Over the past few years, I have tried to undertake one challenge each year that helps me to step outside my comfort zone. I do this for a number of reasons.
Firstly, I love it and get a huge amount of personal satisfaction from doing an endurance based, travel challenge.
Secondly, I get to share this journey with others, to show them how I did, what the challenges were along the way and what I’ve learnt.
Thirdly, my mission with Tough Girl Challenges is to motivate and inspire women and girls, it’s to increase the amount of female role models in the media. This is something I’m very passionate about.
I can’t go around talking about challenge and adventure, and stepping outside your comfort zone when I’m not. If I’m talking the talk, I have to be able to walk the walk.
Here are the challenges I’ve done over the past few years:
2016 - Marathon des Sables
2018 - Cycled the Pacific Coast Highway from Vancouver Canada to Cabo San Lucas in Mexico
*This hike was sponsored by Cicerone Press
At the start of 2020 I’ve got a number of smaller challenges planned.
I’m also planning another hike in May doing the West Highland Way in Scotland.
From June onwards I have no plans….
I have a massive list of challenges I’d like to do - Sail a leg of the Clipper Yacht Race, Hike the PCT, Cycle Across Europe, Cycle Across America, Hike in New Zealand, etc, etc, etc….. and I would love to do them all, but I am struggling to decide on what I want to do and then commit to doing it!!
Instead, what I though would be awesome and really interesting would be to reach out to my community and ask them what would they like to see me do! Which is what I did....
I shared this…. in the closed FB Group The Tough Girl Tribe and with my Patrons.
*** Challenge Ideas for Sarah 2020 ***
Tribe, I have so many ideas of challenges and adventures that I want to go on and I’m stuck about what to do next! As I’d love to give them all ago.
One of the key things for me has been sharing the journey from start to finish and I want to continue to do that. I think it’s a very powerful way to demonstrate the steps that were taken to complete the challenge and show everyone what goes on to make it happen.
Is there a particular challenge/journey that you would like me to do, and to share, so that you can follow along?
Here are some ideas I’ve had and would love for you to vote or to suggest your own!
All ideas welcome!!! I’m excited to see what you come up with!!!
Added in no particular order..... I'm looking at June onwards of 2020….
I suggested these 7 challenges
Cycle Across Europe - Velo6
Hike the Te Araroa Trail (New Zealand)
Swim the English Channel (my bro’s idea)
Cycle across America (LA - Florida)
Hike the Pacific Crest Trail (West Coast America)
Hike the Camino Frances - The French Way
These 2 were suggested by community members.
The Spine - winter run of the Pennine Way
Cycle across Canada
I found the results and comments really interesting.
The top 3 challenges as voted for by my community.
Cycle Across Europe Velo 6
Hike the Te Araroa Trail (New Zealand)
Swim the English Channel
I’m going to take each of these challenges and just brain storm a little more about how I could make them happen....
My main considerations for all challenge :
How can I ensure that the Tough Girl Podcast continues to come out while I’m doing challenges.
What I’ve done so far is to preload podcast episodes to come out while I’ve been on the road and this does work, and I can make it work for probably 4 months at a time. But this is a huge amount of work I need to get done in advance and it’s very full on and I probably need about 2/3 months to make this happen.
This also limits me to only doing Tough Girl Podcast episodes (which come out on a Tuesday) and not doing the catch up episodes for Tough Girl Extra (which come out on a Thursday), as it would not be possible to produce this much content, unless I was able to hire a podcast editor. But at the volume of episodes I produce it would not be financially viable.
Manage the behind the scenes of Tough Girl Challenges
On boarding new patrons, dealing with e-mails, FB groups, website links, dealing with issues etc. I can do a lot through my phone, but it is easier to have a laptop and good wifi.
As I have limited funds, and don’t pay for marketing. I need to do all the sharing, posting and engaging on social media which is a must when you are trying to grow your business and to spread awareness.
