The Matt Prior Adventure Academy

Two years ago an email appeared in my inbox from Matt Prior.

“Having recently spoken to our mutual friend about a few trips, your name came up and it reminded me, I still need to write to Squash.  Unfortunately we haven’t met face to face…”

Matt continued by telling about some of his projects and was reaching out to discuss other opportunities.  I had a look around his website and realised he was a pretty remarkable character.

Matt did a Q&A with me as part of a series of interviews to show what effect adventure can have on your life.

He also told me about his baby!  The Matt Prior Adventure Academy.

“A one week adventure like no other.  A no-frills, practical course designed to give you an introduction into Adventure, Travel and Overland Expeditions.
The aim is to show you the benefits of adventure to you and your life. Once you understand the mindset and how to implement what is required, you will be able to achieve anything you want to.”

It sounded remarkable and I thought to myself, I wish I could go on that.

Amazing how things work out!

I finally met Matt, in person at the end of last year and he said he would like me to join him on one of the trips to see what I thought and to see if we both thought this was something I could lead.

My ‘interview’ was two weeks ago.  Matt was very keen that I experienced the adventure academy as he delivers it, so armed with very little information I arrived in Indonesia with my kit and met the team.

The next six days would be off grid and without internet, that I relished, but not knowing what the itinerary was, that was tough!  Not knowing where or how far we would travel or for how long, not knowing when our next meal would be or where we would stay, for me this was a new experience.  I adapted quickly – we all did, we had to!

We were a small team of four and diverse in age and background but an expedition is a great leveler and friendships formed fast.

With a strap line of Live, don’t just exist, the academy packs a huge number of unique experiences into a short space of time.  There was motorbikes, active volcanoes, remote villages, things very few other people have ever seen before and tough times where digging deep and asking a lot of yourself is needed.

I hadn’t really thought about the fact that most of the expeditions I’ve done previously have been in cold environments in dry air.  The intense heat, high humidity and tropical rain storms were a shock to my system and I was so out of my comfort zone – which of course is where the magic happens.

If this trip was easy then everyone would do it, with very limited spaces available each person is interviewed and what follows is a week of tough, unforgettable experiences that show you who you are and more importantly what you are capable of.

If you have an adventurous spark but are not really sure where to start then click here and you’ve already begun and I might just be seeing you in Indonesia next year for an amazing adventure.

 

 

 

The Red Bull X-Alps – Dawn Westrum Team USA3

The Red Bull X-Alps, a 1038km race from Salzburg to Monaco by foot or by paraglider, is less than two weeks away.

With a reputation as the toughest adventure race in the world all eyes are now turning to the athletes and their supporters as they reach the final stages of their preparation.

For the past 10 yesrs the bi-annual event has had an all male line up.  This year that’s different and we’re delighted to see Dawn Westrum from the USA and Yvonne Dathe from Germany.

This weekend I had a quick catch up with Dawn who arrived in Europe on May 5th.

How is training going?
Training is going well, a good mix of flat road hiking, hills, upper body training (via ferratas!), and flying.   With only a couple of weeks to go now I am starting to taper…better to be too rested than over trained.

How do you feel physically?
Physically I am ready for the race to start.  Bring it on!

How do you feel mentally?  Is it as you imagined?
Mentally I am a lot more confident than before we arrived.  Being able to see the terrain, fly it, hike it has been perfect.  Now I know what is coming and I know the fastest routes on the ground and in the air.

Have you been training with the other teams, how is that?
We traveled for a few days with Dave Turner and his supporters, which was fun.  We were able to help each other out by comparing notes and checking out the maps for the area.

Are you feeling a lot of pressure as only one of two women in the event?
No, I don’t feel too much pressure.  Well, I may be lying about that, as I think everyone in the race is feeling a lot of pressure!   But I’m going in with the idea that I’m competing against myself.  As long as I do the best I can then I will be satisfied.

What are you thinking about when you go to sleep each night?
I’m sleeping pretty well at night, actually.  I’m trying to store up a little although I know I can’t do that.  I think since I spend a lot of the day thinking about the race, I can let it go at night and sleep well.

Describe how you feel in three words about the race starting in just two weeks.
Let’s start tomorrow!

Dawn_Westrum

Big thanks to Dawn for taking the time to chat and Good Luck!

