Mt Teide was always going to be a bit of a beast to climb. Add to that a winter climb with the possible dusting of snow (something I have no experience of) and this just went from a mere challenge to right outside my comfort zone. Even the lure of Tenerife’s winter sun wasn’t enough to give me a kick up the backside to book flights. Instead I made excuses, big upped myself on saving money (you know, Christmas is coming and all that), ignored the elephant in the room.

But it appears I can only avoid the truth for so long. With the winter weather arriving and the nights drawing in, and a relatively empty blog peering out at me from the computer, I realised the only way I was going to climb 40 volcanoes was to actually climb 40 volcanoes. Thinking about climbing them, talking about climbing them, looking at pretty pictures of them – that’s all just wishful thinking and doesn’t get me any closer to achieving the goal.

It’s like wanting to run a marathon I guess. Researching exercise techniques and nutrition plans or buying the most streamlined running attire is all well and good but without actually training – or indeed even entering a race – that goal remains forever illusive.

So with you as my witness, this post is a giant kick up my derriere to stop stuffing around, stop making excuses and start doing – or as some who I follow on Twitter say: start living.

A post on my forthcoming plans will be imminent (I promise!)

Now that I’ve put this in writing I have to follow through.

Do you have any tips on how to ‘start doing’?

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Things I have learnt: I am a scaredy cat

Most people will have at some point wondered how they might react in a disaster situation. Secretly they hope they will be brave and strong, bringing down the bad guys Jack Reacher style or pulling out a killer MacGyver or Bear Grylls survival move.

I’d like to think I could be the same – despite my weak girl punches and distinct lack of military training. Unfortunately I’m a bit of a cry baby and scaredy cat, as my recent trip to Snowdonia verified.

At the summit of Mt Snowdon, not that you would know it
Don’t worry; I wasn’t taken hostage or anything like that. I just thought I might get lost (or worse, die) trying to climb Mt Snowdon in poor visibility. Gold stars to my boyfriend Del for not only putting up with my theatrics but also getting me to the summit and home again in one piece.

I have since reviewed this experience, where at several points I was petrified. But was it justified?

In many ways I was pushed outside my comfort zone – not so much the walking up England and Wales’ highest mountain but more due to the conditions: rain, wind and, towards the top, visibility that dropped to about 10 metres. When you can’t see where you’re going it’s pretty scary.

But, at the same time, we were walking on a path so navigational skills were minimal. There were also other people around, and it’s not like the climb itself was particularly taxing. And there was certainly no point where there was a life or death situation (except maybe if we had been five minutes later to the summit café and they had stopped serving cups of tea). Perhaps I was just being irrational (that’s probably what Del would say).

The fact is I was scared because I had never been in that situation or those conditions before. There was a high degree of uncertainty and I felt out of control. It’s how anyone outside their comfort zone would feel – and comfort zone is a very grey area because its personal. Someone, for example, might feel anxious when faced with the situation of removing a spider from the shower curtain or when trying to navigate public transport in a foreign city.
Behind that cloud is Mt Snowdon
So what have I learnt from the experience? Well, I’ve learnt that I really am a control freak and there is much to be said about being prepared – knowledge does remove uncertainty. Ultimately though I’ve learnt that I would like to be able to cope better in these situations, not have my imagination run away from me and be confident in the knowledge that I can trust and rely on myself to get me through the situation.

Looks like I might have to study up. Or perhaps I’ll just watch some more Bear Grylls survival programmes and admire the master at work (though who really needs an excuse!).    

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Quest update: Volcano number 1 – Mt Vesuvius (1,281m), Italy

Woohoo, I have lost my volcano virginity. First volcano climbed before the age of 40. Tick.

Mt Vesuvius, Italy 
It feels good to be able to say that.

It would feel even greater to say I strived against the odds to reach the summit (cue violins playing in the background). But I have a secret…. My climb to the top of Mt Vesuvius, Italy (1,281m), was a bit of a cop out. Basically I cheated – as in four wheels helped me get the majority of the way to the top.

