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.
"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.
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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