I’ll be arriving in Salzburg in a weeks time with the Powertraveller team who are partners of this years event – we will be following the race and supporting the athletes for their off-grid power needs.  New for this years race is the Powertraveller Prologue Race – on the 2nd July the athletes will take part in a mini X-Alps completing a triangle around Fuschl Am See, amongst the mountains made famous in the classic film – The Sound of Music!  Unlike the race itself the Powertraveller Prologue will allow fans to be really close to the action for the entire duration.   The first three athletes to finish will earn a five-minute head start in the main race and they will also win an additional Led Lenser Nightpass to journey through the night, which is going to make things very interesting!

South America

I’m recently back from an epic 10 week trip in South America.  A journey through Argentina, Chile, Peru, Colombia and Brazil doing the first 3000miles on my BMW F800 GS Adventure!

I was with a crew and together we were filming for an adventure travel series.. details to follow!

Our schedule was very full.  It was such a busy time.  So many places, people and experiences.

We kicked things off with long days and late nights in Buenos Aires – that city really does not sleep – and it was a mistake when I thought that things would calm down after that.

On day seven a World First and a World Record were attempted and….. you’ll have to watch the show when it comes out to see if we got it!

Argentina is a beautiful country and I felt really at home when we reached Patagonia in the South and got into the mountains.

Crossing the boarder into Chile was spectacular and we met some impressive British cyclists who were cycling around the world, they were 18,000miles into their journey and I was utterly amazed when they told me they were baking their own bread!!  They were carrying with them a camping bread oven – genius.

The winding, long and smooth roads through the Andes were just perfect on the motorbike.  We rode into Chile and all the way to Pichilemu on the coast.  A surfers paradise; great waves, hanging out on the beach, camp fires, stunning sunsets and the best cheese and tomato empanadas I’ve ever had in my life!

Chile is so diverse, we travelled from the chic and bustling international city of Santiago into the vast emptiness of the Atacama dessert – where I had my first experience of boiling eggs in geysers for breakfast! (Photo – Matt Irwin)

Cooking eggs in geysers, Chile.

The trip changed gear in Peru – it was like entering the Twilight zone!  There’s a magical energy about the place and I just loved it.  I had a meeting with a Shaman who read my coco leaves, visited the wonder that is Machu Picchu and had an absolutely brilliant time running wild in Cusco – literally.  Our final stop in Peru was Lima which, at night, is easily the most dangerous place I’ve ever ridden a motorbike!

From Lima we flew to Colombia and into the Amazon where I had a few unexpected treats and again confirmed to myself that I am definitely not a hunter!  The cities in Colombia were fun and the local food is delicious but that’s probably because it was either fried or full of sugar.

Our final destination was Rio de Janeiro and what a place to end the trip.  From the poverty in the favelas to the riches of the Copacabana beach front, Rio’s got it all going on.  We arrived just as the carnivals were finishing but we still found parades and bloc parties!

The final scene we filmed was flying over the city, it was a rather scary take off and landing on the beach was incredible but there were mixed emotions.  I was happy, of course, I’d just landed safely from a wonderful flight but it also marked the end of the trip.

It’s often hard finishing an adventure or a journey, especially when you’ve made strong bonds with your team and been through so much together.  It also really hard to put your experiences into words.  When people ask me “Squash, how was South America?”  I struggle because the answer is a long one and there’s so much to say about it…

“Amazing” sums it up pretty well though.

Paragliding over Rio

Filming in South America

It’s been just over a month since I departed the UK and hit the ground running in Buenos Aires on January 6th – which feels like a very long time ago.  We’re moving at a fast pace and so far have filmed almost five episodes…

I’m working on an adventure travel series and for now that’s pretty much all the detail I can give about exactly what I’m doing.

It’s been a steep learning curve going from filming my own short films on GoPro’s where I’ve been the director, producer and presenter to having a full crew and making hours of television instead of 10minute shorts.

To say it’s been easy would be a lie.  It’s been like climbing a mountain.  Incredible, amazing, tough, difficult, hard, funny, brilliant, stressful, exciting, scary and at times just unbelievable!

The crew are a group of very talented individuals who, like on a mountain too, are making all the difference and fast becoming good friends.  I love working within in a team like this and now we have instruments for the musicians amongst us we’re more like a Rock Band on tour!

Here is a selection of photos that I wanted to share, in no particular order, to give you a glimpse of the past month.

…and there’s still another six weeks to go.

Photos by Daley Hake, Matt Irwin, Monty Tomlinson and Me!

 

Happy New Year!

What an amazing year 2013 has been and 2014 is set to be another incredible one!

Looking back over the past 12 months it’s been quite a year…

Things kicked off in January with Wings of Kilimanjaro, where I was proud to be part of the largest group ever to climb to the summit of the mountain and in the process raise over half a million dollars for three charities making a difference on the ground in Tanzania; The One Foundation, Plant with Purpose and WorldServe International.

