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Had you told me 4 years ago, I would be cross country skiing across Svalbard in a team, pulling a sled of around 30/35kg, wild camping, discovering polar bear tracks and ringed seals along the way, I wouldn’t have believed you.
I came to be adventuring in the Arctic by connecting with my wild side, following my curiosity, committing myself to my wellbeing and a huge amount of perseverance in the face of adversity.
My imagination has been captivated by the polar regions from an early age, when I watched the disney film Balto and completed a school project on the Yukon.
Then when I fully recovered from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS/ME) and a a few other issues I reconnected and cultivated my wild side, which has led me to here.
In this special episode of The Lilly Wild Show I share with you my story of adventuring in the Arctic earlier this year!
It's a little quirky, because I use some sounds I collected in Svalbard creatively in the background and a few sound bites too!
So I hope your seat belts are fastened and you’re ready to take off!
Or... you can read all about it below and see some of the photos from my adventure!! - I suggest making a cup of tea first!
On the 29th April this year, I arrived in Longybern, Svalbard for a 9 day cross country skiing expedition. Where 2 Norwegian guides, 8 team mates and I, skied from the East to West coast of Svalbard. Camping along the way and pulling all of our gear and food behind us.
Svalbard means something like cold coast or cold edge, and is found halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole.
The perpetual Arctic summer sun danced across Svalbard’s magical ice wilderness, which is draped in dramatic snow-covered mountain chains, great glaciers stretching out as far as the eye can see, rough sea ice painted in forbidding blues and where the aloof polar bears silently leave their dinner plate sized tracks emblazoned in the snow and ice. You’re spirit can’t help but be enraptured by this elemental landscape.
My spirit and imagination were first captured by the Arctic at a very young age, when I watched Disney’s film Balto: which depicts a dog, Balto, embarking on an heroic journey to save the children of a small village in Alaska. I further fell for the Arctic during a school project in prep school.
However, like so many of us, my fascination with the Arctic faded as I grew up and it wasn’t until I heard a lecture in 2010 on the forgotten Edwardian Polar Explorer Frank Wild, that it was re-kindled.
One of Wild’s quotes particularly stood out to me.
“Once wedded to Nature there is no divorce - separate her you may and hide yourself amongst the flesh-pots of London, but the wild will keep calling and calling forever in your ears. You cannot escape the ``little voices”"
It was also around this time that my health really started to deteriorate, with the severe chronic fatigue syndrome eventually forcing me to withdraw from university and to live at home with no signs of recovery.
However, I’m very stubborn and never give up - no matter what I’m told. And the one thing that gave me the inexorable drive to fully recover was my deep desire to live a life of adventure.
My fire was fuelled by the thrilling tales of the Heroic Age Of Polar Exploration, of the immense hardships and inexplicable joy experienced by Shackleton, Scott and Wild.
And about 4 years later after hearing the story of Wild, I fully recovered from my poor health using a combination neuro-linguisitc programming, hypnosis, life coaching, nutrition.
It was around this time I met Helen Turnton - polar explorer and guide who is the co-founder of Newland Expeditions, a company that specialises in Arctic and Antarctic expeditions.
Helen and I have kept in touch all of this time and last year, the opportunity arose for me to fulfil my dreams of adventuring in the Arctic - and I wasn’t about to let that slip by.
So after a life time of dreaming, I made it to the Arctic. Following in the footsteps of the polar explorers I look up to the most and learning many valuable lessons along the way.
I wanted to share my journey with you, after being inspired by a book called How To Live Danishly by Helen Russell, in which Helen shares her story of moving to Denmark with her husband and the lessons she learnt about taking the leap and embracing the Danish culture.
I found it a funny, inspirational and very powerful read, as it really provoked me to think about how I want to live my life, as the Danes really seem to have it down, with their way of life centred around hygge - which means creating a nice, warm atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life with good people around you, they even look down upon those who work beyond normal hours as it’s bad for your wellbeing!
And it was during my first night in Svalbard, when I was chatting at dinner with Svante, Helen’s business partner, that I was reminded of Helen’s book and that we have the invincible power of choice.
We have the power to choose our lifestyle.
So as I skied across Svalbard’s beautiful landscape for the following 9 days, Svante’s words echoed through my thoughts my unconscious.