Yes, I succumbed to the tourist trap of being suckered in by a nice sounding deal (read discount) from a travel agent that included transportation to the summit car park. From there, it was virtually a hop, skip and a jump along an 860m path to reach the summit. Shameful, isn’t it?

Of course, that little climb to the top was still puff-worthy though. Many people on the wrong side of fit, myself included, took bountiful stops along the way to catch our breaths – but also to gaze at the dazzling view. Facing out to a rippling blue sea, we had the edgy city of Naples spread out to our right, merging into commuterville with the buried cities of Herculaneum below us and Pompeii to our left, while out to sea, the distant mountainous profiles of the Islands Capri and Ischia could be seen.

View from the Summit - Naples in the distance

But more impressive than that view was the vast crater of Vesuvius itself. An almost circular, 600m wide pit of sheer striated rock face running into a steep slope of shingle, pooling at a funnel-like V at the bottom some 200m below. There were even several trees growing inside the crater. The last eruption was in 1944 but some wisps of steam could be seen at the side floating out; a reminder of the brutal force sitting dormant within the slumbering beast.

Inside the crater
As staggering as the view was, it was also in some ways anticlimactic because I had not faced the true challenge of walking from the bottom. But did that make this first of 40 less worthy? It’s an interesting conundrum, especially considering that my travelling partners believed that I should climb any old volcano, and that all of these should constitute ticks on my list of 40 – because that would make the quest easier and more achievable.      
I see the sense in that but it doesn’t sit comfortably with my goal and ambitions, not to mention the list of volcanoes I have already put together. What is the point of a half-hearted attempt at something just for the sake of ticking boxes? This process is not about being able to say I’ve climbed 40 volcanoes just because I can but to be able to take something away from the experience.

I think anyone who has a bucket list is trying to capture something in their quest, whether it be a learning or a sense of fulfilment. It’s what makes the quest exciting – and ultimately life changing. Bring on the next 39 volcanoes I say.  

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Things I have learnt: Cooking porridge when camping is very technical (hindsight)

The taste of burnt, blackened oatmeal stuck to my tongue and the roof of my mouth, saliva glands pinching in disgust as I assaulted them with mouthful after mouthful of the gloopy, foul-tasting muck that was supposed to be breakfast. I thought nothing could compare to mum’s burnt spuds (sorry mum), but the acrid taste of charred porridge was, by far, winning the worst-foods-to-overcook competition.

I looked down into my bowl at the blackened and congealed sludgy bits that pretended to be raisins among a sea of lumpy slop and thought of the cancer risks. The porridge couldn’t be salvaged; the rank taste had outperformed and permeated its way through the entire breakfast. Not even a sprinkling of cranberries and a generous dollop of honey could disguise the contamination. It was a painful experience of spooning and swallowing. Even Oliver Twist wouldn’t have asked for more.

Who would have thought cooking porridge on a gas burner when camping would be so difficult? At home, I could do it blindfold – pop porridge in a bowl, add milk or water, zap in the microwave for two minutes and, as if by magic, a steaming, hearty breakfast results. Takeaway the microwave though, and suddenly cooking porridge becomes a bit more technical.

It should have been straight forward. All I did was add oatmeal to cold water and warmed over a gas flame…

The news story I was reading on my phone was interesting; I didn’t stir the porridge as I waited for the water to heat. Next thing I knew and the breakfast erupted into an angry hot-mud-pool-like bubble. Shit.

I threw the phone aside and vigorously stirred the mixture, feeling a sticky sludge congealed at the bottom of the pan. Scraping at it frantically, large chunks of black started to rise to the surface as if I’d chucked in a load of crushed Oreo biscuits (which, ironically, would have been the better-tasting alternative). I looked glumly at the mixture. The damage was done – this was no Michelin-star breakfast.      
But hindsight is a beautiful thing. Two weeks later and we were camping again and porridge was on the menu. This time I wasn’t making the same mistakes (at least my boyfriend Del was making very sure of that). Cold water went into the pot – no oatmeal – and I set it to boil; only adding it to porridge oats in bowls once it had boiled furiously. No further cooking of the mixture occurred. 