I was only back in the UK for a few weeks before beginning The Go Trek with Dave Cornthwaite – a 3074mile, two month journey around Europe by ElliptiGo.  Not only did I get into the best shape physically that I’ve ever been in, I was delighted to get to know the inspirational team at Coppafeel – the fab boob charity we raised over £3000 for – and also to meet so many generous, kind and lovely people along the way.

On my return to the UK I enjoyed being back on two wheels, but this time with an engine and I had a blast taking my BMW F800GS out to the Aosta Valley in Italy where I climbed Monte Rosa.

Before returning back to the UK I rode to Aix Les Bains in France where I took part in the ElliptiGo European Championships.  A great event and brilliant to get to know more of the ElliptiGo community.

In September I was excited to meet up with Ranulph Finnes, Kenton Cool and the Powertraveller Team at The Royal Geographical Society where we were working on a project for the new Powertravller product (due to be released in early 2014).

October and November saw the confirmation of a plan that has been bubbling away in the back ground for a while now.  I took a trip to the States to get to work on pre production and training for a new adventure travel series that I will be filming in 2014 with an amazing team!  The biggest surprise of that trip was learning to BASEJump!!

The year concluded with a trip to South Africa, I was in the sunshine for Christmas and while I was there I took the opportunity to climb Table Mountain.

Even in this quick round up of the year its easy to see that I’ve been able to do some wonderful things in incredible places and raise money for very good causes.

I’m so lucky to have the support of my friends and family, I’ve met some great people in 2013 and I’m proud to work with the teams and companies that I do; PowertravellerRab, BMW, GoPro, Salomon, Suunto, Aosta Valley, Peli & Zaini.

It’s the people in my life and the people who I meet that make all the difference.  Thank you all for your support, encouragement and love.

I hope that 2014 is a wonderful year for everyone …. and don’t forget if you’re knickers are right, then everything goes right!

See you in 2014, Squash! xx

 

BMW Off Road Skills Brecon Beacon Adventure

Back in July I headed down to South Wales to join the Off Road Skills team to do my Level One Off Road Training.  It was a brilliant couple of days, made a huge difference to my off road riding, increased my confidence and basically left me wanting more…

The Brecon Beacons Adventure was the perfect next step.  The two day adventure ride based in Radnorshire, mid Wales organised by the Off Road Skills Team is made up of riding the great tracks and roads of Radnor Forest.

I went at the end of October – a two day off road adventure when a huge wind and rain storm was forecast in the UK.  But hey, surely a bit of rain and mud wasn’t that different to a lot of rain and mud?!

I was joining the Bahnstormer Motorrad dealership group.  We all arrived on Saturday evening ahead of our Sunday morning departure.  I was a little nervous, it had been a few months since I’d done the Off Road Level One Course and the conditions this time were very different.  It was wet and muddy, not dry and dusty.

We split into three groups of 6-8 riders, each group with an instructor and headed out from the Off Road Skills headquarters.  We soon left the road and found a pace on a stoney lane track with a little water on it in places!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was riding an F 800GS.  I love the bike although I would’t have minded being on the R 1200GS after a test ride earlier in the year and realising that it isn’t as intimidating as it looks!  The bikes are amazing and as we did our first few miles off road I started to think I was getting the hang of it….

….It wasn’t long before I came off!  Heading down a muddy track, out of the ruts and on the wet slippery grass in the centre I pulled on the brakes.  Bad move!  The brakes locked and the back tyre (acting like it was on ice) slid round.  Of course the best thing would have been to use engine breaking, commit to going and not try to stop – easier said than done though.

This wasn't a fall - Richard was just getting some mud off his jacket!
This wasn’t a fall – Richard was just getting some mud off his jacket!

Coming off was a good thing, it took away my fear about coming off!  I was moving slowly, it didn’t hurt and it was a soft landing.  I soon realised what I was doing wrong, it was my fear and harshness with the brakes that made me fall off – every time!

By the afternoon I felt I’d made significant improvement and in just a day we’d covered almost 100miles of country roads, muddy lanes, open moorland and forest areas.

That night we welcomed the cosy country pub and hearty meal.  Listening to the rain continue I knew that more deep water would be in store for the next day.  And I was right!

Crossing an overflowing river!
Crossing an overflowing river!

On day two our group was riding with Simon Pavey, who is possibly one of the most patient people I’ve ever met! As I went sideways down a bank and came off the bike Simon grinned at me and said, “You know what you did wrong? You looked down.”  He then said to me, “Relax, look up and let the wheels roll”.

