For a while now, I’ve wanted to do something a little crazy – something that’ll test me physically, mentally and emotionally like never before. Having stumbled across a number of trailblazing daredevils in recent years – both in person and through word-of-mouth – their incredible stories have acted like pieces of flint, igniting my dreams of adventure along with a fierce fire in my belly. I’m fascinated by their bravery, curious about their motives and inspired by their stubborn resilience.
A few years ago, I came across the captivating film, Tracks. The true story was based on the incredible nine-month journey of Robyn Davidson, who walked over 1700 miles across Australia’s desolate deserts in 1977. She had four camels and a dog for company. Not all of them survived the harsh passage. Robyn’s story still gives me goose bumps, and I can’t quite fathom the amount of courage, craziness and composure she must have embodied to complete such an extraordinary task.
Jump forward to 2009, when a 16-year-old girl named Jessica Watson took Australia (and the world) by storm, and her own life by the helm. Despite the tidal wave of criticism and fear that developed in the lead-up to her big adventure, she never lost sight of her dream and went on to become the youngest person to complete a solo, non-stop, unassisted circumnavigation of the southern hemisphere.
This journey saw her tackle the notorious route around Cape Horn (the “Everest” of sailing); a ferocious Atlantic storm with winds over 75 knots and waves over 15 metres high; and, finally, the vast Southern Ocean leg (a gruelling 4000+ nautical mile stretch of open and unforgiving seas).
When asked about her motives by the Los Angeles Times, Jessica responded with, “I wanted to challenge myself and achieve something to be proud of. And yes, I wanted to inspire people. I hated being judged by my appearance and other people’s expectations of what a ‘little girl’ was capable of…”
Indeed, that’s exactly what I took from her achievements and those of other adventurous spirits – a huge dose of inspiration. I now feel motivated to step outside of my comfort zone, test my limits and discover what I’m made of for my own piece of mind. By completing an epic solo challenge (more details to come in a future blog post), I also hope to stir other people’s perceptions of what’s possible…and what’s enjoyable. But, before I tuck into the big beast that is expedition planning, I need to get a little direction on the task at hand as well as a confidence boost. Jessica Watson has kindly answered many of my burning questions, and her responses have certainly given me the focus and newfound determination I needed. I hope they do the same for other readers and aspiring adventurers.
Photo credits (from top to bottom): News Pix / Rex Features, Jessica Watson, Joelle Eid, WFP, news.com.au.
How on earth should I start planning a solo adventure?
A major solo adventure can seem like a huge, unattainable goal at first. I think that’s why so many people questioned my dream of sailing around the world singlehanded. They thought to themselves, “I couldn’t do something like that, so how could a 16 year old possibly tackle a challenge that big?”. When you don’t know much about the different elements driving your expedition – the skills, the route, the equipment, the risks etc – the task at hand can seem daunting and practically impossible. So, the first thing to do when planning a big adventure is research and learn as much as you can about these vital components. After that, it’s a matter of braking down the big goal into smaller, more manageable, goals.
As you go though the preparations you’ll meet people who can offer advice and even become part of your support team. Let them be involved and help you succeed. I’d also recommend spending loads of time on risk management; you need to honestly assess the potential hazards, decide how to manage them and come up with contingencies. Don’t be disheartened by how hard planning can be. Many adventurers say that two thirds of any expedition is preparation and the hurdles you have to overcome before you actually set off!
How should I go about preparing my body for a physical adventure?
Being in peak physical condition wasn’t as critical for my round the world voyage as other elements such as seamanship skills, boat prep and psychological training. Having said that, I worked hard on building my muscle mass and general body weight to help with the tougher and colder legs. I wasn’t particularly successful! It’s worth meeting with someone who can analyse your body against the physical tasks you’re about to put it through and devise a personalised training schedule. This will help improve your fitness in the areas you need it and reduce the risk of injury.
How should I prepare mentally for a major solo adventure?
Psychological preparation is very important and visualisation is a great place to start. You need to imagine yourself in every situation you’re likely to face and see yourself overcoming the challenges. Talking to other adventurers who’ve already tackled similar journeys is very helpful. It’ll give you an idea of how a range of people, with different personality types and physical capabilities, dealt with the bad days. This will help you find the best solutions for you. I also worked with a sports phycologist who taught me to use positive thought strategies. These were relatively simple but I found these strategies very useful and would recommend seeking professional help.
How I should I respond to other people who doubt my goals, and avoid getting discouraged?
Take other people’s opinions with a grain of salt, focus on your own self-doubt and try to figure out what’s really driving your fears (it’s generally not other people’s comments). Often we’re our own biggest enemy – we kill our own confidence. Like everything else, self-confidence is something you need to practice, especially before heading off on a solo adventure. For me, setting clear micro-goals and clearly marking my progress towards them helps me feel more positive and self-assured. And, don’t forget, it’s easy for people to criticise adventurers and declare something is too risky from their living room. In my view, it’s better to try and fail than never try at all.
