On Possibility

One of my mantras is that “Ability is a state of mind not a state of body”. The original version of this was actually “Disability is a state of mind not a state of body”, but words beginning with ‘dis’ hold little attraction: I spend my days focused on ability and possibility thinking instead.

As we skied back from creating the ‘Pole of Possibility’ in Antarctica last month, my mind burned with a billion lightbulbs. In the previous days I had been listening to an audio book about the structure and neurochemistry of the brain and my own neurons had been fired into a state of illumination. No doubt it was all enhanced by the fractal patterns of ice and the light scattered into rainbows that sparkled across the icescape. But how on earth had we come to be on this exploratory adventure skiing to a horizon that merges the most serene and pristine mountains on the planet with the heavens?

How do surprising and unusual futures come to pass? How do we truly live in the realms of possibility?

I contemplated the decade or more that had led to that moment, noticing the twists and turns, the iterations of the plan and the team. There were occasions when the whole idea had been tossed to the side for something more urgent, or when it had been abandoned and left festering. But this particular project, the ‘Pole of Possibility’ had been like an itch that kept demanding a scratch, constantly recalling my attention. I was often bamboozled by the obstacles. I knew that careful attention, diligent planning and experimenting, alongside medical and mobility technology would enable us to be successful. The daily distractions and ‘sand’ of life often succeeded in pulling me away, but I couldn’t let go. Questions of ‘Why?’ and ‘How?’ became more present. It was time to truly commit to delving deeply into possibility.

Committing to a ‘Possibility Mindset’ seems critical to shift us to a view where we are leading, designing and creating with a powerful and transformative lens. With possibility at the forefront, we focus on what we can do, on how we might solve, on how we overcome and negotiate challenges big and small, personal and collective. Starting with the end in mind and then reverse engineering the baby steps back to our current reality is a way to start breaking down the overwhelm of big possibilities. Constantly checking our perspectives, our mental narratives and our fixed ways of thinking enables us to free up the blocks, allowing us to be curious, creative and to challenge the status quo.

So, here I write to encourage you to DREAM. Dream big and bright. Believe that we can. Possibility is at the core of ensuring that we inspire and nurture an attractive, appealing, healthy future. In the realms of possibility we are explorers: seeking, learning, adapting, discovering, ingredients vital to flourish in our uncertain, rapidly changing, potentially overwhelming world.

If more possibility mindset sounds appealing for your life or work, please get in touch about an Adventure in Possibility. Consider joining Karen on 12-16th May in Scotland for the first open Adventure in Possibility or to enquire about future dates and opportunities.  


Pole of Possibility: Captain’s Blog 4, 10th Jan 2022: The Edge of Everything

As I shift into consciousness the sounds of our last morning in Antarctica filter through. Snow sliding softly off the tent wall. The squeaky crunch of footsteps. White noise of a windless, peaceful morning. I resist leaving the warmth of my sleeping bag cocoon, but it is time to pack. In a few hours we will fly away to re-enter the ‘normal’ world again, back to continents where more than lichen can live, where living is apparently less harsh.

“A briefing for entry into a harsher environment” the reading was titled.The five of us sat around digesting another dehydrated meal in a bag and the twenty-four hour sunlight super-heated our micro tent world. It was our last night out camping on the ice before arrival at Union Glacier, our start and end point for exploring Antarctica. Celine began reading. We laid about in the billow of soft sleeping bags to listen. The harsher environment of course is “real life”: it can be tough, and the lessons learned ‘here’ are useful for ‘there’.

To my surprise I am not feeling ready to return. I thought by now I would be excited for some simple luxuries: a soft bed, a heated blanket, a delicious frothy coffee or the sight of something green. There are people and places I look forward to again but my soul is already grieving for expedition life, for the dualities that it brings: complexity and simplicity, space and confinement, alone-ness and together-ness, vulnerability and strength, connection and disconnection. I miss waking up huddled closely with my tent-mates and the time skiing silently in big open white-scape. I miss the detailed organisation of kit and systems and the contrasting uncertainty of every hour of every day. I miss feeling small and vulnerable as well as strong and capable. I miss the clear, invented purpose of every day.

I think about the trace we have etched in the pristine landscape. We have left no rubbish and tried to minimise our impact. The wind will blow away our tracks but a yellow trail of urine marks our route. As we re-traced our path back from the Pole of Possibility, I regret that we did not share pee holes or carry it out with us. Peeing in the wilds is normally so innocuous, but stains on pure white look like ugly contamination.

In white landscape and twenty-four hour daylight, a timeless-spaciousness quality permeates where metrics lose their grip. In an environment calling for resilience, a togetherness-connectedness thing evolves where relationships become more vital.

It is harder than we anticipated to leave, but Antarctica has been a reminder that we are adaptable, resilient, purpose-seeking, capable humans. No matter how harsh our environment may be, we seem to find ways to connect, collaborate and create ways to not only survive, but to thrive.

In a tiny corner of Antarctica at Union Glacier, we wave goodbye to new friends. It seems inspiring and against all odds that a camp even exists here. In this wild, inhospitable and beautiful place, exploratory humans seek out a home every year. Despite only a handful of days spent there before our journey, we were welcomed back from our 300km with warm hearts, fancy dress, fun and friendship. It has been incredible to be nowhere and then somewhere, to experience vast expansive space and then immersion in a diverse quirky international family, a super special gathering of people seeking the edge of everything.