And yet it was another porridge fail. The undercooked goo that dripped from my spoon, while not burnt (hoorah for that!), had the consistency of cooling gravy and was only marginally tastier. I was obvious, I had to admit defeat.  

Do you have the secret for cooking porridge on a gas camping stove?  

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Destination: Hanging out over the ocean

Me at the Cattle Troughs, Swanage
I was positively sure I was going to die. Tears streamed down my face, my body shook uncontrollably. “I can’t do this,” I heard myself repeat over and over. But, against the self-preserving urge, I took a deep, shuddering breath, grasped the rope, pushed my bum out to oblivion and attempted the two-metre abseil to the first ledge – some 10 or so metres above a wild, white-crested sea.

This was crazy. Below me, a knobbly depression in the cliff face – known as the Lecture Theatre – was my only way of getting down to the ledge that was currently being pummelled by the ocean. I gripped the rope tighter and squeezed my eyes shut only to open them when two seasoned rock climbers scrambled past down to the bottom, without the assistance of ropes. I pretended I was taking a breather and enjoying the view.

And, indeed, the view was lovely. A mass of empty blue-green ripples stretched out to the horizon where it was met by the grey smudge of sky, while around me, steep, chiselled cliffs loomed out of the froth. If I didn’t know better I would have said I was standing on the edge of the world.

My boyfriend Del and I had come to Swanage, on the South West coast of England. The coastal path was wild and windswept. But we weren’t here for the sea air, nor to stretch our legs along the cracked-earth path. We were here to experience climbing sea cliffs for the first time. At home, it hadn’t seemed quite as scary – the photos picturesque with blue skies and promises of picnics. But standing there buffeted by the wind, amid the gloom of an overcast day, I wasn’t smelling any roses. This was the real McCoy, and boy was I scared.

But I had somehow accomplished the first part of the abseil down so I figured I might as well carry on – the irony of having to get down to climb back up did not escape me, nor did the fact that this was probably the easy part of the whole process. Before long I reached the water’s edge and the immensity of the sea cliffs reared up around me, dwarfing me. I had been warned that Swanage could be overwhelming. It was true.

This, however, was just the start of what was to come. What goes down the sea cliffs must come back up again. As Del set off on the trad climb – an easy route, I had been promised – I watched nervously, feeding out the rope, as he clung to the rock with one hand, the other putting in place the equipment that needed to hold his weight. Then he climbed over a jagged edge and was lost from view as he continued to the top. For near on 30 minutes I patiently fed out the rope when he tugged for more, watching the waves crash at my feet, feeling the spray on my face and trying to push dark thoughts from my mind.

Then Del was at the top, waving at me, though I couldn’t hear his shouts against the background chorus of wind and waves. He signalled for me to get ready to climb. All the bravado I’d put on evaporated in a rush. I shook my head. “No way, I’m not going up there,” I shouted, though it came out more like a whimper. He put his hands together in prayer, pleading with me to make the climb (and collect his valuable climbing gear that he had wedged in the rocks during his ascent).

I pondered the situation. I was literally stuck between a rock and a hard place (and a wet, angry ocean). The only way out was up. I took a deep breath, gathered the courage and tied myself in. I began to climb. The rock was jagged, nasty and sharp under my hands, slicing into my flesh as I hung precariously, one hand holding on for dear life, the other removing the costly and precious nuts from the cracks. Then all of a sudden I was over the worst of it and the rest of the climb was not so much steep cliff but more a relatively straight-forward scramble up a slope. It was almost easy.            

The last scramble to safety
I got to the top and sought safety. It was only then I looked back down at the waves, foaming as if in anger, rearing up as if to nip the ankles of climbers. Relief flooded my body. I did it. I made the climb, all the way to the top. I mini fist pumped. What a thrill; my first trad climb.

