WHAT I LEARNT CROSSING THE COUNTRY ON A PADDLE BOARD
Life lessons learnt while having a mini-adventure.
In Spring 2019, I shared my plans to PaddleboardTheNorth: stand up paddle boarding 162 miles coast to coast from Liverpool to Goole along the canal and river through Merseyside, Lancashire and Yorkshire.
In August, I arrived in Goole in a thunderstorm, followed by a huge rainbow. Aged 54, I am the first woman to SUP this northern crossing. And here is what I learnt in the process.
1 Sometimes what will bring you huge joy is already on your doorstep:
On Friday 02 August I paddleboarded 25 miles from Burnley to our hometown of Skipton, arriving at 10.30pm. At the sun set I was accompanied by swans, ducks and geese along the canal, while oystercatchers swooped overhead and sheep grazed in the field. Fairy lights on the narrow boats and kitchen windows on the towpath twinkled. My heart was bursting with joy and pride. I was bare-ly 10 minutes by car from home and yet it is an evening I will never ever forget. Joy and adventure are closer than we think. Where will you find yours?
2 Completing a huge physical endurance challenge and being kind to your-self are not mutually exclusive:
At 54 and perimenopausal, I knew I had to look after myself as I trained and completed the 162 miles. This included: yoga, kettlebells, sea swimming, early nights, good nutrition, positive self talk, spin and visualisation. On the trip I made a decision to cut days short when I knew there was nothing left in the tank. On another, I gifted myself the 25 mile paddle knowing my heart and body were ready. More ‘listen to my body’ and less ‘no pain, no gain’. How can you be kind to yourself?
3 “We don’t have to do it alone. We were never meant to.” Brene Brown:
As a single Mum, I find it hard to ask for help. With PaddleboardTheNorth, I discovered that inviting others to be part of a project enriched us all. I stayed with families I had met on Twitter, was joined on the canal by friends from the Women’s Institute and Wonderful Wild Women community, as well as work col-leagues and even the journalist from our local paper. An extraordinary woman, Frit Sarita Tam, asked if she could make a film with me about the project after initially meeting on Instagram. I was hugely grateful for the kindness of all these people and deeply moved when they thanked me for inviting them to be part of the project. Who might want to be part of your team?
4 Getting to the start line is often the most difficult stage:
One of the hardest elements was wrestling with the guilt of putting my dream on the priority list. With my eldest son finishing his Masters, my youngest doing his A levels and keeping a watching brief on my 86 year old Dad, I questioned whether I was simply being selfish bringing this huge project into our already busy lives. I took great comfort from what my son said, “Mum, if I do well in my A levels, I won’t be giving you credit. If I do badly, I won’t blame you.” Midlife Mum Guilt really added to the stress of getting to the start line. Once I was on the canal, all I had to do was sleep, eat, paddle, pick up litter and repeat. Simple and joyful. If you’re finding it hard getting to the start line of a project, please know you are not alone. Keep going!
5 Moving alone in nature helps you hear your own voice:
As busy women we are constantly juggling other people’s needs. Being alone on the water allowed me to silence the world and think clearly about the future. As author Candace Bushnell said, “I spent a lot of time thinking, which meant I was able to hear my own voice instead of everybody else’s…. It gives you a sense of inner strength because you know who you are again.” How and where can you listen to your own voice again?
6 The power of purpose:
Alongside the personal, I had very important fundraising goals that gave me strength when my energy flagged. I was raising money for The Wave Project, a charity whose evidence-based surf therapy programmes are proven to help young people feel less anxious and more positive. I also wanted to show the im-pact of plastic pollution in our inland waterways and how we can all make a dif-ference to the oceans by litter picking and choosing plastic-free alternatives. I was also raising money for the 2MinuteBeachClean community and did my own litter picks each day, which I shared on social media. How might finding a new purpose help you?
7 Leave room for the unknown and unexpected:
The Leeds Liverpool Canal, which formed the first 128 of my 162 mile long ad-venture, is over 200 years old. Its history and construction are well document-ed. Whilst there was an important element of planning, I chose quite deliber-ately not to research every detail or look at every photo of the landscape. I wanted to experience the joy of discovery, of seeing a place with fresh eyes. Al-lowing myself the gift of leaning into the unknown made me braver. It has made me more confident knowing I don’t need to know the outcome of every decision I make in my ‘empty nest’ chapter. I will figure it out along the way. How can leaning into the unknown help you now?
The response to completing PaddleboardTheNorth has been incredible: I have been invited onto the radio and TV, featured in glossy magazines and spoken at adventure and midlife festivals. I doubled my fundraising goals and the film with Frit is going well. I am grateful for all the support and encouragement.
The greatest honour for me however, is when a woman messages me to say she has tried something she thought she couldn’t do or has taken time to put her needs on the priority list because she followed my journey. Helping other wom-en find their own joy, purpose and courage is a huge privilege.
I hope the lessons I have shared will help you remember this and go and pur-sue your own adventure wherever that takes you. I’d love to hear about it when you do.
Do remember the words of the great philosopher, Winnie The Pooh: “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”