Just as a photograph can’t always capture the profundity of a place or a moment, it is sometimes difficult to find words that describe how something has sculpted us. An experience can impact us so deeply that we don’t immediately know how to translate it for others. And may never.

For now though, THANK YOU to all that have been part of this project, for helping us get to and back safely from the POLE OF POSSIBILITY.


Pole of Possibility: Captain’s Blog 3, 18th Dec 2022: The great white silence…

This is the last Captain’s blog for a while as we will very shortly enter the icy southern land and the great white silence.

It has been a surreal day. It began with one the grimmest challenges of paraplegia taking effect (too much chilli in Chile perhaps) which triggered my biggest concerns about having limited clothing and cleaning methods in the white wilderness. MY BIGGEST FEAR, luckily a day early from it being expedition critical.

Next came one of the most keepsake moments, collecting our boarding pass for Union Glacier, Antarctica. It seems like Icelandair have extended their operations and gone south. Film-maker Mike shed a few private tears (not so private now, oops) and I looked at it with some disbelief. After ten years of intention around this, it seems hard to believe that we will be there in the morning. We had a moment thinking of team-mates that that almost were, that might have been, that sadly are here no more. We take you in our hearts.

Somewhere amongst that I lost a front wheel, leaving myself ‘three-legged’ in downtown Punta Arenas. The nut had displaced itself with all the rattling over uneven paving. Luckily serendipity intervened: a thoughtful stranger found the wheel and then located us close by; then we re-traced our steps and found the bolt; then randomly a few blocks later we found an old screw-thread skewer that happened to fit the thread; and finally a hack-saw at the Antarctic Logistic offices to finish the job off. Back on four wheels again, and we spent the rest of the day filming and getting chilly overlooking the Magellan Straits, overseen by a statute of Shackleton.

On that note, it’s early to bed for our early start. Wishing you much love and light and laughter this festive season. And now for the great white silence…

Thank you to all our supporters for all you are enabling and in particular to our major sponsors, Sinequa and BBraun. We leave you with some facts you may find interesting about this precious, mystical continent…

  1. Antarctica contains more than 90% of the worlds ice and fresh water. If all the ice in Antarctica melts the sea will rise by 60m.
  2. The coldest temperature ever recorded in the world was in Antarctica, -92.3C on the East Antarctica Ice Sheet on Dome Fuji in August 2010.
  3. Only one fiction feature film has been made in Antarctica, called ‘South of Sanity’ by a Scottish film-maker called Kirk Watson
  4. In 1957 a bunch of Kiwis led by Edmund Hilary succeeded in reaching the South Pole on tractors, led by Sir Edmund Hillary. They went on to cross Antarctica. Scott first tried to use tractors in Antarctica in 1904. 
  5. The first person thought to have set foot in Antarctica is Captain John Davies, a sealer from England, in February 1821, shortly after the first sightings of the new continent in 1820.
  6. Antarctica has 235 animal species, the lowest number of any continent. For context, Europe has millions, e.g. 25,000 species of beetles alone.
  7. Mount Vinson should be within view of the Pole of Possibility, the highest mountain on the Antarctic continent at 4892m and the sixth highest of the seven summits.
  8. The Antarctic circle is at currently at 66.4 degrees. Above this latitude it never goes dark in summer and is never light in winter. We will be there in mid-summer 
  9. Antarctica is the windiest place on Earth was speeds greater than 350km / hr measured.
  10. The icy continent has the highest average elevation of all continents, most of it above 3000m above sea level. 

Pole of Possibility: Captain’s Blog 2, 15th Dec 2022: Fascination and kindness

We came prepared for minus 35 not 35 C positive, so our bags are bulging with excess insulation as we sweat it out in Santiago, Chile. Replacing a sit-ski and an ICE tractor-trike and other paraphernalia quickly would be likely impossible (did I use that word?!) and would scupper all my mobility options for Antarctica. So, we planned our journey to have around 36 hours in transit in Santiago in case of delayed baggage.

Travel here was another reminder that when things at first seem to be going ‘wrong’, it’s incredible how they can flip around if we remain open. A smattering of snow and mildly sub-zero temperatures seemed to seize up operations in Britain rapidly, so our journey was full of delays and challenges. However, it led us to benefit from the kindness of strangers and a fabulous reminder that when the unexpected happens, be open to FASCINATION!

Captain Nick Lamont who flew us with British Airways from Inverness heard that film-maker Mike had dropped his phone whilst boarding the plane and had smashed his screen. With access to all the apps to operate camera equipment, it was important to have a working phone! Our Captain was finishing his shift and extended himself way beyond regular duties. He waited with us for delayed luggage to arrive, went ‘backstage’ to find the ICE trike in the bowels of Heathrow, drove Mike to a Vodafone shop and back, and got involved in the crazy transport of our kit from one terminal to another: via trains, trolleys and lifts not designed for hand-cranked tractors and giant bags. Our Captain left us with a fabulously helpful BA employee who managed to re-arrange our cancelled indirect flight for a direct to Chile.

