What a difference a year makes

 

On 11 May last year my Mum drove me to Godalming in Surrey – the starting point for my 400-mile paddle boarding expedition – and waved me goodbye as I drifted down the River Wey embarking on what would become, unbeknownst to me, the greatest adventure of my life.

I had announced my intention to her and a handful of close friends just a few weeks earlier and their reaction, as I suspected, was mainly concern. Me, a solo female, paddle boarding the length of England’s waterways and wild camping every night, was almost impossible for them to grasp. But, despite their reservations, I received nothing but support and encouragement for my little mission from the outset. 

Paddle boarding in England

At the time, I could have neither planned nor anticipated starting that journey would lead me to where I am now. Within a few days it had been picked up by TV, radio and print newspapers both in the UK and internationally. What started as a personal crusade against plastic pollution with a few curious friends tracking my route became a journey that thousands of readers all over the world followed on my blog.

I had no idea that my overwhelming desire to do something - (anything!) - other than simply sit back and ignore the issue of plastic pollution as I paddled on the waterways everyday, would change my life so dramatically in the space of a single year. 

Both starting my blog and preparing for that paddle boarding challenge gave me a renewed sense of purpose after my cancer diagnosis. It sparked something inside me that had been lost and, for the first time in what felt like forever, I could see my life coming back into focus again.

Lizzie Carr Outside Climbing

My blog - and everything that it stands for - has become my greatest joy and most profound source of personal growth. It’s given me a platform to express myself and share what I’m passionate about. It’s given me confidence, happiness and freedom to be wholeheartedly me and has evolved into a huge part of my life. It provides me with the sense of meaning I longed for, but struggled to find, before its inception.

SUP adventures in England

The countless emails and messages I have received from people who have joined me on this journey so far chokes me with gratitude.  From the man who shared photos of his family SUP adventure through England last summer, to the lady who, after being diagnosed with cancer a few months ago,  told me that my blog gave her hope, through to the recovering alcoholic who emailed me this morning to share his own paddle boarding journey and how it also changed his life. 

 

I struggle to express the overwhelming gratitude I have for the privilege I have been granted, and I’m so unbelievably appreciative for every single person who has been part of this surreal but incredible adventure so far.  

I am deeply in love with my life and feel, after a few years of living in black and white, that the colour has come back. I’m hugely excited to see where this journey leads and remain so grateful to have you all alongside me and as part of this adventure.

Thank you! x 

 

My most ambitious challenge yet

Next week I'm taking on my most ambitious challenge yet: to solo paddle board across the English Channel - from Dungeness in England to Boulonge in France. Sky has been following my journey so you can watch more about my plans here

It's 24 miles of unpredictable open ocean - strong currents, choppy waters, and relentless winds, and will involve navigating the busiest shipping lane in the world.

 

Lizzie Outside Channel Crossing

To say I'm not nervous would be a lie. And whilst I've spent the last few months preparing for the challenging conditions I'll be facing, it's hard to shake off the feeling that this is beyond my ability.  

As the challenge draws closer I've been getting more advice from people trying to prepare me for the difficulties I might encounter. Whilst I appreciate the input, it's also  been chipping away at my confidence and the moments of self-doubt and fear are becoming increasingly frequent. 

Being brave isn’t about not feeling scared. Real courage is all about overcoming your fears.

People tell us to be scared of daring or dreaming greatly, because of the chance of failure and level of risk. I'm aware that I'm not an endurance athlete, in fact, I only started paddle boarding about two years ago. I don't have a team of coaches, sport psychologists or physios working with me, and my technique could probably do with some improvements. But I don't want to be dissuaded from achieving what's important to me.  And sometimes it's the doggedly determined rather than the brilliant who succeed.  

Lizzie Carr Paddle Boarding
I took the one less travelled by. And that made all the difference.
— Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken

But despite the physical and mental demands, this challenge is ambitious for an altogether different reason. I want this journey to make a difference. Its purpose is bigger than a world first endurance challenge; there's a major environmental mission at play too.

I will be building on the #PlasticPatrol map I plotted last year by logging every piece of plastic I encounter (and apparently there's a lot!).  I'll also be gathering water samples with a trawler net skimming the water surface at every fourth mile, and these will be analysed for microplastics on my return. 

80% of marine debris comes from inland sources

I've spent the last year championing our inland waterways, starting a nationwide campaign to rid them of plastic pollution that, inevitably, will end up in our oceans. Building a connection between where the problem starts - on our canals and rivers, with where it ends up, and the vast quantity out there is fundamental to awareness and driving change.

We all read these overwhelmingly large statistics about plastic pollution in our oceans, but scaling this back to a single journey will create a picture of the plastic problem in a real, human way - supported by undeniable evidence from the data I'm gathering.  

Lizzie Carr English Channel

Getting involved with #PlasticPatrol

This year I'd love for you to get involved in the #PlasticPatrol campaign. I'm organising a series of clean ups across the UK this summer - armed with paddle boards and litter picks. It's all completely free, you just need to come along and get stuck in. Find out all the details here.

I'm also developing a #PLASTICPATROL APP that will be out this month. This has enormous potential to drive change, and the data we collect will help identify trends and hotspots so we can lobby for resource in specific areas and target clean up initiatives properly. We can use this to make real and immediate change. 

In the UK alone we spend more than 1 billion pounds a year combatting litter and plastic pollution - think how that money could be better spent if tackling pollution was more educated! 

How to get involved in #PlasticPatrol

Last year I paddle boarded 400 miles across England, launching a nationwide campaign to rid our waterways of plastic pollution. 

Next week I'm attempting a world first challenge - to be the first female to solo paddle boarding across the English Channel - and I'll be gathering samples for micro plastic analysis along my route.  