I have started to work with a VA, but this costs money, so I have to manage the budget very careful and at the moment this is just a few hours per week. There could be an opportunity to grow this role more, which would help to take some of the pressure off me and give me more time back.
The costs involved of getting to and from the challenge.
Challenges in UK and Europe are a lot easier as I can use my phone and phone data, flights aren’t as expensive and insurance is easier to get, plus if something goes wrong it’s a lot easier to get home from Europe than it is from the middle of the Mexican desert for example.
I’m in a fortunate position that I basically have 2 ‘homes’ - I live with my parents when I’m in the UK, and I live with my brother and his family when I’m in Australia (both rent & food free).
With this, I can look for challenges in the UK and close to the UK and I can also look for challenges close to Australia (e.g. This is why I’m able to walk the Overland Track in Tasmania as it’s only an hour flight away from Melbourne).
Sharing the journey
There are so many different aspects involved, from recording vlog footage daily, creating videos, editing the videos, sharing on social media, doing instagram stories etc.
One of the biggest issues I had with the Appalachian Trail was sharing it while I was dong the challenge. I wasn’t great at doing daily instagram updates or blogging as I went along.
I did film each day, but the issue was getting wifi and being in a location for long enough to get the vlog footage from my go pro to my camera and uploaded to dropbox so an editor could edit it.
It was a nightmare and a real logistically challenge. I had finished the trail on 10th September and the vlogs were coming out in late December.
I managed to vlog on the Camino and have 3 videos coming out each week while I was walking, I also carried my laptop with me.
The Lycian Way was different again, as it was so much more remote, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to edit while I was on the hike and I didn’t want to take my laptop with me. I knew I would be editing the vlogs when I came back. That’s 25 vlogs do edit - which is a huge amount of work and took me pretty much the whole month of January to do and that was working on it daily.
While hiking the Overland Track, I won’t have my laptop with me and I know that I will be editing and sharing the vlogs when I come back in February.
It is possible to manage the vlogging, and every challenge is different. e.g. it’s a lot easier to take my lap top with me when I’m cycling as weight isn’t such a big factor, but not so easy when I'm trying to be lightweight and move fast.
I'm also a lot more efficient and had more experience of doing this now and have hopefully got better at it!
For the longer trips and the more remote trips I would like to get a spot tracker as it does add an element of support and gives my family comfort when I’m away.
There are monthly costs involved with the spot tracker and I do need to look at this as an investment.
I was very fortunate to borrow a spot tracker from a friend when I cycled in America and Mexico and it was a great to have it and to know that people knew where I was. I would like to have this in New Zealand and Europe.
I need to replace some of my dry sacks as they are started to get holes in.
I would like a warmer sleeping bag (mine is great for the desert - but not more normal conditions and I sleep very cold).
I do need to get a warmer puffy - one that can also get wet.
I do go through trainers pretty quickly. But I make do.
I can put duct tape on my dry sacks and they will last a few more trips. I can wear more layers to keep warm - I do need to invest in some merino wool layers at some point.
The thing is, this isn’t a reason to stop me from going on adventures. I will get to replacing/upgrading at some point and I also hope to be able to get some gear via sponsorship e.g. Osprey sponsored my last backpack for the Camino Portuguese which was great.
I probably need to reach out to some more companies to get these final items! It's on my long list of things to do.
With a lot of the longer challenges, you can build up your fitness as your go. So for me it's more important to be strong and to just have a good base fitness which I can build on.
I did have some issues with my left knee and lazy glutes but these are pretty much sorted now. However, as my right hip flexor has been compensating for my weak left side, I do need to work on my right hip flexor as it's starting to play up.
Cycling would be a lot easier on my body than hiking, especially if I wanted to hike the TA trail in 100 days.
I though it would be useful for me to break down my thought process and how I could make each of the challenges work.
Cycle Across Europe Velo 6
First challenge....I don’t have my own bike. (I do have a bike 200 miles north of LA in America!)