In the maze of challenges that wheels and paraplegia and having an adventurous spirit presents, I first-hand, regularly experience the miracle of staying fascinated. Instead of recoiling into stress, it is a super-power to stay curious, open and ask ‘I wonder what might happen next?’. It keeps things lighter, more fun, and seems to lead to wonderful opportunities and outcomes. There is some neuroscience behind this, but that’s for another day as the fascinating journey continued…

Our second angel was Jorge, a retired part-time luggage trouble-shooter in Santiago airport, who happens to find me at the over-size luggage door picking up the monster ICE trike. He asked me simply where we were going next, and I explained that we had an overnight stopover before the next leg to the south. We had to figure out where to store all our kit. He adopted us for the rest of the day, creating possible solutions from Option A until we landed at Option D. He personally locked all our luggage in a buried airport office then took us to our hotel, and did it all in reverse the next day. He says he will be waiting at the luggage belt to greet us on our arrival back from the south in January. Legend!

Here in the far south, the temperature has plummeted to 9 degrees. The wind whips around our hostel, reminding us that we are approaching extreme latitudes. As we tracked the spine of mountains down to Patagonia last night, the lingering twilight highlighted the landscape: giant dune-like mountains, volcanic craters and broad river valleys far below. Now in Punta Arenas at 53 degrees south it is mid-summer and the darkness is short. In three days though we will leap again to 80 degrees south. Eye-masks for sleep and insulation for warmth will become essentials.

Meanwhile, there are things to prepare, ICE trike wheels to fit with studded tyres, Covid tests to pass, and some time to appreciate beds and warmth, running water and abundant food. We know we will soon dream of these simple luxuries we often take for granted. We are feeling inspired and supported by KINDNESS, grateful to be here with all our comfort and equipment, soon to embark on this privileged exploration of a never-travelled route in Antarctica.

Adventure enables beauty in so many things. Please enjoy being FASCINATED with us by all that unfolds. Delight in the unknown…


Pole of Possibility: Captain’s Blog 1, 8th Dec 2022

Condensation is beaded on the inside of the windows this morning and the distant hills are white. Snowfall, perhaps the first of the Scottish winter. I popped to my car to empty it of yet another parcel for Antarctica and had to tug hard at the door to break the icy seal. I long already for the sun, even for the promise of warmth that rises after frost. If a Scottish winter is this bitingly cold and hard to endure, how on earth is Antarctica going to feel?!

On the wall of my kitchen is a world map, and for the first time as I look up at it, I see it doesn’t even have Antarctica on it. Maybe a big white blob across the bottom of a picture was deemed by the designer not to suit the eye, so it has been deleted. And it feels that going to Antarctica will delete life for a while. There will be nothing more important to think about other than travelling to our objective, the Pole of Possibility. Survival and safety in an extreme and unfamiliar environment will be our daily focus.

I feel a bit sick this morning, and my head is banging from muscle tension as a result of hours on the ski-erg in the gym. As I’ve been wimping out of the cold training outdoors every day, there have been some hours indoors discovering weird and wonderful gym gadgets: the cross-country skiing ergometer and the static handbike that I’ve been pedalling in reverse. Ouch, what are those tiny muscles screaming in the back of my shoulders and why have I never discovered them before? It constantly surprises me that I can be using my arms all the time and yet still find muscles to hurt with just a tiny shift in the width or angle of an exercise.

We had our last team meeting last night to go through our packing list and checklist of pre-Antarctic things. So now it is down to last minute shopping for missing items and spare screws for my sit-ski, along with final decisions on how to offset our carbon and make sure we are carbon negative, at least triple-offsetting our footprint. We are happy to have agreed a partnership with Trees for Life who do good quality work rewilding the Scottish Highlands and are going to offset with them.  We are also going to put some offset into a blue carbon initiative as coastal ecosystems are a more rapid way to help mitigate climate change. Geological offset projects such as Carbfix in Iceland are also something we are looking at, as carbon dioxide is turned back into rock is a longer-term solution to climate change mitigation.

Meanwhile, my sit-ski and handbike are parcelled up thanks to a kindly man at Forres White & Co. removals who donated packing materials, and I feel the mix of scared-excited rise in me. Our journey south begins on Monday 12th December, with more preparation time in Patagonia before entering Antarctica on the 18th.  This feels like the culmination of a lifetime of learning about mindset tools to stay centred, calm and strong, and on managing paraplegia in extreme environments.

Most of all though, I feel grateful for this incredible and unique opportunity, for all the support we have received, and excited about discovering the deleted continent and sharing what we learn through the film.


Inner Gold in Bhutan

I sense excitement rising as our small plane makes its way north. The green expanse of the Bay of Bengal lies below us, patterned with arteries of water that run life from the Himalaya southward . We fly towards the Kingdom of Bhutan, a special ‘Royal Bhutanese Airlines’ flight into the land known for happiness and sustainability. We are privileged to be on the first flight in since Covid. I feel grateful for this rare experience to explore what is known as the last Shangri-La; somehow reverent and with a sense of unexplainable responsibility to share insight and learning from this journey with others.

What will we discover from this magical place that was isolated from the outside world for so long: the only carbon negative country in the world, leaders in sustainable conservation, valuing human wellbeing over finance and materialism? The government makes development decisions based on impact to Gross National Happiness rather than Gross National Product. Bhutan is a country that maintains its cultural identity, resisting the tentacles of globalisation -television was only introduced in the last two decades, and it is still a difficult place to access without effort and resources.