However, taking that first step into doing something new, that leap into the unknown can be scary - or is change just terribly exciting?
I find the biggest anticipation of a group trip, is speculating about those who will be joining you and if sharing a tent with them, who you will become intimately acquainted with. Will you all get on? Or find someone frustrating? Or will you meet your new best friend or the love of your life?
On the first day in Longybern, we all sat down as a team in a lovely cafe, luxuriating in coffee and fresh hot food.
Our taste buds tantalised about the adventure ahead of us from the views of our aeroplane, we talked about what we might see, feel and experience, and with an unspoken agreement, we were gaging whether we were going to work well as a team.
Laughter erupted from our table, as humour was brought down a level and my gut knew then, that we’d muddle through - we were all like minded, experienced in the outdoors, excited and had the same sense of humour!
Being surrounded for 9 days with good, like-minded people feeds your soul, as they inspire and light you up, make you laugh and support you through the highs and lows.
I instantly hit it off with the lovely girl I shared a tent with, who shall be known as Tent Mate henceforth. And like any other girls, over the 9 days we bonded over adventure, gross feet, disney music, porridge and boys. Our different backgrounds were irrelevant, our hysterics were often heard across our camp site - we definitely had the fun tent!
I like to think, minus our Norwegian guides, that we were the most badass of the group. As Tent Mate and I slept in the snow hole we dug as a group on the 7th night, whereas everyone else slept in the comforts of their cherry red tents! We felt like very badass adventurers that night, especially with the flare guns tucked between us in case of an uninvited polar bear visitor!!
Our guides, were infinitely more badass than us - of which I’m not envious of at all…
One was a deceptive expert polar explorer.
His quiet, kind and humble demeanour, with a flamboyant flare and a special talent for animal impressions, didn’t denote his incredible accomplishments as an adventurer, which included skiing solo, unsupported from the South to North of mainland Norway and skiing South to North of Svalbard with a friend
However, we should have known, as he did look the part dressed in a worn beige cotton coat with a fur trimmed hood.
So Tent Mate and I dubbed him Polar Man, as henceforth he shall be known.
Our other guide we nicknamed Mountain Man. For one simple reason: he was a machine in the mountains - and unsurprisingly, after hearing some of the gnarly things he’d done. Unbelievably fit and strong, he was at home in the wilderness and the essence of cool, never breaking a sweat and making the expedition process look effortless.
Mountain Man swaggered about on his skis and showed off his enviable skills, whereas Polar Man glided through the landscape with an air of calm confidence, ease and a wonderful sprinkling of clownish humour.
My skiing sadly did not reflect theres at all, but luckily to experience this wondrous land you only needed a dollop of enthusiasm, a dash of resilience and a sprinkling of open-mindedness.
Svalbard seemed to welcome us with open arms, as it provided us with the perfect weather for skiing! I’ve read about severe blizzards where you can’t see your hand in front of you and you’re confined to your tent for days, or when it’s super slushy and you have wet feet for your entire trip.
But we had sunshine, blue sky, little wind and a firm surface, making gliding easy. We were given a taster of wild weather one afternoon, but we dried out that evening and the next day - luckily no wet feet for us! Although I would like to experience the wild weather one day!
Choosing to live the expedition lifestyle for 9 days was incredibly exciting. I loved the build up to arriving in Svalbard, the anticipation and really stepping into the unknown - exploring a corner of the Arctic North with strangers.
I thrive off change and the unknowing, I can’t get enough of it! And with being surrounded by inspirational people, embracing the outdoors, it’s everything I’m passionate about.
So during this journey my energy sky rocketed, bursting forth screaming YES: This is it! This is living. I was even called the ‘Duracell Bunny’ - and for someone who once suffered with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, I can’t tell you how amazing this comment made me feel.
So now I want to take you with me on my journey through Svalbard, the high’s, the low’s and the points of intrigue.
I embarked on this journey, because I wanted to push my mind and body further, stretch my comfort zone, connect with my inner child and follow in the ski tracks of the Heroic Polar Explorers that I look up to.
Each day, Polar Man would select for us a lovely wild camp spot, which often looked photoshopped. I remember one enchanting spot in particular, which had elegant sweeping mountains blanketed in thick snow encircling a white flat plateau, the golden rays of the midnight sun poured in, and it was against a canvas of clear sapphire blue sky.