But I achieved more than just climbing a sea cliff. I also fought the negative demons in my head; the ones that stoked the “I can’t” fires. If I had listened to those voices I would have continued to sit at the top of the cliff feeling sorry for myself, woefully watching the other climbers with envy.

The unknown and new is always scary. Getting over that mental hurdle is the tricky bit but it’s not impossible. It’s also easier when you know the rewards are great for achieving it. The one thing I have learnt from this experience is that getting over that initial hurdle not only boosts your confidence, it also makes it that little bit easier to fight the other “I can’ts” that might plague you. That’s when you know you’re mastering your fear – and that’s a bloody great feeling.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Inspired by British mountaineer Kenton Cool

Kenton Cool – yes that’s his real name – leans against the desk in Stanfords bookshop. “I assume you all know who I am,” he suddenly says to the crowd in front of him, interrupting his spiel on his love of books and desire to have a house with a library. “In case you didn’t know, I’ve climbed Everest 11 times.”

Selfie with Kenton Cool, one of Britain's top mountaineers
It’s not the first time the British mountaineer goes off tangent – he even warns us of his tendency (supposedly high altitude affects short-term memory) – as he discusses his various escapades and promotes his first book One Man’s Everest, which he jokes he was “bullied” into writing.

Besides climbing Mt Everest 11 times, the chiselled 42 year old was also the first person to climb the three Everest peaks in one climb and is the only Briton to have skied down two 8000-metre mountains. Cool now works with individuals who are interested in climbing the world’s highest mountain.

Why does he climb mountains? Because he loves it – actually, he corrects himself, he “adores” it. “Mountains give us freedom, a sense of reality, of what is important to us,” he says. It saddens him that climbing Everest is becoming political because it detracts from the beauty of it.

Cool also admits that his climbing has been driven by a competitive and jealous streak. “I’ve always wanted to be the best; to be Britain’s best mountaineer.” He pauses, contemplating. “That’s very vain,” he adds. Then he elaborates, saying his motives for climbing have changed over the years, and now he climbs for more “romantic reasons”. For him, there is nothing better than watching the sun rise from the highest point on earth with people he considers his friends.

But it’s clear there is the nagging issue between following the call of the mountains and being a husband and father. Last year he spent six months away from home – it can be difficult to get the balance right, he says. “Mountaineering is a very selfish thing. I justify it as work.”

Even though Cool has climbed Everest 11 times, he says he doesn’t take the mountain for granted. “There is a real risk you might not come back.” He ponders the question does it get easier? He answers: “I approach it each time as the hardest thing I will ever do.”

One thing is for sure, he isn’t climbing Everest just because it’s there.  

Kenton Cool's new book

Monday, 24 August 2015

Thoughts on knowing oneself

I have a theory. Humans have become locked into a way of living, such that they no longer know who they really are.

In today’s 21st century, humans are obsessed with objects and things – that fancy car, that new gizmo with all the bells and whistles. It’s all about the high-paying power job and keeping up with the Joneses. And certainly there is nothing immediately wrong with that. But the problem starts to evolve when you consider that there exists some inbuilt need in all of us to tick-off certain checkboxes. You know the ones I’m talking about – marriage, house, children, high-paying job, move to a bigger house in the country, promotion and so on. And for some reason, we can’t but help compare ourselves to our peers. Perhaps it’s the mass media and rise of the celebrity or maybe it’s just the fact the society tends to favour those with a healthy wad of cash and those who conform.

The problem is before you know it you’re ticking off checkboxes just because you think you have to, ending up in a job that doesn’t get you jumping out of bed in the morning, and stuck in a lukewarm relationship (which has to be better than the alternative of being single, right?). But do we at any point in this tick-box endeavour really ask who we are and what we want in life?

My theory is that it is all too easy for people to reach “middle life” then suddenly have an identity crisis because they have been too focused on box ticking and not on what makes them tick. We see this all the time: mid-life crises, mature people going back to school, changing career paths. I believe we may inadvertently have struck upon a hidden malady within our society.