I'd love you to get involved too - and join the fight against plastic pollution. This summer I'm staging a series of #PlasticPatrol clean ups in 14 locations across the UK. I'll bring the paddle boards and litter picks, all you need to do is come along and roll up your sleeves - it's all completely FREE. 

You can see the locations here. And if you want to have a go at paddle boarding make sure you book a spot as spaces are limited. 

It's fun for all the family too. As well as paddle boards we'll also have a team of 'Plastic Fighters' armed with everything needed to teach little ones about the environment and plastic pollution in a fun, engaging way. 

This month I'm also launching a #PLASTICPATROL APP that will help us – and you – to record your plastics finds easily and quickly. The app will track and measure plastic on our waterways and coastal areas all over the world - pulling into our big interactive map - so you can share findings wherever you are. 

You can post directly to Instagram, Facebook and Twitter using #PlasticPatrol too - just make sure you tag the location so it can be included on the map too. 

Logging data is hugely important in the fight against plastic pollution. It provides clear evidence of problem areas and hotspots so we can lobby for change and resource. If we can all come together to get involved and share our finds there is enormous potential.

There's lots of little things we can do in our day to day lives to reduce plastic consumption. My blog, 8 ways to use less plastic, is a good starting point. 

#PlasticPatrol is a huge passion project of mine, and it would mean the world for people to get behind it and show support by joining me at these clean-ups or downloading the app and using it on your own adventures. 

 

The adventures that change can bring

Have you ever promised you would make a change and then not done it? 

Me too. 

And have you ever promised you’d do more for the environment - let’s say be more militant about recycling, or driving less, only to quickly fall back on old habits? 

We've all been there. 

Changing habits isn’t easy. It’s hard.

And while we are all capable of saying we’ll do something, and truly believing we'll actually follow through with it, living up to the promises we make ourselves is difficult. 

There's immense power in our beliefs, both conscious and unconscious, and how changing even the simplest of them can have profound impact on nearly every aspect of our lives.  Embracing change has brought me about a life of adventure and uncertainty. I had no idea that in just a year of starting my blog, that this labor of love would become my greatest joy and most profound source of personal growth. It's evolved into my life and my living, and provides my deepest sense of purpose which, ultimately, makes me feel content and fulfilled. 

Yet despite the obvious benefits of change when we allow it, we seem to resist it. We are creatures of habit, familiarity and stability. But sometimes the positive impact of change, especially on a cultural level, is so overwhelming clear that it's hard to understand why it's not widespread. 

Take my experience the other day. I went to Sussex to test drive the Nissan LEAF - this particular car is being driven 10,000 miles from England to Mongolia as part of the Mongol Rally in July. It's the very first electric car to attempt this epic challenge (and it's being done by Plug In Adventures if you want to follow his journey).  

A car, powered completely by electric, travelling that distance - that's pretty revolutionary. I must admit I didn't know a great deal about electric technology before this event, but I went away grappling the same issue I have with the fact we don't currently implement bottle deposit schemes to reduce plastic waste. Why not? I can't see a single downside of embracing the change this technology will bring to our lives and, ultimately, the environment.  

The test driving day itself was also pretty fun, and here's a little travelogue into everything I got up to as part of it...

Getting kitted out for some adventures 

Getting kitted out for some adventures 

Arrived to find a personalised good bag waiting for me full of adventure-ready treats. 

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I woke up bright and early the following morning and ventured into these stunning bluebell woods (photos really can't do it justice) for a treehouse breakfast cooked on an open fire. 

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After my hearty Eggs Royale it was time to head over to the campfire for a little bit of bushcraft and skills.

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Starting by brushing up on my fire making skills. 

Fire building skills lizzie outside

Which resulted in this... (look how happy I am!)

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Next up was a drive through the rolling Sussex countryside (if you haven't been to Ide Hill before then it's a must-see!) for some search and rescue learning action. 

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Surrey Search and Rescue do a pretty awesome job - and it's run entirely by volunteers. These guys showed us how to use drone technology in search missions, and set us off on a task to find a missing person...

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... in the form of this cheeky looking hipster who'd somehow escaped Shoreditch and found himself in the deep, dark depths of Sussex completely ill-equipped apart from a beard to keep his face warm.

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The rest of the morning was spent putting my new fire lighting skills to good use - by making a fire to charge my phone and boil water for a coffee. Double win. 

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Lunchtime looked like this. Prepared by the amazing guys at Hunter Gather Cook over an open fire. I can't even cook like this at home in my kitchen! 

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The rest of the afternoon was dedicated to test driving the Nissan LEAF and meeting the man behind the Mongol Rally challenge - Plug in Adventures - what a guy! 

Nissan Leaf Lizzie Outside
Electric Car Lizzie Carr

Of course I had a test drive of his whip, kitted out with rally wheels and the removal of 34kg of weight in the form of back seats. I'd say after a bit of thrashing about by various people that this car is ready for the adventure of its life.

A wonderful day of fun and learning all about the power of electric technology as the future of our car industry. Let's all go and electrify the world

Starting from scratch

Seven years ago I spent a week in Chamonix on a self-taught crash course in snowboarding. And a crash course it was. I spent most of the time on my ass and headed back to England covered in bruises, grazes and with whiplash. However, despite the outward disaster I was actually pleased with what I had accomplished. No broken bones, a marginal improvement most days and I wasn't put off from going back again the next year to improve further. And that's what I did. I spent the next few years back on the slopes determined to become a decent snowboarder. 

Fast forward to a few weeks when I visited Bansko in Bulgaria - a relatively small ski resort compared to what I was used to in the Alps - but perfect for a few days of powder (and considerably cheaper too!) 

I took my snowboard on the trip with every intention of using it. After all the injuries and confidence knocks I'd been through years earlier I was finally able to start seeing  the fruits of my labour. 

