Let the Wild Wind Roar

From cycling to the South Pole, to winning a gold medal in the Paralympics Games, more women are making a career as adventures. How are they using their inspiring stories to break down stereotypes and encouraging more women to follow in their steps?

Maria Leijerstam, pictured in her three-wheel recumbent cycle which she peddled across Antarctica to the South Pole Credit: Ryan Edy

What can be done in 10 days 14 hours and 56 minutes? For Maria Leijerstam, using a three-wheeled polar cycle, she created a miracle.

It was 2013, Maria, a 35-year-old woman from Wales, became the first person in the world to cycle from the Antarctic coast, across the entire icy continent, to the South Pole.

The bitterly cold, perpetual snow and undefeatable loneliness stopped most adventurers from a further exploring. But Maria isn’t like most adventurers.

“The main reason I wanted to cycle to the south pole was that nobody has ever done it before,” says Maria still with a sparkle in her eyes. “People attempted to cycle in the Antarctic, and all have failed, so I love this challenge of impossible.”

The Interview with Maria Leijerstam, the first person in the world cycling to the South Pole from the edge of the continent.

Maria just represents one of the millions of female adventurers in the UK. From female travel statistics 2020, 55% of solo travel searches in the UK are made by women, which suggests women are more eager for new adventures than ever.

Adventures have all different shapes in societies. Siân Anna Lewis, a travel journalist writing her own outdoor adventure blogs, says: “To me adventure means exploring new places, getting out in the elements and being in the wild. It doesn’t have to mean crazy challenges – finding the confidence to go hiking, wild camping, or solo traveling can all be a real adventure.”

A diverse variety of adventures bring different changes to women. For an adventurer and global expedition leader like Catherine Edsell, who is also a mother of two, adventures are about freedom. Edsell says that adventures allowed her to reset herself from trivial daily routines and recovered from who she really was.

Catherine Edsell in her “Matriarch Adventure”. credited : https://cathadventure.com/

I wanted to go out and change the world, but I couldn’t find a babysitter.

For women like Edsell, the biggest challenge for them is to balance their family and their adventure career. So Edsell set up an online project called “The Matriarch Adventure”, which allows a group of women tracking desert elephants, doing dawn yoga, and sleeping out under spectacular stars in the Namibian wilderness to release the pressure and explore themselves.

“The Matriarch Adventure is an idea I had about 3 years ago, at that time, I wanted to go out and change the world, but I couldn’t find a babysitter,” says Edsell. When she realized her problems may not be a rare phenomenon for women like her, she set up this project to bring ordinary women to very extreme locations and gave them a real taste of what the adventure is.

Short self-reflection adventures help women explore themselves and relieve the pressure. However, it’s still hard for most professional women to balance interest and jobs.   

Jenny Davis in her expedition to Antarctica. credit : jenny.wordsworth Instagram

Jenny Davis was a lawyer before a tumor was discovered in her abdomen, after a course of drugs and major surgery she decided to spend her days planning all the expeditions and adventures she’d like to complete.

However, she didn’t give her lawyer job up. She balanced her work and hobby both by working as a lawyer and taking sabbaticals when she was going on her first expedition to Antarctica. Jenny says, “It was definitely hard to fit in all the physical training and preparation for a major expedition into daily life, but if it’s something you love and really want to achieve then I think we’re all capable of finding the time.”

I approach life with an adventurous mindset all the time.

The Adventure can be an exploration of self-reflection and balance, but for women like Karen Darke, stories might be different.  

A life-changing accident left Karen paralyzed from the chest down, but it also gave her a mission of adventures. Hand-cycling the world’s biggest mountain, kayaking at the longest rivers, competing at the Paralympic Games, and winning medals. Karen proves her motto that “Ability is a state of mind, not a state of body”.

“Adventures supposed to be all of my life. It almost like a core value that I approach life with an adventurous mindset all the time.” Even Karen says being a role model and encouraging other women weren’t something she aforethought to do, but her inspiring experiences, books, and speeches did encourage lots of women to go adventures and challenge the impossible.

Karen Darke with her bike. credit: Karen Darke Twitter

What Karen do now is more than inspired others but to gather a group of women together to explore how to adopt an adventurous mindset and meet any challenges in their life. The online project is called Adventure Mindset Café run on a donation basis that some guest speakers will be invited to give suggestions and share their life experiences.

Katie Campbell Skyrka, the sports and adventure journalist, concludes the benefits of these virtual communities. “Most female adventurers I speak to have had overwhelmingly positive experiences with strangers around the world and the hospitality shared with them in tiny remote communities.”

My mission is to educate to inspire, inspire to protect.

A growing number of online communities do encourage more women to go to adventures and make new friends. These virtual societies, to some extent, also encourage women with own adventure brands to share their stories and educate others.

Jemma from the UK but took a job in Fiji now as the scientist on a marine expedition project and spent over a year living and working on a remote, super basic camp on a beach. She says, “Adventures changed my life. I found I was so content with the basics, diving every day, teaching students about marine life, being welcomed into the wonderful local culture, finally immersed in the ocean that I had loved since a child, and living each day as an adventure.”

Jemma has her own blogs called “Sea Beneath”, which is aimed at kids to teach them marine life and raise their interest to protect the ocean. “My mission is to educate to inspire, inspire to protect,” she says.

Jemma in her ocean adventure. credited: Sea Beneath Website

The popularity of the virtual group not only shows the enthusiasm of female adventurers but also exposes some gender inequality issues.

As report claims, gender differences exist for the participation rates of different types of outdoor adventures. Although 72% of women said they feel liberated while outdoors, only 32% of them considered themselves to be ‘outdoorsy’.

Sports and adventure journalist Katie Campbell Skyrka interviewed lots of professional athletes and adventurers also points out the gender equality issue in adventures, “Women tend to be discouraged by friends and family because of their own ‘safety’ concerns regarding traveling, etc. Women still don’t get enough coverage in the media, either.”

However, gender inequality seems nothing for women like Maria Leijerstam, who has become the first person to cycle to the South Pole beating two men in a race. She says, “As a woman, we are built for endurance. We can probably do more than men can do when it comes to endurance, which is what I find fascinating and I love the whole concept of endurance.”

Siân Anna Lewis is in her adventure. credited: Siân Anna Lewis Twitter

The outdoor adventure blogger Siân also doesn’t think “the gender inequality issue” is a big problem in the outdoor world. She says, “In the last decade I’ve seen a huge rise in women out doing sports, hiking and exploring. A few sports, such as mountain biking and climbing, do have more men than women which is a pity, but they seem to be open to accepting women.”

No matter how the world changes, the adventure women with fitness bodies, optimistic minds, and brave spirits, will definitely create more miracles and encourage more women to explore this world with their courageous and curiosity.