Where have all the women gone?

Why is adventure and outdoor activity a male dominated thing?

This week I completed my first Triathlon. I was aiming to do one before I turned 30. That then became 40. With 18 months left to go, I signed up to a short distance off road event. It seemed like a good idea back in January. I thought it would make me ring fence time for exercise. Instead, followed three months of flu followed by 2 months of excessive work load. In truth, the main motivation for having ago (with very limited training) was the fact it had cost so much. I felt guilty.

I arrived the night before and slept in my friend’s camper. The lake was beautiful and it seemed like a pleasant idea to go on a mountain bike ride the next day. Hell! The run after through the forest would be fantastic.

The next morning, the dark clouds loomed ominously over the hills and a strong head wind was going to make the paddle back “challenging.” I’d fixed a puncture on my bike the day before but it had been a ‘ghost’ puncture. No split on the valve. No thorns in the rubber. Was everyone going to laugh at my cheap paddle board and my 20 year old bike?

As we set out on the paddle boards, I felt nerves running through my veins. The leg out was not so bad. “The way back is really hard!” Called a guy. On the way back I was deafened by the wind. I paddled, steadily, only to discover I was going backwards, rather than forwards. Eventually, I ended up banked on the far shore. A speed boat pulled up, “I can tow you, but it would be game over for the race.” Nooooooooo. I screamed silently to myself. I pushed off from the shore. I would have to rapidly improve my technique. I should have looked this up on YouTube last night, I thought to myself.

You are going to have to work this out. I told myself. What no one else could hear, thanks to the wind, was me screaming and shouting to myself . “Come on! Come on!” I urged as I paddled. I was going to have to go round the perimeter of the lake. Eventually I made it back exhilarated, but I must have paddled 5k rather than 3.

Cycling is something I have always loved. But this bike ride was a beast. 15k with 300 meter of ascent. It was technical and there were plenty of opportunities to break a collar bone. Half way round I joined a group of 5 ladies with matching red tops. “You are welcome to join us.” One said. We are helping each other and we plan to cross the finish line together. Each time we passed another lady, we all yelled words of encouragement. “You can do this!” Another time a lady clapped me as I passed in the opposite direction. The men said nothing, either to each other, nor to us women.

At the finish line, I let the red vested ladies all pass in front of me, holding hands and smiling. Their families were all happy and congratulatory. I felt proud. I had not been defeated by this monumental challenge. And I felt proud to be female.

All the things I like to be tend to be “boys” pass times. My profession is dominated by men. When I did my degree, it was 10:1 men to women. The bottom layer of teaching is woman heavy. But of 15 senior leaders, only two are women. Where are all the women?

My next adventure was to take the boys sand surfing in Cornwall. I love the times we go camping. We reconnected, we laughed, we cooked together and played football and ate chocolate.

Upon my return, I opened an email from the triathlon event. Dear reader….a woman had come first place. Not me, incidentally, I had come 47th. But I was so proud of that anonymous lady. Welcome to the sisterhood. To the strong women, may we know the, may we be them, may we raise them.

The Devil and the Angel

Two contrasting micro adventures

Bristol botanical gardens

Adventure #29 was to go to a place which I had thought a million times “I should go there.” And just never got round to it. I have lived in the city for 16 years and never stepped inside the botanical gardens.

It was an absolutely glorious day. The sun was shining, the birds were singing and the trees were dancing. The spring blooms were beautiful and exotic. I felt such great, deep joy sitting by the lake I wanted to buy an annual ticket. It was a small oasis of tranquility in a city full of chaos.

Dappled sunlight

Aside from learning a lot about pollination and about medicinal purposes of plants in the Chinese herbal garden, I just loved the tiny naked cherub statue I sat next to as I had a cup of tea.

If the lord himself has wanted to send an angel down to England, it felt like a fitting location.

The devils pulpit

Today I went for a ‘soft’ interview. After wrecklessly giving in my notice in April, I needed to start to find some way to earn money. If I could do something in the great outdoors, I would be in heaven.