My sister, who has never snowboarded or skied before, joined me on the trip. We agreed to have a ski lesson and learn something new together - from scratch. Once she'd got the hang of skiing and felt more confident I'd then switch to my board for a couple of days. However, like all great plans - they rarely work out.

There was something about skiing that just clicked for me in a way that snowboarding didn't when I first started. It was miles easier for a start, and I didn't wind up each day feeling like I'd done ten rounds in a boxing ring. So, by day three when my sister insisted I move across to the board again for fear of holding me back, I found myself making excuses.

"I think I better to stick to the skis so we can stay together at the same pace." Is what I told her, like a caring sister... 

Snowboarding never came naturally to me, and getting to the level I am now took a lot of effort. I loved the process of having to work hard to see improvement and eventually it all started to click. It was never about being the best, it was about applying myself and sticking at it despite the numerous times I wanted to give up. And the reason I struggled with the transition from snowboarding to skiing was because in my mind I felt like I was giving up on it. 

It was only when I chatted to my sister that I started to view it from a slightly different perspective.

"Rather than feeling guilty about giving up on something you've worked hard at, look on it as taking the time to learn something new. You can still do both, but use this trip as a way of getting the basics to skiing nailed.' She told me. 

She was right. Having a passion for learning rather than a hunger for success was a far more mentally-uplifting stance, and actually applies to all aspects of life.  A lot of people see starting something from scratch, or being a bit rubbish at something as giveaways of their inadequacies, revealing that they come up short in some way. This often results in giving up altogether. I'd got past that, I'd proved to myself that I could do it so now it was about giving myself a break and seeing what else I could do on the slopes. 

TRAVELOGUE OF OUR SKIING ADVENTURE IN BANSKO

En route to Bansko for some skiing 

En route to Bansko for some skiing 

5am start. Waiting for our flight at Gatwick. 

5am start. Waiting for our flight at Gatwick. 

Angela and our (very patient) instructor, Daniel.

Angela and our (very patient) instructor, Daniel.

Concentration face

Concentration face

All the gear, no idea!

All the gear, no idea!

Getting more confident on the skis

Getting more confident on the skis

Plastic Patrol never sleeps!

Plastic Patrol never sleeps!

Starting out on the baby slopes

Starting out on the baby slopes

Still smiling after day one... 

Still smiling after day one... 

Getting into the swing of things

Getting into the swing of things

Beautiful Bansko

Beautiful Bansko

The Premier Mountain Resort hotel spa and pool - my kind of apres ski 

The Premier Mountain Resort hotel spa and pool - my kind of apres ski 

Lunchtime hot chocolate break 

Lunchtime hot chocolate break 

Evenings in front of the open fire. Perfect! 

Evenings in front of the open fire. Perfect! 

I can ski (ish!)

I can ski (ish!)

My sister getting to grips with her skis

My sister getting to grips with her skis

With special thanks to:

Premier Luxury Mountain Resort
Blacks

 

 

But it's somebody else's problem

Plastic in rivers and canals
Sooner or later, we will need to recognise that the planet has rights too, to live without pollution. What mankind must know is that humans can’t live without Mother Earth, but the planet can live without humans.

People who disassociate themselves from issues that are clearly visible, and often in urgent need of recognition are commonly thought to suffer from a condition know as "Somebody Else's Problem" or SEP. It's an effectively-magical field - like a blind spot - that causes people to obscure or ignore issues that they know about, but think of as either not something they can do anything about, or not personally relevant to them. This results in important issues being overlooked because it's easier to just ignore them rather than to address them. 

Unfortunately it's a default function for most people not to see anything they don't want to - like plastic pollution. The majority of people continue to skip through life ignoring the single biggest environmental catastrophe facing our planet today. If it's not building up on their own doorstep, blocking the front door and causing hindrance to their life, then why care? Brains, quite literally, edit out the bad and unsightly stuff that's littering our streets, parks, waterways and mountains in favour of blissful ignorance, and the throwaway thought that somebody else will pick it up, and resolve the issue. 

Somebody else's problem

I witness the SEP phenomenon on a daily basis.  People walking past, stepping over or skirting around plastic and other rubbish lining our planet like it isn't actually visible, and a magical SEP field exists around it. 

I also know that there's a lot of people who do care and want to contribute meaningfully to the world, but don't really know where to start. In fact, when I organised my #PlasticPatrol clean ups in September, I was overwhelmed by the number of people who took the time out of their day to lend a hand. The Great British Spring Clean - which launches today - has organised a series of clean ups in towns and cities across the country too - so get involved. 

If, for whatever reason, the thought of going out into the local community and (heaven forbid!) litter picking stops you from doing it, then consider other ways you might be able to make a positive impact. I recently wrote a blog about ways we can cut down on plastic in our daily lives. Making small, conscious choices as part of our lifestyles would result in huge aggregate change. 

Essentially, we are all part of this planet and should be acting as custodians of it for future generations to enjoy it, like we are currently able to. Play a part in protecting the planet, however that looks. 

The natural world is the greatest source of excitement; the greatest source of visual beauty; the greatest source of intellectual interest. It is the greatest source of so much that makes life worth living.
— David Attenborough
Lizzie Carr on River Trent Nottingham

Silencing the inner critic

Yesterday I ran 6 kilometers. I realize that, in itself, this is largely unremarkable. Especially as I'm about to tell you that I’ve been running that same distance 2-3 times a week for the last month.

Yesterday’s run was by no means noteworthy. It wasn’t particularly fast and I wasn’t racing up  hills. But what was worth noteworthy, however, was the way I felt before this run (and all the other 6ks that have preceded it).

