Dare to Do: Taking on the planet by bike and boat

Dare to Do: Taking on the planet by bike and boat

by Sarah Outen


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781473655287
Publisher: Quercus
Publication date: 11/13/2018
Pages: 304
Product dimensions: 5.12(w) x 7.75(h) x 0.75(d)

About the Author

Sarah Outen is a British adventurer, motivational speaker and author. In November 2015 Sarah completed her London2London: Via the World expedition, which saw her attempt to kayak, cycle and row 25,000 miles around the Northern Hemisphere. The journey took 4.5 years and was all the richer for not turning out exactly as had been planned.

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Dare to Do

Taking on the planet by bike and boat

By Sarah Outen

Nicholas Brealey Publishing

Copyright © 2016 Sarah Outen
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4736-4461-8


'Just come home safe': Europe

London to Belgium | Kayak and bike | April 2011 | 200 miles

Tower Bridge, London, 1 April 2011. I pulled on my delivered-just-in-time new paddling gear and peered downstream across London's familiar skyline. 'Let's just see what happens, Outen. It'll be fine. It has to be,' I told myself, wiggling my toes inside their new boots.

'I just wanted to say goodbye before it gets mad,' said Sara Davies, my project manager, as she slipped through the door and wrapped me in a hug.

'Thank you, my friend. We wouldn't be here if it wasn't for everything you've done. I'm so grateful,' I said, batting away tears.

'It's exciting, isn't it?' she beamed, wiping away her own. 'Just come home safely – that's all we want. Now, you've got one more interview outside and then it's speeches,' she said, reading off her clipboard. I had already visited the schoolchildren who had come down to watch the send-off, been interviewed by streams of press and hugged as many of my guests as possible. I had also been to the loo more times than I could count.

My kayak and bike sat across the front of the stage where I stood next to Fiona O'Hara, my lead sponsor at Accenture.

'How are you feeling?' she said in her broad Northern Irish accent, smiling as I gripped her arm.

'I'm nervous!'

'You've got nothing to be nervous of. You've done all the hard work. Enjoy it. They're all here for you.'

We listened as the commander of the base welcomed us officially to HMS President. I looked around at all the faces who had helped me get there and who were already willing me home safely. A part of me couldn't quite believe we had got this far. As I walked across the deck and towards the gangway down to our kayaks I gripped the arms and eyes of friends and family, wondering when I would see them again. Or if. It had only just hit me that two and a half years felt like quite a long time to be away; before, it had just been another number amongst the nuts and bolts of planning. My only focus had been getting ready to go by April 1st, to set out on my journey around the Northern Hemisphere. Aiming not to use sails or engines (although my gear would go by those means), I planned to row, cycle and kayak eastwards from London back to London, across land and sea, starting from the place I last finished from leg to leg. Lying on the floor in my tiny bedroom at my mum's house, my pencil had wandered in all sorts of loops and diversions, before I chiselled it into something that I thought looked realistic based on other journeys by fellow wanderers and would fit in roughly that timeline. I would kayak and cycle from London to Japan, row the North Pacific to Canada, cycle across North America and row home across the North Atlantic, with a final triathlon from Falmouth to London. Each leg on its own was ambitious, so to join them up successfully and return home approximately on time would be down to a good dose of luck, too. I aimed not to come home at all between legs, spending time in location planning and preparing for the onwards leg where there was time for it. But if I needed to leave my route for any reason, or there was a delay between legs, then I would go back to the same place to restart.

Routes and logistics revolved around unmovable seasons and weather windows for ocean crossings, planning when and where I needed to be and with what kit ahead of or following me. Training and fitness centred around building a core base of strength and stability and maintaining endurance across a range of disciplines.

My team and I identified trigger points for mental issues and remembered ways to deal with them or thought up new ones. Custom vehicles were built and readied: a rowing boat called Gulliver, a kayak called Nelson and a bike called Hercules. I collected gear and clothing for land and sea and summer and winter. Some of it had to be logoed with the insignia of my major sponsors. Visas and spare passport. Medical training and jabs. Maps and trackers. Crisis plans and a hefty insurance policy from an insurer willing to join us. Most of them were not willing to go anywhere near it.

