SWIM: one woman’s journey coping with grief.

When I was young, all my best birthdays were spent in the valley – picnic on the banks and swimming in the rivers with my favourite people. I was lucky enough to grow up in the Lake District in England, where there’s no shortage of green grass, sheep and cows peppering the landscape. Jumping off bridges into deep pools of water on weekends and running through fields as part of our P.E lessons at school, were the norm. 

Over the years as I grew up, career, illness, location all got in the way a bit from me being able to really submerge myself in my wild swimming and the outdoors. When I finally left London and moved to the Peak District, my swimming world opened up to me again. I was invited for an outdoor swim and it was so much fun! I went with a group of friends who did this most mornings before they went to work. They were seeing wonderful sunrises and having these magical experiences together before they had even had a bowl of cereal. I was intrigued. My love for swimming outdoors had been quite a solitary experience up until now (apart from when I was a kid). I was fascinated by this pull to the water these, mainly, women had. I admired their friendship from a distance and wanted to know more about the levels of support they were offering each other in a more conversational-way whilst in the water.

I was particularly struck by how many people were using the swimming in cold or outdoor water as a way to aid or help ‘de-fuzz’ the problems and struggles they were faced with in their day-to-day life. As I talked more to the community of swimmers I found these struggles included grief, long-term illness, depression, anxiety, stress, IVF treatment, post-natal depression, menopause…the list goes on. What they all had in common was that this swimming in open water, the freedom in it, the healing power, the coming together in shared experience, was helping a lot more than anything else in their lives. 

I wanted to explore these stories and create something that would follow a journey and highlight this ever-growing number of people coming back to nature. When I talked in depth with people I came across stories of heartbreak, determination and healing: a father’s loss of his child takes him to the water everyday whereby he swims the length and back of a reservoir- head in, no stopping, letting the water guide his path. A woman’s loss of her young niece and nephew and her ability to be able to cope with it all and support her loved ones, found in the renewing power of outdoor swimming and community in the water. 

So I set about combining my two passions – the outdoors and theatre; pulling together a team to help me devise a show, SWIM, which would incorporate the gift of storytelling in live art and intrigue the outdoor world to experience theatre in a way that felt familiar to them because of the nature of the topic.

I have already been on a year’s journey with SWIM. From the first pitch to the theatre, to finding the team to make it with, to working with Adventure film Festivals, Outdoor swimming communities, running workshops with outdoor swimming enthusiasts and those who use the outdoors to aid them in their bereavement. I have met incredible people, inspiring people, passionate people, kind people, talented people, generous people. It has been so encouraging. I have LEARNT SO MUCH! 

I am SO excited to have been given the opportunity to take my show to the Pleasance in Edinburgh this August. As part of my initial interview for the award, I told the Pleasance that I wanted SWIM to not only be an exciting new piece of theatre, but by being present at the Fringe, represent the bigger picture of what I believe all artists who create such things – live art and entertainment deserve – well-being. Whilst we are up at the Fringe for the month, I will be encouraging people to get outdoors, take a swim in the sea, look after your mind and your body whilst pushing at an incredibly demanding feat to promote your art. There will be a weekly swim happening at Portobello Beach for all those who are working at the Fringe.

However…

The only way that we can take SWIM to Edinburgh and get the message of the show out there is by raising the money to take us there. I have worked long hours (!) to ensure that I raise the funds in order to take SWIM to the masses and cover the costs in order to do this. Your support is integral to this being achieved. Overcoming adversity

13 years after being diagnosed with an illness which brought my career to a standstill and stopped me being able to to be outdoors as much, here I am wanting to take my second piece of theatre I’ve created and happens to be all about overcoming struggles and getting outside more! I have my health, fitness and verve for theatre back – help me do my best for this project.

Support SWIM

With my local friends now watching the sunrise and talking life
With my local friends now watching the sunrise and talking life


Being a Woman In Adventure

I’m Patricia Berthelier, a dedicated 63-year-old French mountain bike and gravel bikepacker, and I’ve become addicted to ultra distance bikepacking!

I started cycling at the age of 40 and took part in my first Etape du Tour two years later. After this, I went on competing in lots of century rides all over France, and even Europe. Later on, I took to long distance cycling and rode Paris Brest Paris’s 2007 edition, which empowered me to be at the start of ultra-distance road cycling events like the Raid Provence Extrême or the Raid Extrême des Vosges the following year, in France. Or the RATA in Austria. Then I grew somewhat uneasy with road cycling, mainly because I missed a connection with something greater. So I turned to mountain biking and got involved in multi-day races, but that wasn’t it either.

I had been reading Jill Homer’s inspirational tales of her Iditarod Invitationals and of the Tour Divide, as well as Esther Horyani’s recounting of her own stupendous bikepacking feats. I was awed at what they had accomplished, and at the same time knew that their tales had irretrievably set me on the path to similar challenges. So when the French Divide, a 2,200km long mountain bikepacking race across France, was created four years ago, I had to take part. And I did, the following year, at the age of 61.

It was so beyond what I had ever been able to imagine. Indeed that was a life-changing experience. So the next year, in 2018, I was at the start of ACT5, a 1,000 km mountain bikepacking race across Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany and Holland – shorter but much more demanding and rugged than the French Divide. That was another life-changing experience.

In the meantime and since then, from the lucky ultra-distance bikepacker I was, I’ve been making progress towards being a master of ultra-distance mountain bikepacking, because that is what I really want to be. My focus is on riding effortlessly and joyfully for hours on end, day after day, and to be able to take in with gratitude whatever comes my way. On my own, or with my mate. And all that thanks to that deep connection I have with energy, nature, and the Earth when I’m out there bikepacking.