Every time I'm due to train (I'm aiming to do my first long-distance run later this year, but more on that on a seperate blog this weekend) I undergo a mental battle with an inner voice trying to convince me otherwise. It tells me that I have a million more important things to do, or that I'm not getting any better, or I'm not a natural runner so what's the point?  Getting myself in the mindset of wanting to train, and silencing my inner critic can be a huge challenge. 

In scenarios where I feel as though I’m pushing my comfort zone, that feeling of fear kicks in and the little voice of negativity rises, willing me against the decision I've made. It’s a realization that what I’m about to do is unnatural to me. It's going to either hurt, or make me uncomfortable – or both!  These feelings all come down to one thing. I’m scared. I'm nervous that I won’t hit my goals, or I won’t be good enough, or that I will fail.

The only way to stop the negative noise is to give in to it, but that would mean stopping altogether. I don’t want to do that. That would be the safe option – letting a fear of failure override the opportunity I have to succeed.

Every day I get up and I have a choice of which voice I listen to. I can give up, or I can push through and remind myself why I'm doing it, why training for this run is so important to me (I'll explain this fully in a seperate blog soon).  It's down to me to make the right choice and face up to my fears and pursue the dreams that matter most to me. If it works out I know it will feel so good, and if it doesn't - at least I had the courage to try.

Decide that you want it more than you are afraid of it.
There is no illusion greater than fear.
Lizzie Carr running on Box Hill view point

That’s the beautiful thing about adventure, and what I have also found with running. No matter how experienced we all are, or how fast we run, how technical we climb, how sharp we shred, it forces everybody to square up to themselves and confront fear in a way they otherwise wouldn’t ever have to.

In order to get stronger, go further and finish faster I need to challenge my perception of what I think I can achieve, and learn that no matter what I do, or how far I go, there will always be a voice in my head telling me I suck. It's about learning to accept that, and channel the negativity to fuel my ambitions. 

My plan now is to up the ante and round next week off with my first 10k finish. And when I do that I'll book my first half marathon for a few weeks time. That means a lot of hard work battling my inner demons. I might not be able to achieve these goals, and I’ll probably suffer en route as I build up to it; I already feel scared - but I’ll do it anyway. 

Lizzie Carr at Box Hill Surrey

8 ways to use less plastic

There’s an unwritten rule when you’re in nature: you respect and protect the places you explore and you leave them as you found them – without a trace. It’s the trade off to making sure our natural places remain desirable.

 

That’s sounds pretty reasonable, right.

 

No one wants to find discarded tins of tuna, crisp packets and water bottles en route to the summit of a mountain (those are just a few things I encountered last time I climbed Snowdon). Nor do we want to SUP along the canals and feel like we’re making our way through a graveyard of plastic bottles, plastic bags and other crap mindlessly chucked in for good measure.

 

It wasn’t until I started paddle boarding in London a couple of years ago that I realized the scale of the issue we’re facing with plastics choking our waterways. I was horrified by what I would witness every time I went out. SUP was meant to be my escape from the hustle and bustle of the city, but it was often marred by what I was seeing.

 

After getting one too many plastic bags caught in my fin I decided it was time to take matters into my own hands. In May 2016 launched a nationwide campaign to rid our waterways of plastics. I paddle boarded the entire length of our canal and river network – from Surrey to Lake District – with the added twist of plotting, mapping and scaling every piece of plastic I encountered along my route. On #PlasticPatrol I took more than 3000 photographs in 22 days (and that doesn’t account for what was lurking underwater, on the towpaths or on the other side of the bank) that I didn't capture.
 

I took #PlasticPatrol a step further and a few months later revisited some of the worst affected places in the country, and litter picked from my paddleboard.  In three days (and I spent no more than three hours on the water each day) I collected more than 1000 plastic bottles.

I’m just going to let that punctuate for a moment…

Obscene, isn’t it?

And then I used those plastic bottles to build this.

plastic patrol

Yesterday Sky News announced the launch of its #OceanRescue campaign.  Richard Branson and Prince Charles are just two of the names on board to add some extra clout. The plastic facts and stats they presented were so stark it’s hard to ignore, and I’m certain it’s got a lot of environmental sleepwalkers thinking about their own plastic consumption… and that can only be a good thing. 

 

Facts about Plastic Pollution:

1)   Every minute, the equivalent of a truckload of plastic is dumped into our oceans; most will never decompose and will remain there forever. 

2)   At this rate, by 2050 all the plastic in the ocean could weigh more than all the fish. 

3)   There’s currently enough plastic in the world’s oceans to fill five carrier bags for every foot of coastline on the planet.

4)   A staggering 90% of seabirds are now thought to have ingested plastic and it’s predicted that this will increase to 95% by 2050.  

5)   80% of plastic pollution in our oceans comes from inland sources – that’s means us! 

You can’t imagine the excitement I felt that an organization like Sky was backing this issue. Not only did it restore my faith in humanity as I read the tweets from people who shared my frustration and sadness, but also it inspired me to keep pushing my message and, ultimately, believing that we can make a difference.
 

The number of people that don’t recycle or make environmentally conscious choices in their day-to-day lives often astounds me. The general feeling is that they don’t think their contribution will make a difference. They're wrong. Individual commitment and accountability is absolutely vital to combatting plastic pollution. We can’t control what other people do, but we can control our own actions. 

 

Small changes by everyone in his or her day-to-day lives will have a big aggregate impact. Let’s steer clear of the finger pointing and blame culture and focus on what adjustments we can make at home, in our own lives, to make a difference. 

 

I’ve put together my top 8 tips for reducing your plastic footprint - and all can be started immediately. If you decide to do one, or all of these, you’re making a huge difference – no matter how insignificant you might feel, it isn’t. 

