A Day Out At Cheltenham Literature Festival

“Say Anna, what are you like at chairing events?”

A message popped through on my phone from a rather lovely lady who I knew was helping to organise the Cheltenham Literature Festival. As it turns out, after a last minute change of plans, the festival were in need of someone to chair The Times and Sunday Times panel on Microadventures – with Alastair Humphreys (Godfather of Microadventure) and Phoebe Smith (editor of Wanderlust Mag).

FullSizeRender 2

Of course, being invited to host a discussion at arguably the most famous literary festival in the world was no biggy. Who am I kidding?! This was a BIGGY! Like, if Mr Biggy had got jiggy with Mrs Biggy and made little Biggy babies, it couldn’t have been more of a biggy. Naturally, I styled it out.

I confirmed that I could indeed do chairing – because chairing is mostly talking and asking questions – and talking and asking questions is what I do best. I always find chairing events rather lovely, because I don’t have to talk about myself for a change. Instead I can just focus on making sure the audience are having a ruddy good time, and on bringing out the best in the stories that others have to share. How marvellous.

Plus, being a chair is like juggling cucumbers (have you ever tried juggling cucumbers? It’s more tricky than juggling balls). And every time I chair, I learn something new. So what better place to learn something new than at one of the greatest literary festivals in the world? Continue reading

Riding The Rollercoaster: 10 Tips To Cope With The Post-Adventure Blues

Hello darkness my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again.

Simon and Garfunkel’s lyrics could not be more appropriate as I stare down the barrel at a period of confusion, frustration, sadness and anxiety that inevitably follows a large adventure.

Although this article focuses on the post-adventure blues, I’ll be quick to add that the topics discussed could quite easily relate to many other milestones in a person’s life. A big project at work. Writing your first book. Completing your first half-marathon. Getting married. Anything which you have worked tirelessly for, and focussed single-mindedly on for a significant period of time – only to find yourself on the other side of it and asking ‘Now what?’

To invent your own life's meaning is not easy, but it's still allowed, and I think you'll be happier for the trouble. (22)

As I write this I have been home from the Andes Mountains for almost three weeks. There I pedalled for 6 months – covering 9,000km through three countries and tackling over 100,000 metres of ascent. But I know full well that the challenges of the road pale in comparison to the challenge of returning home.

I’m rather proud of how I’ve done on the blues front so far. Alas, this week they have proudly announced their arrival. Characterised by a desire to lock myself away and not speak to anyone, bouts of frustration, teariness, feelings of hopelessness and an overwhelming sense that I am wriggling in a pool of quicksand, and could go under at any minute.

So let us start with where it all begins…. Continue reading

Book suggestions: A reading list to keep you sane for 6 months

Books, glorious books! One of the best things about adventure is the gift of time. Hours spent turning pedals on deserted trails means hours dedicated to listening to audiobooks, and long evenings in the tent means time to curl up with my Kindle.

I’m always looking for inspiration on what to read or what to listen to next – so I thought I’d share my reading list from the last six months with you all.

If you’ve read any of these titles and want to add your thoughts, or have a questions about a specific book – go buck wild and leave a comment at the bottom. Enjoy!

THE TEN BOOKS I ENJOYED THE MOST

1. The War of Art: break through your blocks and win your inner creative battles – by Steven Pressfield

Pressfield is an absolute genius, with a fascinating personal story about his own journey to success. If you’re a creative soul – this book explains why sitting down to do your work is a real struggle, and offers tips on how to get your muse to ‘show up’ every day. Expect a gigantic kick up the bum.

The-War-of-Art_straight_1024x1024 Continue reading

Robbed But Resolute

Someone stole my purse today.

It was our final morning in Santiago, I’d left Faye packing up the apartment, and headed down to the local coffee shop to finish off an article that was due. I wrapped my lips around the usual treat of a cortado (con muffin) before submerging my face in the laptop for a few hours.

