One year off – what would you do?
This April I am leaving my job and life and friends behind to go travelling round Europe. Having asked for a sabbatical I have a year off work to try and fit in so much living!
Since I was a kid I was always the girl in all the sports teams, doing all the extra-curricular activities I could get my hands on. The idea of sitting on the sofa doing nothing night after night sounded so boring when there were so many activities out there to try. However, as I got older I realised that the world really needs you to sit in a box and do what your told, instead of what really gets you going.
In college I was lucky enough to have a choice between A-levels and International Baccalaureate. Had I done A-levels, it would probably have been Maths, Physics, and Further Maths- how dull! By choosing IB, it meant I got to do 6 subjects instead; Maths, Physics, English, German, Economics, and Art, as well as Theory of Knowledge, my first exposure to “dissertation” style report writing and all my extra-curricular activities counting towards the bonus 3 points.
When you go to university however they really like you to specialise, so while Civil Engineering was what I wanted to do (as a result of a lifelong love of Grand Designs), I was disappointed when the sports and social clubs training regimes meant that I could only join one or two each year.
I love construction, there is always a new challenge and I have a nice mix of planning and fire-fighting which keeps things interesting. But now, if you include university, I have essentially spent 9 years doing engineering. It’s the kind of career that requires so many soft skills and it draws on the transferable skills I learnt in all those different subjects, but I don’t get enough time to do the myriad of adventure sports that I enjoy, which is the main contributing factor to me deciding to take this time off. It also helps that I don’t own a house or have kids so my lifestyle doesn’t require me to stay in one place.
At work, I started talking about my dream of going travelling about a month before I officially asked permission to go. This meant it wasn’t a shock to them when the form came through, but also it led to some good conversations so they understood it was because of what I wanted to achieve outside of work, rather than assuming I wanted to quit. This means that I still have a job to come back to, and I haven’t burnt any bridges for future work. I’m sure the Terms and Conditions vary between companies, but mine means that I can still choose to not return, but I’d have to give them notice just as I would if I was still working there. It does relieve the pressure to find a new job at the end of the year though when I start to run out of money, but I’m not tied in if I decide I need to go live on the other side of the planet!
I was also concerned that I would fall behind on my career goals by taking this step back, so I have had a really productive development conversation with my manager, so that I am confident of progression upon my return.
My plan for the year can be roughly divided into 3 sections,
- Holiday- Learning to Paraglide in Spain and a Kitesurf Trip to Morocco
- Road Trip around Europe in my Campervan
- Snowboarding – I have found an awesome course so I can gain my instructing qualifications with a guaranteed job in the same season
It has been really important for me to find goals for my trip. I don’t want to return at the end of the year and feel like I have wasted it. I have so many ideas swirling around my head at the moment but I’m sure these will clarify themselves as I go along, but improving my sports, doing better at posting on social media and keeping my blog up to date are definitely some of them, so follow me to find out what I get up to!
People have been asking if it’s daunting; and it is, but I have made certain decisions to reduce my concerns. These include
- not including Ukraine or Russia on my itinerary,
- doing the Spain and Morocco legs of my trip by plane instead of driving (there would be heavy baggage charges and multi-leg flights to do the journey direct from one to the other and I’m not keen on driving in Morocco)
- heading north during the summer holidays to avoid the crowds and heat
- not having a publicly visible GPS tracker or only publishing location specifics after leaving to avoid unwanted attention (as happened to Laura Kennington in Russia- although it seems quite unlikely that my trip will go viral!)
At the end of the day, Europe is not that far from home, so if it all goes Pete Tong I can always just hop on public transport and come home.
You can also follow Helen on Twitter: @trektradewind and Instagram: @trektradewinds
Back in January 2017 I sat down and worked out what my goals for the year would be. I set myself seven goals:
- Whistler heli-ski for the first time – Went ski-touring instead
- 24 hour mountain bike pairs race – Didn’t come off
- Complete the South Downs Way – not quite!
- 24 hour solo mountain bike race – completed and came 2nd whoop!
- Walk up Snowden with Martyn – in the diary for 2018
- Bike Snowden and film it – Swapped to cairngorms bike pack in 2018
- Bike packing adventure with Mum in the UK – not quite!
What I learnt in 2017 is that goal need to be movable and sometimes things just don’t happen and that is okay. I think the trouble was I set too many ‘fitness’ goals for one year considering I also had the goal of growing my cycle coaching business Pedal 2 Pedal.
There is only so many hours in the day and in 2018 I plan to make the most of them to create change in my own life and make the most of the opportunities I have. To help me I have started using a Best Self diary which helps you set goals and weekly milestones in order to keep focused and on track. So far I’m on week 2 and it seems to be very helpful and I would certainly recommend it.
