A Christmas gift of heat exhaustion

I am lying face down on the table at the visitors centre in Talampaya National park. I feel distinctly nauseous and as if my head is on fire. As I drift in and out of sleep, I can hear Faye encouraging me to drink some water. I raise my head a little and glug some from the already unscrewed bottle in my right hand, before returning my face firmly to where it belongs – the table top.

It is Christmas day. And although it is customary to succumb to unwelcome bouts of narcolepsy in the afternoon, today has been rather unforgettable: on all counts.

The festivities for my amiga and I began at bang on midnight. I hadn’t been able to sleep. It was going to be Christmas after all, and I was so VERY excited about it. I’m not sure why, as a 32 year old in the middle of nowhere, I was quite so excited. I think it was the knowledge that everyone I loved at home would be well fed and happy that day. That, or it is ‘Christmas residue’ – excess excitement leftover from years of exeberuence as a child. In which case I have a well of Christmas residue deep enough to last me into my seventies…

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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

Sunday at the Seaside: Wild swimming in March?

“Fancy planning a day trip to the seaside for a swim?”

It was early March when new adventure chum Emily dropped me a message. I won’t detail the ins and outs of my response, but it included an obscene amount of exclamation marks, the words ‘oh my gosh’ in quick succession and an overzealous use of the caps lock function. Needless to say the thought of a coastal swim left me (and my shiny new wetsuit) rather excited.

I’d only known this girl for 3 months. In fact, we’d met just once – on a London to Bristol cycle organised by Challenge Sophie. But anyone who agrees to leave East London at 5am and ride 135 miles to Brizzle with a group of strangers, is my sort of person.

Emily explained that she was part of a group of open water swimmers, called the ‘Excellent Women’s Swimming Society‘ (I sh*t you not), and did I fancy joining them for a trip down to Camber Sands? Let me think about that for a mome… YES.

The Excellent Women

Kristen, Alison and Emily - 3 most excellent women

Kirsten, Alison and Emily – 3 most excellent women

At 7am on a Sunday morning, I peeled back my eyelids. I hit the snooze button and stared at the ceiling. ‘Why oh why, in the name of all that is holy – do I agree to these things?’ I swung my legs onto the floor, made it downstairs, threw some coffee in the general direction of my face and set off on Samantha Sambuca the single speed – bound for St Pancras. Wetsuit in bag. Fig bars at the ready (gawd knows I love a fig bar), and feeling more than a tad excited about the prospect of a Sunday sea-frolick.

Already feeling mildly adventurous after an hours ride, I met Em and two other excellent women at the platform. All of them looking rather bohemian chic, in a combination of knits, jeans, and hoodies. I, rather embarrassingly, wearing lycra (I cant help it. I have problems).  We crammed the bikes onto the train, and, united by our various levels of insanity – got down to some serious chit chat.

In a bizarre twist, Emily then identified the train inspector as someone who had coached her in swimming when she was eight. Apparently neither had aged much over the past two decades, as he recognised her immediately too (I can only assume both parties indulge in frequent Oil of O’Lay application). The reunion was beautiful. A moment that should have occurred entirely in slow motion, perhaps accompanied by a rendition of Take That’s ‘Never Forget’, playing softly in the distance. How apt, I thought, that this train inspector had planted the very seed for Emily’s adventure that day.

Crusin' through the fields to Camber

Crusin’ through the fields to Camber

Sunday at the Seaside

After the train pulled into Rye, we swiftly set off along the coastal path to Camber sands. Across bright yellow fields, through heavy gates, round a car park (scenic addition), past sheep, ponies and… more sheep. Thirty minutes later the beach loomed into view, and we mentally readied ourselves for a deserted expanse of coastline. We were crazy after all, nay wild – escaping the confines of the indoors so early in spring. Of course… the beach was packed. Kids running around half naked, sand castles mid-construction and games of paddle bat being fiercely contested at the waters edge. Clearly these ‘coast dwellers’ had missed the memo from London town about it being little chilly.

Searching for a swim spot

Searching for a swim spot

Pride dented, we headed down the beach in search of the perfect spot for a swim. For the first time in 2014, we wrestled gleefully into wetsuits. Giggling like school children, lunging and readjusting mid-struggle to make sure Camber didn’t get more than it’d bargained for. The official report cited at least 3 side-boob escape attempts, but thankfully, none were successful.

Numb faces and Blue toes

The swim itself was glorious. I’ll admit that the eight degree water took a bit of getting used to, but (apparently) peeing in your wetsuit shortly after entering the sea takes the edge off. For the first few minutes I struggled to keep my face submerged for more than ten strokes. I thought of adventurer Sean Conway, and then of Davina’s sport relief challenge – and how on Earth they’d coped in such cold temperatures for extended periods of time.

Alison more than excited about the impending dip

Alison more than excited about the impending dip

Finally my face went too numb to feel anything at all – a splendid development that left me free to swim normally. We ploughed up and down for a good 40 minutes. Stopping for chats every now and then, and to bask in the joy of it all. Eventually when our hands became too wrinkled and our toes the wrong shade of Blue, we made our way back to shore.

Backtracking along the coastal path we headed straight to the pub. Hydration was followed closely by a search for ice-cream based protein, as we wandered the quaint cobbled streets of Rye for a final hour. At 5.30pm it was time to return to the big smoke. We dragged ourselves reluctantly to the train station, nudging our way back toward reality. Another return ride from St Pancras to Teddington at the other end, and I was home by 8pm.

The return to Rye

The return to Rye

That night, I clambered into bed exhausted, but grinning from ear to ear. The taste of salt water in my mouth, my hair infused with sand and feeling ever so slightly like I was still swaying.

How much I’d done with a Sunday – made new friends, indulged in a love of the seaside, of swimming, and learnt about a part of Britain I never had before. I was filled with a deep and renewed admiration for a country I’d lived in my whole life.

In adventuring, it’s true that you get what you give. Put in a little effort – go exploring, mix up your weekend, and the rewards are tenfold.