When we arrived at our designated camp site, it became tradition for Polar Man to take great delight and precision in telling us in which direction to point our tents according to the wind direction. And when I say precision, I really mean a vague, unclear target.
“That mountain ridge over there, where it comes together with that other mountain ridge, just before that other one.” On day 1 and 2, imagine bewildered looks across all of our faces and a frown as we try to work it out.
Then after day 3, we would look forward to hearing about this mystical target we should be aiming at! Then we would wait for the guides to erect their tent and copy them!
One evening Polar Man skied off with the poles to find the best tent locations, while Mountain Man stayed with us. And while Polar Man busied himself, Mountain Man took the mickey: so guys, you see that black rock next to the other black rock, in between that other black rock? Thats where you need to point your tent to, ok? to which we all giggled.
Then Polar Man came up, pointed at the mountains which were strewn with black rocks and pretty much repeated what Mountain Man had just said, but with a serious and considerate facial expression and voice tone. It was all just too much and we fell about laughing!
So once our cherry red tents were up, we’d give IKEA the run for its money with our camp craft skills! We would split into two teams; one working on the luxury toilet and the other on the designer settee and dinner table - go forbid if you stepped on the table!
We would carve large blocks of snow from the area and build up magnificent walls to provide a back rest and wind block for the settee and privacy and wind block for the toilet. We would also dig down into the snow to create a comfortable seat, decent foot area for the abnormally tall (5ft3 is a perfectly good height) and a nice flat surface for the table.
Once the toilet makers, I won’t call names, but Mountain and Polar Man thought it would be funny to a deep hole. I was shocked to find steep steps leading down to Australia, as I carefully made my way down, careful not to slip into the poo. It was at least 5ft deep plus a 3ft wall! So you could get very inventive!
One evening Polar man treated us to a snow caving 101, which was great fun - this was when we discovered Tent Mate and I were definitely the most badass! And Mountain Man treated us to a more crude, snow hardness crash course - I was won’t repeat what was said!
And on the evenings when we camped near sea ice and their was a high risk of polar bears coming to visit us, polar bear watch was implemented.
One person would be on watch for one hour during the night, each person was assigned a time and the person on watch before them would wake them up when it was time. So you had a continuous chain of people on polar bear watch throughout the night.
During your watch you had to remain alert…
The person on watch was given a signal pistol just in case they needed it…
And we had a plan if we saw a polar bear near camp…
When I was woken for watch, I would begrudgingly layer up, then slowly walk around the camp, looking out for the polar bear that I hoped I wasn’t going to see - I didn’t want to come face to face with one, but I was hoping one of my team would spot one!
I was intrigued by our chances of seeing a polar bear so I asked Polar Man…
Once out on watch, it was actually a very beautiful experience. The feelings of serenity and calm washed over me, as I became in tune with the slow rhythm of walking and the dulcet tones of the crunching of my footsteps in the snow. It was very meditative. It was the scene for life changing thoughts to come to mind, yet my mind was silent, just like the land.
Sadly we never saw a polar bear, but we did see lots of ringed seals, including the left overs of a bear’s dinner and ptarmigan - which are like white grouse. So the greatest challenge wasn’t fighting off a polar bear, but actually far more tame: cross country skiing.
What's great about having 9 days of cross country skiing is that you can really perfect falling down onto your bottom, face planting and somersaulting with skis on. Which are all vital life skills. All I can say is thank god I was surrounded by soft snow, because I can tell you now, falling off a road bike is much more painful!
So while our Norwegian counterparts skied skilfully and gracefully with obedient sleds pulled by their side over all terrains and gradients, I would either be skiing on the spot going uphill or stood still as I pulled with all of my might or slipping backwards, or tumbling down hill, or crawling at a snails pace across a slope, hoping my sled, which weighed around half my body weight, wasn’t going to drag me down into the crevasse.
They say your sled soon earns its name and mine soon earned his - it was definitely a boy, as it too much of a pain in the arse to be a girl! So I named mine ‘You *insert expletives here*’. It may not have been my most imaginative moment, but it felt appropriate and was a good stress release!