I was sat on a long bench that ran up against the back wall, with a small round table in front of me. After half an hour of key tapping and face screwing, I became aware of a woman who had plonked herself next to me on the bench. I say plonked because that’s exactly what she did. She slam-dunked her butt cheeks down onto the wooden surface so quickly and so close to my own, that she actually sat partially on my bag. Not wanting to appear rude, I didn’t look at her directly, but instead pulled my bag in a little closer, thinking that perhaps I’d spread my bits n’ bobs out just that little too far and wide, as usual.

Article complete, I thought I’d be naughty and get one more coffee for the road. Only, when I went to pay for the coffee, my purse wasn’t in my bag. It wasn’t on the table where I’d been sitting or in the pocket of my jumper. I searched everywhere for it, and then I remembered the woman and her slam-dunking, and it all made sense.

She’d seen an opportunity, a stupid tourist engrossed in a laptop and taken my little tattered pale blue purse with a yellow duck holding a white umbrella. Thankfully I’m in the habit of stowing my debit/credit cards in my pannier bags (not in my purse) just in case I lose it, and so they weren’t taken. But I had just got out a wodge of pesos for the road, and so the thief had made off with the equivalent of £80. A big blow to this month’s budget, but it could have been a lot worse.

I now try to explain to the nice man behind the counter what’s happened, and why I can’t pay for the coffee he has lovingly made me. He keeps repeating ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry’, but all I want to do is get out of here.

I feel saddened, let down, a bit teary and above all violated. I would gladly pay £80 to take away the fact that there is someone who would target and steal like that. An inexplicable feeling of icky-ness fills my veins.

I didn’t actually want to share this story, because I don’t want to do anything to perpetuate the belief that the world is full of thieves and bandits and evil do-ers. We can flick on the news or read a paper to get a shot glass full of that. But I have chosen to share it because a) You lot get the whole story warts n’ all and b) because I am resolute: I will not let the f**kers grind me down. I cannot control whether or not my belongings get stolen, but I can control my beliefs, and I’m not letting them steal those too.

On the walk back to the apartment, I think about the woman’s motives. Perhaps she was desperate and needed the money, perhaps she just saw a chance too good to pass up, perhaps she just didn’t care about the impact of her actions on another human bean. Either way, I conclude that she is probably far from the happiest person on the planet, and although she is now strolling the streets of Santiago with my packet of pesos, that surely makes her poor.

I still have my riches – they exist in my heart and in my mind, places where no thief may ever go.

If I were Braveheart and if this were a Hollywood blockbuster, I would now hold my new money carrying device (a ziplock bag) aloft and shout: “You can take my duck puuuursee, but you won’t take my faith in mankiiiinnddd!”

My brain and a bike called Bernard.

“But what if I can’t get any socks in South America?! I mean, I know I can get rubbish socks, but what about the socks that last a long time, and make your feet feel like they are encased in marshmallows? Can I get those kinds of socks in South America? What if they don’t even wear socks in South America?!”

Welcome the irrational pre-departure week in my mind. Sock-gate kept me awake at least one night this week. You’ll all be thrilled to know that I have in the end settled for three ordinary pairs, and one for the ‘evenings’ – which incidentally make my feet feel like they are surrounded by marshmallows. And I know they have socks in South America, I’m not that stupid. But my brain will do what it will do, and this week it can mostly be found AWOL.

Sock-gate was of course, just one of many pressing issues I have faced over the last month. There was tyre-gate (have I chosen the right width tyres?!), brake-gate (should I have chosen disc brakes after all?), short-gate (to lycra or not to lycra, that is a question), and let us not forget gear-gate (8speed, 9 speed, 10speed…more?!). Yes folks, I have more first world problems on my John Lewis china plate than you can shake a middle class grammar school educated stick at. Continue reading

“Hello? This is the Andes calling…”

I have to say that deciding where to go for the next big adventure caused me a wee bit of strife. When the idea to travel through South America on a giant kick-scooter fell through, it became a toss up between the two elements of the journey. What was more important – travelling by scooter, or exploring the Andes? After a conflab with friend Faye and a celebrity death match style rumble between Scooters (in the Blue corner) and The Andes (in the Red corner), the Andes won by a clear K.O in the first round. Largely because there are Llamas in the Andes. And I’ve never met a Llama before.  Continue reading

To scoot or not to scoot, that is the question.