I have my dad’s old bike which I had re done up while I was doing training for the PCH in 2018. It’s a 90s bike, it’s not the best, its rusty and very heavy. But it’s still a bike I can use. Especially when I don’t want to spend money I don’t have.
I have 2 panniers for a bike rack (but I don’t have a bike rack). So option 1 would be to buy a bike rack and have that added to my bike. (Cost £50 approx plus £30 for labour or I could try and do it myself… could be interesting!!)
Option 2, would be to buy a Seat Pack (£120), Handlebar Pack (£100), and a Frame pack (£90). I like the brand Ortlieb and then not bother with the back rack.
I have most of the equipment I need for hiking challenge and most of it will work for cycling as well. the other thing I would like to do before I go on a cycle trip would be to do a bike maintenance course - approx £200. As I really don't have a clue (even though I've cycled over 4,000 km!)
I love the heat, and the sunshine, so the best time of the year for me to cycle across Europe would be during the summer months. So June - July - August - September would all work for me.
Cycling I would be able to make use of Warmshowers - which will also save me money on accommodation and an evening meal, and maybe even breakfast and lunch or too. I can wild camp to keep accommodation costs down.
Warm up ride first? e.g. JOGLE or LEJOG - approx 2 weeks - would need to think about the costs and time involved in doing the preparation, but could also be a way to meet up and stay with members of the Tough Girl Tribe.
Getting to the start line... I would be able to cycle there - which helps to keep costs down!!
I'm based close to Liverpool. So that gives me a number of options.
Option 1 - I'd cycle to London first, stop off and stay with tough girls on the way down, cross over to France, Cycle on the Euro Velo 4, which then joins the Euro Velo 1 in the North West of France and then cycle down the west coast of France to the start of the Euro Velo 6.
Option 2 - I could get the Ferry across from Liverpool over to Ireland first and then cycling around Ireland on the Euro Velo 1 before getting back to Wales and cycling down to the coast of the UK, picking up a boat and continuing on down the coast on the Euro Velo 1 and joining up with EuroVelo 6. (This would probably add another month maybe 6 weeks onto the Journey).
Option 3 - I could catch a ferry to Ireland from Liverpool, cycle around Ireland and then catch the Ferry from Corke to France to continue on down the EuroVelo 1 to the start of the EuroVelo 6.
The Journey - EuroVelo 6 - Atlantic to the Black Sea
The Eurovelo 6 (EV6) officially starts at the mouth of the river Loire on the Atlantic Ocean and stretches east to the Black Sea. This route traverses 4, 450 km through France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania.
11 UNESCO sites
6 European rivers
Approx time 2 months…
More info about Euro Velo 6 can be found here.
Getting home? I would probably want to finish in Istanbul - the question is how do I get back to the UK from Istanbul? Take a flight? Get the train? Could I sail back? Do I cycle back? Is that possible?
The considerations at this point are that I will have been on the road for 2 months, I will be tired, and I do like coming back home to a bit of stability and being looked after again. Costs and time will also be important at this point.
Working on the road
I would have the ability to carry my laptop with me on this trip which would enable me to keep the business going while I’m on the road and as long as I have wifi I would be able to edit the daily vlogs.
I just have to be really organised every day, to make sure I do everything I need to do:- take photo’s on my i-phone, write words/notes/diary of what has gone on during the day, how much money I’ve spend, where I’ve been what I’ve seen. Share it on Instagram, FB, Linkedin, Medium, film vlog footage everyday, upload it to my i-phone, get it up-loaded to dropbox, ready to be downloaded to my laptop for editing etc
There is always the potential of getting sponsorship for the vlogs which helps with the funding of the challenge.
Getting sponsorship does take a huge amount of effort and it’s not the easiest to get for longer trips. However, it is possible, I’ve worked with fantastic companies over the past 6 months, such as Cicerone, Osprey, Komoot and WaterWell. So it can happen.