Which left us with the trickiest and most fickle task of all: reconciling large bills and budgets with my bank accounts and overdrafts. It was going to be an extremely expensive project due to the scale, remoteness and length of the journey. By the time I left it had absorbed all of my earnings and savings and the slush of my overdraft, and the remainder was (mostly) met by nearly seventy sponsors who partnered with the project because it (or I) aligned with their brand, values or goals. The final piece fell into place with just three weeks to go before April 1st. I had been speaking for Accenture at their International Women's Day event in London. As I walked out to the drinks reception, Fiona grabbed my arm: 'We need to talk about money.' I thought I had filed my expenses claim incorrectly; actually they wanted to be the main sponsor. Up to that point I was determined to set off and figure out the deficit as I journeyed, though in hindsight, having had to do that, I now know that it is a mission and a half to fill in such a big gap while underway and under time pressure.

My team became a diverse mix of people who had been a part of my Indian Ocean row and newcomers, a mix of volunteers and professionals. I had a project manager, a PR manager, a couple of doctors, a psychotherapist, a logistics manager, a support kayaker, an accountant and a weather router, mostly working from the UK. Some found me, I found others or they were recommended to me and some I had worked with on the Indian Ocean. For fifteen months we all slogged away together in preparation.

There was another key element to this adventure, and that was the idea of sharing the journey and the benefits. We scoped an education project for linking up with students around the world via live links or school visits and with online resources. I chose charities to work with based on close links and causes: the breast cancer awareness charity CoppaFeel!, the accessible sailing charity Jubilee Sailing Trust, the MND (motor neurone disease) Association and WaterAid for their championing of safe hygiene and water supplies around the world.

'THREE CHEERS FOR SARAAAAAAAH!' shouted my mum from the gangway above us. And everyone hollered in response. 'Just come home safely,' she had said at our final hug moments before we got on the water. 'We' in this instance was me and Justine Curgenven, in our separate kayaks – mine blue, hers red. From the earliest planning stages I knew that I needed to team up with someone for the kayaking as my experience was limited and the leg between Russia and Japan especially would be remote and technical. 'Justine! You need Justine!' said some paddlers when I asked if they had any ideas about how and where I find this person. I was suitably awed that someone was known in the sea kayaking world by only their first name and, upon Googling her, saw that a string of kickass kayak journeys and films had made her world renowned. Justine helped train me at first and then I popped the question. Happily, she had said yes. After kayaking from London to France, Justine would then rejoin me in far eastern Russia, six months hence, to kayak with me to Japan, with a trip out to China to film me for a week.

I paddled away from the pontoon nervously, having been too busy with finding sponsorship to kayak for months, afraid that the choppy tidal Thames would pull me over. Elephants, not just butterflies, paraded about inside. I was nervous. I was excited. I felt a bit sick with the adrenaline. A helicopter buzzed somewhere above, the VHF radio in my buoyancy aid crackled with traffic while the two Royal Navy escort boats carrying my family, press and sponsors hummed into position. River traffic frothed past, kicking up wake. On all sides London plodded on with its midday routine.

The claxon blared. Waving upwards to supporters holding flags and signs of encouragement, I laughed and whooped as I paddled underneath Tower Bridge, officially on my way. It felt good to be moving, although it also felt like there was a very fine line between upright paddling Sarah and upside-down Sarah. I talked gently to Nelson, my kayak, about how I would really prefer to stay on top of the water if he would oblige and do the wet bit. When the boats turned to go, taking my family and sponsors back upstream with them, I watched as long as I could until the river curved them away. 'Bye ...' I said flatly, for only me and Justine to hear. Landmarks of London slid by as the Thames doodled her way eastwards, passing through the Thames Barrier and sweeping towards the sea through the flatlands of Essex and Kent. I appreciated the silent spaces amongst the chat as Justine left me alone with my thoughts.

