Tag Archives: mindfulness

Because #thisgirlcan ! A national campaign by Sport England, January 2015

This week Sport England launched a campaign “to celebrate active women who are doing their thing no matter how well they do it, or how they look” www.thisgirlcan.co.uk.  It features women participating in activities like cycling, zumba, and climbing. It’s so liberating to see these real women, and I have personally been reflecting on how important it is to have female role models to encourage and inspire me.

Although I train and climb with equal numbers of men and women, I particularly value the time I spend with female friends. We are more evenly matched in terms of strength and performance, which means that we participate on an equal footing and are more likely to share common goals to work towards.

I find it empowering to take decisions and plan together, and feel especially proud of what I have achieved through team work with my female friends, whether climbing a hard route or navigating a race in the hills. Beyond training and performance, being active together creates real quality time, shared experiences, and lays the foundations for strong and supportive friendships.

In the media and coverage of the outdoors world I generally find strong women’s voices are less common. I don’t know if that is because there are proportionally fewer women participating, whether fewer women seek to publicise and share their adventures, or whether they struggle to have their voices heard in stereotypically more masculine environments. Or maybe I just haven’t been looking in the right places.

I don’t need my role models to be exceptional in terms of performance. It’s great to celebrate women that are at the top of their game and pushing the boundaries, but regardless of your level of performance I love to see the places that you are being active, and the things that you are doing, because if you can do it, so can I.

How women are presented in the media and online is important, and This Girl Can feels so right because it has a message that all women can relate to. We need to see realistic images of healthy women. We can celebrate using our female bodies without sexualising them. We do not need make up or air brushing to make us look healthy and vibrant.

Packing light and having access to minimal facilities has challenged my assumptions about the ‘essentials’ of life, including realising that in certain circumstances make up has no practical use. Pushing my physical and mental limits has taken me to a place where there is no room to think about how I look. Being active gives me a sense of wellbeing and achievement that feels so good that it pushes out the insecurities about how I might look while I’m doing it.

It can be a vulnerable feeling to share your thoughts and experiences, but I believe that we are all role models and mentors, encouraging and inspiring each other. I would like to see active women increasing our representation, and this means building confidence in our skills and abilities, finding our voices and being comfortable sharing to a wider audience. It means recognising that our opinions and experiences have value.

My small part of it is to keep sharing the joy of being active outdoors in all seasons in the best way that I can, and to keep reading and being inspired by you…

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Simple living – the answer to life’s big questions…

In September this year I was fortunate to travel around California for the best part of a month, and I was looking forward to the holiday as a period to take time out and reflect on the big questions I felt life was asking me.

It’s the longest time I’ve travelled and I was able to take so long because, as a result of the continuing public sector cuts, I was offered voluntary redundancy. After five years at the same place the time felt right to move on and I saw it as an opportunity. But needing to take potentially life changing decisions naturally caused me to question… What do I really want to be doing? Where do I want to be heading? What am I doing with my life??!

We flew into LA, driving for hours through hellish traffic to arrive at Joshua Tree national park in the dark, grateful to find a free space at the Hidden Valley campground. Our headtorches illuminated the bulk of the boulder-like formations that the camping spaces nestled beneath.

We were woken by coyotes howling, one group yelping frantically nearby and another replying from somewhere in the distance. It was 6am, but with an alarm call like that there was no way we were going back to sleep. The sun had just come up, and looking around at the unfamiliar rocky landscape I felt I had travelled to another planet.

Scrambling to the top of the tall ridge that formed the far side of the campground, I looked back down and saw an expanse of white sand and pale yellow-white granite. Over the other side lay a vast and perfectly flat plain crowded with the Joshua Trees themselves, their unusual shapes poised like joyful dancers.

Joshua tree is beautiful and like nothing I had ever seen, and as the sun rose, the mountains on the horizon glowed a deep wild-salmon pink.

Tiny campers nestled in the rocks, and a red sunrise

Tiny campers nestled in the rocks, and a red sunrise

A coffee moment in Camp 4, Yosemite Valley

A coffee moment in Camp 4, Yosemite Valley

When you’re car camping in California, life is simple. Finding it too hot in the south, we travelled up Highway 395 through Inyo County, the High Sierra mountains always visible to the West. Passing through Bishop, Mammoth, and on to Yosemite National Park, we stopped off at Pleasant Valley, Twin Lakes, and Tuolumne Meadows campgrounds.

The days assumed a rhythm that started with the ritual of coffee. I love that solitary time in the morning before most people wake up, listening to the muted blaze of the stove for the moment that the pot bubbles announcing the arrival of coffee. The day seems suspended in that moment of waiting, perfect in its possibilities before caffeine catapults me into action.

Each day we would climb, locating new crags, navigating walk-ins, and tackling the routes. Or I would hike, almost disbelieving at the start of the day that I really would be at that highest point of the horizon, and back again before dark. As darkness fell the various climbers, boulderers and hikers would reconvene at the campground to hear about each other’s days and plans for the next day. Food and drink tastes better when you’ve earned it, and as we clustered around the blue stove flames to cook we savoured the taste of local brewed ale, inventing ingenious ways to remove the bottle tops.

Some nights the milky way would appear bright in the clear sky, and I watched its rotation feeling insignificant, peaceful, and incredibly lucky. As each day started with coffee, it ended with making the beds, another ritual which involves clearing the back of the car and making sure the roll mats are smooth, creating pillows out of down jackets, laying out the sleeping bags in the exactly the right position. And then – glorious sleep.

Car camping, Pleasant Valley

Car camping, Pleasant Valley

Moment by moment by moment, I was absorbed. I didn’t think about the future, or worry about what might or might not happen. As a way of living, it felt so simple and so pure, focusing all my attention on each event in my day as it happened. I know it’s not possible to be on holiday constantly, I don’t want to run away from my life and become a rootless traveller. There’s a danger in living for future plans, as much as there is in living in the past.

I went away thinking that time out would give me perspective, and I came back wanting the opposite of escapism. I want to be present right here, right now. Too much reflection can become a distraction, so maybe I did find the answer to the big questions… stop questioning.