It had been 7 days since we began this journey that would see us SUP 165 miles from Bristol to London. That night, we found ourselves packed into a tiny fishing spot perched on the edge of an overgrown field with a great view of the Thames. The day had been an almighty slog that saw us paddle 26.5 miles over more than 13 hours. Our bodies were beginning to creak.
Roll back 6 months. At an adventure film screening in Soho, I got talking to a stranger who mentioned that she was planning a SUP adventure that summer. We’d just met that evening and I’d only ever spent 20 minutes on a paddleboard, but it didn’t really matter: she asked whether I would be keen to get involved in her trip. I said yes.
Our aim was to show that you don’t have to go to far-flung destinations on the other side of the world to find adventure. We put together a team of 4 through Explorers Connect: myself, Penny Mitchell, Neil Froggitt and Will Phillips. Before the trip, we didn’t really know each other, but were united by our goal to prove that you can easily find adventure on your doorstep.
We were also trying to raise funds and awareness for a charity called the Youth Adventure Trust, which aims to help disadvantaged children find their inner strength by providing a series of free adventurous activities stretching over a 3-year period, taking children out of their comfort zone and making them work together, as a team, in order to complete the tasks set. In the age of technology and an ever-increasing sedentary lifestyle, it is very easy to live a life in front of a screen: the work that the Youth Adventure Trust does is invaluable at giving children the opportunities that we took for granted when we were younger.
I have always been interested in exploring the world around me even as a young child. It wouldn’t be uncommon for my friends and I to disappear into the fields surrounding our small town, climbing trees and making dens from dawn until dusk. This triggered a curiosity that has since seen me explore places around the globe, from Australian road trips to Mt. Kilimanjaro to drinking vodka and playing some strange card game with locals on an overnight train journey in Vietnam. Through travel, you can learn about the world around you even if you don’t speak the same language; it makes you focus on each other’s similarities rather than the differences. The PaddleCrawl was no different.
Other than one uncomfortable moment as slingshot practice for some youths, the journey highlighted how friendly people were along the way. Whether it was businesses allowing us to use their toilets, people giving us tea and snacks, or just chatting to us about what we were doing, we experienced the kindness of others every day. One evening, as we were looking for a place to camp, we got chatting to a German family on a moored boat. They offered us the land in front of their boat, charged our electronic devices, and brought us freshly brewed tea the next morning. It’s these stories that really bring a journey to life.
In the past, I had dismissed exploring the UK in favour of going abroad; this trip showed that Britain has a lot more to offer then I initially thought. At times, it really felt like we were exploring some wild, untouched land miles away from civilisation. The paddleboard gave us a new perspective, and we came back from the trip able to see our home country in a completely different way. The nine-day journey changed our view of the UK forever and helped us form lasting friendships.
If it weren’t for Explorers Connect, I may never have even thought about doing this journey. What Explorers Connect does (and does very well) is to lay the foundations for adventure with its talks, weekends, and micro-adventures. It also provides a network of like- minded individuals that you may never meet in your day-to-day lives. Throw in an idea for a challenge from one of those people and you might, like me, end up paddleboarding from Bristol to London.
Get out there and explore the world around you. You won’t regret it!
To find out more about EC adventures, including training courses, click here
To find a team-mate for an expedition you are planning, click here
For more about the PaddleCrawl project, click here