It scares me, this thought of not knowing who I am. I remember a teacher who once told me that she was well into her mid 50s (and with a broken marriage behind her) before she realised she needed to figure out what she wanted in life and who she was as a person. Her point was in regards to what courses I wanted to study at university but all I could think was: “F*** that, I’m not going to wait until my mid-50s before I figure out who I am.” Yet five years after that I found myself crying on my bedroom floor because I couldn’t answer a damn self-help questionnaire on what my values in life were. I was 24 and didn’t have the foggiest. But it’s easy to get stuck in a nice comfortable rut…

I fear that too many people in this day and age will be struck with an identity crisis. Look at all the television programmes on people who have upped sticks and moved to the middle of nowhere, suddenly self-sufficient without the need for a mobile phone. And by god they seem happy. These are the people that got out, who now challenge themselves every day. I believe there is power in the saying: “Do one thing each day that scares you.” Because it is only by doing this, I think, that you can really tap into your inner pulse. I want to champion this notion that we need to get outside our comfort zone.

A lot of travel blogs provide tips and advice on travelling, and they are ultimately about journeys. But I want my blog to be different. While mine is still very much a journey – attempting to climb 40 volcanoes by 40 (though I am still working on the first volcano at the moment) – its roots are grounded in the personal, psychological and spiritual journey that will develop as a result. It is a process of learning – not just my adventure of self-discovery but sharing the learnings of other people that I meet along the way. I think if we all stepped outside our comfort zone we would learn something valuable about ourselves and we would all, ultimately, be happier. Surely that’s worth shouting about.

What have you learnt about yourself and life? Please share your comments below.       

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Destination: Rock climbing at Harrison’s Rocks

Harrison's Rocks
I’m strapped into a harness clinging onto the side of a rock face like a barnacle stuck to the hull of a boat. One piece of rope, my trusty belayer and my adrenaline-fuelled muscles are all that are keeping me from falling to certain death. (Ok maybe just a broken leg or two – I’m only a couple of metres off the ground after all, but I might as well be hanging off the top of the Eiffel Tower).

With quivering muscles, my body contorted in ways a Russian gymnast would be proud of and my feet precariously close to slipping, I attempt to reach for a higher hand grip, avoiding the sight beneath me. I make it, just, and with superhuman effort I unglamorously launch myself onto the ledge and heave myself up. Still vainly clinging to the rock, I suck breath into my lungs, internally rejoicing at practically completing a grade 2b climb.

A 2b climb is about as easy as it gets in the world of outdoor rock climbing. It’s probably not even worthy of boasting about. But, hey, when you’re new to the sport every baby step counts.

Wearing my new Sherpa baselayer from Snow + Rock
We are at Harrison’s Rocks, a cluster of cretaceous-era sandstone crags in East Sussex nestled in woodland. Like sentries that face the setting sun, this pockmarked rock face, resembling a row of pancake stacks, is a popular spot for rock climbers. There are about 380 short climbs here that range in difficulty. I watch enviously as a toned Spanish girl in Lycra effortlessly hangs several metres off the ground of a grade 5 or 6 climb, and then, with the ease of a ballet dancer, fluidly glides further up the rock face.

I stretch my weary muscles, feeling my toes throb, constricted by the almost vacuum-packed climbing shoes – an essential for climbing but neither fashionable nor comfortable. We pack up our bags and metres of rope and move on (or rather hobble) to the next easy climb; another 2b. While my partner sets up the ropes, a tourist steam train choo-choos past at the bottom of the field, bellowing great puffs of white smoke like an old man smoking a pipe. I channel my inner spiderman and attack the wall with gusto.

Before long the sun starts to sink lower in the sky. I’ve clocked up three climbs. I pop on my new Sherpa baselayer (thanks Snow + Rock for the voucher I won!) to ward off the chills. We have time to squeeze in one more climb then it’s off to the pub for steak and ale pie and a generous helping of hot chips.