We are welcomed with celebration thanks to Tourism Bhutan. The slogan of ‘Believe’ accompanies a warm runway welcome as we spill from the plane to dance, music, an early lunch of local fare, photographers and gifts of local honey and Turmeric tea to take with us.

A few days later, we are in an early morning meditation with nuns, later sharing a chili breakfast with them that burns our lips and strips our insides. We walk through the heart of the giant golden Buddha that sits above Bhutan’s capital city of Thimphu and find ourselves somewhat beyond words. We are already imbued with the energy of Bhutan: forest-coated mountains, friendliness and smiles and a spiritual fabric of being that embodies deep-held values of kindness and compassion.

We explore the ideas behind the Centre for Gross National Happiness. We listen to the vision “to create a unique place of reflection, learning and action where nature, culture and spirituality blend in a harmonious way towards happiness and compassion for the world”. We are fascinated and inspired to take the vision home and translate it in our own unique ways.

An unexpected visit from His Holiness Khedrup Rinpoche is the icing on our day. The fifth reincarnate of a lineage, he joins us for dinner and shares insight from his Buddhist wisdom and practice. Marinated in the spiritual culture of Bhutan, sleep is the only obvious fremedy to embody all we are experiencing.

We journey deeper into the Black Mountains to the heart of the Trongsa valley and central Bhutan. We are now pilgrims to Khedrup Rinpoche’s monastery. Clinging to the mountain-side the ‘blessed rains’ fall upon as we toss and turn on hard mattresses designed to ease occupants into a 4.30am rise for morning meditation. Clouds swirl below us and mist hangs on the peaks above as we lift our sleepy selves into the eight-century monastery. We are led by His Holiness through a gratitude practice, a breathing exercise, and a mantra meditation.

A chili-free breakfast prepared by monks leads us into the larger, colourful temple: neither austere nor grand, we sit on mats and between large hanging drums and listen. Distracted only occasionally by the more mischievous monks, the youngest aspirant dressed as Spider man, we learn about Dharma – the Buddhist philosophy of how we experience reality.

Through meditation we can calm the mind and connect with the emptiness within. On encountering that space inside, we experience a form of bliss or peace, and from that place we can see the world around us with new eyes. It is our perspective that manifests all that we experience. I am neither Buddhist nor disciplined in practice as these dedicated monks, but I resonate as I hear the path: the overcoming of suffering, the journey through the emotional spiral from lower to higher realms, the growing sense of peace. The external world is a mirror of our internal, and in tending to our inner nature, we are able to experience more transcendence of problems, perhaps more wisdom and certainly more peace.

Before we leave, I catch fleeting moments with Khedrup Rinpoche, and share the idea of ICE that we will explore in Antarctica: inner gold, connection and environment. He links in his wisdom. The light shining within us is often concealed with ‘dirt’, the layers of suffering, and  Dharma is a way to connect within and find the shine inside each of us. When our outer environment is pure it can help us find that too. He expresses the urgency to protect our natural world.

The monks lay planks over puddles and sink-holes in the rain-washed mud road, easing our passage out of the valley, beneath waterfalls and upwards to the misty mountains, the clouds and the heavens. Our bodies feel numb with the shake and shiggle of the bumpy road, and perhaps our minds too. We are lulled into sleep as we pass eastwards toward Bumthang and we each grapple to make sense of all we are experiencing.

In the valley we pass fields and forests, cows and crops, smiles and waves and sense the simplicity and proximity to nature in all we see. It seems that Bhutan, its King and people and Buddhist culture embody values that create optimal conditions for happiness. It is obvious that the problems of being human exist in Bhutan too: circumstances can be hard and there is depression, alcoholism, mental and physical health issues in the country too. However, beneath it all is a fabric based on wisdom and compassion.

There is care and curiosity within our group, and in our Bhutanese support team and guides too. We all seem able to be our authentic selves. There is humour and honesty, care and vulnerability, curiosity and insight. Everything about our journey feels rich in compassion and full of heart. We laugh, cry and explore together.

We chant around the fire, mesmerised by the flames, and I reflect how wonderful it would be if life felt more like this more of the time. In the quiet space within, we all have capacity to feel more ‘happeaceness’.

How? That is for each of us to find, but peeling away layers of protection, tarnish from the past, and reminding ourselves that the wealth within contentment and appreciation of ‘what is’ along with an attitude of kindness is way greater than any monetary wealth. That is  inner gold that we all have.

Thanks to all the team at My Bhutan for co-creating this journey and to the special group of people that joined. To Scott Wurtzbacher and his podcast ‘Inspire Campfire’ for attracting a fabulous group, and to our guides Kinley, Sonam, Tshering and Ugyen. To ‘Thimphu Muscle Factory’ for their strength in getting me to Tiger’s Nest Monastery. And to John Baikie for filming.

