Advice to my teenage self: Anna McNuff on the emotional impact of adventure
Global adventurer, author, inspirational presence and bonafide legend Anna McNuff was the author of the November issue of Adventurous Ink, the epic "Fifty Shades of the US
Ambassador Anna Blackwell caught up with Anna M over coffee at the Kendal Mountain Festival. They had so much to talk about we split their conversation into two parts. This is the second part, you can find Part 1 here.
Over to you Anna B...
What advice would you give to your teenage self?
Well, I felt quite weird as a teenagers, because I was this geeky rower. Yes I was happy and fairly popular, but I didn’t want to take drugs or drink. I went home at half past 8. I wasn’t really cool and into grunge music, though I tried to pretend I was. I wasn’t into snogging loads of boys and having sex.
Looking back now I’d like to say “You’re fine! You’re you. And the you that you are is great. You don’t need to be like everyone else”
But when you’re 15 it’s really hard.
Yeah there is so much pressure to fit in with what’s cool
I’d say you’re weird and that’s cool. Embrace it! Hang on in there!
I would also say don’t worry about knowing what you want to do. That’s gonna be cool. There is so much pressure on girls to know what they want to do.
Its great you’re a Girl guiding ambassador. I wish I had seen people like you when I was that age I wonder how different my experiences would have been?
But you’re so young! You have it sewn up so early. When did you get into adventure?
When I was 18 I went trekking in Costa Rica which blew my mind, but it still took years to get to the point where I could see people who showed me this adventure thing, that people do it.
You have to know about it to know it’s possible.
So, what are your fears going into an adventure?
Some of my fears are specific to an adventure, like in America – bears. Which is completely foreign to us in Britain. What do you do if a bear appears?! When you read the back of the can of bear spray it says things like “If the bear starts eating you, it is not a defensive attack.” And I’m like “At what point would you let the bear start eating you?!”. So, bears.
Trucks were a big fear, because I thought big logging trucks in America and little tiny cyclists.
But I was never worried about the people, I was more worried about ending up in a situation by myself with no phone signal, no water, no food. But it never happened. Because you get used to planning ahead for each week.
And then there are the general fears for every adventure. Maybe I’m in over my head. Maybe this is too big for me. What happens if I don’t make it, especially when a lot of people are following you.
I think of it like an elastic band, you probably had this on your kayak. In the first week you’re stretching away from normal life, and everything wants to pull you back. And then the band breaks and you’re like “OH MY GOD I remember why I do this”.
But that elastic band pull is strong at the start.
How do you deal with those fears?
I just smile at them now. The more you do you just get used to them. “Oh, hello self doubt. Here we go. Piping up again?”. But actually, if I’m at the start of an adventure and I’ve not had sleepless nights, it’s not hard enough.
So I talk to them, or let them wash over me, or write them down sometimes, with a column for ‘Whats the worst that could happen’,like "I get eaten by a bear" and another for 'What's the best', like "I have an amazing trip" or "I do some gigs along the way and become a famous pop star" and all the other crazy good things that are equally likely.
So it’s just recognising them. If you try and push them under the carpet they will just grow and come back to bite you.
How do you find adjusting when you’re back home?
Its bloody miserable! But that’s the choice you make. You either choose a normal life or you choose the adventure life where it swings from “Oh My God I’m going to die” to “This is the most incredible thing ever”.
But it’s just those post adventure blues. The more times you go through it the more you recognise it. When I finish an adventure I come home, see all my friends and family really quickly, and then make time for myself. Because I find it’s so easy to cram things in when you’re back, that you don’t make space to look back and reflect.
You have to make time to grieve the adventure too. Its like a relationship. All of a sudden that big thing in your life has gone. And you haven’t had chance to say goodbye.
Though at the time it can be tough to appreciate. After the Andes I said to Faye “Do you think we appreciated it enough at the time?” and she said “I think we appreciated it as much as we could.” Because there were so many days that we just wanted to be over. We just wanted to get there.
Have you been surprised to find something unexpectedly hard physically?
New Zealand was hard every day. Once I’d let myself go I understand that it was going to be hard every, single, day. With adventures, it’s not like your local trail run, you never know what is going to be around the corner, whether it’s a massive headwind, you’re gonna hit a flood or whatever. The day you think will be plain sailing over 100 miles will be the one where you want even make it 50 because it’s freezing rain and blowing sideways.
There have been points when I’ve thought “How is my body still going?” In Bolivia we were down to 800 calories a day and we were both just ruined. But neither of us were stopping.
Do you find it more of a mental challenge?
Yes. Always. Your body goes where you mind tells it to.
I have had days when I’ve over thought things, when I should have just got going. So I always try to remind myself just to get out there and let my body do what it does.
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