ell, I would take on the challenges I always dreamed of, of course. So I did exactly that. This was my catalyst to get up off of the sofa and jump into the unknown, taking on endurance expeditions across the globe.
Two months into my 3000 mile paddle, with Dave Cornthwaite, and pedal across the USA I woke up to the crunch, crunch, crunch of footsteps approaching my supposedly hidden tent. A voice called out " Hello? It's Mitch here. Are you OK?" I cautiously unzipped the front flap to discover a fella looming over me with a wonderful cowboy hat and spurs on his heels. In his hand was a flask of coffee and two cups. "I just wanted to see that you were OK and safe", he said handing me a paper cup. Then he was off, waving goodbye and wishing me good luck on my journey. I sat back in my tent, coffee in hand smiling at the gesture of kindness from a mere stranger.
The morning sun was glistening through a multitude of icicles scattered around my tent, making me feel like I was surrounded by a thousand little suns bursting with shards of colour. A good start to a 90 mile day on my cycle across America. I was reminded that morning that people are innately good. Moments like this are part of why I am an adventurer. The scenery around me is stunning, tucked away over a bluff. It is quite likely that those stuck in the traffic and fumes on a highway just 200 meters away have absolutely no idea that this idyllic little haven even exists. It reminds me of some lyrics from a Cat Empire song which really struck a chord, "Do you ever look around and find what is here to be found?"
I'm Ness. I have just completed a 2000 mile cycle across the USA. Before that I paddled 1001 miles down the Missouri River on a stand up paddleboard. An endurance journey that saw me coming out the other end walking taller. Much taller. There is nothing like an expedition and a big challenge to allow you to find yourself, to grow confidence from the inside out. I achieved things I never knew I was capable and that has transformed me as a person.
Many ask me why I decided to be an adventurer and endurance athlete. There are 3 reasons, 1.) I get to challenge myself physically and mentally through endurance expeditions, pushing my limits of possible and going beyond them, finding the true depths of what I am capable of. 2.) I want to make sure that in 50 years time I can look back and say that I truly lived, having gathered thousands of brilliant experiences to show for my achievements, and not just a house full of stuff. 3.) We live on a phenomenal planet. My expeditions allow me to see the world from a very unique perspective. As I cycled and paddled those 3000 miles I soaked up every single brilliant aspect, meter by meter, mile upon mile.
Leg one of my USA endurance expedition was the 1001 mile SUP with a wonderful team, one of whom (Dave Cornthwaite) was swimming the river - an almost incomprehensible challenge. I certainly was no expert in stand up paddleboarding. In fact, before we started the expedition I had a measly few hours' experience under my belt! This was going to be a real challenge. It was a case of learn as you go.
Perhaps the hardest day I experienced was during the final stretch - a mentally and physically gruelling day was awaiting us. Temperatures had plummeted to freezing and the rain lashed down from dawn all day long. By 3pm we were suffering mild hypothermia. My toes had turned a grey/purple colour hours before and I had lost my ability to grip or even stand upright. I knew it must be very cold outside as my fingers burned when I put them in the icy cold river water. Even now I cannot feel the very tip of my index finger. But coming through this day was epic.
I arrived at the finish line in St Louis and days later decided to continue my journey and cycle 2000 miles to California. I gave myself 5 days to organise and be on the road cycling. I had no bike, tent, clothes, food, maps, website... All rather crucial to the expedition! I had never even sat on a road bike so this should be interesting.
The first reactions I received were concerned questions as to how such a thing could possibly be organised so quickly. If there is one thing that week taught me it is that you don’t have to spend a year meticulously planning out an adventure. Within a few days I had pulled together most of what I would need; a Cannondale touring bike, cycling gear, warm winter clothing and camping equipment. My shoes were borrowed men’s shoes (two sizes too big), my bike is second-hand, my camping equipment was left over from the Missouri river paddle. If you really want to do a thing, then you will make it happen. Sometimes the hardest thing is just getting to the start line. If you can get to the start line, then you can get to the finish. It's just a case of one foot in front of the other. My cycle would see me heading into the dead of winter, solo, and this time on land. A very different endurance journey to the first with its own set of challenges to overcome.
Endless hills for the first 120 miles led to my (still conditioning) legs taking a bit of a beating. Thanks to the shock of sudden uphill slogs, my thigh muscles felt shredded, and saddle soreness finally kicked in in earnest. I didn't train for my cycle - in fact a road bike what something of an alien to me and I couldn't even find where the gears were at first - and thus I learned a really important lesson; train before any endurance journey and you may just save yourself from a nasty injury. I was incredibly uncomfortable during the stages where my body was conditioning in, but remembered some cyclists having told me "it doesn't get less painful Ness, the pain just becomes normal after a while". I felt like I was in a transition period, getting used to exercising all day and the challenge of mentally making myself keep going when I really didn't want to. But I revel in this. There's nothing more satisfying than going that little bit further than you thought you could!
One of the brilliant things about my cycle has been learning to expect the unexpected. Like the Oklahoma winds, the Texas cowboys (that do in fact exist, not just in movies), the ghost towns, Meteor Crater, and the bizarre life sized dinosaurs of Arizona, high elevation semi-deserts to name a few. The element of surprise has been everything from gleeful to baffling.
It has been an epic journey filled with the weird and the wonderful. I have paddled and cycled my way through rivers, canyons, arid deserts, forests, mountains, rain, wind, sub-zero temperatures and blistering heat. I've fought giant waves and pedalled my heart out to escape ferocious dogs. I've fixed more punctures than I care to count and had to consume more calories that 3 grown men in a day just to get enough fuel to continue. I've camped in stunning wilderness I never dreamed existed, been face to face the challenge of sleeping with my biggest fear; thousands of spiders covering my tent.
If there is one thing I learned it is that the only ceiling you have is in your mind. When we push our limits we discover ourselves, we progress as a person. So what will be your next challenge?
Next up for me? My Big British Adventure. A 1500 mile triathlon across Great Britain. Join me for a leg of it and get your own micro adventure underway by getting in touch through my website or through Twitter!