 

1      Stop drinking bottled water.

Not only will it save you money in the long run, you’ll be helping to reduce the consumption of the most culpable plastic item found in our waterways and oceans. I use a Jerry can wherever I go, and fill it up whenever I can.  There are lots of re-useable bottles in all shapes and sizes, and often companies donate a portion of sales to charitable causes. It’s a no-brainer. 

 

2      Take your own shopping bag to the supermarket.

Plastic bags are a huge contributor and once they end up in the ocean they are often mistaken as food by jellyfish and turtles. You can imagine the catastrophic results! We’ve seen a significant reduction in the use of plastic bags since the 5p charge was brought in (hurrah!) but there’s still a long way to go. 

 

3      Use a refillable soap dispenser in your bathroom.

And do the same for your washing up liquid. If you can, buy one large bottle – it’s better than using a bunch of smaller ones. 

 

4      Stop using sandwich bags. 

Get a lunchbox and re-use it. 

 

5      Take your own re-fillable cup into coffee shops. 

Starbucks and a few of the other big chains have introduced initiatives that reward customers for bringing in their own re-usable cups. Both coffee cups and the lips are non-recyclable. Now think of the number of take-out coffees you’ve had in the last week, month and year – and now multiply by the adult population of the world… That’s a lot of plastic! 

 

6      Avoid single serve packaging.

I know almost everything comes wrapped in plastic so this might seem like an almost impossible task, but just be mindful of it and when there is an alternative, take it. 

 

7      Use silverware (or edible!) instead of plastic utensils.

Keep a set at the office, keep a set in your handbag, and take a set on your summer picnic. It might be a pain but there does need to be a little bit of effort on our part. 

 

8      Stop using straws

You don’t need to drink from a straw anymore – you’re no longer a toddler. If you’re in a bar and the barman is about to put a straw (or three!) in your cocktail, decline. If you are insistent on using a straw there are stainless steel options out there. Like your utensils, carry one in your bag. 

If you have any more suggestions about ways to use less plastic do add them to the comments section - I'd love to know.  

 

The Antidote to New Year's Resolutions

 

 

Having a long-term vision of the future and goal setting to achieve that is pointless.

Bold statement? It may sound defeatist but the truth is we don’t have control of the future. The only two things we control are our thoughts and our actions. No amount of planning or goal setting is going to get us to our desired destinations if external variables aren’t playing ball, so let’s all just chill out a bit.  

 

I had my life all mapped out five years ago and New Year was an important time to reflect, evaluate and set goals for the following year based on my achievements and perceived failings. At that time I was in a happy relationship and career climbing to buy me the lifestyle I was striving for. Cancer was the curve ball that ruined everything – all my plans had been scuppered overnight.
 

I got better and rebuilt my life again but had given up on my vision for the future. I had dealt with the unwanted feelings of unfamiliarity and uncertainty that cancer brings and the experience re-shaped my outlook entirely.

 

“Uncertainty is where things happen. It is where the opportunities — for success, for happiness, for really living — are waiting.”

 

I continue to set myself short-term goals that align with who I am, what I value and ultimately what makes me feel good. Recently I wrote a blog about my struggles with anxiety and the response was incredible – so many people could relate to it – but that got me thinking about resolutions.

 

We’re in the midst of an anxiety epidemic that all comes down to the expectations we place on ourselves to live a positive, happy life ALL. THE. TIME.

 

It’s no longer acceptable to feel bad or a bit miserable anymore, and even less so to express it publicly. Everything is screaming for us to live in a constant state of happiness and if you don’t, you feel even worse.

 

I feel bad for feeling bad, but why shouldn’t I feel OK about feeling bad sometimes?

 

If we go into 2017 obsessing over goals and setting expectations that serve to lessen our discomfort with uncertainty, isn’t that going to make it worse?

 

My resolution for 2017 is a simple one:

 

To give myself a break

 

·     Give up.

 

·     Try less hard.

 

·     Be wrong.

 

·     Lower my standards.

 

·     Care less.

 

"Of all the disappointments in life, there isn’t a kind more hazardous to happiness and more toxic to the soul than disappointing ourselves as we fail to live up to our own ideals and expectations."

 

If we keep envisaging the future and the illusion of a fairy tale ending we’re missing all the potentially new – and better - directions that might be possible in life.

 

If I hadn’t survived cancer, I wouldn’t have quit my job, I wouldn’t have started paddle boarding and I wouldn’t be living the life I am now. Life’s ambiguities and doubts are what living is about.

 

No matter how hard we try to create perfection in 2017 there’s going to be challenges, failings and under achievements for all us - because that’s the reality of life.

 

Let’s go into 2017 and embrace negativity and celebrate our failures, setbacks and disappointments because these will undoubtedly be the things that we’ll grow from the most.

Changing mindset

Lizzie Outside Walking

When I want to find stillness and solitude, I paddle board. It gives enough distance from land to muffle sounds and blur sights, offering a rare feeling of escape from the madness of life. 

Today, instead of paddle boarding, I went for a walk. I closed my front door without any plan or direction I put one foot in front of the other and covered seven miles, mostly in a daze. That's what I love about walking, it's so mindless that your subconscious kicks in and works its magic. 

I covered everything and nothing and was reminded how good it felt to have a clear head away from distractions. I started thinking about next year and what it might bring, but that usual feeling of excitement at possible opportunities was replaced by a thick sense of anxiety. The lack of control I have over my ambitions and future suddenly overwhelmed me. And the fear of my limitations, or worse, what people might think of me started to hold me back. I couldn't think clearly.

This time last year the feeling of uncertainty and unfamiliarity had me bursting with excitement, but not today. I had let my inner doubts take control and it made me question myself, my values and my ambitions. 

Getting back into a positive headspace can be tough when everything in your conscious mind is working against you. I struggled to work out what part of my thinking was rational, and what was a result of my flight response to the fear I was feeling. 