A poem I wrote in Bhutan…


I had learned

That dependency was a no-no

And so…

I turned within

In search of courage

And found noise

That accompanied me through fear

I learned

That I did not have to be my thoughts

I turned outwards

Seeking solace

In the mountains, seas and forests

That helped calm my grieving soul 

I learned

That nature was my friend

I turned to pedalling

A bike, revolutions with intention

Twisting, turning and unravelling with roads

Ribbons of tar that turned to gold

I learned

The resonance of head & heart & hands

I turned to exploration

On an unconscious quest for insight

Via continents, oceans and rivers of life 

Inner gold became easier to hold

I learned

That life is an adventure in grace

I returned within,

To unravel, integrate, meditate

A journey through inner space

And the light grew brighter

I learned

To sense peace

And so I turned to Bhutan

In search of wisdom

For sustainable ways of being and doing

An enquiry into happiness

I learned

With magical people in a magical land

That Shangri-La

Lies not in misty Himalayan mountains

Nor in an endless search

But in the silent space within

I learned

That in wisdom & compassion & togetherness

Lies infinite possibility


Beyond Comfort

It is almost thirty years since I was paralysed. In the beginning, unique experiences came daily. Even hourly. Recently they came less, in part due to the rut I channelled myself into, racing handbikes and focusing on Paralympic competition and medals. Today I found the elation of novelty once more. I found the excited kid in me again.

“Woohoooooo! I called into the dusk sky, joining chorus with the wailing Jackals and throwing my arms into the air in elation. The cushioned roll of the fat tyres absorbed the bounces as we rolled back on the Ztrikes ICE trikes along a dusty dirt trail. The orange hues of the golden hour had faded, the sun deeply sunk behind the distant hills. The shadows of Mount Hermon and the hills towards Syria were blackening in the distance as we navigated tomato fields and almond plantations back towards the lights of the kibbutz.

Leaving behind the familiar and going into the unknown, I have often felt uncertainty and fear. However, without new and novel experiences, our brain can become stale. In the last few years I felt a little ‘mouldy’ in my thinking and zest for life. I even grew my own rock in my bladder. The geologist in my knows that rocks form with a combination of old sediment, pressure and time. It was time to flush things through, get some flow going again.

The experiences I am having this year and the Pole of Possibility project are purging out the old and opening up my mind and energy again to the new.  Fresh experiences are flowing in. Life is flow, and without it, we stagnate.

I write this blog on my birthday from the kibbutz in northern Israel, where I am in the safe and kind hands of Yos and Ran Ziskind and their families.

Why? To test ride and discover their fat-trike handbike design, with the idea of riding it to the South Pole.

Yos Ziskind is a visionary Israeli mechanical engineer. passionate about enabling technology. His principle work is in robotics automation, but he dedicates his other time to designing a hand-pedalled attachment that can be added to existing off-road tricycle designs.

His design began with desire to cycle with his children into nature. The original concept was a bicycle sidecar which led him to discover the world of off-road recumbent trikes. His next logical step was a trike that engages the whole body, not just the legs, and so he began work on a hand-pedalled design that could be attached. In the research process he encountered paralysed athletes using handbikes and realised his design could help those without use of their lower limbs to access nature better than before.

Yos has teamed up with his brother Ran as the co-brains behind the designs. Also a mechanical engineer but specialising in diamond inspection machiney, Ran’s skills complement Yos and the pair have born ZTrikes.

I have ridden a lot of handbikes. I have tried off-road. But I have never ridden a fatbike with 10cm wide tyres before. Nor have I found a hand-pedalled trike that has so much function that it has been quickly and easily adaptable to my shape, size and pedalling-position preferences.

Will it work to pedal to the South Pole? Well, if any trike could every work, this is it. The mainframe is by ICE (Inspired Cycle Engineering), based in Falmouth, UK. They have loaned a frame similar to that used by Maria Leijerstam who raced over 400 miles to claim the world record of first cycle to the South Pole in 2013.

Maria followed an ice-road into the Pole, whereas we will be crossing virgin plateau ice, so it as yet unclear as to whether the ICE Ztrikes hand-trike will be able to navigate such challenging rough and varied terrain.

We have to step into the unknown to explore what is possible. Excited for this!

Thanks Yos, Ran, your families and the team at ICE Trikes – for taking me beyond comfort!


On Inspiration

I write this off the back of a very special 6Points Challenge event in Mallorca. Riders unite to cycle four compass extremities of the island plus the highest and lowest points. It was my third time taking part in a 6Points event, twice in Mallorca and once in Menorca. If you like riding a bike even just a little bit, or just a good craic, then you should join.

In the lead up I feel an anticipatory cocktail bathe me with doubt as to my physical capacity to take part and ride over a hundred kilometres for consecutive days. I have an injured forearm and seem to have had a winter plagued with bouts of bugs and Covid. No excuses, but it stirs up the never-far-away uncertainty that most of us have. In the aftermath of the event, a flush of exaltation is the reward – the digestif that will last for weeks.

Now it runs into my fingers and this oozing of words.

I am typically the slowest rider. I arrive late in the afternoon, grateful to the little posse that has hung out with me. They have been good company and have advanced their bike-balancing skills riding slowly uphill with me and sprint trained chasing me downhill. That’s how it goes on a handbike.

As we rode into the finish on the final day, a group of riders came back out to meet me. We rode the final hundred metres together, into and through the inflatable finish arch, to cheers and applauds from the large crowd gathered around.




But I felt SUPER UNCOMFORTABLE with the fuss on my arrival.