And something clicked.

Let the wheels roll...
Let the wheels roll…

Relax, look up and let the wheels roll.  Relax, look up and let the wheels roll.  Relax, look up and let the wheels roll. The perfect mantra for off road riding.

I began riding with less fear and in turn I used less energy.  Everything felt better.  It reminded me a lot of when I was learning to ski.  The last thing I wanted to do was point my skis down hill, lean forward and go but as soon as I had the confidence to do that it all slotted into place..  Then it was all about practice!

The final afternoon was spent all riding as one large group back across the mountain tracks at our own pace, free to pick a line and just go for it.

It was exhilarating, fast and fun….

Getting dirty!
Getting dirty!
The happy Bahnstormer Group at the end of the trip.
The happy Bahnstormer Group at the end of the trip.

The Next Adventure

“What’s next Squash?” are words that I often hear.

Since returning from climbing Monte Rosa in the Aosta Valley in early September it’s a question I’ve been giving a very vague answer to and that’s because I can’t share all the details… yet!

I’ve spent a few years wondering about a particular type of project and working on plans in my mind.  Earlier this year I met someone who’s own ideas merged with mine and whose expertise and contribution has meant that we’ve been able to take the project to the next level.

What that means is; we have a team, we have a plan and the “Project” is happening.

My focus over the past month has been on training and planning here in the UK and in a week’s time I’ll be joining some of the team over in the States where more intense preparation will be happening.

The project is due to start early next year and will take around two months.  It will involve a journey and many different challenges; some of which are familiar to me and some completely new.  (You may have noticed my recent interest in swimming?)  I’ll also be meeting inspirational people along the way who’s individual challenges and stories I’ll be sharing.

I’ll tell you more as soon as I can! ….

Climbing Monte Rosa in the Aosta Valley

It was a total pleasure riding the BMW F800GS over the Petit St Bernard Pass from France to Italy into the Aosta Valley.  La Thuile, the first village you come to is particularly lovely in the summer.

Arriving in Couymayeur soon after marked the end of my journey on the bike and the start of my next journey, that would be something quite different.  Climb time!

I met up with my friend and mountain guide Marco and we set off to the other side of the valley.  There’s always a certain amount of nerves and excitement before a climb, especially when I pack my paraglider and there’s a chance I might be flying back down.

A huge wall of 4000m peaks, the Monte Rosa Chain, extends from the Breithorn all the way across to the multiple summits of Monte Rosa.

Just a three day trip, the plan was to get up to the first refuge, attempt a few summits on the second day, possibly staying up high and then if the weather was ok fly down on the morning of the third day.

We reached Gressoney and stopped at Staffel – where we took a series of three cable cars up to 3000m at Indren. It was a steady day.  Just an hours hike up to 3,500m to the Mantova Refuge, our base for the night.

All my kit plus my paraglider meant my ruck sack was huge!

A very huge Rab back pack!
A very huge Rab back pack!

The next morning we were up just after 5am and left as the sun came up.  Sunrise and sunsets on any mountain are always a particularly beautiful time.

Looking back down to the Mantova Hut at sunrise.
Looking back down to the Mantova Hut at sunrise.

Within a few hours we had negotiated a lot of crevasses, been enjoying the stunning views above the clouds and were on the first summit, the Balmenhorn, 4,167m.

Click here to see the short Punkt video we made on the top.

From there we headed over to the Zumstein summit 4,563m.  The ridge to the summit was very dramatic.  You walk along the edge, one side plummeting away to the clouds below – it was dizzying and reminded me of the summit ridges on Everest!

The final summit, just in time for lunch, was the Capanna Regina Margherita Hut, 4,554m.  The highest mountain refuge in Europe.  A place I’ve wanted to go to for years!  It’s a very cool hang out.  There’s dorms, good food and even….wifi!!!

We took the decision to head back down to the Mantova Hut after lunch, the weather forecast was not looking great – cloud and high winds.  We’d sleep there again and see what our final morning had in store for us.

I was up at 2am, 4am and 5am!  Each time the conditions were not suitable for flying… either too much cloud or too windy.  We left the hut mid morning and began our hike back down.

For me flying down is a welcome bonus and if it doesn’t happen that’s ok because the climbing and hiking part are wonderful too.

Heading back down.
Heading back down.

Marco and I were silent as we headed down.  The morning light was amazing and the views were spectacular.  I was deep in thought about the paragliding and thinking “what if this…. what if that….”and as if Marco could read my mind he broke the silence and said to me…

I like this quote, “A snowflake never falls in the wrong place.”