Afterwards, I took the opportunity to stroll a length of Offer’s Dyke to the Devil’s pulpit. It was said that this magnificent outlook was used for the Devil to preach to the monks below in Tintern Abbey. The Forest of Dean looked spectacular with its great undulating forest slopes and the winding river running through it.

As I sat there quietly contemplating a new career, I just marvelled at the beauty of nature. I have spent the last 20 years studying and teaching design only to realise the greatest architecture is growing all around us.

Wild flower

The art of hedonism

The world has a song and no one hears it

Dave Jones
The beauty of simple things

I managed to squeeze in two micro adventures this weekend. #27 was a family walk round Warmley forest park. I have lived in this city for 16 years and I had no idea of its existence. It is not the most striking of beautiful places, but what amazed me was how much public space there was. We hardly saw anyone. People seem to prefer malls and fast food and being glued to their phones.

I have recently met some incredible women as part of a new group. I was chatting to one husband while out for a drink. We tried to bring him into conversation as he was the only guy, the rest of us having failed to bring our partners and all us women are pretty big personalities. “What do you do?” Is a question social norms tell us to ask. “I am a farmer.” He replied. “He absolutely loves it!” Said his wife. “I love every day.” He said. And he had a wonderful poetic soul and spoke of his connection to nature and meaningful work.

Most of us start our working lives following rules which tell us we should strive to join a “profession”. If we do this we will earn lots of money, buy a nice house, get a flash car and then we will be happy. Career advice at school fails (like so many things in school) to ask us the most important question “what do you enjoy?” If the starting point for decision making is based on money, it will almost certainly end with pain. If the starting point is happiness, the rest will probably follow.

I text a friend about a year ago. “How are you all?” Her reply has been indelibly marked on my grey matter “We are poor, but happy.” For a while I had visited this friend while her partner was working. I would cycle over and have cheese and wine and we would analyse life and motherhood. As I would go to leave, I had to unlock my bike and happen upon a scene of the two adults through the window who showed each other pure love. They looked so happy.

You never stop learning nor growing

Sy

Adventure #28 was an adventure with the little one and I. He had been feeling jealous that the big one was having a Granddad day. So we bunged our bikes in the van and went off to Colliere’s way cycle path. I had been along it when Z was about 2 but not since then. He sung and weaved around in the dappled sunlight. It cost us nothing and he was happy as it encompasses two really great play parks.

A cycle through the mendips

I accidentally took us on a 10 mile trip. By the end we were both really tired. But it cost us nothing apart from the ice cream we chose to buy.

Three books changed my life. One of them is called ‘lost connections’ by Johan Hari. He talks about uncovering the real causes of depression and cause six is “Disconnection from the natural world.” The wonderful thing about this book is that you realise by the end that there is no barrier to you really feeling better. The resources are right in front of you and at your disposal.

It was while on this micro adventure that I devised a new idea for a business. Could I build a new carrier path based on what makes me happy? I knew it would not pay as much as teaching but imagine waking up every day excited! Most of us spend 50 weeks of the year being miserable in order to be happy on a two week holiday. What if we, like the lovely farmer, could flip that idea on its head?

Finding Nirvana

Feeling inspired to get out for door step adventures in spring is not too challenging. Doing this in the deep winter is another story.


Back in January, we had a few snowy days. This is really quite unusual in the UK. We tend to get endless grey days and drizzle that sticks to your face and gets you down. The snow came in suddenly and no one quite believed it. The children woke up opened the curtains and literally screamed. They danced around the room like loons. They wanted to run around outside before even having breakfast. If only there were more times in adult life we could get this excited about something!

Frozen paddling pool

The children all went bonkers in the local park while their parents tended to stand around complaining about being cold and coffee shops being shut. The next day, I decided to try to change my mindset about it.

Micro adventures are about treating each day, as much as possible, like you are exploring some new and thrilling holiday destination. So Adventure #8: Drive north till you find something interesting. I took just my older son in our van and we found ourselves randomly choosing country lanes purely on the basis of just looking interesting. This was strangely liberating. Since the onslaught of sat nav how often do you set out in the car with no specific destination? I could remember doing this a lot as a student, but not in recent years. Eventually we came to Tortworth forest and arboretum. I had never even heard of it.