For 2018 I have set myself three goals which cover three areas of my life and follow my ethos for living these are:
- Never stop learning – in 2018 I will complete my L3 Pilates instructor course which will allow me to educate others in Pilates.
- Healthy body, healthy mind – in 2018 I am focusing on building my fitness level to improve my power to weight ratio and also increase my endurance ability on the bike and also running. I want to try new adventures on two feet and two wheels so plan to bike pack around the Cairngorms in May and find a running challenge as well. Leave me a comment with your ideas!
- Be creative – for 2018 Pedal 2 Pedal (my cycle coaching business) is taking a side step into adults coaching, I have already done several one to ones but now also offer tailored coaching for adults on improving their mountain biking skills. I have already sold out my first women’s weekender and cannot wait to develop more ways to help others get outside and explore the countryside.
- Challenge my comfort zone – Mont Blanc, Martyn and I are preparing to climb one of the 7 summits in August.
Good luck for 2018 I hope it is an adventurous one with plenty of possibilities to get out and explore the countryside. Thank you to Grip Grab and Dogtag for supporting my journey into 2018.
Share your goals for 2018 with me on Facebook.
Hi Folks! I hope you’re having an awesome run up to Christmas. As part of my guest post series I would like to introduce you to Spider women herself! Miss Georgina Jackon;
“During the weekdays I am a systems engineer for a large British aerospace company, and during the weekends I do my best to get out in my self-converted van with my partner and have fun. Whilst we mostly climb, walk, scramble, slackline and practise acroyoga in the U.K., we try to get abroad to new and exciting places as often as possible and to try different things, such as Scuba Diving in the Jordanian Red Sea in April.”
Over the next two weeks Georgina will, explain the many types of climbing and then shall her favourite spots to try this fantastic sport.
Climbing is for everyone. And it will solve pretty much all of your problems.
This is not a statement that I make lightly. I have climbed with blind people. I have climbed with those who have no lower limbs. I have climbed with toddlers, teenagers, pensioners, and everyone in between. I have climbed as part of a team and I have climbed alone. And that’s just at my local indoor wall.
Climbing is one of those special things that forces you to focus on the moment. It forces you to live right here, right now. Because if you don’t, well, you fall. And it is that very thing – falling – which will make you a better, well-rounded person in every-day life.
Falling brings people together. The climbing community is unlike anything else I have ever found in life. It is honest. It is humble. It is more supportive than you could imagine. It is diverse, it is willing to learn, and it is definitely willing to teach. The sport seems to demand it, really. I mean, the only way to learn how to climb is to do it. And by definition, learning often involves failing, which in this case involves falling off. In this way, climbing can build confidence. It builds endlessly on psychological factors in how far you can push yourself, fighting the instinctive and inherent fears involved with falling, and in building trust and good relationships in those you climb with. You would be amazed how much it builds physical strength and co-ordination, and yes, in places you wouldn’t expect!
It is not too expensive. It is not restrictive. It is beautiful, it is inclusive, and it is personal and respectful, and for a lot of people it becomes a way of life.
There are many different types of climbing – definitely enough to suit all needs and types, and each has its own quirks and nuances and differences, and each also receives the respect that it deserves from the climbing world.
Bouldering is typically climbing on boulders (go figure), without any ropes. This means that often routes can be quite short, with quite powerful and/or technical moves. Bouldering has two ‘spin-off’ disciplines. One is called ‘high-balling’, which is where the boulder is particularly tall and so the route is especially long in length for a boulder, making any potential falls and landings dangerous. Particularly if bouldering outside, a ‘spotter’ will be used by the climber. A spotter is a person who stands near to the climber, prepared to support the climber if need be or push them towards a safe landing or landing position if they fall. The other spin-off of bouldering is called deep-water soloing, which is the same type of thing again, but done above deep water. This means if you fall off the climb, you fall into the water and not onto the ground (or a crash-pad!).
Sport climbing is where someone has placed protection into the rock already in the form of bolts, in a fairly even spread over the length of the route. To this end, the routes are often much longer than bouldering routes, and allow many different types and locations of rock to be accessed. The bolts are then clipped into by the lead climber using a quickdraw (a set of snap-gate carabiners joined together by a dog-bone shaped piece of tough material, usually either nylon or dyneema,). One end of the quickdraw gets clipped onto the bolt, and the other end gets clipped onto a rope attached to the climber’s harness. A belayer at the base of the climb will then use a belay device attached to their own harness to protect the leader if they fall, and to lower the leader after they have completed the climb. This is a device which can use frictional forces in order to stop the rope from moving, and thus ‘catch’ a fall.