“You’re in the 6 Points Family”. Bryan, the loveable founder of the event embraced me.

I was congratulated by lots of lovely people, many saying “You’re an inspiration”.

I was showered in this compliment for the duration of 6 Points.

As I am for much of life.

Each time I hear it, I smile politely and change the subject.

I am like one of Pavlov’s dogs with a learned response to the words.

The previous evening, I was crashed out on the hotel bed recovering before dinner. My friend and room-mate lay nearby on her bed.

 “Does it bug you that people say you’re inspiring all the time?” she blurted. “It’s non-stop. I don’t’ know how I’d feel if I were you”.

I like it that she has asked.

I imagine that she can see me squirm, wriggle and retreat inside, that she notices my lack of “thank you” and how I change the subject.

“Yep,” I confess. “I don’t know what to say. It makes me feel like I’m in a show, playing a role of inspiration. I’m just doing what I love like everyone else. I like to fit in not stick out”.

I believe in inspiration though: it is a fuel that we all need to propel is forward. My speaking & coaching business is called Inspire and Impact so I cannot shy from the term!

However, I would like to drop the discomfort and deflection and self-deprecation I sense in myself when I hear the words “You’re an inspiration”.

I would like to change my response.

I would like to find new words. I would say “Thank you”.

And I would continue.

“But you just see in me something that you have in yourself. You are greater than you think”.

The night before I was paralysed, I infamously said “I’d rather be dead than paralysed. I can’t imagine anything worse.”

But I love my life.

And I retract those words.

I became inspired by traits in others that I had never seen in myself.

I was inspired to live life on terms I hadn’t planned on.

It makes me happy if something I do inspires another. Truly.

Inspiration means being stimulated to do or feel something.

A fabulous thing.

But next time you are about to say to someone “You’re inspiring”, pause.

Ask yourself “What is this person or situation inspiring in me?”.

If you like, tell them specifically what they are inspiring in you, knowing they are not different from you, but that they have just reminded you of something.

But more importantly, tell yourself and look at what you can do about it.

When we feel inspired, we are receiving a message.

A famous message once spoken by Christopher Robin to Winnie the Pooh.

“You are braver than you believe,

Stronger than you seem,

Smarter than you think,

And loved more than you know.”

The fact that I am paralysed with an adventurous streak means that I have this quote hanging invisibly around my neck. The braver I get with life’s quantum maze of possibilities, the brighter the sign lights up.

Reflect on what or who inspires you and why. Then get after it.

I am inspired this weekend by many. By…

A who sleeps barely a wink and just gets on with what needs to be done.

B who works tirelessly in his retirement to create 6Points

C who is passionate about photography and leaps from feet to floor with camera embraced

D who offers his brain and time and skills to tell stories of refugees and wait, another D who bundles love and care from a support car

E that sailed around the world a few times, and I think there was an R and a few others that did that too.

H who had knee arthroscopies and pain but goes for it anyway and invites all his mates

I who works hard at a dull job to provide stability to loved ones

J who bundles treats and water and laughs and loves with others in the support car

K who has radically changed their life and only started riding a bike a month or two ago

L …I know there was one that inspired me

M who bakes cakes and wraps each individual slice up with love

N who effuses care and coordination and positivity to everyone and everything

O who supports and crashes and recovers without complaint

I am inspired by all of these people and it reminds me to keep stepping up, to believe in what we can create and do collectively, to follow our passions, to effuse positivity and love, that sometimes we have to dig deep and work hard to overcome. And if any of you 75 riders or support crew read this, the list is longer and no-one is excluded and you will see these traits echo within yourself.

We are all connected.

Inspiration is the fabric that weaves us all together.

Thanks 6Points for the collective fuel of inspiration.

As we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with, then go after hanging out with more of those that help you towards that inspired version of you.

Entering 6Points is a good place to start.


P.S. There are many more handbikers our there, all brave and stronger and smart in unique and different ways. Some of them will be able to ride the Muntanas group as fast as the fastest of you! If you are a handbiker, get your biceps to 6 Points next year. You will love it and 6Points will love you.


From Doubt to Daring

This article is all about turning doubt into daring: how do we manage the cognitive load of overwhelm and self-doubt so that it doesn’t paralyse us, but allows us to DARE to move forward.  

Mark Twain said “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear.” – Mark Twain

The adventure that best illustrates my experience of this was the climb of El Capitan – a kilometere high over-hanging rock-face in Yosemite National Park, California.

Climbing El Cap was the most fearful experience of my life. We planned it would take us ten days to climb, sleeping on a ‘portaledge’ – a portable, fabric ledge – each night, and we would carry all the water and food we needed to last the duration.

It was fourteen years since I’d fallen from a cliff and become paralysed. Whilst I have no conscious memory of my accident itself, it quickly became apparent as I began climbing again that some things were different since I’d last climbed! There was the practical aspect of choosing a route that wouldn’t require dragging and scraping my body over sharp rocks. That meant I had to climb overhanging rock, pulling myself up a rope rather than clinging to the rock face. More challenging, though, was the emotional aspect. There were two big things: (a) I was now terrified of heights, and (b) I felt vulnerable and more scared than I’d ever felt in my life.