With Brexit and leaving the EU, I believe we will still be going through the transition period in 2020 so visas, crossing borders should not be a problem and mobile phones etc should still work.
A comment from my community:
"I write this on Brexit day, Sarah. Go on a symbolic cycling trip across Europe - Entente Cordiale and all that! It's great for the environment as well, why should we be flying half way across the world for adventure when it can be found at our doorstep? Good luck, whatever you decide!"
2. Hike the Te Araroa Trail (New Zealand)
The biggest challenge with hiking in NZ for a British person is getting there with the cost of the flights. (£1000 approx - but you can get cheaper depending on the time of year).
It’s easy for a British person to get a 6 month VISA.
The best time to hike is between November and March.
This is over the Christmas period, which is one of my favourite time of year and to be honest. I don’t want to be away from family over Christmas. I’ve done it before and it was one of the worst Christmas’s I’d every had, and I don’t want to repeat it.
The trail is 3,900km long stretching from Cape Reinga in the North of New Zealand to Bluff in the South.
More info about the trail can be found here
Cost of flights (this would be approx the same cost of me flying to Melbourne- which I do pretty much every year, or have done since 2014) so I would be in this neck of the woods anyway. I do totally understand the environmental considerations with regards to flying, but when you have family on the other side of the world it's the only cost/time effective way to travel.
Needing a NZ sim card and making sure I have an unlocked phone.
All the gear to d this challenge I have - I would need to get some new shoes, and upgrade my sleeping bag. But I think I do have everything else I need.
I have done a lot of hikes before so do feel comfortable taking this on - there are some challenging aspects with regards to the water crossing, NZ is also more expensive than Europe.
The business, social media, sponsorship and physical fitness considerations will be the same as above.
I've said 50 days for each island which is probably quite quick going... I do want to make sure that I don't physically get destroyed doing this trail as it just takes me so long to recover - doing the AT in 100 days really took it out of me.
How I can make this work
Preload content before I go (I do need approx 2 months to do this - maybe a little bit longer)
Fly out to NZ in late October (I need a week to get over jet lag) - start the trail beginning of November.
Plan to do the North island in 50 days.
Fly to Melbourne for Christmas and New Year - if my parents come over for Christmas they can bring my laptop, clothing etc that I need for those few weeks and then take it home with them, or leave it for me to fly back to Melbourne at the end to have a few weeks of rest before flying home to the UK
In late January, Fly back to NZ to hike the South Island - again I would aim for 50 days.
At the end of the trip - Fly back to the UK.
Benefits of this.
I get a break in-between hiking each island, allowing me to catch up with work and also allowing my body some time to recover!
NZ is only a 4 hours flight away from Melbourne.
I would get to spend time with family and not miss my favourite time of year.
I would be able to preload content for the 4 months in advance - If I’m not doing anything in September and October.
I would be able to do some editing of the vlogs in January (maybe not all of them - but a good amount) so those vlogs would be coming out in February, March time.
I get to miss winter in the UK!
I would have another 100 day hike under my belt!
3. Swim the English Channel!!
So this wasn’t actually my idea, it’s was my brothers and to be honest I was surprised at how popular it was!!
I actually don’t even know where to start with this challenge….
I did however, get some great advice from my community…
"I think the idea of swimming the channel is amazing, but realistically that would be more a 2022 objective. Just to get on the list to do it you have to sign up more than a year in advance is my understanding. However, you could look at being part of a relay, maybe doable for this year or next :-)"
"I was thinking the same, the preparation that goes into it Channel swim is massive along with the cold water acclimatisation - best person to speak to on that would be the legend Beth French (which I’m sure you already know). I’m sure there’s a fb group for channel swimmers as well."
I'm not sure this challenge really excites me that much! I do like swimming, but I'm not a fan of the cold. I think this will have to go on the back burner for a while!!
I'd love to hear more about your challenges for 2020 or if you have any thoughts or comments about the above - I'd love to hear from you!