How to do it:

Activity: Top rope rock climbing and bouldering. No lead climbing allowed because of the friable sandstone. You will need your own kit. Also a lovely area for country walks.
Difficulty: A range of grades, for beginners all the way through to the more advanced.
Getting there: Driving is generally best, with parking and campsite at the rocks, which are located about 1.5km south of Groombridge. Drive past the old station on the left. Take the right fork; 200m further turn right again down a narrow lane signposted “Birchden Wood and Harrisons Rocks   
Thanks to Granulated (Andy) for the expert photo taking

Friday, 7 August 2015

Thoughts on success and failure

Being new to rock climbing is never going to be easy. But to fail what should have been a relatively easy grade 4 climb – that I’d already climbed, I might add – is beyond annoying.

In response, I did what a lot of people would do – I sulked, stomped about, pulled faces, made excuses. And of course, when I tried again I still struggled to get off the ground (literally). What does this say? That I’m useless at rock climbing? That I bit off more than I could chew? That sulking doesn’t work as a motivator, nor endow one with magic powers?

The fact is this is a perfect example of mind over matter, and fits nicely with the mantra: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Yet, at the time I was ready to throw in the towel. Why? Because I appear to be wired with a fixed mindset.

This ain’t no highfalutin psychobabble – I read it on LinkedIn: an interesting piece by author and LinkedIn influencer Jeff Haden, titled The one attitude every successful person has. It asks: “Does skill – and eventual achievement – result from an innate ability or from hard work, effort, and a burning desire to improve?” 

According to the article, research and psychologists suggest there are essentially two types of people: those with a fixed mindset (who believe you need pre-established talent, confidence and skills to accomplish something and that this is set at birth – these people believe intelligence and talent is enough for success and give up on things if they don’t succeed the first time or avoid situations where they might fail) and those with a growth mindset (who believe talent etc can be developed, where failure is not a reflection of their ability but a learning and experimenting process).      

On reading this, I realised I unwittingly fall into the fixed mindset, which, on further reading, is “insidiously sabotaging” how I see myself. Good Lord – sweat starts to bead on my brow – I am doomed to a future of disappointment.

But all is not lost, according to the article. I can develop a growth mindset. I can make slow progress with small goals and small wins, gaining confidence with each win and learning from those I don’t. This is in fact the essence of self development and personal growth. And with this in mind, it’s easy to see how I might now approach that grade 4 climb; how I can learn from my failed attempt to be better the next time.

But this concept also got me thinking. How many people also have a fixed mindset, struggling with their sense of success and failure? And how many of these people actually realise its root cause? The disappointment and depression of thinking you’re not good enough based on one failed attempt or one rejection can be life changing – it puts dreams and happiness in jeopardy. Surely if more people realised what their mindset was and adopted one of growth the world would be a happier place.

The power of realising this highlights that actually anything is possible – or rather, that nothing is impossible. The only limitation is in your mind.      

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

A wander down the River Wandle

In the spirit of embracing nature and adventure, I went on my first #microadventure the other day – a gentle 20km stroll along the banks of the River Wandle from Croydon (or rather Waddon) to the Thames in Wandsworth. 

The River Wandle at Waddon
The River Wandle has always held some allure to me. Not just because it’s a rather sweet river but because the past three houses I have lived in have all been in close proximity to its flow – Waddon, Wandsworth and Colliers Wood.

With water bottle in hand, a ham sandwich and a bag of nuts, I strode off, with my boyfriend’s parting words to be safe when passing through Mitcham. But there was limited cityscape to goggle at, as instead I trundled mainly through parks, only having to cross a few busy roads before nipping back into the sanctuary of muffled sounds and dappled sunlight filtered through tree leaves.

The river itself is quite quaint; a meandering chalk stream with willows bowing their heads at its banks, resembling a peaceful place of worship amid the hustle and bustle of South London.

It is also a river packed with history. It was once classified as an open sewer, while back in its industrial heyday, it was claimed to be Britain’s “hardest working river”, with more than 90 mills dotted along its banks. Some of these mills still exist in some form today. Beddington Mill, for instance, used to grind corn, and later tobacco. Now it’s being redeveloped into apartments.