Here goes an experiment. Because it strikes me that all-too-often we only get to hear about adventure plans when they are unveiled / announced / launched / released, and above all… final. The reasons for that are valid – you don’t want to look like a prize banana after all – shooting your mouth off and then not doing what you said you would. But it always seems a shame that the journey to the start line of an adventure should appear so effortless.

And so this time, I’d like to roll a little differently. To share with you the jagged and jumbled mess of musings that unfold before things are set in stone. Because, like anything else in life it ain’t plain sailing. Plans are made, dashed, changed, turned upside down, and dashed again before finally, hopefully settling at something that definitely (possibly) maybe floats the adventure boat. Here’s the story so far… Continue reading

Meet the Adventure Queens

I’m staring at a picture of a girl on her first bicycle tour. Her wayward hair is kept only slightly in check by a helmet perched awkwardly on her head. Her arms, now sun-kissed after a few months on the road lead down to legs muscles, now slightly tighter than they once were. As she moves to pose for the photo, her jersey shifts to reveal a small white area on her upper arms that the sun has yet to reach.

She is brimming with enthusiasm. She has dreams that seem too big for her head. She has no clue what’s she’s doing and a bundle of fears to face up to on a daily basis. She isn’t quite sure where to start, but start she has. And by goodness she’s happy that she did. 

FROM ROOKIE TO REALITY

The UK adventure community is a wonderfully supportive place. I’ll never forget the first email I sent to Dave Cornthwaite announcing that I wanted to head off on a 50 state cycle, but I had no idea where to start. I was scared of wild camping (which I had never done) and terrified I would buy all the wrong things. His reply was swift, funny and reassuring. As was Alastair Humphrey’s the first time I reached out to him. Continue reading

Behind the scenes at Women’s Health

I emerged from the myriad of tunnels that form Old Street underground station and picked up a message from my good chum Laura K. She was in the coffee shop next door to the location for today’s shoot. I still had plenty of time to spare, so I tracked her down and we got to natterin’. We gassed, chitty-chatted, chinwagged, talked the hind legs of many donkeys, before suddenly realising that the 30 minutes to spare had now reduced to just 2 minutes before we were due in the studio. Panic. We dashed outside, desperate to find the venue, which was apparently ‘just next door’.

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: FIND THE STUDIO

Alas, it seemed that finding the entrance to the studio was like finding the Ministry of Magic. Somewhere, in the gaps between these tall, ancient buildings and old industrial works was an entrance. But where, oh where in the world, was anyone’s guess. Just as I was beginning to wonder if perhaps we should retreat to the phone box across the street and go in underground Harry-Potter style, I spotted a glimmer of hope. Two ‘model’ types were hanging out on the steps of what we thought could potentially, possibly, definitely-maybe be the entrance. Continue reading

A visit to the palace

It was the Autumn of 2015 and I was zooming down the side of St James’ park, on my usual commute-route home. All of a sudden there appeared a commotion up ahead. Cars stopped, guards materialised, and two young American girls began running along the pavement screaming at the top of their lungs: “Aaaaaaahhh maaaaayyyy Gaaaaaaad!!!! It’s her! It’s really herrrr!”. Intrigued by their excitement, I pulled alongside them at the entrance to Green Park, expecting perhaps to see Taylor ‘Tay-Tay’ Swift, Rhi Rhi, or even Beyoncé.

And then there she was. Like a china doll, beautifully dressed, perfectly poised, encased in a glass-topped limo, and waving. Of course she was waving. It was then that I realised I had never actually seen the Queen in the flesh before. To me, she was like the Golden Gate Bridge. Something I’d seen so many times on the tele-box, that I’d become blasé about. And, just like the first time I saw the Golden Gate Bridge furreal on my 50 state cycle, upon clapping eyes on Queenie – my heart skipped a beat. Only, with the Queen it was different, the wonder at seeing her in the flesh was coupled with a real sense of national pride. One I never knew I had until that moment.  Continue reading