Woah, 2020. You have been a year. When I thought about this review post back in February, I thought I was going to be writing about a stellar year, living the high life as an adventure travel writer. Hahahahaha. Dear life, the way is never smooth. But that doesn’t mean you have to wait for the perfect conditions to get started.
I love writing these year in review posts. I’ve no idea if anyone actually reads them but it is so much fun looking back on them once a year. Seriously, look at my 2017 post. Look how far I’ve come and how far this blog has come on in terms of style and content! (2018 and 2019 for the curious)
As always, I feel I have to prefix this post each year: remember this is the highlight reel. It’s designed to be something nice for me to look back on. I leave out the bad bits because I’m very good at remembering bad things, less good at remembering good things.
January seems so long ago, I honestly can’t remember what happened. Except for New Years. Unlike previous years’ shenanigans (the Christmas tree carrying and Snowdonia lock out) I was nowhere special nor visiting friends. Instead, I saw in the New Year sitting alone on a local hill watching the fireworks in a 270 degree view for miles around. It was quite lovely – and unexpectedly so with all those fireworks.
I’m a little bit superstitious about how you start a new year (“start as you intend to continue” and all that). So my reading of 2020 was that I’d spend quite a lot of time on my own, but being unashamedly me and enjoying myself. There would be lots and lots of metaphorical fireworks. And in a strange way, I wasn’t far off.
I know from my diary that I made a sub-10 minute edit of my All the Tors film and entered it into the BMC Women in Adventure Film Competition. Which is a good job, else I wouldn’t have a picture for January!
February – Scottish Winter
Yeah, okay, the astute will notice that’s not Scotland or winter. This is a picture from a scramble on the back of Great Gable. As is tradition, we went up north and spent a week in the Lakes. We were hoping for winter, but we didn’t even get sludge. There was nothing. Still we had at least one great day out, that this picture was taken on. Cloud inversion, Brocken Spectres and a full day on the hills. It made the whole trip worth it.
Then we continued onwards and upwards to Glen Coe. There was snow and quite a bit of it, but the weather was fairly dismal. I’m no stranger to rain and high wind, but we had lightning on the forecast alongside 100mph gusts for several days in a row. We did manage a few good days. We did Schoolhouse Ridge in decent condition and went for an amble up Ben Nevis – which was nice because I’d never actually been up it. There was also a great lecture series in the Clachaig Inn down the road. And I finally got to that famous metal cable bridge by Steall Falls (and was hanging upside down on it when there was a bolt of lightning down the valley… oh heck!).
Little did we know it, but the time spent waiting for the weather to clear would be pretty good practice for the months to come… I spent my time working and devouring a copy of Touching the Void that I’d picked up from Oxfam in Keswick.
March – Not Morocco
As I’ve written before, I was meant to be going up Toubkal in Morocco the week that all the international borders shut. I was pretty peeved, but little did any of us know how this whole thing was going to turn out. Working for an adventure travel company, things became fairly chaotic as everyone in the world stopped travelling and cancelled plans.
As the world went more crazy, so did the content team, trying to entertain and keep the adventure spirit alive. I togged up for a technical winter ascent of Mount Staircase all in the name of a feature image on How Many Stairs Do You Need to Climb to Reach the Top of Famous Mountains? I also particularly enjoyed Stu’s Adventurer’s Guide to Social Distancing, which rather reflects the place we were in at the time.
I had also moved out from home, into my own place, at the end of February. I spent some time sorting myself out, buying cooking equipment and all that fun stuff. It was one of the most adult things I’ve done, using annual leave for removals and Ikea. Not that annual leave was about to matter any more…
April – Furlough
Furlough came as something of a shock to the system. In a strange and bizarre way, it was what teenage Emily had always wanted in Careers lessons: get paid not to work. But equally, my schedule went into meltdown. I couldn’t sleep and was either staying up ridiculously late or getting up at 5:30am. It seemed like in these months of complete lockdown, everyone had bad dreams.
I’m very grateful that I live so close to Dartmoor that I was able to escape out into it whenever I needed to. There is nothing so reassuring as walking in the hills or sitting on granite that has existed for thousands of lifetimes. We all need a little perspective sometimes.
To stop myself going insane at the prospect of reaching the end of my to-do list, I started sending out Adventure Writing Prompts on a little email list. It was quite good fun and the tiny community around it made me feel less alone. After all, I was living alone in lockdown with no furniture.
With the realisation that there wasn’t going to be a finite end to the pandemic – or restrictions – and time soon, I stopped the weekly prompts. It’s strange, all these months somehow blur into one another. I guess that says something about how I remember months based on the places I went… and I wasn’t going anywhere.
Around about this time, I started getting really serious about writing my first book, All the Tors. I say it like that because, depending on how you judge such things, I’d started writing it 2 years ago. Well, I’d sketched out the important bits as soon as I’d finished the expedition. But in May I really started drafting the book properly. I have so much to write about this whole process, especially the self publishing, so watch out for this in the new year.
Flicking back through my diary, the weeks are completely full with to do items. And they’re almost all ticked off too. For the first time in years and years, possibly since I committed to trying to both pursue my interests in adventure and writing alongside a full time job, I was creating buffer. I was reducing the list of things I should have done yesterday. It was strangely wonderful and felt like I was linear processing my brain!
I also gave an honest insight into how the heck I was clinging on to my big adventure plan for 2020: Adventure Planning in an Uncertain World
In June, I launched my Kickstarter for the book. I also powered on with actually writing the book. As a symptom of going a little mad, I recorded short videos of me playing appropriate songs as we reached funding goals (e.g. Bonjovi). I’m not that great at the guitar, but it amused me and seemed to amuse backers too.