What I found peculiar was that at the beginning of the trip my skiing wasn’t terrible and during the middle of the trip it was actually quite good considering it was pretty much my first time on skis. I felt really strong, embraced the glide and had awesome energy. Then poof. Gone. It was as if someone had just blown out the candle.
During the last third of the trip I really started to struggle. It was as if I couldn’t walk, I had to really concentrate on doing opposite pole to ski and my balance sucked. I found it difficult to turn, slow down, stop, ski uphill and on one day I swear I spent more time sliding down on my arse than I did skiing! And there’s only a certain amount you can laugh at yourself - but I found this was hard to exhaust!
I felt exasperated, frustrated and was in discomfort. On the penultimate day one of my friends made a light hearted joke about people’s poor skiing ability. And normally I would have laughed, but all of a sudden these feelings welled up inside of me and I shed a tear. And I never cry. At the age of 11 I cried myself out when my cat, Ears, died and then sporadically when I was unwell and doing dark days.
On numerous times on this trip, when I caught myself going into a negative state, I stopped my brain pattern, by saying stop to myself and asked myself: What state do I want to be in? And What would it be useful to feel? Then I simply changed into a positive state and carried on. I also used a singing mantra to get myself in an awesome state!
To get into this positive state, I would borrow the resources from Mountain Man: his volcanic explosive energy, endurance capacities, immense strength and insane skiing capabilities.
And also from survival expert Megan Hine, her stories of running through jungles and her incredible strength and resilience, filled me up with bountiful amounts of energy, determination and strength - I imagined my badassery shining like gold all around me!
I would imagine all of these amazing resources and feelings swirling all around me in this gold colour, filling me up, seeping into every cell and every fibre of my body, and I would continue to feel these things and see the myself glowing gold until I was in a really great positive state.
And echoing the wise words from adventurer Kiko Matthews in Episode 8 of the show, failing doesn’t exist it’s just learning.
And by falling over many, many times, I learnt I was much more resilient than I thought, that going fast downhill and falling isn’t as scary as it seems, that just before you start your period, due to hormone fluctuations you lose coordination - and I assure you it’s a thing, as even Wimbledon tennis players get this, and a few days later, due to a shoulder injury, I discovered my core muscles were disengaged which also contributed to my inability to ski!
What was also amazing and made an incredible difference was the moral support I received from my team, their encouragement, wise guiding (apparently it’s better to take a longer route around a mound of ice, than the shorter route over it - who knew?!) patience, a good push, their laughter and sticking with me when I was literally inching up the hill!
However, once in camp the lows melted away, the highs stuck with you and laughter and chatter ensued as we built our camp, ate chocolate and devoured hot food and drinks.
And with each morning, as the sun shone with all of its brightness and a morning glow full of hope and new beginnings bathed our camp, you were filled with new life and energy for the day, washing away the cob webs and debris from the previous day. Readying you for the next leg of the adventure.
This journey confirmed my gut feeling, the burning sensation in my heart and soul that I should be choosing to embrace the outdoor lifestyle of ice, snow, sled dogs, cross country skiing and adventure and empowering people to train their brains for peak performance and helping them to create an adventurous life they love.
For the first time in so many years, I was exactly where I was meant to be, doing the thing I should be doing: adventuring, skiing and taking the time out from the pressures of society, where every decision counted and had a purpose.
I came to be in this space and place by getting in touch with my wild side, by following my curiosity and passion for everything to do with the Arctic, Antarctic, Adventure and Wellbeing.
I wouldn’t have embarked on this journey across the East to West coast of Svalbard with Newland Expeditions, if I hadn’t started getting back in touch with my wild side 6 years ago, when I became unwell.
Connecting and cultivating your wild side takes commitment, dedication, action and putting aside the time to follow your curiosity and listen to your intuition.
Since fully recovering, I have continued to cultivate and nurture my wild side by embarking on various adventures, both big and small, working for adventure companies, reading books, watching documentaries, listening to podcasts, attending lectures, visiting museum exhibitions and training for an iron man on September the 30th - all of which have been intrinsically linked to adventure and the polar regions.
I’ve discovered that the most crucial aspect of getting in touch with your wild side, which I can’t emphasis enough, is prioritising your health and wellbeing. And you can do this in a variety of ways. Everyone is unique, so different strategies work for different people.