Amazing view of Mont Blanc lit by the sunrise.
Amazing view of Mont Blanc lit by the sunrise.

Photos by Marco Tamponi.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Riding BMW’s F800GS out to the Aosta Valley in Italy

As part of my latest adventure – to climb Monte Rosa in the Aosta Valley, raising awareness and supporting the charity Coppafeel – I’ve ridden over here on my BMW F800GS.

I packed the bike so that I could sit neatly between my bags – it was in line with arm chair comfort!

Sitting comfortably between my luggage!
Sitting comfortably between my luggage!

The journey to Aosta involved; two days, almost 900 miles, 5 tanks of fuel, 3 countries and a huge number of dead fly’s and bugs!

Just a few fly's on the helmet!
Just a few fly’s on the helmet!

My route took me down through the UK to the channel tunnel in Folkestone.  From there I went to Tignes in France. Taking the tunnel meant a very short crossing so I was able to cover a big distance in one day.  I rode over 700miles and felt good at the end of it.

The route to Aosta
The route to Aosta

The much shorter second days travel took me over the Col du Petit Saint-Bernard, a mountain pass from France into the Aosta Valley in Italy.  It was a joy to ride the bike along the twisting and turning, beautiful mountain roads.  I was lucky that both days travel saw sunshine and a little cloud… but no rain.

The comfort I experienced on the 800 was just brilliant and really made a huge difference.  The riding position is perfect so there’s no back, arm or neck ache.  The size of the bike means that you sit snuggly on the seat and experience very little wind against your body.  One of the most noticeable comforts I enjoyed was as a result of the hand guards – no wind on my hands meant warm hands.

The F800GS and all my kit!
The F800GS and all my kit!

The bike sat happily at 80mph enabling me to cover a good distance in a short time.  It also had enough power to carry my much needed 30kgs of luggage as if it wasn’t even on there.

I broke up the travel days with a couple of days in Tignes, where I was able to fit in some good acclimatisation time – a cycle ride up the Col de l’lseran and a hike up to 3,500m on the Grand Motte.  I was really happy to be up high. The Monte Rosa is 4,634m so I’ll really feel the benefit when I climb!

The view from the hike up the Grand Motte in Tignes
The view from the hike up the Grand Motte in Tignes

The weather forecast has changed several times in the past 72hours which is so often the case when you are in the mountains.

I’ve now arrived in the Aosta Valley, click here to see my arrival Punkt!  Fingers crossed that it’s good conditions for the three day climb I have ahead of me.

Monte Rosa was first climbed in 1855.  So during this climb I’m hoping to raise £185.50 for breast cancer awareness charity, Coppafeel.  Click here to donate.  Thank you!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

People, motorbikes, climbing and flying…

One of the things I absolutely love to do is combine my passions into one big adventure.

So I’m about to do just that!

Over the next few days I’ll be making my way to the Aosta Valley in Italy on my BMW F800GS, staying with friends on the way and then climbing Monte Rosa when I arrive.

For a few years I’ve wanted to climb Monte Rosa, the “Pink Mountain”.  Sitting on the boarder of Italy and Switzerland, at 4,634m it’s the highest mountain in Switzerland and the second-highest in both the Alps and western Europe.

Monte Rosa
Monte Rosa

It’s also home to the highest construction in Europe – The Regina Margherita Hut –  located at 4,559 metres, not only is the hut a refuge for climbers but it serves as an observatory and research centre as well.  The plan is to spend a night there before our summit push.

The Margarita Hut
The Margarita Hut

I’m going to take my paraglider with me and will aim to do some flying while I’m in the area too.

After the climb, I’ll make my way to Aix Les Bains, because it has worked out that just a day after I’ll be down from the mountain I will be able to attend the first ElliptiGo European Championships!  I’ll probably be quite tired… but I’m excited to be involved in the event and to see my fellow ElliptiGo’ers!

This trip has been finalised in the last week; I’ve only just booked my Chanel crossing (with hours to go) and I’m not completely sure of the route I’ll take to Aosta.  Sometimes though you just have to seize opportunities and Go for it!  

It’ll be a two week adventure combining some of my favourite things; people, motorbikes, climbing, flying and ElliptiGo’ing!

As always I like to get behind a good cause when I take on a new challenge so I’ve set up a just giving page in support of Coppafeel, a breast cancer awareness charity.

I’m aiming to raise £185.50 as Monte Rosa was first climbed in 1855.

If you’d like to support this next effort here’s a link to the page

Squash’s JustGiving page for Coppafeel

Go on 'Coppafeel!
Go on ‘Coppafeel!

Thank you! xx