As I walk along, lush vegetation (some of it weeds) carpets the banks, while ducks paddle by and white butterflies flit from green leaf to green leaf, as if to keep track of my journey. I stop for lunch in Ravensbury Park next to the mill, the traffic sound muted by the cascading water. It appears to be a favourite for drunks or teenagers, with half-empty beer bottles lying abandoned next to the benches. But a peace descends as I watch a white swan lazily sail upstream, its cygnets, still coated in fluffy, brown down, following behind.

The Wandle Trail is home to many types of wildlife, and walking along, deep in the local nature reserves, it’s hard not to imagine the story book The Wind in the Willows playing out here. The river is also famous for its fishing and, as I journey on, men sit in camping chairs with floppy hats, a hand holding a fishing rod, patiently waiting for a tug from a hungry trout. These fishermen have to have a licence and all fish have to be returned to the water and not eaten, but this does not seem to deter them.

The River Wandle enters the Thames
As Earlsfield approaches, nature starts to subside to tarmacked roads, exhaust fumes and Saturday shoppers. By the time I reach the great grey flow of the Thames I’m ready for a well-earned Pimms as I merge with the anonymous crowds.  

How to do it:

Length: 20km
Duration: 4-5 hours depending on speed and how much you stop to take photos
Difficulty: Easy but not all aspects of the trail are suitable for cycling or prams
Getting there: Catch the Southern Rail train from Victoria to East Croydon or Waddon train station. Or catch the tram from East Croydon or Wimbledon to Wandle Park tramlink stop.
Getting home: Catch the South West train from Wandsworth Town (goes into London Waterloo via Clapham Junction) or 15 min walk to East Putney tube station on the District Line.  
More information: Trail details and directions can be found at  


Friday, 17 July 2015

Why volcanoes?

“Why volcanoes?” you may ask. It’s a fair enough question. So why indeed? Or rather, I might say, why not?

For starters, volcanoes fascinate me. The sheer beauty and power they have; that ability to go from gentle sleeping giant to lava-spewing monster and destroyer, all within an instant, makes them both scary and mesmerisingly beautiful at the same time. How can you not feel drawn to them?

At school, I was that kid who, for the science expo, always built a model volcano from used toilet rolls and paper mache, and then made it erupt (sufficiently stinking out the school hall) through the potent and explosive mixing of vinegar and backing soda, tinged red with added food colouring for lava-like effect. It was endless hours of messy fun.

This morbid curiosity about volcanoes even led me to contemplate becoming a volcanologist at one point but I failed to find rocks exciting enough at university to pursue this further. I may have grown up a bit but I now find myself being pulled by something of the child in me to explore this long-lost passion for volcanoes and embrace adventure in the wild.

“But what about mountains?” I hear you say. “Wouldn’t climbing 40 mountains by 40 make more sense?” Yes, but that is the whole point. Volcanoes aren’t mountains, at least not in the Everest sense of the word, with iced tips, jagged edges and a greater demand for technical skill. Sure some volcanoes on my list are over the 5000m mark so I will battle with altitude and walking on ice but, for me, volcanoes just don’t seem so ominous.

But perhaps I’m deluding myself. I’m no spring chicken any more. A trek up Mt Ararat (5,137m) in Turkey (volcano number 10 on my #40by40 quest) isn’t going to be the equivalent of a hop, skip and a jump. And the chance of being swallowed by one of these fire-breathing giants is something my mother would want me to consider. But, you know, that’s what makes it all the more attractive and exciting.

And anyway, why climb mountains that everyone else has already climbed (we all know at least one person who has achieved Everest base camp, if not the summit) when I can do something slightly different? Isn’t that the whole point of a quest? For me, the challenge of putting my body, but also my mind and spirit, to the test of scrambling through wild jungles, cloud forests and over alien rock formations just to look at Satan’s bum hole (40 times) seems like a challenge that’s up for grabs.  

