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. I booked the trip last minute and so 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. Before I knew it I was standing at Minneapolis airport 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 a bit ahead of the group, 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, at the time that 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 wanted to experience the event, not simply 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, up to that point the coldest I had ever experienced 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 some years ago. We have now settled in Derbyshire and enjoy living in the Peak District together with our dog, Tahra. We have both continued walking and running and taking part in some events. Having DNFd the last few winter races, in 2019 I returned to the MYAU for one last try at the 300mile race, which, to my surprise, I won!
We were very lucky to be living where we do during the COVID lockdowns as we were able to get out on the trails walking and running every day and as my 50th birthday occurred during the first lockdown, I celebrated by taking myself on a 50km trail run from our back door, 1km for every year.