Trad (traditional) climbing is where there is no pre-placed protection in the rock. All protection is placed by the lead climber as they climb the route. This involves placing different sizes and shapes of bits of metal (called nuts or hexes depending on the shape, and cams which have a movable head that gets placed in the rock), and sometimes slings (a loop of tough material, either nylon or dyneema). Once the climber has finished climbing the route, their belayer normally ‘seconds’ the route, removing all of the gear placed by the leader as they go, and being belayed from the top of the route by the lead climber.
Alpine and Winter Climbing
Alpine climbing is an art form which can see people spend many nights on a mountain, and sometimes weeks on a single wall or cliff-face alone (a form of this can be seen in ‘Big-wall climbing, such as climbing El Capitan in America). It can often involve ice climbing, where ice screws are wound into the ice to provide some protection for the climber, who uses ice axes and crampons (spikes for mountain boots) to bite into the ice and hold the climb up. It also often involves crossing glaciers, crevasses, and snow fields, and sometimes aid climbing, which is where the route is not climbed using hand and foot placements, but climbed by ascending the rope as such, instead of the rock. If you are not aid climbing, you are seen to be ‘free-climbing’.
Outdoor climbing is obviously based around the naturally formed rock, so you do not have a choice or say in what the route is like. However, indoor walls can be made to various shapes and sizes, and holds (often made by moulding resin and plastic, but also sometimes wooden) can be multiple sizes, shapes and colours, and placed in any arrangement you can think of. ‘Pulling on plastic’ is very different to being on real rock as outdoor climbing is much more three-dimensional than indoor climbing, and more open to accommodating different climbing styles since it is not as obvious where holds are, and of course, you can’t really climb outside in the rain. There are many different types of rock, and many different types of routes, so be sure to try different types of rock at different crags and in different styles (this goes for indoor climbing, as well!). For example, an overhanging juggy route may be just up your street, but your local crag is slabby slate which is tiny finger crimps, and this can put off those just starting out.
Sport climbing (both leading and top/bottom-roping) and bouldering (sometimes simulated deep-water solos, either over a pool or over a foam pit) are the most typical types of climbing available at indoor walls. Some walls can provide indoor, artificial ice walls for ice climbing, or even walls for dry-tooling. This is where climbing axes are used not on ice, but on rock, and can lead into mixed climbing (a route which has a mixture of rock and ice on it). If indoors, normally wooden holds and features are used for axes (no crampons), or wooden axe handles with material loops on the ends of them get hooked over indoor climbing holds to simulate an axe placement.
With indoor climbing, a route is seen to be completed if you place both hands (in a controlled manner) on the highest hold of that route, without falling off and only using the intended climbing holds for that route (i.e. only use one colour of hold within a certain area on the wall). If you can do it first time, it is called a ‘flash’ in bouldering, and an ‘on-sight’ in sport and trad climbing. If it takes you a couple of goes, it is a redpoint, and more than that makes it a project. Projects aren’t often possible with indoor climbing as the routes will be reset frequently and so your project will no longer exist!
In the U.K., almost every indoor centre will let you start bouldering with no prior knowledge or experience, and most will hire out specific climbing shoes as well. These help to bind your toes together so that you can place more weight and pressure on certain parts of your feet, and also provide better grip because of the rubber soles. It is widely accepted that helmets aren’t required for most indoor climbing – in fact, they can make it more dangerous than without, as they can catch on holds, so don’t worry too much about wearing one. If you want to learn how to belay and use ropes however, climbing centres will not allow you to do so without a test. This can include pictures or statements where you must be able to explain what is incorrect in the scenario, and displaying that you can successfully tie the correct knot for attaching the rope to your harness. If you have climber friends, they will often be allowed to supervise a couple of people at a time whilst using ropes and harnesses, so I would suggest getting them to teach you some things if you wish to take up route climbing. Otherwise, most centres will provide ‘Learn to Climb’ courses which will teach you the basics of climbing and safety whilst climbing indoors, but these can be expensive. If you want to learn and improve technique quickly however, focus on bouldering. If you are interested in gear, strike up a conversation with any of the staff at your local wall, or simply search online. There are many climbing community forums, sites and pages, such as UKC, BMC, and Climbing!
The first few times you start climbing, the place you will feel it most in your body is your forearms. This will decrease over time and you’ll find quite quickly that gains are made – you can start staying on the wall for longer periods of time and being able to grip and hold onto different things. So stick with it and don’t be put off too quickly! The community will quickly welcome you in and for most of us, it becomes a way of life. Climbing is an easy way to build strength, balance, co-ordination, confidence, and communication. Really, the only way to get better at climbing is to climb, so get out there and have fun! It might just change your world.
Our first ever Glamping adventure!
This one was no exception, on Friday night Lauren, Stu, Martyn, myself and the dogs drove to Wales for a spot of Glamping.
