In 2006, I found myself in a position where my personal circumstance had changed unexpectedly. Thankfully, it soon became apparent that as well as my family, I also had some fantastic friends, and this was where I started in trying to get things together again. Good friends Jim and Kat were due to be married in Vegas a few weeks later and they were amazing in supporting me through a difficult time and encouraging me to go to their wedding and join their celebrations, although I hadn’t done a lot of travelling before this. As I booked the trip last minute, I had to fly to Vegas via Amsterdam and Minneapolis. Although I was nervous travelling alone, I knew I would regret it if I didn’t go and everything went well. Before I knew it I was standing at Minneapolis waiting for my luggage… and waiting… and waiting. I realised it wasn’t coming and headed for the airline desk where they confirmed that my bag was still at Amsterdam, they advised that I should continue without it, report it at Las Vegas airport and eventually it would catch me up. Sure enough it did a few days later. It was a fantastic wedding and in the days before and after the wedding I joined in trips with their friends and family, shopped for clothes before my luggage caught me up and had a great time.
A couple of weeks later was another very good friends Hen Weekend – Penny, who I worked with as a Guide leader. This time we were staying in a barn in Yorkshire and going walking on the hills in the day time. As I approached the summit of Ingleborough on the Saturday, it occurred to me that there wasn’t anywhere I would rather be than there, enjoying the fresh air (and it was fresh with snow on top), the scenery and the company. I had always enjoyed the outdoors and this reminded me of how being out in the countryside lifted my spirits.
That Christmas day, I walked with my brother and my sister-in-law from their house to my sister’s house – 9miles, that at the time was a tough walk for me – I enjoyed it and listened to advice on clothing and footwear! It was during this walk that I mentioned to Amanda that I had annual leave to use from work, but that I didn’t want to just stay at home – ‘why not see if you can be a volunteer for the Yukon Arctic Ultra, a race that your brother is taking part in in February?’ – my instant reaction was, ‘no, I couldn’t do that’, the conversation ended. On boxing day the conversation came back to me and I thought to myself, why was I so quick to dismiss the suggestion and why can’t I do it? I got on to the internet and looked up the YAU to see what it was all about – it turned out to be the world’s toughest and coldest winter ultra-race taking place in the Yukon Territory, Canada – lots of information that was new to me! There was a section about volunteering on the website, but it looked like they wanted medics. After much deliberation I plucked up the courage and made contact with race organiser, Robert, to see if I could be a volunteer – at this point I didn’t let on that Andy was my brother (we had different surnames) as I didn’t want to cause him any worry and I also wanted to experience the event, not just follow Andy.
The answer from Robert was that if I could get there, then yes I could volunteer…. More pacing back and forth to the computer, looking at flights, wondering if I really could do this – the travelling should be OK, after all I got to Las Vegas and back by myself, and even enjoyed the travelling despite the lost luggage. That evening, flights and hotel were booked and I was going to do it! I’m not sure what Andy’s reaction was when I said I was going, but he put me in touch with Shelley in the Yukon and with Diane a volunteer medic based in the UK, and I started getting stuff together for the trip.
The journey itself went well and after a long wait at Vancouver airport I boarded the flight to Whitehorse along with a few YAU competitors. At Whitehorse we stepped off the aeroplane in to -30C – the coldest I had experienced up to that point was the few degrees below 0C of a British winter! We were met by Robert and I had a lift with him to the High Country Inn. I set out the next day to explore the town, returning very quickly to my room to add more layers to my clothing! I was amazed to see my breath sparkling as it turned to ice in front of me, and I loved the experience of being out in the cold. There was plenty to do for the race and I began to meet people and find out where I could be of help – very quickly I found everyone was friendly and I discovered that my brother Andy was well known among the competitors, I enjoyed hearing many stories about his adventures that I hadn’t previously been aware of! He arrived in Whitehorse the following day and began preparing for his race.
One bonus of being in Whitehorse for the YAU was that I got to go to the start of the Yukon Quest, 1000 mile dogsled race and see the teams set off on their adventure – the same route that the YAU would follow the next day. It was a fantastic experience, unlike anything I had seen (or heard) before, again very friendly with people lining the start to cheer the teams on despite the -30C temperatures.
The start of the YAU was more low key, although there were a good number of people turned out to see the racers set off up the Yukon river. During the race itself I was kept busy at check points, greeting competitors and providing them with drinks and food and helping them to dry clothes etc and I walked up the trail to see what it was like where they were coming in from and going out to. I spent 3 days in the workshop at McCabe Creek meeting the front-runners and then a day or more later the rest of the field. I tried to take photos of everyone as they came to a checkpoint and welcomed them in, watching and listening to them was amazing, I couldn’t quite believe what they were doing.
By the time the race was over and I was heading home, so many people had said to me that I could be out there taking part in the race if I really wanted to and if I was committed to the training, that I began to wonder if I really could. Soon after arriving home, I went out for a run round the village and was horrified how unfit I was, despite that though, I enjoyed being out and giving it a go and gradually my determination grew and I decided that I would enter the 100mile YAU and spend the rest of the year training hard and preparing.
Since then, I have run and walked regularly, spending many hours training on my own in the Derbyshire countryside, I have taken part in ultra-races in warm climates and other cold climates, I don’t enter a lot of events, I just enjoy being outside either running or walking. I’m never going to be fast or win races, but I will always benefit from the exercise and the time outdoors. In 2011, I became the first European female to complete the 300mile YAU and while taking part in that race, I met Mike. Since then we have spent a lot of time training together, taking part in events and going on other adventures around the world. I moved to Mikes base in Surrey where we lived for 18months before both moving back to Derbyshire 4 years ago. We have now settled in Derbyshire and enjoy living in the Peak District together with our dog, Tahra.
In 2019, I will head back to the Yukon and the MYAU to have another solo attempt at the 300mile race, while Mike will head back to Alaska - he was hoping to take part in the Iditasport 350, but unfortunately this was cancelled.