It took a lot to silence my mind and force it into a hard reset. I focused entirely on breathing, pushing out any thoughts that rose until my thinking was completely clear, concentrated solely on my breath. All responses to our thoughts - including these - are a conscious choice, but knowing that often doesn't make it any easier. I had the power to turn it round, but I had to find the will to do it. 

Getting over cancer taught me a lot about willpower and the importance of positive thinking. And every time I experience these wobbles I remind myself that I didn't survive it to let fear of my inadequacies dictate my decisions, or let what people might think hold me back. I quit my job last year to live the life I imagined for myself - and I'm determined to see that through.

I don't want to sound like a self-help book littered with cliches, but that walk - for the rollercoaster that it was - helped shape my mindset for the year ahead. I feel ready to start 2017 and all of the unknowns that it might bring, and I'm adopting a new outlook and I want to share it with you. 

Firstly, and most importantly, give less of a shit, and live a happier life for it.

Control the controllables and embrace change.
Don’t let fear dictate your decisions, use it to push yourself. It’s when we face what scares us most that we really come alive and realise just how much we’re capable of.

It's OK to be selfish to keep yourself sane and happy, and it's normal to doubt yourself and your abilities from time to time. 
But compromising on what you want to achieve from life, what you stand for and the very essence of who you are in order to fit expectations is always going to lead to unhappiness, resentment and frustration.

Let's make 2017 the Year of Fear.

Stand up to what scares you, embrace what inspires you and stick two fingers up to anything that tries to get in your way.

We're all stronger than we know.

Autumn Adventures in the Lake District

I arrived in the Lake District on Thursday afternoon to this view - if that wasn't enough to tempt me out onto the water on my paddle board, nothing would be. 

View of Windermere from the window of my room at Low Wood Hotel.

View of Windermere from the window of my room at Low Wood Hotel.

I'd driven for almost four hours and although it was getting late in the day I wanted to stretch my legs. I quickly unpacked my stuff, picked up my paddle board bag and hurried down to the water's edge to pump it up. If I could get onto Windermere before sunset I'd be able to watch it go down behind the Coniston Fells from the water. 

Sunset paddle on Windermere.

Sunset paddle on Windermere.

The winds were high and sudden gusts made the water quite choppy, but being in the middle of the water without a soul in sight watching the sunset in the distance was one of the main reasons I was drawn the to Lakes.  I paddled downstream and although it would have been nice to sit and watch the sun go down it was far too choppy for that. Instead, I jumped about a boat and got a lift back upstream, watching it from the deck instead. Don't judge me. 

Boating on Windermere

Instead of paddling back upstream against the gusty headwinds winds and darkening skies, I jumped aboard the boat and watched the final moments from there, relishing every second of it before heading off for a couple of evening beers. 

Perfect happiness is a beautiful sunset.

I only had a couple of days in the Lakes, and I wanted to make the most of it so the next morning I got up before sunrise and headed down to the water again. 

Launching from Low Wood Marina, Windermere with the hotel in the backdrop 

Launching from Low Wood Marina, Windermere with the hotel in the backdrop 

The heavy fog (I mean really heavy!) meant I didn't get to see anything that remotely resembled a sunrise. I'd also forgotten my neoprene socks and the pontoon had iced over that night as I stood on it barefoot, so launching into the water couldn't have come more quickly. 

Low visility over Windermere.

Low visility over Windermere.

It was the first time I'd been out on the water in these kind of conditions - I couldn't see more than 10 metres in front of me and although it was quite intimidating at first, the water was so calm and peaceful that it actually felt quite magical. 

I spent the rest of the day on Iand taking on some trails and admiring the views overlooking the Lakes. 

Lake Windermere with a snow topped view of Coniston Fells in the distance.

Lake Windermere with a snow topped view of Coniston Fells in the distance.

Horsey! 

Horsey! 

Autumn colours 

Autumn colours 

Later that evening I hit the water again to end my day with a relaxing paddle, the waters still remarkably calm. Sadly, the sunset wasn't as spectacular as my first evening but what I missed out on in views was made up for in company.  My fellow OS 'Get Outside' champ and badass adventurer Sean Conway, who entrusted me to take him out for his second ever SUP, joined me for the evening. 

Paddling on Windermere with Sean 

Paddling on Windermere with Sean 

Paddle boarding on Windermere

We finished what was a pretty perfect way to spend a Friday evening back at Low Wood Hotel overlooking Windermere with a drink and an open log fire, pleased that neither of us had to test out the water temperatures.  

Open log fire at Low Wood Hotel 

Open log fire at Low Wood Hotel 

The next morning I left to explore what other waters, meres and lakes were on offer and I wasn't disappointed. 

Thirlmere Reservoir

Thirlmere Reservoir

Overlooking Derwent Water 

Overlooking Derwent Water 

Autumn colours on Derwent Water.

Autumn colours on Derwent Water.

I drove up to Thirlmere Reservoir where I spent the morning before heading towards Keswick for an afternoon on Derwent Water chatting to kayakers making the most of the mild weather, exploring the little islands that sit nestled amongst the water and watching the wildlife. 

Goodbye Lake District

Goodbye Lake District

As I packed up my paddle board that afternoon the heaven's opened and the forecasted downpour finally arrived - just in time for my drive home. 

And that was the end of my 48 hour Lake District adventure. Until next time, Lake District. Well, in two weeks - I can't keep away for long! 

With thanks to:
Low Wood Hotel
Low Wood Marina
Cumbria Tourism

Re-defining my measure of success

"One of the best paddle boarding tips is to start moving forward as soon as you're standing. That way the board is more stable, easier to control. Paddle, don't idle. It's good advice for life." 

I wrote that line in an article for The Guardian that was published over the weekend. 

I hadn't realised, until I saw the date on the paper, that it's been exactly 12 months since I quit my job. And that got me thinking about the journey I've been on. 