For me, the 4 most powerful things that influence and boost my health and wellbeing, that enable me to kick ass, is:
Eating nutritionally dense, plant powered food
Cardio and strength training
Using the powerful combination of neuro-lingusitic programming, hypnosis and life coaching to rewire my brain for success.
You may be thinking, but hey, where’s adventure? But I’ve found I can’t have adventure without the above in place and iron man training is also rather adventurous, enabling me to explore my local area and swim in reservoirs!
My adventure in Svalbard reinforced for me the importance of a positive inner voice, cheering you on with powerful affirmations and mantras and the ability to change from a negative to positive state, so you can live in a present you love. Which Jo Pickard, Sarah Williams and I also spoke about on the podcast.
Channelling and pouring the incredible resources from Mountain Man and Megan Hine really empowered me to push myself further, be happy and have fun for the entire adventure.
Yes there was a time when I felt fear, as I teetered on the edge of a near vertical slope that I was meant to be skiing down.
And yes, sometimes I felt abandoned and alone way at the back as I was skiing so freaking slowly. But that’s life.
And by reconnecting with and cultivating your wild side and mastering how to influence your neurology and state at any given time, empowers you to surf life’s waves and live a life you love.
I like to think of my Wild Side as my compass, helping me navigate through life. And the more I nurture it, the more resilient, badass and kick ass I become.
Adventure is a vehicle you can use to easily tap into your Wild Side, it gives you the headspace to be and delve into your unconscious. Here you can listen to you Wild Side, unleash it and then bring it back with you into your daily life, where you can further cultivate your wildness.
My journey in Svalbard enabled me to unlock the essence of my Wild Side, to listen to it again and just be with it in the present moment. And now I find I can access it much more easily - especially when training and meditating.
So now my Wild Side is asking, if we can do that - adventure across Svalbard and overcome the other challenges that life has thrown at us - what else can we do? We’ll see what the answer is after I complete my iron man later this year!
My biggest lesson from getting back in touch with my Wild Side in Svalbard, is that I want to make more choices that will take me to living an outdoors lifestyle and now it’s just a case of listening to the Frank Wild’s little voices and seeing where they’ll take me.
For all of you feeling stuck in your life, no matter where you are, I want you to know that you have the invincible power of choice: you can choose the lifestyle you want to live by stepping into the unknown, embarking on your journey and getting back in touch with your wild side.
You may now be feeling inspired or perhaps you’ll feel inspired later in your day or week. However, I believe inspiration can only get you so far. So I want to leave you with 3 actions to help you live a more adventurous life you love.
1. Don’t ever give up on your dreams.
The wild voices are always within you, bubbling below the surface and waiting to be discovered by you, when the time is right.
Take the time to listen to the voices, when meditating, day dreaming, journalling or in whatever way suits you.
Check in with your child hood dreams and curiosities and start writing them down, noticing what comes up and how that makes you feel.
And do what’s comfortable for you - start small and build up, and ignore what others think - doctors told me I would never recover and now I’ve adventured across Svalbard, training for an iron man and a high performance coach for adventurers and athletes - prove the doubters wrong!
2. Imagine someone gives you a permission slip that contains your dream.If time, money and any other limitations you believe you have weren’t an issue, what would you give yourself permission to do?
We all have big dreams and the universe doesn’t give us dreams that you can’t achieve. My two dreams are to live in Norway and work or adventure in the Antarctic.
3. Roadmap your dream
Pick your dream.
Then on a landscape piece of paper, draw your present self in the middle, by the edge on the left hand side.
And on the opposite side draw your future you achieving your dream, and your ideal and reasonable date when you could achieve this.
Now draw a line connecting them together.
Above the line right down everything you need to do to make this happen.
Below the line, timeline it all to your line
Then pin it up on your wall and track your progress.
Remember it’s not going to be a journey of just high’s, but as Natalia Komis says in Episode 10, one small thing will get you closer to achieving your dream than you think.
4. Download and read my free Season 1 Bonus Ebook to discover tips, tricks and strategies my 11 expert guests have used to live a adventurous life they love. "I really hope you’ve enjoyed this episode and I would love to know what you think!"
Want to listen to my story? -- Check out my episode 0 where I talk to you about my journey from chronic fatigue syndrome to adventure, podcasting and coaching (listen below, read the show notes or download here):
Find Adelaide here