My past experiences were affecting my present, so instead of enjoying climbing the giant granite beauty of a mountain, I was locked into fear and stress. My head was full of all the things that could go wrong and I felt dread at the thought of climbing. How could I undo it, and release myself from the prison of fear?

Managing the ‘load’ in my brain was key to moving forward. I knew there was a logical, safe way to climb but I was struggling to get relaxed and to empty my head enough to find it. I felt full of fears, of anxiety-provoking thoughts, old trauma emerging from my sub-conscious to overwhelm me. There seemed so much to do, so much to concentrate on, and so much to go wrong.

We began the climb, and sure enough, a lot of things weren’t working well. I knew my head wasn’t in the right place for success. After three days on the wall, we dropped a bag and watched it fall a long, long way below, too far to see it burst open as it hit the ground.  It was full of all our food. We retreated from the wall and had a big decision to make: leave for a Californian beach, or stop, re-set, and go again.

I thought about  the overload I experienced whilst hanging from the rock-face, and considered what I could do to change things.

Firstly, I needed a logical process to follow, to eliminate the melee I was experiencing in my brain. I created a systematic process, a mental checklist of actions to take to simplify things. Clip into ropes 1, 2 and 3. Double check correctly tied in. Tighten the metal crabs to secure…etc.

I also needed to generate a different emotion in my body. appreciation. If my mind started to go to places that weren’t helpful I need to stop it. Instead of looking down at the fall below and allowing my mind to run riot, I would shift my focus to appreciation and gratitude. I would look out at the horizon. I would generate feelings of awe for being in such a special place, for the team around me with their skills and experience etc. This had a radical and fast impact on my emotional state.

Thirdly, I needed to get very present; to let go of past history or anxiety about the future. I would focus on my breathing to calm me down. I would really focus on the process of each tiny step. I would notice the crystals in the granite and the rough texture and feeling of the rock under my fingers. Being present with each moment freed me from anxiety.

On our final day of the climb, the wind died with the sun. The sky turned salmon and slate, then jet-black as night fell and the cold bit into the tender skin of my fingers. It was silent on our ledge except for us breathing and fidgeting for warmth, waiting to finish the last few pitches of climbing. Far, far below, the traffic hummed like electric interference in the otherwise quiet night.

A shooting star fell.

“Safe!” our climbing partner’s voice echoed from above, through the blackness, a sign that they had reached the summit. It seemed a strange word to use in such an exposed place, where I had, at least to start with, never felt so unsafe.

I breathed in deep and looked out from the rock to the beautiful night scene, to the shadows of the giant granite mountains licked in moonlight. For the first time in days, I felt myself relax, thankful to be there, appreciating the beauty around me. I was in the same place as I had been for days, but I had begun by making it my own version of hell. That final evening, with my fear and mental load dissolved, I could finally appreciate what a special place it was to be.

Reflecting on that climb of El Cap, transforming this experience of stress and overwhelm required reducing my cognitive load – in other words, the busy-ness in my head. When we are in a state of stress, we carry a lot of mental load and our ability to carry out tasks is impeded.

A logical process, taking my thoughts to appreciation, and doing anything I could do stay present had transformed things. Somehow amongst the doubt, I had found some dare to move forward. And it brought me one of the richest, most special experiences of my life.

A great acronym for fear is ‘False Evidence Appearing Real’. I had to learn whilst hanging from El Capitan, to decipher which fear was truly valid and what fear was an unhelpful relict of past experience. Whilst it may be easy on first hearing this story to think “of course hanging from a giant rock-face by a thead of rope is scary and dangerous: that is valid real fear not false evidence appearing real!’. However, with sufficient safety measures, climbing is safer than many things we are exposed to day to day. I didn’t want my fear to limit me from an incredible experience, but at the same time I didn’t want to repeat a major trauma or die.

So What?

If we are conscious of our sources of fear, stress or overwhelm we know when it is really valid or just created based on false anxieties about the future.

What can you do to reduce your sense of fear and move forward in a desirable direction?

How might you reduce your cognitive load: creating systems and processes to help you carry out tasks?

How can you generate more awe and appreciation of what you have in your life? A daily scan of what I feel grateful for helps me train my brain away from its natural tendency to tune into fear and potential threat. Deliberately generating awe and appreciation supports positive neurochemistry in your body.

And how can you be more present? Focus on something in the moment. For example, focusing on your breath for just a minute or two, breathing deep breathing into your belly can re-set your nervous system from the fight, flight, freeze stress response of the sympathetic nervous system, to the  rest & digest function of the parasympathetic nervous system. Try the navy seal stress-reducing technique: box breathing, breathing in for 4 counts, holding for 4, out for 4, and holding your lungs empty for 4. Psychological studies have revealed breathing practice to be an effective non-pharmacological intervention for emotion enhancement, reducing anxiety and stress.

Or do more of a mindful activity like I did – granite crystal gazing, or simply walking in nature to help your nervous system to downregulate.

So next time you experience overload or overwhelm, remember to try some simple techniques to reset your focus and nervous system: create a routine, focus on awe and appreciation,  and get present with each moment..,and enjoy the adventure it takes you on…


Awareness for Anti-Fragility

This blog is all about using awareness for anti-fragility. As we become more aware our thoughts we have an opportunity for applying curiosity. This really helps us develop anti-fragility: a state where we can bend and flex with the events of life instead of becoming brittle or broken.

