Hello and welcome to the Tough Girl Podcast, which is all about motivating and inspiring you.
I'm your host, Sarah Williams.
Today, we are going to be speaking to British adventurist, Sarah Outen, who set out from Tower Bridge in April 2011 on her London2London:via the World expedition. Her goal: to row, bike, kayak all around the Northern Hemisphere, which she was doing to inspire children and fundraising for various charities.
Sarah has overcome some huge obstacles and endured extreme conditions in remote environments, and often spending time alone for many months at a time. A typhoon on the North Pacific forced a mid-ocean rescue from her rowing boat in 2012, and a hurricane on the Atlantic, this summer, forced a preempted evacuation after 143 days at sea.
Sarah has also kayaked in the most treacherous waterways in the world, and cycled across North America, during one of the harshest winters on record.
Sarah is now, finally, back in the U.K. after 4-1/2 years away, and after traveling over 25,000 miles.
Sarah, firstly, welcome back home.
Thank you very much.
Just reading that is just absolutely phenomenal what you've achieved, but before we start going into that in a little bit more detail, can you just share with our listeners a little bit more background about you and who you are?
I've always been sporty and very outdoorsy, and it feels like one thing led to another, really. From small expeditions in my childhood and through the Duke of Edinburgh's Award at school, and the local kayaking club, things just seemed to have built from there. My first expedition or my first big solo expedition was in 2009, rowing across the Indian Ocean from Australia to Mauritius, and that journey really inspired this London2London journey because once I was out there I found just how much I loved being totally immersed in the wild for such an extensive period, and I really enjoyed the story telling aspect of it as well, so perhaps in a slightly naïve, 24-year-old way, I thought that it would be great to go global on this one, and hence London2London was born.
Fantastic, so even just rowing across the Indian Ocean, now I know you're the first woman to do this, weren't you?
That's right. Yes.
What made you want to do that row?
I first heard about ocean rowing once I was at University. In my second year, I think. I was totally captivated by the idea. I loved rowing, and I loved the oceans, but the idea that you could put the two together was completely unknown to me, and so I set about making a plan to row across the Indian Ocean because it seemed to me that like the forgotten ocean.
Lots of people have rowed across the Atlantic Ocean from East to West, across the mid-Atlantic route, so in my head that felt a little bit like a motorway. The Pacific Ocean seemed so huge and massive. Why on earth would I want to contemplate that on my first go?
The Indian Ocean, I didn't know much about it, and my inspiration for going solo as opposed to going with a part of a team, which is what I'd initially planned, that came after my father died very suddenly in 2006, and so at his funeral, I declared that I'd actually be rowing across the Indian Ocean in a couple of years' time in his memory, and very shortly afterwards, I decided that the best way to do that would be to go solo because it was such a personal journey.
Oh, absolutely, and what a personal journey to undertake. That's absolutely fantastic. Were you raising money for a charity when you did that row?
Yes, that row was all in aid of a couple of arthritis charities: Arthritis Care and Arthritis Research Campaign because my father had suffered from rheumatoid arthritis for all of my life at that point, pretty much, and so it was a very personal cause to be supporting.
Absolutely fantastic and what an achievement as well, rowing solo across the Indian Ocean, and I suppose during that time, you actually got the time to really think about what challenge you were going to do next, so is that where the idea of London2London came about or is it a slow progression?
It did come about during that journey, yes.
I loved the immersion. I loved the extensive time at sea. I've never spent more than a few hours alone before I set out on that journey, and I loved the fact that being in that environment for such an extended period of time, and by myself, I find that it makes me really aware of everything that's going on around me.
It's a pretty transformative experience and certainly full of learning as well, which I find really interesting.
I'm a biologist in training from- at the University, I was a biology graduate, so it's a big biology and geography lesson to be out there for so long, and I also discovered how much I enjoyed sharing stories, both with schools, over satellite phone calls and through the blog and so on.
I really was inspired by the idea that, wow, you can live out at sea for quite a few months, and I thought I'd like to do that on other oceans. Learn more about the different oceans of the world, and also connect up the land parts in between.
I wanted to meet people and see how landscapes changed over a given sort of course, over continent, and so that's where the journey started to come together in my head.
It was when I got back home- I got back home in August of that year, and I think about 3 months later, I decided that it was going to happen.
I love this dream. I think it's absolutely fantastic. I mean, what a dream to travel around the Northern Hemisphere whether you're rowing, biking, or kayaking, and it's a massive dream, which is one of the things I encourage people to go out and just think, you know, dream really, really big, but how did you go about it?
I think that big dreams, big plans are just like any other.
I think the idea that you need to map out the journey that's going to get you to the start line, and be really clear about why you're doing it, so that you're going to commit to it. I really think that it is just an extension of that, and so that's really what happened in terms of the planning was okay, I'm here at the starting point with basically no money, but I've got some good experience.
I've got an idea of how to make it happen, having just rowed across the Indian Ocean, and this is where I want to go to get to that point of being able to start, so it's really a question of mapping out what you need to do to get there, who you're going to meet to connect up with or get onboard and work with to make that happen?
Work out how much it's going to cost you because it has been an expensive expedition, and look at different ways of generating an income and a bank balance to help with that.
Then really just working through it, persisting with it, being creative, particularly when you reach hurdles, and learning all of the time, and being open to ideas and so on, and I think that's the biggest thing is just not giving up with it.
Lots of big projects don't get to the start line because things are too difficult to get there or perhaps people lose motivation just because it's so difficult, but I'm a great believer that if you're persistent enough and creative enough and just plain old stubborn, really, that you can make a lot of quite impossible seeming things happen.
Absolutely. I completely agree with what you're saying that it's about understanding your reason why, being committed.
I love how you're being creative with- when you're coming up against these hurdles, and it is about being persistent, and it is about being stubborn.
You set off from Tower Bridge in April 20111, can you describe how you were feeling at that point?
It was a really big thing just to be at the start line that day. It had been a difficult process to get to the start. A lot of people had worked hard to help make it happen, and so I felt sort of pride and satisfaction in the team and myself in having made it that far.
It was almost a sense of well, it almost doesn't matter what happens next.
We've made it to this point, and we can be proud of that. I was excited to be getting going. A little bit daunted on that day when I looked at the bridge, which felt massive, and there were lot's of people cheering me, and I looked down the river and just thought, whoa, where am I going?
I don't know when I'm going to be back.
I don't know when I'm going to see my family and friends again because at that point, I was expecting to be away for 2-1/2 years, but I think like with most things, you can have the nerves and the adrenaline, and actually the key is not to be scared of that, but to embrace it, and just get going.
... And that's what you did, so can you share a little bit about the first part of your journey?
To read more of the transcipt - please click here.