In 2010, I walked 400 miles to the North Pole with my two teammates, Linda and Ali. It was -40C. All our conversations were about navigation, our health, the situation we were in. One day, I found a baby musk ox stuck on a ledge, and helped it to safety. For three days, this thing was glued to me. I remember we were sitting drinking soup, and it was looking at me as if I were its mum. We laughed for the first time in about two weeks. We were just three people outside, enjoying the space we were in, rather than being against the elements.
There’s a lesson in this as we emerge from the dark cloud that is Covid-19. By getting bogged down with external conditions, you can miss some beautiful moments. Our new normal is going to involve spending a lot more time outdoors – for socialising, meals out, performances or outdoor schooling. In the UK, we’re good at adapting to lifestyle changes, and this time will be no different. But as we move into autumn and winter, there will be a sharp learning curve.
We’ve all heard the adage: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.” One of the things I learned pretty quickly is that we dress to our fears. If we think it’s cold outside, we pile on layers, and within five minutes of walking, we’ve started to sweat. This causes you to cool down quickly, dampens your clothing, and you’re in trouble for the rest of the day. The motto we go by is: “Be bold, start cold”. Protect the extremities as much as your core. Put on a hat, some gloves, a warm shirt. If you still haven’t warmed up in 15 minutes, then put the jacket on.
In winter, people can still socialise outdoors, but rather than sitting in one place, go for a walk. Take a flask of hot chocolate, and choose somewhere sheltered. Some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve seen in the UK has been wintry: a forest when there’s a small dusting of snow on the branches, and icicles hanging down. Trees are a brilliant barrier for the wind; just watch out for falling branches.
The YHA has got spots all over the country, and there’s generally a fire pit somewhere on the site. It’s a great way to meet people, and explore the wilderness from a warm, safe base.
There’s no reason why you can’t have fun in the rain if you’re prepared. I’ve been kayaking in horrible conditions. On a really cold day, a big lake holds in heat: if you put your hand in, it feels warmer than the air.
Before my expedition to the pole, I trained in Norway. People in Scandinavia embrace the cold. If it’s snowing, they’ll put on a pair of snowshoes. They get the sled out, or the skis. Rather than complain, they think: “I get to snuggle up in layers, it’s going to feel great.” If it’s windy, fly a kite.