Glamping is a form of ‘glamorous camping’ which combines the luxury of a warm cosy night’s sleep in a real bed (usually) with the element of adventure in the outdoors.
We stayed at Bryn Betws Lodge in Afan Forest Park in ‘glamping’ pods which were little wooden huts with blow up beds, lighting, electric and that was about it! I have never been ‘glamping’ before and it was nice to arrive in the dark and not have to worry about fiddling with tent poles by torch light.
The pods were very basic and camping equipment like stove, plates/bowls, sleeping bags and pillows were needed. It was nice to have lights and electric two things I have learnt to deal without camping.
Glamping in Wales
The pods had benches and chairs where we ate breakfast and admired the views.
Saturday morning was drizzly but this didn’t detract from the beauty of the Welsh valley, a medley of green and grey rolling hills. After a somewhat leisurely start to the day we headed up the forest tracks with the dogs in search of a good pub. Now the keen eyed of you probably noticed I said ‘up’ and yes I thought I had seen a sign for a village going up the side of this hill, after a while it became apparent I was wrong.
Retracing our steps the rain cleared slowly as we walked down into the village below.
Since having a dog Martyn and I have tried to take Luna (the dog) to as many places as possible, finding dog friendly pubs in Wales proved to be a challenge over the course of the weekend, one that I am sure other dog owners can appreciate. (If you know of any good dog friendly pubs in Wales please comment below and I will add links to these for others!)
Arriving back at our pods, the hot and now damp weather had whipped the midges into a frenzy so we re-treated inside to play Linkee (a camping essential). I was just about to ‘win’ a letter K when there was a knock at the pod door. A smart gentleman stood with a bottle of prosecco in his hands and we were invited to a wedding! It turned out an episode of Don’t Tell the Bride had been filmed and the groom (prosecco in hand) said we were welcome to join the party.
Fast forward a few hours and we were the only four people on the dance floor. Sunday morning brought some sore heads and mountain biking was put on hold until the afternoon.
We spent most of Sunday exploring the beaches around the Gower Peninsula (Swansea end) I have never been to this part of Wales and the rocky cliffs stretched up for miles towards the peninsular from Swansea bay.
The dogs loved the beach and we had soon lost or broken several tennis balls in their enthusiasm to run and chase them down.
By the time we got back to the pods the beach air and walking had created 4 tired humans and two tired puppies!
Monday was our last day in Wales and it came with another slightly random surprise as we opened the pod doors three donkeys were chilling out in our camp area. The donkeys were keen to get to know the dogs, it’s safe to say this was not a mutual friendship!
Packing the cars we headed to Afan Trail Centre where Martyn and Stu hired bikes. This was Stu’s second time on a mountain bike and the plan was a ‘gentle’ loop of Y Wal. Y Wal is a swooping 24km mainly singletrack loop where the descents and the views are both breath-taking. It is a red graded trail which, according to the guide book, boasts some of the best singletrack in the UK and I must say after riding it I agree. We climbed fire road and more technical singletrack climbs, rode along exposed ridge lines and weaved our way through the forest. It was exhilarating.
The last two weeks I have been unable to ride my bike or get up to much as I have been recuperating after having an operation.
I am usually fighting a battle between wanting to go outside to play or train and planning the next challenge. Having a week or two not being able to get outside has been helpful. It has given me plenty of thinking time, time to work out what I want to achieve in 2017 and beyond.
Also the fact that next year I leave my twenties and enter the new world of thirties has given me a new perspective. I want to continue to challenge myself, to push the boundaries of what I think I’m capable of physically and mentally. I have found a new love in endurance sport because it tests not only your physical strength but your mental toughness too.
Whilst having some ‘rest’ my boyfriend, Martyn and I started watching the film Everest it set into motion an idea to reach the seven summits.
Neither of us are mountaineers; the highest mountain we have climbed is Snowdon. So before we could even dream about making that happen we needed a slightly more realistic target.
Mont Blanc meaning “White Mountain”, is the highest mountain in the Alps and the highest in Europe after the Caucasus peaks. It rises 4,808.73 m (15,777 ft) above sea level and is ranked 11th in the world in topographic prominence.
In September 2017 we will head to France to climb Mont Blanc after a year of training on smaller peaks we will spend 3 days in Italy with a guide getting used to altitude before attempting to summit Mont Blanc.
Martyn and I fell in love with majestic snow-capped peaks snowboarding down them. Now we will take on a slightly slower but tougher challenge of walking up one of them!
This challenge takes me out of my comfort zone in many ways, I have been focusing on biking for years now and so to change to a walking expedition is very new, having to learn how to use ice axis, walk in crampons and trek through the snow whilst dealing with the altitude will be an exciting new challenge and one I can’t wait to start training for and sharing with you how we get on.
I look forward to writing about the highs and lows of getting to the top.