I had no real plan then, and I still don't. The only certainly in my mind was that adventure and nature needed to play a big part in my future - it was where I felt happiest, most content. And I wanted to pursue something I was passionate about, with real meaning to me.

The day after I finished work I sat and cried. I felt I'd lost my direction and I didn't really know what I was doing. Maybe I had made the wrong decision? Had I been too hasty? I'd worked hard throughout University and once I got my first job in marketing I never looked back. I was ambitious and wanted to climb the corporate ladder, measuring my success by the size of my pay checks and job titles.  I'd built my identity around my career and then one day I just threw it all away without really being able to explain why, or what was next. 

Deep down I knew I needed to make a drastic change and after I quit I said to myself it was going to be marginal gains. As long as I spent every day doing something - anything - that made me feel good, happy and fulfilled I was moving forward.  

And now, a whole year later, I can look back and see this incredible adventure I've been on - full of highs and lows - but I've never regretted my decision to redefine what my measure of success looks like.

My tip for learning to paddle board really does hold up as advice for life. Stand up, and as soon as you're standing, move forward. It doesn't matter how fast or how straight, or even if it feels like all conditions are against you and you're going backwards, it's still progress. And eventually you will look back, as I have on this year, and see just how far you've come without even realising it. 

That's what motivates me to keep going - I want to see where I can get to from here. Keep paddling, don't idle. 

#PlasticPatrol | Part Two

In May this year I paddle boarded the length of England - 400 miles from Surrey to Lake District - all in the name of #PlasticPatrol.

During that 22 day challenge I photographed and location-tagged every single piece of plastic I saw along my route, and then uploaded them onto a map to scale my findings to locate the problem areas across our waterways.

Two months on and the mapping is complete. I've been able to identify where the hotspots are. As you might expect, the more densely populated areas (in and out of major towns and cities), the more plastic pollution I plotted. But there were some areas more severely polluted, and spanned over longer stretches of waterways, than others. 

But the four areas that stood out the most were: Coventry, Tamworth, Stoke-on-Trent and Manchester. 

The plan now? I'm going to re-visit these hotspots and give them a spruce up with support from double Olympic silver medalist, Rich Hounslow, who has just stepped off the plane from Rio.  

Starting on 19th September, we'll spend three days and picking up and removing all the plastic we encounter in these places. And I would LOVE you to join us. Whether that's on the water with your own board or canoe, or simply walking along the towpaths. How you do it doesn't matter, what's important is that you want to help make a difference.  

  • Tamworth - 19th September - 10.30am start
  • Nuneaton - 19th September - 2.30pm start
  • Stoke on Trent - 20th September - 10.30am start
  • Manchester - 21st September  - 10.30am start

All you need to do is keep an eye on the tracker on my homepage (it's very accurate, don't worry) and come and join us if and when we're nearby. 

You don't need to bring anything - the wonderful folk at Canal and River Trust have that all sorted. Just come along and get involved.

And what if you're not nearby or can't make it but want to pledge support? Fear not. The map I created to plot all my plastic findings is set up to now capture your #PlasticPatrol findings too. Simply make sure you use the hashtag and add your location to the photo and tah-dah, you've played a part too. 

Roll on Monday, and I hope to see you all over the next few days. 

Lizzie x

 

Bouncing back after injury

Whether painful or irritating, debilitating or just plain annoying, injuries can and do happen to the best of us. Often it’s just the odd cut or bruise, the sign of an exciting day out. Occasionally it’s something more sinister; the muscle tear, the tendon snap, the ankle break. Or worse.

I’ve had friends who have been hurt in the pursuit of an adventurous life. Climbing accidents, mountain bike spills, hard skydiving landings. Knees ripped apart in skiing falls. All unfortunate but, to an extent, the inevitable consequence of living a life away from the sofa. Fortunately, none of these injuries have been too serious and recoveries have been mostly swift and straightforward.

Personally, I find it difficult to be injured. Not the event itself; that is often frighteningly easy. The aftermath; once the dust has settled, the acute treatment is done and it’s time to recover. Recovery takes time and I’m impatient. The inability to do the activities I love infuriates me.

Often the worst thing you can do when injured is rush to get back to it. That road leads at best to a slower recovery and at worst to recurrence of your injury. I find the best way to cope with this itch is to mentally take a step back and reflect on what you’re missing most. Use that emotion to plan your comeback in a smarter way. Set some goals and figure out how you’re going to achieve them once you’re healed enough. 

View the enforced lay off as a gift of the time you need to focus on what’s actually important to you. Once you are ready to begin the return to action, remember how you felt stuck on the couch and use that memory as fuel. Wait until you’re ready and then hit it hard. Come back better, stronger and smarter.

Be careful out there; here’s hoping nobody gets hurt. But if you do, stay positive and look at it as an opportunity. 

throwing myself in the deep end

The only way I can think to describe coasteering is as everything your parents told you not to do on the beach as a child, but under the expert guidance of someone who not only ignored that advice but also went on to make a career out of it.  

It’s something that I’ve intended to try for a few years but a mix of circumstance and fear - but mostly fear dressed up as circumstance - has stopped me. I should confess, now, that I am not keen on open water swimming. I love being ON water – paddle boarding, wake boarding, surfing – these all give me a sense of calm and freedom that I can achieve from little else, but being IN it is a different kettle of fish altogether.

And that’s one of my fears – fish and sea-life in general swarming under my feet and not being able to see what’s going on. It scares me. 

However, this summer I’ve been on a bit of a personal mission to challenge myself, conquer some fears and start exploring what my limits are both physically and mentally.

If solo paddle boarding the length of England didn’t put me through my paces enough, then a short break to the Isles of Scilly – dubbed as the UK’s adventure mecca – to tackle my fear of the open water by coasteering ought to do it. 