Of course, I could just be crazy. But then life would be boring, wouldn’t it? 

Thursday, 9 July 2015

The quest is on

Sure sitting in a cushy office and working the nine-to-overtime drill provides a degree of stability and routine, not to mention financial security, but there are downsides. For one, it can give rise to complacency. It’s easy to perhaps find yourself no longer challenged or you become comfortable with the situation – even if it’s not what it’s cracked up to be – just because you might be scared of change or can’t be bothered with the extra effort that comes with challenge and growth. In the end you’re at risk of becoming bogged down by the daily grind of it all. You become stagnant.

The thing is you may not even realise until you find yourself pondering life. Are you happy? Who are you? What makes you tick? What have you achieved in your life? What do you regret? What is your potential? What are you capable of? What can challenge you to find this out? It’s the making of the all-too common identity crisis. And what’s more, it doesn’t have to strike when a milestone birthday is looming. A wedding, a breakup, a death: all of these can trigger a bout of anxiety and self-doubt and the realisation that life is too short.

As I sat on an empty commuter train home after being the last to leave the office (again), the setting sun already cocooned in the blanket of night, I found myself pondering. These exact questions were worming their way inside my head. They unsettled me, repeating over and over like a dishwasher stuck on a cycle that can’t click off, only to start again. But worse than that was the fact there was an ugly great void where the answers should have been. I didn’t like that. Not one bit.  

And so a plan was concocted. Quit my job. Go freelance. Visit or climb 40 volcanoes by the age of 40 – a feat to be achieved within five and a half years.

This was by definition a comfort-zone buster of epic proportions, not to mention a savings-swallower. But the choice was simple: stay stuck in a job (albeit great with great people), content with watching the minutes, months, years go by and dreaming of the perfect life or actually making change happen, finding myself and seeking my full potential? I chose the latter because the things I could learn, people I could meet, and stories I could share (and hopefully be paid for – a journalist has to make a living you know) promised to enrich my life in ways not achieved through a Google search term.

And so, the quest was on.   

The Volcanoes*

1. Mt Teide – Tenerife

2. Mt Vesuvius – Italy

3. Stromboli – Italy

4. Mt Etna – Sicily, Italy

5. Mt Eyjafjallajökull – Iceland

6. Thrihnukagigur volcano – Iceland

7. Ponta do Pico – The Azores, Portugal

8. Nea Kameni – Santorini, Greece

9. Avachinsky Volcano – Russia

10. Mt Ararat – Turkey 

11. Jebel Sirwa – Morocco

12 Ngauruhoe – New Zealand

13. Mt Taranaki – New Zealand

14. White IslandNew Zealand

15. Mt Fuji – Japan

16. Sakurajima volcano – Japan

17. Mt Aso – Japan

18. Mt St Helens – USA

19. Yellow Stone National ParkUSA

20. Hawaii Volcanoes National ParkHawaii, USA

21. Piton de la Fournaise – Reunion Island, Indian Ocean

22. Nevis PeakSt Kitts and Nevis, Caribbean

23. Ambrym volcano – Vanuatu

24. Krakatau – Indonesia

25. Ijen Volcano – Indonesia

26. Sinabung volcano – Indonesia

27. Mt Bromo – Indonesia

28. Mt Semeru – Indonesia

29. Mt Rinjani – Indonesia

30. Mt Agung – Bali

31. Mt Pinatubo – Philippines

32. Cotopaxi – Ecuador

33. Arenal Volcano – Costa Rico

34. Pacaya – Guatemala

35. Lanin – Chile/Argentina border

36. Villarrica – Chile

37. Masaya – Nicaragua

38. El Misti – Peru

39. Mt Kilimanjaro – Tanzania

40. Nyiragongo, Virunga volcanoes – Rwanda/Uganda/DRC

* These volcanoes may be subject to change depending on circumstances such as travel advisories or seismic activity that recommend against travelling to the volcanoes or the surrounding areas