My son moaned and told me he was tired but I kept him carrying on but pointing things out in the snow you would never normally see. He was fascinated. We saw mole, hare and fox tracks in the snow. Teddy had never even heard of hares before.

A secret fishing lake

The thing we found quite striking was the silence. People were avoiding driving because of the weather conditions and wildlife was tucked away from the cold. It was totally still.

In total contrast, our next adventure #9 was to drink fake champagne on the Eurostar followed by #10 spend sunset at the Sacre Coeur. Paris was really busy and the weather was incredibly warm and mild. People were everywhere and the atmosphere was euphoric. Our children had not really been on a train since they were really tiny and none of us had been on a train under the sea before. It was totally thrilling. I felt like I was in a Bond film. And although we are not a religious family, the sight we saw at the top of the steep climb to the top totally took my breath away. You could see why this location was chosen for such an iconic place of worship. It was Nirvana .

Sensory stimulation for the soul

Pembrokeshire coastal path with crashing waves

Last weeks of Easter break have been incredible. I managed to squeeze 4 adventures in, and I have been able to share them with my favourite people.

Adventure #22 : pack a picnic and your toothbrushes and see where you end up.

We stayed in an unusual b&b and ate at a local pub with a kids play area and open grass. I sat inside and enjoyed the peace while the other three played fotty. We feasted on steak and lasagne and things we would never eat at home.

The beach was deserted as we went after breakfast and we enjoyed chasing the squealing gulls. At the end of the beach we found Victorian gardens abloom with carefully selected fauna to create a reason to be present on the cusp of spring.

Bridge building

The point at which we stop playing is the point at which we have lost joy in our lives.”

Syreeta

The next day of weather was terrible. I had found a new forest park to explore, but everyone else was reticent to say the least. Heldon forest park is cultivated for people , to be sure, but it has the charm and usefulness of all forestry commission sites. It is 3,500 acres of woodland just 15 minutes from Exeter. There is a really good cafe with a covered outdoor eating area and a log burner inside if the weather turns funky. We sat and drank hot chocolate while the windows turned blurry with rain. Eventually it did ease off and we stomped up the hill through majestic trees. The boys were singing and I was breathing deeply the smells the fallen rain had thrown up from the forest floor.

One of the activities we did at a Forest School training the week before was called sitting tree. You choose a spot and sit for 10 minutes. As she said it, I could feel panic rising in me. I have always suspected that I have ADHD. This would feel like 3 hours. I would immediately ‘out’ myself as a weirdo with no concentration. But an interesting thing happened. I took my shoes off and felt the grass below me. I felt the breeze on my face. I listened to multiple bird songs. I touched the different ferns around me. When the tutor finally called us back I was surprised. “How long do you think you were there for?” I was convinced it had been less than 10 minutes. “It was actually 20.”

Smells of wild garlic in spring

“How was it that I don’t have ADHD in the forest, but struggle to be in a room for 2 minutes? And how is it that my son has autism in school, but is suddenly cured at the beach?”

The world we now occupy is ever more 2 dimensional and this is getting exasperated by screen culture. On a screen you are seeing, and maybe hearing something but that is it. What we probably call naughty behaviour in children and depressed behaviour in adults could be seen as types of sensory seeking. A craving, if you like, for those parts of the brain we are not exercising. People are under the impression that over stimulation stops kids concentrating, but what if it is the other way round? Nature is a beautiful multilayered, multi dimensional feast for the mind. Interesting smells, sounds and textures are bombarding us from all directions. And are also constantly changing. We did not evolve inside four walls. We have spent hundreds of thousands of years living in and with our natural surroundings.

Perhaps the reason we all have a connection to nature because we actually feel at home and the man made buildings are actually the alien environment. Important neural connections are made by tiny babies who are touched and spoken to. Baby sensory classes are very popular because of research telling us that this is important for brain development. What if, in fact, this does not change with age?

My quest for 52 micro adventures has created in me the headspace to reconsider all of the reasons I thought I felt stressed and tired and stuck in a rut. I have been emancipated by my adventures. And dear reader, this is the most impressive part! You don’t need a shit load of money, nor time, nor permission from anyone. You could go and find a micro adventure right now.