Behind the scenes, I was trying to piece together the logistics of my Spanish 3000s expedition without knowing if I’d be able to go. I was also hunting for some GPS devices to borrow for that all important tracking element of the Guinness World Record. Without being able to be certain about the expedition happening – and with half the UK’s marketing departments on furlough like me – it was hard work to find anyone willing to help.
I sat on a sofa for the first time in almost 100 days.
Mountain Rescue training resumed outdoors. It was great to see people again and to get to grips with all the PPE requirements and how that changed our procedures. Bizarrely, my team has had more callouts this year than each of the past five years I’ve been in Mountain Rescue. I discover that sarcasm is very difficult to convey when you’re in full PPE and that wearing it up a steep slope in the heat is enough to make you expire.
Oh and because I’m an extreme fan girl, Alan Lee followed me on Twitter and that is round-up worthy!
My Kickstarter funded at the start of the month (praise be!) and then over-funded in the next 24 hours. I’d finished writing the book, had typed it up and was typesetting it myself on InDesign. Everything was taking a little longer than I’d expected, but I wanted to get it right. It had been a while since I’d last been laying up pages for the student newspaper and turns out books are a little different.
I went for a birthday camping trip and managed to end up in the one part of Dartmoor we didn’t want to be, in the dark, in the fog, surrounded by cows. What a way to end 26.
Despite everything, the Spanish 3000s trip came together. I crossed some fingers and toes and booked everything. I had kit, I had logistics. All I needed now was an open border – and at the time they were open.
We were back at work something like one day a week for this month. Maybe there was light at the end of the tunnel? I also managed to pull a full superhero stunt and have to leave mid-meeting due to a call out. BRB Lives to save.
Then, there was Spain. I honestly can’t believe that it managed to happen this year. The plan changed dramatically from the original idea (climbing 25 and having time to hop over to Tenerife? Laughable.) but I achieved what I wanted.
I’ve covered this month extensively so you can read all about it here:
Then I came back and quarantined for 2 weeks, during which I finished off the last final tweaks on All the Tors, plus tried to get it printed. There were printer issues and delays, but I fulfilled all the digital kickstarter rewards.
Since I had the footage for half the month already, and I keep meaning to make videos, I thought I’d have a crack at vlogging the month. You can watch my fairly amateur film here. I’m all about showing my working so feel free to laugh – as long as you have a go too.
In September I finally became a published author. As a child I’d always imagined the moment as something different. A single moment of success and celebration – unlike the sustained slog of self-publishing. I was worried I wouldn’t feel like a proper author at all. And then the books arrived. I spent an evening (and half the night) packaging up the books, being sent everywhere from Hollywood to down the road. I became an author the moment I signed my first book. It was wonderful and I couldn’t stop grinning.
The next morning, in torrential rain, I took the books to the post office. I was done! It was finished, Kickstarter fulfilled, stories out into the world. I was elated and exhausted. In the afternoon I was made redundant.
In some ways you have to laugh. My life doesn’t do steady. It’s a rollercoaster and all the buses come in threes. I told my mum, through my tears, that it would make a good story in 5 years time. And I hope it will. I was devastated to lose my dream job, but I probably should have seen it coming. The travel industry is collapsing and running out of cash. The notice came earlier than I was expecting.
Turns out the light at the end of the tunnel was a freight train. I’d psyched myself up for some time to relax in October with all my big projects for the year completed. Actually I spent it frantically trying to find work for the end of October onwards. That, my friends, is life. But rather reassuringly, freelance work did start to trickle in.
The weekends were spent walking in the local area with friends, including the Dartmoor 600s. We made a good team: two redundant, one at end of contract. The herdwick in the picture is very lost.
November – The Dartmoor Way
With the lockdown announcement on Halloween, I brought forward my plans to do the Dartmoor Way. Instead of doing it somewhat leisurely in a few weeks time, I tried to cram all 108 miles into the three days I had left before lockdown. I did very little planning (it showed!), took my tent and made the best of it.
Almost 80 miles in, I had to admit defeat. Although I’d managed the first two 35 mile days just fine, there was something seriously wrong with my left ankle. But I’d got what I’d come for: an escape and a camping fix. Now I was ready for lockdown mark two and a sofa! There will be Dartmoor Way stories coming in the near future, so keep an eye out.
My Guinness World Record was accepted/verified and I genuinely punched the air when I read the email. I’d convinced myself I’d need to submit more evidence, to avoid disappointment. But the accepted it – including my 1st peak which I wasn’t sure had recorded properly. Whoop whoop 🙂
This year, I have probably spent more time on Dartmoor than ever before. At least the most number of individual days. I’m very glad of it. When I first moved back home after university, everyone just assumed I’d be heading off to a big city for a bright future. But that is so completely not me and I’m so glad I never followed “should”. It was a rough ride, but this year has really proved to me that I’m in the right place.
December was all about finishing off projects, closing open ends and riding down to the end of the year. I didn’t think there would be anything to write here. But then Much Better Adventures won an award for its content. Which makes me officially an “award winning” writer. Sitting on the sofa, in four layers and a belay jacket, under a down quilt because my central heating was broken and it was snowing, I couldn’t help but laugh. 2020 has been such an extreme and bizarre year in so many ways. But from everything that happened this year, I can now say I’m an award winning writer, published author and GWR holder. What the actual hell? I’ve no idea what I’ve just experienced, but I’m going into 2021 eyes wide open, wondering what on earth is going to happen next!
Wishing all you wonderful readers a lovely New Year,