Albert Einstein said…“I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.” —Albert Einstein

An adventure that taught me a lot about this topic was an expedition we called Hands & Feet Across Greenland. We were a small group of friends and acquaintances – a team of six of us – and our plan was to ski across the Greenland icecap from east to west, completely self-sufficient. We had fuel and food to last us 35 days for the 550 km crossing. If we didn’t cross within that time, we might perish or starve. The fuel we carried was to cook our food, as well as melt enough ice so that we had water to drink. We had to carry everything to survive the icy wilderness for the month or more that it would take us to journey from one coast to the other.

Being paralysed from the chest down, I relied on the action of double-poling across the ice in the special sit-ski I use, and left my wheelchair behind as it would be on use on the snow and ice. It was the most physically demanding experience of my life. Pain is perceptual, and in many ways it has been physically tougher to train and do Paralympic training and race my handbike hard, but that would be for maybe 30 minutes and the effort in Greenland was for ten or more hours a day, day in, day out, week in, week out, with no scope for dropping behind schedule because we had limited rations of food and fuel. On Day 1, when every muscle in my body was screaming, Day 35 seemed an eternity away. On Day 2, when the tendons in my hands were so tight that my friend had to peel my palms open to get them moving in the morning, reaching the end seemed an impossibility.

My fingers were numb from gripping so tightly and ached with effort. It was way harder than I had anticipated. Adding to my sense of gloom, the GPS seemed to never report progress being as far as it seemed we had covered.  I felt lost in the sea of ice and it felt like skiing through glue.

It felt like we had been there an eternity yet we were only at the beginning. My body was exhausted and my mind worn out from thinking about what to think about.

Gone was the excitement of a journey finally underway. Gone was the exoticness of new surroundings. Gone was the spring of muscles eager to work after a week of packing and traveling.

My body and mind were taken to new extremes: physically in my hands and shoulders, and mentally through twelve-hour days trekking in silence with little stimulation.

I became acutely aware of my thoughts.  “I have never felt in this much pain before” wasn’t a thought helpful to keep thinking. I needed to replace the limiting, unsupportive thoughts with something more expansive….

Instead of thinking anxiety-focused thoughts of pain or “‘Oh no, we still have 10 hours of skiing to go’  I shifted to asking questions: ‘I wonder what will happen next?”. ; ‘I wonder what  beauty we will find in this special place today?’’. Whenever my mind plummeted into unhelpful or over-whelming thoughts, taking my thoughts to difficult or grim scenarios; a simple question had the power to release me from the emotional pain and open a doorway with some light. These curious thoughts took me to moment in hand.

So reflecting on that journey across Greenland…

Awareness of our thoughts is the first step to changing them. We can stop, change and alter our thoughts to create a better outcome. Fixed ways of thinking are like limiting beliefs, and usually create walls – keeping us trapped or stuck inside, repeating our way of feeling and hence generating undesirable emotions or outcomes. Questions however, open up doorways. Doorways that lead us to new rooms, new views, new perspectives.

Curiosity is a great tool for opening up questions and changing our awareness.

The philosopher Thomas Hobbes described curiosity as the “lust of the mind”. There are different kinds of curiosity:  ‘deficit’ curiosity – a drive to ‘know’ something – is a version of desire, but apart from a brief moment of pleasure at having answered something unknown or forgotten, is of little benefit.

However, when curiosity is led by intrigue or interest, it is a different experience from a need-to-know state. It is a freeing experience, where we can be open to explore: This ‘intrigue’ version of curiosity is a kind of superpower.

I first became fascinated by curiosity in that journey sit-skiing across Greenland.

I recently discovered a body of research at the University of California Davis that goes some way to explaining this ‘freeing’ effect of curiosity. It is rooted in the associated neurochemistry. Students had to review a list of triva questions and rate their curiosity towards discovering the answer. At peak curiosity, dopamine pathways in the brain fired with more intensity, and there was a stronger connection between reward centres of the brain. The research suggests that the brain experiences curiosity as a reward, and thanks to the dopamine release, the process of interest- / intrigue-led curiosity feels good.

Research goes on to suggest that too little uncertainty about something fails to provoke curiosity, but too much provokes anxiety.

So What?

When we challenge ourselves – for example by choosing to do something like make a podcast, or do a presentation, communicate something in a different way, or anything at all that stretches us…we leave our world of comfort. Or perhaps the challenge isn’t something we choose, but something thrown into our path. Either way, we begin a journey with uncertainty.

There is an opportunity here, to see the challenge as an opportunity for learning, for growth, for new perspectives. We can choose to ‘spike’ our curiosity…
“Can I do do this?”; “What can I learn from this?”; “How might this be helpful in the future?” ; “If we can get through this, what else might we have the potential to navigate?” and so on.

Notice your thoughts and steer them towards curiosity. Release yourself from anxiety by opening up those doorways and finding a sweet spot of questioning that stimulates you enough to move forward. Making curiosity a habit creates a kind of anti-fragility : a super-power beyond just tolerance or resilience, but a real opportunity to use challenge as an opportunity to create and learn new things.  It will help keep you excited and motivated as you go forward on a journey of discovery…