The Thames is tidal from Richmond, some 20 miles or so upstream of Tower Bridge. Hence we planned to kayak in bursts with the twice daily ebb, making the most of the six- hour flow to gain miles towards the coast, resting ashore during the flood. We had our tents in our kayaks and enough food to be self-sufficient for the two to three days it would take us, so we could literally sleep anywhere dry enough. Rest would be token and swift: I had already promised my protesting brain and body that it could happen in France or beyond, but for now I just wanted to get across the water and put some miles on the log. The need to reach Russia's far eastern coast before winter set in and the sea froze was already pressing, even without unplanned mishaps. Had I set myself up for a ridiculous failure? The only answer would come in doing.

As the sun set we hauled out at Gravesend Rowing Club for food and a few hours' sleep amongst the racked boats. We launched again in the wee hours onto a black sea, disturbing sleeping swans from their slipway roost. Picking out the blinking colours of navigation markers, we threaded our way through safe channels, skirting no-go zones. As I paddled I wrestled with the urge to scratch at my neck, which was already being irritated by crusty salt, seawater and friction from the rubber seal on my drysuit that niggled at my sensitive skin. But dawn threw pinks and oranges across vast skies and I noticed the fatigue and irritation drift off like a cloud for a while. I wallowed in its space, grateful for the new energy. Left side, right side, left side, right side, pulling and pushing, pulling and pushing. I just needed to be the hamster on the wheel and keep things turning until France: repeat, repeat, repeat.

My digestive system also seemed to be stuck in repeat: food wasn't staying put for long. On our second night we camped near a ruined castle on a steeply shingled beach, waking in the early hours to a throng of stars. Diarrhoea forced me running to the waterline and I hoped that it would sort itself out by the Channel crossing, which could possibly happen the next day. By the time we reached Kingsdown beach in Kent – by most people's definition of an early Sunday morning – I was ready for bed. My forearms creaked like violin strings and my hands were hotspotted with the beginnings of blisters. A lady got chatting to us and, on hearing that I was feeling poorly, went home and reappeared with a plate of scrambled eggs and toast. I hoped that we wouldn't be paddling tomorrow and lay down on the pebbles to sleep. Logistics manager Tim and my friend Claire arrived with the car and whisked us away to Ramsgate Sailing Club to sleep and sort. Still feeling ill, I fell asleep quickly and woke up to hushed voices. 'I know Sarah, she'll want to go tonight,' said Claire. She was right: if we didn't go now, the next clear window might be days away. Low-pressure systems waltzed in off the Atlantic regularly at this time of the year.

We got on the water at 10.30 p.m., neon glow sticks on our buoyancy aids and little white lights at either end of our kayaks. I had hired a compulsory escort boat – given that the Channel is the busiest shipping lane in the world and authorities on both sides are cautious about people getting squashed. Tim and a photographer rode on the escort boat, while Claire drove to Dover to catch the ferry, ready to shadow me for a few days on the other side. Unbeknownst to me, on Tower Bridge day Claire had disappeared off to get an emergency passport, having only discovered the day before that hers had expired. Perennially late, but always getting the job done, we have been adventure buddies since our teens. I was glad that she was there.

'If I had known it was this rough, we wouldn't have come,' said Justine, disappearing behind the wave that had just rolled under my own kayak. I was very glad that we hadn't known it was this rough earlier because I was glad we were on our way. This was only the second time I had ever kayaked in the dark and I was concentrating 112 per cent, determined not to go over. I couldn't yet roll my kayak reliably, so a capsize would almost certainly involve a swim. Deep water scares me, so I thought it was better just to stay upright.

