Planting adventure seeds with Anna McNuff: Part 1
The November issue of Adventurous Ink features the latest book from adventurer, speaker and full time mischief maker Anna McNuff '50 Shades of the USA'. The Guardian hail her as "One of the most inspiring modern female adventurers" and who are we to disagree?!
To get the inside line on Anna's life of adventure, we asked our very own adventurous Anna, ambassador Anna Blackwell, to take Anna M for coffee and a catchup at the Kendal Mountain Festival.
They had so much in common their conversation stretched to two whole articles. This first part talks about both Anna's inspirations, and the people they adventured with along the way.
Part 2 takes an introspective turn, and examines Anna's advice to her teenage self and other aspiring adventurous souls, along with her adventure fears and how she overcomes them. Subscribe for our awesome (non-salesy) emails to make sure you don't miss out on Part 2.
Over to Anna B to kick things off...
Thank you so much for doing this Anna, it's great to catch up. Lets begin by talking about who inspired you to start your life of adventure?
I started reading books about cycle touring quite late in life at the grand old age of 28. A friend handed me Mark Beaumont’s book. I’d not realised cycle touring was a thing before. I thought you either got a tour package, or you did sport. I didn’t realise you could combine them both into one. It blew my mind!
Then I read Rosie Swale-Pope’s book ‘Just a little run around the world’ and I thought she is so brave, and felt like an absolute fraud. I thought how is it possible that there is a woman in the world who is so brave, and I’m just sat here doing nothing.
So from that realisation, what were your next steps?
I just had a normal life, with a job, pension, mortgage. All of that. But figured that probably wasn’t what I wanted to be doing, so I decided I wanted to cycle all 50 states of America. Which took me a year to save up, so I took a job in a bike shop and worked 7 days a week to earn the money!
So I was working all the hours I could, and not really looking after myself, mainly living on croissants. The lead up to the adventure is so crazy, that training is the last thing on your mind. Which meant I put on a load of weight in the run up. It was kind of embarrassing to get out there and have to squeeze myself into my lycra!
When I was at uni I came across your blog and I was like “Oh my God, adventure is a thing that people do”, you were part of my own inspiration
Oh wow, I didn’t know that. You are so welcome! Isn’t it funny, there’s a moment where you go this is it for me, which is why sharing is so important. If I’d kept it to myself it wouldn’t have been no good.
A lot of people tear adventurers down for sharing on social media because they have ‘ruined adventure’ I get really frustrated about that because I think when people are sharing, they are giving. We really need people to share more to inspire others.
Do you find that the pressure of having to produce content detracts from the experience?
Sometimes. Its all down to social media, which I’m half half on. I’m 50% introvert & 50% extrovert. I don’t constantly want to share my life, but when I do, I do it with high energy. Sometimes, when I do not feel like sharing, I ask myself ‘Do I not feel like sharing because it’s painful and makes me vulnerable and raw, and actually I do need to share?’. Or is it just because I just want to give myself a break? And that’s totally ok.
The only alarm bell is if you do something just to put it on social media. I always ask would you do this if no-one else is watching. And if I would, that’s a good thing.
Do you ever think that adventuring is a little bit selfish?
Yes. Definitely. Adventure is no use to the anyone else unless you share it, which is why I think social media is great. In sharing my adventures I’m helping people see how awesome our planet is, and hopefully inspiring them to get out there and see it for themselves. And then in turn if you love the planet, you will look after it more.
I think you always need to consider what are you giving back. I like to give through talks. My stories are my gift to the world. I’m trying to find a way to use my stories to help people see things.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to start adventuring?
The first thing I would say is that no-one really knows what they are doing. Whoever they are, however successful, they are just winging it. Remember that!
Second thing is first steps are really important. Tell 3 close friends and they will help you on your way. You have to choose carefully, because some people will offload their own fears onto you, I call them dream dumpers. As soon as you realise ‘That’s your fear not mine’ then you can get past it. This is why it’s really important to know who will be supporters and who will be dumpers, because when you’re at a vulnerable stage in your adventure planning, you need support not other people’s fears.
What about the people you meet along the way. What did you take from them and what did you leave?
For some people I think made them question why they had not seen and done more. They would be like “I’ve never even been down that trail, and you came all the way from England to do it”. So I think I planted some adventure seeds.
What I took from them was having my homesickness being replaced by being welcomed into the bosom of so many different family lives. I would stay with people for a couple of days and feel totally restored. I was a leech feeding off their energy! I would see things in their lives that made me reflect on mine, and they would see things in mine that made them reflect. And then you leave with the warm and fuzzies.
Are there any people you stay in touch with?
Coach Ron in New Zealand was lovely. He’s like a global nomad. People would say to him “Enjoy your trip” and he’d be like “This is my life!”. I kept coming across him on the trail in New Zealand and he’d be fixing it up. So he came over to see me when he was in the UK, and stayed with my Mum and Dad and everything. I will always stay in touch with him because he shows me a different way of life, not having a home and being constantly on the move. And he’s so kind.
There are lots of people in America I stay in touch with. Its just nice to know that if I ever go back I have these contacts to pick up. Its weird when you say goodbye to people on a trip, because it’s not like you are able to say “See you again soon.” Its not going to happen. But you never know, at some point, somewhere round the world you will probably bump into them again and it will be this magical experience.
I think that’s what you learn through travel. Its hard to put into words the incredible connection you can make in such a short space of time.
Travel is great like that. Its amazing what happens when you’re vulnerable and people give you something of themselves that you didn’t know you needed. On that theme, which do you prefer, being solo or travelling with another person?
On your own you learn more about yourself. If you don’t yet know yourself inside out you will be the end. You can’t have any demons on your back, you have to work them all through by the end. So I’m a huge fan of solo journeys for that.
But if you want to have fun, go with a friend. The highs aren’t as high and the lows aren’t as low, but when one of you is having a bad day the other one will pull you through.
The confidence I have from doing stuff alone just sets you up so much better for dealing with life and everything it throws at you. Nothing’s a problem.
I had a lot of fun kayaking with Kate. You just laugh together and share everything
I remember one time with Faye, I was so altitude sick I was crawling around, I couldnt even stand up to take the pegs out of my tent, my lungs were burning and I was wetting myself laughing. But if I had been on my own there would be no-way I would have been laughing.
We had one day when everything went to shit. All we wanted to do was cry. We sat on a bench in the park and Kate said “Shall we just have a cry and get it out?” So we put our headphones on to listen to something emotional and cathartic…
Adele is my go-to for that.
But the thing was we just started laughing hysterically. Sat on this bench crying with laughter. Which did the trick!
There’s also the thing about being with someone else, I would say to Faye “It’s nothing to do with you, but I am so frustrated. Do you mind if I just have a scream” and I’d let rip at the top of my lungs, screaming at the mountain.
I had to let her know that it wasn’t her, it’s important when you’re together that you keep talking about how you’re feeling and what’s causing it. Its like a marriage!
So definately: go solo for the experience, go with a friend for a good time.
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