“Are you joking?!?!” I practically choked at the same time as I flung myself so far back in the office chair that I nearly fell off. I don't remember the rest of the short conversation but it was followed by a good 5 minutes of hysterical laughter which was driven by shock and fear. What the hell had I done?!
A couple of months prior to this telephone conversation I had entered my expedition idea into the Cordon rouge explorers club mentorship competition with my bringing down the iron curtain expedition. Truth is, I’d written the 500 word application in bed, in the dark, on my iPhone the night the competition closed with absolutely no knowledge of what I was actually suggesting I’d do. If I remember correctly I said I’d cross country ski across Finland at a time when there isn’t actually any snow and I've never cross country skied before. I under estimated the distance I said I’d be travelling by over 1,000 miles and I said I’d do the whole thing in 2 months when it actually needed more than double that. I just liked the sound of the idea of covering the whole distance of the 17 countries affected by the Iron curtain by human power, I’d never actually considered dong it, not for a minute.
After I’d stopped hysterically laughing I sat there in a stunned silence for a further 10 minutes before I was bought back to reality by my pager going off, reminding me that I was still in work. For the rest of the day I barely said a word to anyone, couldn’t eat and was so anxious about what I’d done I couldn’t sleep that night. It was a couple of days before I could bring myself to actually start looking into the expedition I’d said I do. I realised it was a monumental task, 17 countries, nearly 4,500 miles telling the history of the iron curtain and how it affected the people in those countries then and now. I loved the idea, but could I actually do it?
Less than 5 months later I’d quit my job in the NHS, rented out my flat, borrowed money from my parents and completely abandoned my sensible life to complete this expedition. When considering undertaking the expedition I realised that the only thing stopping me from doing so was me and my fear of taking the huge leap and deliberating turning my life upside down. I had no reasonable excuse not to do this. Winning this mentorship was the shove I needed to make me follow through with something I’d never been brave enough to actually do.
Yesterday I completed the walking Finland aspect of my iron curtain expedition, walking the whole length of Finland from its most northerly point in Nurogam down to Senate Square in the capital Helsinki, a distance of just under 1,000 miles in 41 days.
It flew by. As I finished I wasn’t ready for it to be over. For me it felt like it was nearly over just as it was starting, I was enjoying it so much I didn’t want it to end. I’d very quickly settled into the daily routine of walking up, either in our tent or a wilderness hut, walking for 8 hours or so covering 35-45km every day depending on the terrain, being in awe of the wildlife and scenery before making camp and repeating this every day.
As I came down the steps at Helsinki Cathedral and walked towards my beaming parents waiting in the sunshine for me I didn’t feel the way that perhaps some would expect me to. I wasn’t desperate to finish and put my feet up, I didn’t feelhuge sense of achievement at my accomplishment nor did I even cry at the end. I simply felt content and satisfied, happy. This relaxed mood was completely different to what I had been feeling the week before when I’d been getting very anxious that it was all going to be over too soon.
For now I’m adjusting to being back in the civilised world after spending nearly 6 weeks in the wilderness. I’m re familiarising myself with using a toilet rather than going in the bush, having a daily shower and seeing a tanned, leaner version of myself in the mirror. During the expedition I barely even noticed to care that much that my finger nails were black, my hair so greasy after not washing it that I could easily fry a breakfast in it and that I was wearing the same clothes for nearly week. 10 days is my proud record without a shower.
Without a doubt the hardest part of the expedition so far was getting to the start. Taking on the challenge and organising it is all consuming in terms of time, thoughts and finances. Deliberately dismantling the life, career and home I’ve spent years building was extremely stressful and emotional at times to the point that I almost couldn’t wait to get away. I never once thought about not completing the expedition, I simply ploughed through massive to do lists every day for months to get this off the ground and wrap up my old life.
Finland will always be a very special place to me. I loved being out in the middle of nowhere for weeks, the campfires, the wildlife, especially the reindeers. The wilderness really is an enchanting place. I’ve ticked off a few things on my bucket list such as seeing the northern lights after 24 hour daylight had ended mid expedition, going to the arctic circle and meeting the real Santa Claus in Lapland. I simply loved living outdoors; waking up with a breeze on my face, seeing the sun beaming through the trees as it rose in the mornings, spending most evenings chatting around a glowing campfire under the stars. I’ll remember more of how contented and happy I felt out there in the wilderness than I will of anything on my bucket list or what I’ve achieved. Life is at is best when its so simple.
Now I’m looking forward to the next stage of my Bringing down the iron curtain expedition. I’m swapping my trekking books and camping gear for my bicycle and leaving the wilderness for the big cities of Europe. Country number 3 is St Petersburg, Russia.