Dispatch is a series of first-person stories from the road. Readers can share their experiences, from the sublime to the strange.
It's warm for a winter's day (15 C), and although the mountain I've just climbed is not exactly high – Systerskarloypa, in Norway, sits at 1,340 metres – when you're pushing a 33-pound bike uphill, it's no easy feat. Plus, the day before, I had raced around the mountains on touring skis while camping in the snow at night, without much sleep – my legs are as wobbly as jelly.
So it's really no surprise that, as I ride down, I lose my concentration for a split second and pull the front brake: disaster! I'm catapulted over the handlebars, my shorts catching on the saddle, which pulls the bike over me, slamming onto my head.
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"What AM I doing?" flits across my mind as I sit in the snow, staring out across the barren, white plateau, trying to gather the strength to get back up. I have at least another 30 kilometres to go in this quadrathlon, with a cross-country ski marathon and full-distance run over ice and snow ahead of me in the next days. The race is called N60 and it's run by British company IGO Adventures, which tailor-makes trips for anyone hungry for a proper adventure but who can't go off the grid for three months.
It's my most extreme trip yet, but I've discovered I can't live without regular doses of mind-focusing adrenalin. Adventure travel once helped pull me out of a deep depression and it's a tonic to my soul that works better than any pill. For years I'd taken pills to sleep, pills to make me happy and pills to cure perpetual migraines as I tried to navigate my way through stress that gnawed at my body and soul.
One dark November morning, I couldn't face it any longer. I lay in bed, unable to summon the strength to begin the day, working out what life had left to offer. My doctor suggested more pills; a friend suggested I get on a plane to visit him in sunny Australia.
I flew to the other side of the world. I kayaked rivers, dived the Great Barrier Reef, took my day-skipper licence sailing around the Whitsundays. No longer in front of a computer drowning in deadlines, having the sun on my face and wind in my hair started to make me feel alive. It sounds so clichéd, but navigating a yacht around tiny inlets, looking for a secure place to anchor for the night slowly started to erase the self-doubt and loathing I'd been riddled with for years. Back in the United Kingdom, I found a less stressful job and joined a sailing team to go offshore racing – there's no room in your head for the clamouring noise of anxiety when you're working a spinnaker downwind in 40 knots at 2 a.m. Living in the moment, literally trying to survive: It focuses my mind better than yoga or meditation has ever done.
So now adventure travel is my passion and I pursue it full-time as a freelance travel writer. I've cycled up the highest pass in Colorado three times in three days, trained for an Ironman; raced horses across beaches in Costa Rica, through poppy fields in Rajasthan and at Goodwood, the historic English racetrack. Once or twice, I've pushed it too far: fighting sheets on a sail in an Atlantic storm in gusts of 68 knots, or skiing down a couloir in Switzerland, falling and nearly getting caught up in a mini-avalanche.
I've lost count of the times I've been smashed into the ground by a bucking horse, but I only ever want to get on the lively ones. Its all part of the adventure. I marvel at how quickly everyday stresses leave me when I step on a plane, off on a new travel adventure.
My latest multiday endurance race in Norway almost finished me off, too. In my quest to win, I pushed my body too hard. For four days I basked in the gruelling task ahead of me, but I returned home so weak I couldn't walk up the stairs properly for three weeks. The win was hard won, but it was really just an added bonus.
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But now that I'm better, I'm looking for the next adventure. I figure I have a year to prepare for an all-night, 60-kilometre crosscountry ski through the Elk Mountains of Colorado. It should take me about 12 hours and I cannot damn well wait.
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