And that is exactly what I want to share with fellow women, especially those who think they’re too old, or too unsporty, or not daring enough, or too fearful, or too ignorant of mechanics or orienteering or GPS navigation, or bivvying, or whatever. Because when we are outdoors and in remote surroundings, relying on ourselves only and our bikes, and nature’s bounty, we become free and whole. We can all become that if we are willing to be it, believe it or not, it’s that easy!

So my deepest desire is to get as many women as possible, and men too, on the road to self-confidence, self-reliability and to re-connecting with nature and who they truly are. Through 24-hour or multi-day bikepacking trips I’ll organize, in France or wherever I get the impulse to ride to, and with the help of my capacity as an Access Consciousness facilitator. How does it get any better than that?!

If you are keen to learn more about my story – listen to my interview on Strava’s Podcast or read an account of how I overcame my fears.

Submitted by Patricia Berthelier – check out her blog and website or follow her on Facebook, Tumblr and Strava.

Sold the house, quit the job at 40

After sitting at a desk for 25 years and contributing to a “normal” way of life, my partner and I gave it all up to pursue personal wellness by doing what we want to do.

We have been at it for 3 years now and while the original plan has changed drastically, that has made us realize even more that we continue to change, and that’s okay. Everyone changes and as long as you manage your own expectations, you can maintain your sense of balance.

Submitted by Amanda Prenty – visit her website or follow her on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.

Getting into cycling at 42


As a child I had a bike and would often be asked to take messages to my father – so I would have to cycle to the other side of the farm, or had to deliver eggs using the basket on the front of my bike. Later in life when working shifts as a nurse in London, I commuted to work by bike, so I was not affected by public transport strikes – it was often quicker and obviously cheaper (I was given the bike!)

I had a rigid mountain bike when I lived in Devon and used it when there was no surf, but it made my neck and shoulders hurt, aggravating an old injury. I then didn’t ride a bike for several years due to change of jobs and location. After this, I bought a hybrid for bike rides with my partner and baby in a baby seat. Then got a tagalong for our second child as I did school run/preschool with them on bikes. I was surprised to have done 50 miles by the end of the week!

I got a part-time job 6 miles from home and commuted by bike even though I had a car. Then got a lighter bike, but still a step-through ladies one with panniers. Then I bought a second-hand Trek entry level ladies race bike. It was probably too small, and gears didn’t work that well so I just didn’t change gear much!

I started to go out with a local cycling club on Sunday rides. Took my teenage daughter to a ladies BC training session and used my drops for the first time since having a road bike for two years! I went back for more training sessions; my daughter didn’t. I now have about six bikes – depending on who is asking! I have raced in BC ladies road and circuit races, LVRC road and circuit races and one not very successful TLI road race. I have done 13 open TT’s this year and was the fastest lady in 5. I manage a ladies and seniors race team for that local cycling club!
I’m probably a bit obsessed with cycling now and average 150 miles per week on a bike as I don’t have a car anymore. My holidays all involve a bike!

I’ve never been fitter or leaner in my life, and I am now 50 🙂

Submitted by Sally, member of Beeston Cycling Club – follow her on Twitter or Instagram.

Race across the roof of Europe.

The Trans Alp Bike Race claims to be the toughest amateur Mountain Bike stage race in Europe. Six hundred teams, each made up of two riders, set out from Imst in Austria on a seven-day epic that ended this year in Arco, Italy. Of the six hundred teams 16 were women’s teams.

The race is an ultimate test of mountain bike endurance and skill. My teammate, Michelle and I, spent seven days doing battle up mountain passes, riding along valley floors, passing through tunnels and dropping down breath-taking descents as we crossed from Austria to Italy. We passed through 3 countries and climbed over 17,000mts – that’s the equivalence of climbing Mount Everest twice over – and rode 521km. As a team, we burnt around 70,000 calories, went through 4 sets of brake pads, ate a lot of watermelon at the rest stops, consumed 36 energy gels from High5 and SIS, 12 bananas, drank around 4.5L a day and spent 44 hours in the saddle!

Read my full race report here.

Submitted by Hannah Attenburrow – visit her website or follow her on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.

Don’t let having a baby stop you adventuring.

I recently spent 4 weeks trekking with my 3-month-old baby on the GR11 route across the Pyrenees. It was (mostly) an incredible experience seeing the mountains through new eyes and also allowing us to travel even more slowly and mindfully. Getting outside with a baby is fantastic!

Submitted by an anonymous but wonderful woman in adventure.

Facing 50 with joy and power

I celebrated my year of turning 50 with a year of training for two massive goals – a 32-mile marathon swim and a 10K swim with a 4-hour time limit. I did both in August 2017.

For my marathon swim, I needed to train for months – I swam 100 miles in July alone. I also needed a support crew, and was able to gather 7 members of Team 32 to guide and support me during what turned into 28 hours and 6 minutes of continuous swimming. I had two boat pilots and five kayakers in a rotation. Nobody had been part of a marathon swim like this before. I’m the oldest woman to swim Lake George – and I plan to use what I learned to do it again.

Since my swim, I have met other fabulous women in open water and marathon swimming. We mainly communicate online, but it is so incredible to be part of the group. Someday, we will inspire everyone to wear diaper cream on special occasions!

Submitted by Bridget – visit her website or follow her on Facebook.

One girl and her kayak

I am an advantaged girl from a working-class background attempting to sea kayak around Ireland! I would love you to read about the challenges I faced and the people I met. It has taught me so much about myself and life.

Submitted by Caoimhe – visit her website or follow her on Instagram.

Mountains

Climbed a route in the Alps with a friend, got lots of looks at the bottom looking like we couldn’t do it. But we smashed it, despite a few episodes of tears.

Submitted by an anonymous but wonderful woman in adventure.