So off I went to this tiny archipelago sitting quietly off the edge of the Cornish Peninsula. It’s also where the Atlantic Ocean meets land for the first time in over 3000 miles. Based on that fact alone coasteering along its rugged coastline was bound to be eventful. 

And it was.  

Coasteering is basically climbing around rocks and when you can climb no more you either jump in or swim until you are met with more rocks to clamber round. That’s really all there is to it. 

So take this, and pepper in choppy waters, jagged rock faces and strong winds and you’ll be getting close to the conditions I experienced on the day I did it.

I worked my way from Peninnis Head on St Mary’s (Google it, it's beautiful) for about two miles. The views were impressive but I wasn’t there to marvel and I certainly didn't want to get distracted. 

About six minutes into this adventure was my first opportunity to jump in. It was a rock standing at about 5ft from the water and the advice was to pencil jump. I, of course, was terrified at the prospect but kept a cool exterior as I plunged into the abyss.  Despite being just 5ft, it was exhilarating. 

So when we approached the 10ft, 15ft and 20ft jumps I barely gave myself a moment to think before I hurled myself off the rocks into the waters below. I was teetering on the edge of my comfort zone – and as much as I was trying to convince myself I wasn’t enjoying it, I was getting addicted to the thrill of the jumps and floating in the open waters towards the next set of rocks.

More climbing, swimming and jumping ensued and I was really starting to find my pace. Yes, I'd swallowed more salt water than I'd have liked, my hands were bleeding and grazed from the barnacles and jellyfish were testing my nerve but I was so full of adrenaline that I simply did not care. 

However, as the session drew to a close and the final jump - a whopping 30 ft - was offered up, it was then I knew my upper threshold had been hit. No amount of self-coaxing or internal conflict was going to get me to fling myself off that rock.

So back I went to the safety of flat, vertical ground feeling really rather pleased with what I had achieved that day. 

It was an experience that I not only enjoyed but also genuinely helped me on my journey to overcoming my fear of the open water. 

Would I do it again? Undoubtedly, but I’d make sure I did the 30ft rock next time.
 

Notes:

Coasting on Isles of Scilly with Kernow Coasteering

Tourist information for Isles of Scilly with Isles of Scilly Tourism

Photos: Adventure Scilly

THERE IS ALWAYS HOPE

Remember the iconic Banksy drawing of the girl chasing a red balloon with the caption ‘There is always hope’ planted next to it?

A little cliche, I know, but it resonates strongly with me and I have a print hanging in my flat. It implies that hope is essential and that hope gives us the motivation to continue on in life despite the challenges, set backs or disappointments we’re facing. And we all need a sprinkling of that from time to time.

Over the last three weeks of my #SuperSUPEngland challenge I’ve witnessed humanity at both ends of the spectrum; the total idiocy and disregard that some people have for our planet, countered by the love, goodwill and kindness that I received along my 400 mile route. And, because of the latter, there is still plenty of hope left in me for humankind to make a difference.

The challenge, now, is sustaining that hope. And what better time to talk about how and why than World Ocean Day.

You see, I paddle boarded 400 miles across England to make a point. Whilst the global issue of plastic polluting our oceans is a hugely important one I struggle to get my head around why there isn’t bigger focus on the fact nearly 80% of it starts inland – on our canals and rivers.

That makes it a local issue and by drawing on this very fact it becomes very much our responsibility. Once we scale up the problem and look at it globally it transforms into an overwhelmingly large and often meaningless statistic far beyond our ability to grasp. The result? Simply cover our eyes, stick our fingers in our ears and ignore it.

When it’s a global problem it suddenly becomes everyone elses problem. But it isn’t. It’s yours, mine and their problem. It’s our planet, it’s our future generations, it’s our health and livelihoods. It’s a collective problem that flows from our very doorsteps.

In our lifetime, and under our (mis)management, we’re facing a serious, immediate and very real threat to the our oceans that, if we don’t start controlling, will leave them in a state of dire disrepair that, sadly, we won’t be able to rectify.

Plastic is an entirely man-made material and therefore we are wholly responsible for the destruction and devastation it’s causing to our oceans globally – and canals and river locally. There’s not way of absolving blame or pointing fingers elsewhere. Each and everyone one of us – unknowingly or otherwise – has contributed.

By plotting plastic hotspots and pressure points in our canals and rivers up and down the country my aim was to draw out the how serious the problem is inland – places we all recognise, visit and hopefully feel the desire to protect from plastic pollution.

Cleaning up our waterways not only improves the aesthetics and desirability of the area around it and allows wildlife to thrive but it goes a long way to resolving the global threat we are under.

If you don’t think it’s bad take a look at some of my findings here and visit the map I’ve started plotting with more than 1000 images from my route.

I’m hopeful in the belief that my actions will make an impact and get people to think serious about how to address the problem. I’ll stay persistent in the pursuit of change and focused on my determination to make a difference.

You might be happy to trade nature with plastic, but I certainly am not.

There is always hope.

THE CANALS ARE CHOKING

As part of the #SuperSUPEngland challenge I want to try and capture the reality of the threat we’re facing from plastic pollution along the waterways. Just in the few months of training for this challenge I’ve seen witnessed some fairly astonishing sights on the canals from buggies and umbrellas to traffic cones and dismantled scooters… but the amount of plastic I’ve seen in the form of bags, bottles, packets and even kids toys is both shocking and saddening. The health of our waterways is suffering – and eventually this will end up in our oceans causing all sorts of problems. It’s a problem that we can all address by making some very simple changes… something to think about.

This tracker will plot what I’m seeing in real-time and location specific so I can start to paint a picture of the scale of the situation along the country, bringing it all together visually in one place for the very first time.