This month I am redressing the gender balance, and some. Katie-Jane (Katie) is living proof that ordinary people can do extraordinary things “we just need to be bold enough to begin.”
In a former life Katie worked hard to build a career as a successful model, working for M&S and Alexander McQueen among many others, and also in successful Hollywood films. Katie then met her now husband, Tarka, who convinced her to push boundaries in different fields and challenged her to take on a major expedition. Hard work and dedication were not alien to Katie as she is an accomplished horse rider and competed successfully in Eventing; but a 6 month trek of the Great Wall of China, the most complete journey ever undertaken, was something new altogether.
From the acceptance of this new chapter, Katie had to commit to endurance training, putting on 3 stone and converting herself mentally to ensure she was ready for every element.
An award-winning film about the expedition ‘The Great Walk of China’ reveals how Katie faced blizzards, temperatures of -35C, frost bite, starvation, exhaustion and dehydration. During the trek, Katie went to hospital twice and lost an inch in height from the weight of her backpack, therefore staying motivated and focused on her goals was vital. The expedition itself was from West to East along the entire length of the Great Wall, some of which had only recently been discovered; through the Gobi Desert over the Qiling Mountain range. In all she completed 4300km (3,000 miles) in 167 days, equivalent of 102 marathons.
Not satisfied with that, Katie then embarked on the Rivers of Ice expedition to complete a full unsupported and unassisted crossing of the world´s third largest ice cap in Southern Patagonia. Unfortunately the full crossing was unsuccessful due to worse than normal conditions and the failure of the tent in a particularly bad storm. However, her determination was tested further as she had to survive an extra five days in a makeshift shelter before being able leave the ice cap. Their effort was the longest crossing of the Southern Patagonian Ice by a
British team and hers was the longest ever crossing by a woman.
Since then Katie has cycled 8000km through Africa for the charity Re-Cycle, worked on an environmental project at the North Pole, created new business in luxury pet products and competes in cycle events through the French Alps.
Not one to rest on her laurels, Katie has recently signed up for the Transcontinental bike race. The event is a daring and thoroughly modern take on how bike racing used to be back in the ‘heroic’ era, by putting the lost virtues of adventure and selfreliance (carrying everything they need) back at the heart of a bike race. The 4000km race is longer than the Tour de France and is nonstop. With the winner of last year’s race finishing in an impressive eight days, it is set to be a gruelling challenge.
It starts on the famed cobblestone farm tracks of Belgium, with check points (in order) at the summit of Mont Ventoux. Strada dell’Assietta (on the FrenchItalian border), Vukovar on remote Balkan roads of Cro and with the final checkpoint, before the finish in Istanbul, on Montenegro’s Mount Lovcen.
The training for this event will see Katie take on a number of cycle sportives throughout the early part of next summer, including ‘La Marmotte’, one of the oldest, most famous and challenging
sportives in Europe. With three HC climbs (totalling 5,180 meters) over its 174km route, it will be a massive challenge in its own right.
Katie’s is a fascinating story of determination, drive and self discovery. She demonstrates that anyone can (and everyone should) embrace change, leave their comfort zones and push boundaries to survive tough times and achieve what seems impossible. This doesn’t mean that we should all pitch our tents five meters away from a snow covered praecipes and have to dig ourselves out of that tent every 6 hours for fear of suffocation, but there are boundaries to push in every walk of life, which will give us all a certain sense of gratification and achievement. The best thing about talking to Katie is her passion for awaking potential in others.
When you are 150 days into the Great Wall your feet are blistered, toe nails bruised, you are still weak from previous dehydration, your pack cutting the circulation off to your hands; it is -35 degrees outside an you have to take the tent down, what is it that motivates you to get out of your sleeping bag?We are all motivated by different factors, none of them are right or wrong, but understanding
what factors affect ‘you’ is the key.
I am ‘extrinsically’ motivated, in other words it matters to me what people think of me. I subconsciously don’t want to look the fool or look like a failure. I use this to my advantage by telling as many people as possible about my expeditions before I start, via blogs, press and videos, by getting sponsors involved and by raising funds for worthy charities. This means that when I am at breakingpoint, months into a trip, hungry, frostbitten and crying my eyes out, I find my motivation in not wanting to let my sponsors and supporters down. I think of all the people who we are raising money for and wanting to succeed for them, as well as wanting to prove the cynics wrong (as they sit on their sofas longing for us to fail).
In such a male dominated sector, is there an advantage or disadvantage of being a woman?
There is both. The disadvantage are all physical. As a woman I will never be as fast or as strong,
therefore carrying heavy packs or pulling heavy sleds will always have a greater physical impact on me. Even simple things like needing a wee in a snowstorm with temperatures as low as 40C is just physically harder… remove your harness, undo salopettes and various other layers before exposing yourself and getting a frostbitten bum.
But, there are also a few advantages. We think differently, we don’t have a need to be macho. If there is an easier more comfortable way of doing something then we will choose it (and then the men are quick to copy the idea). We will protect and look after ourselves better, if we have a little injury we sort it instantly as opposed to suffering on until it then becomes a big issue. We also tend to be a little more cautious, so when a life threatening decision needs to be made we often air on the side of caution (rather than the gung ho approach), which often keeps us alive.
Given the success in your previous careers, is there any aspect that you regrettably sacrificed to follow this path, which arguably was not your dream.
Absolutely not! The only thing I gave up was a wage, but in the past 9 years I feel I have experienced more than a lifetime of adventures, memories and achievements, that equate to no amount of money. I am thankful that my husband opened my eyes to the big wide world and that he made me see what all of us as human beings are capable of, physically and mentally, so that now going forward, in both business and sport, I am at least not too afraid to try.
Given that you were cajoled into expeditions, the adversity you have faced, the physical stresses that you have put on your body and hours you have had to spend training, is there one tip you would give someone to get them off the sofa and into some crampons?
Well I don’t know about ‘into some crampons’…as they are annoying little contraptions, but to get off the sofa and to do something out of your comfort zone…
My tip would be… the importance of understanding ‘that the feeling of achievement and success is directly proportional to effort put in!’ Whether it is in work or sport, to get a real sense of achievement / self belief, and to know you have truly succeeded, then there has to have been blood, sweat and tears. Climbing the last few steps at the end of the Great Wall of China felt monumental, but if I hadn’t have walked 4500km to get to them, and instead chosen to fly, bus or driven there, then they would have felt as average as any other set of stone steps! If it’s too easy then it’s not worth doing.
Katie is the Founder of Hugo and Hennie, luxury pet products.