Should I ever take people’s skepticism on board?
As unpleasant as it is, I’d recommend listening to the doubters if you can cope with it. Someone might provide a bit of criticism that’s useful, inspiring a question which should be answered before you start your adventure. If you’ve done your expedition research, considered the challenges and feel like you’re on top of everything, you’ll generally find any negativity to be unhelpful and ill-informed. In which case, it’s impossible to take the criticism personally. Of course, doubters can also be incredible motivators! Get inspired to prove them wrong.
Photo credits (from top to bottom): Sophee Smiles, Jessica Watson, news.com.au, news.com.au.
What’s the benefit of a solo adventure over a supported adventure? I didn’t have any physical support during my seven-month solo voyage, but I did benefit from modern technologies, which enabled me to contact my support team for advice at any time. While this access was incredibly helpful, I also found the ease of communications hard to deal with at times. Being completely alone can be hard at first; but, once you’re use to it, human contact can actually be quite disruptive. Everyone will need to find their own balance between being alone and relying on support crew. Before you head off on your journey, you need to communicate your preferences to those involved in the expedition. While there’s something that draws me to solo unsupported adventures, decisions around how much help and human contact to have should be based on your own needs. Each to their own.
How can aspiring solo adventurers tackle their pre-expedition fears?
Fear is an interesting one and it’s a shame to see it hold people back. I believe that fear is something we can chose to overcome and pretending to be strong is a good step in the right direction! People pick up on your confidence and start reflecting it back to you, which makes you feel a lot better. If you want to do something enough you’ll find a way to overcome your fears. Ultimately, the best way to do this is to simply get on with the job.
Are mentors and role models helpful when planning a major solo expedition?
Absolutely! I think it’s important to team up with like-minded mentors, as there’s so much you can learn from those who’ve done similar things. They don’t need to be formal relationships, but a more structured mentorship can be incredibly beneficial. Ideally, a mentor should challenge and question you. A cheerleader isn’t going to be very helpful. It certainly doesn’t hurt to work with a number of advisers who have different experiences and views. Many adventurers rely on team of experts.
It’s also great to have role models or people you look up to, as they remind you what’s possible. I’m inspired by just about every hardcore adventurer I’ve heard of! Female professional sailors really blow me away; I don’t think many people realise just how many gutsy professional ocean racers there are, and to see girls competing on an equal playing field with the guys is just amazing.
What are some of the best things to come out your successful solo expedition?
There’s so many; I’ve been so lucky! Being named Young Australian of the Year was incredible, while being invited to get involved with a number of different charities has been the most inspiring. These opportunities have exposed me to loads of new people and experiences, which have helped me learn, grow and progress – both personally and career wise. I’ve loved being able to give back to various communities after so many people rallied behind me and helped me achieve my dream. I’ve also gained access to some brilliant mentors who’ve exposed me to new companies, industries and insights. Completing a major challenge certainly has the capacity to open doors and provide future direction for adventurous spirits.
What new and exciting adventures have you been sinking your teeth into since sailing around the world?
In 2011, I was proudly lead the youngest ever team to complete in the Rolex Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race. The project was a year in the making with a three-month full time training period that thought me as much about team work as it did racing. We finished second place in our division and were thrilled to beat our coaches who were also racing against us. Beyond that, I’ve tried to move away from sailing adventures, as they’re the easy option for me. I’ve had to find other ways to challenge myself. I still love sailing, but it’s also been great to completely push myself out of my comfit zone.
I recently finished my undergraduate studies (Arts / Communications) and commenced an MBA with the Australian Institute of Management, which will be tough going. I’m also very excited to be working at the Communications Manager for a marine startup and community website called Deckee. I love this role, as it’s an opportunity to bring the boating community’s word of mouth culture online and help bring this industry, which is generally quite traditional, into the 21st Century. I’m also a youth representative for the UN’s World Food Programme, a position that’s taken me on field trips to Laos, Jordan and Lebanon (read more here).
Photo credits (from top to bottom): Joelle Eid, WFP.
Evidently, Jessica is a woman who embodies true spirit. Her fearless, down-to-earth approach and clear focus set as much of an example as her valuable words of wisdom. It’s little surprise Jessica places a big emphasis on mental preparation and managing self-doubt before setting off on a major solo adventure. In her book, it’s important to tackle fear head on by: acknowledging weaknesses, researching the unknown (to death), taking criticism on board as constructive information, breaking mammoth goals into smaller tasks, asking for help when its needed, and, simply getting on with things. If all else fails, just fake it until you make it. And when you make it, all of the tough days and hard yards will be totally worth it. Sounds good to me. Thanks for the boost, Jessica!
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Below are some of the adventurers who inspire me. How about you – who’s stirring your thirst for adventure?