Around midnight, I shouted to Justine that it was time for our hourly break and that I really had to have a wee. We rafted up and Justine leaned across my boat to hold them together. I released my spray deck and stood up in my boat, putting one foot across the back of Justine's. I reached around to undo the stiff and awkward zip, moved all the layers out of the way and aimed between the boats (if you can't get it between the boats, you always aim for the other person's). Just as I was getting ready to rezip, my foot slipped off Justine's deck and I fell between the two boats, scrambling back into my own cockpit before the English Channel poured into my unzipped drysuit. Feeling lucky to have avoided disaster, I shimmied back into my cockpit quickly and we paddled on. I had cinched the hood of my drysuit tightly over my hat, not having yet learned the need for a waterproof one like Justine was wearing, and I made a note with every drip of water which sploshed onto my head to bring mine along for the next leg.

A few hours later Justine began hallucinating and I found I was reasoning with myself as to which way was up, distorted by reflections. Stars wavered as I struggled to stay outside of my eyelids and the lights of passing ships crawled jerkily across the horizon. I sang songs, making them up when I forgot the words, always returning to the comforting, unthinking familiarity of school hymns. I recited poems. I counted strokes. I sang some more. I allowed myself the count of ten with closed eyes before making myself wake up again. I bit my cheek to keep myself awake. France kept moving further away from us or sat annoyingly at the same distance as we waltzed north and south with the tides. Justine navigated and I followed, keeping check on our course with the compass mounted on my front deck. I was very chuffed to have her on board for her experience, knowledge and sense of fun. I was also glad to be a duo of women, given the sometimes chauvinistic attitudes towards our sex that we might somehow need a bloke to get the job done. Those who don't have watery experience have sometimes questioned why I needed her at all, given that I had rowed across the Indian Ocean. The answer is in the contrast of the two disciplines and the boundary of sea and shore. To kayak remotely safely in tidal, exposed waters, you need coastal skills and insights. To row across an ocean, the balance is heavily weighted in favour of the open, relatively safe middle and the technical skills are different. I would need to learn by doing. I am also glad that Justine took a punt on my lesser kayaking skills. 'Put it this way. I would rather have someone with the right attitude and a good survival instinct than someone who has pretty skills and some certificates,' she said.

As dawn switched the light on, the horizon beyond us grew cranes, buildings and ports. Calais lay before us. I scoured westwards for a slither of England, but just saw the giant metallic commuters slugging along. The last lights of home had disappeared many hours ago. My first ever tide race in a kayak bounced and snatched at us a mile from shore and I gritted my teeth and the paddle equally against the unknown movements, concentrating, bracing and reacting. Cold wee now sloshed up and down my legs after I had been unable to hold on any longer nor stop in the chop to raft up as normal. I gave the suit an ironic ten out of ten for waterproofness. Small surf nuzzled us ashore onto cool sand, the morning sun low. Staleness wafted into the freshness as I pulled back my spray deck and lumbered out to wobble a little circle on the spot. We had left Tower Bridge sixty-five hours and 110 miles ago. It had taken eight hours of paddling through the night to make it from Kent to Calais.


Excerpted from Dare to Do by Sarah Outen. Copyright © 2016 Sarah Outen. Excerpted by permission of Nicholas Brealey Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Prologue: What Next? 1

Part I Having a Go

1 'Just come home safe': .Europe 9

2 Kindness of Strangers: Europe 19

3 Tea and Snakes: Europe and Asia 36

4 Gao: 'I am happiness': Asia 44

5 No Roads, Only Destinations: Asia and Europe 57

6 'We are all one': Asia 80

7 Stormed: Pacific Ocean 93

Part II Having Another Go

8 Fallout: UK 121

9 The Pacific Ocean #2 130

10 Changing Course 139

11 Crashed: North America and UK 152

12 Aang: Aleutian Islands 158

13 Evolution: Pacific Ocean and North America 180

Part III Letting Go

14 Who Am I?: North America and Canada 199

15 Thirty Below: Canada and America 223

16 Across the Water: Atlantic Ocean 249

17 The Final Run Home: UK 274

18 Downstream: UK 280

Who's Who 284

Acknowledgements 286

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