GET PSYCHED #6 –
BRIDGING THE GAP
With – Sian Sykes // Photos – Ian Finch
I am in my late 30’s, recently divorced, I have no commitments. Everyone around me is settling down, having another child, but I am drawn to the attraction of a simple life, to get away from it all. I guess you can call me a free spirted soul. I have a yearning to travel, seek adventure…I get super charged and feel invigorated when I embrace the wild elements mother nature throws at me.
I fell in love with paddleboarding when I was first introduced to it by friends. I absolutely loved the experience it brought me, a freedom to journey without the faff, floating on water, a bird’s eye view, to find inner peace and to connect with nature. To have the absolute appreciation of what the outdoors has to offer.
Standup gives you the freedom to adventure and that’s what my recent trip brought me. I have just returned from an expedition around Wales, a 1000km journey along rivers, canals, roads and the ocean. I did the trip solo and unsupported. I was on a path of pushing my comfort zones, testing my physical and mental ability to get on with it. I guess this is what I thrive on. However, this trip had a deeper and more meaningful purpose, the aim of the trip was to highlight the massive epidemic we face – single use plastics. I wanted to raise awareness of this issue. I have always appreciated the stunning environment around me, however over the years I have seen an increase of single use plastics washing up on our beaches and discarded. The aim of this trip was to bridge the gap between urban areas and the coastline, for what gets dropped on a canal or in a river ends up floating out to sea.
Sadly, a staggering 8 million pieces of plastic enters our seas every day and 80 % of it is from land-based sources. I wanted to do my bit by raising this awareness with others, to inspire and educate consumers about single use plastics, that’s where the SUP Against SUP (Stand Up Paddle boarding against Single Use Plastics) mission to circumnavigate Wales came from. Wales is a perfect country to highlight the connect between the waterways and roads into the sea. My mission was to make my expedition single use plastic free which was a tricky task when I factored in my dietary requirements but with a bit of research I hunted down alternatives. For example, I discovered expedition food provided in bio degradable bags, toothpaste in glass jars, suncream in a tin, shampoo and deodorant in a bar and a toothbrush made from bamboo.
Before I set off, I spent a considerable amount of time preparing for the expedition: researching, training, planning and examining all potential risks and how to mitigate them. However, when the day came when I embarked on my expedition I faced many unknowns: where will I stay each night, what will I encounter, who will I meet along the way? I felt a small amount of apprehension as a lone female traveller journeying through urbans areas, but every day was different and I never once felt threatened or indeed ever lonely. I enjoyed the solitude being on the water, it gave me clarity to just focus on me and nothing else mattered. I so needed it too, it allowed me to escape from day to day stress and the consumption of just stuff. It all melted away and I would just get up, eat, check conditions, pack, paddle, set up camp, eat, plan for the next day, sleep and repeat. I loved the simplicity of it all, just living out of 2 x 40L expedition duffle bags, free from clutter and junk.
During the expedition, I always kept a few options of possible places I would reach depending on the weather and water conditions or how I was feeling. I liked not knowing where I would get to and what I would face once off the water. I went with the flow and adapted to the situations that I encountered, the only pressures I had were critical moments like taking advantage of a strong tide or when I had to paddle like hell to pass MOD firing ranges or cross busy shipping channels.
A less exciting burden was charging up devices. As I was travelling solo and unsupported, the coastguard requested for me to keep my VHF on whilst on the water.
“I discovered expedition food provided in bio degradable bags, toothpaste in glass jars, suncream in a tin, shampoo and deodorant in a bar and a toothbrush made from bamboo.”
I’d picked two months where the weather is so changeable and this year in particular it was often overcast which affect the ability to charge devices from solar panels. So, I relied on the kindness from strangers to allow me to hook up and charge my VHF and mobile phone. It was also a good opportunity to chat to locals to gain further insight to the area and any potential tricky spots. However, a few people along the way would project their insecurities on to me, with their worries of certain areas of complex water, but I reassured them I knew what I was doing, experienced and happy to do it solo and unsupported. Some people were amazed I was doing the trip in this style and it was almost unheard of to do it independently. It was all about the planning, timing and the right conditions to do it successfully. I can remember I was once offered a tow from a fishing boat, and I explained I was more than happy to paddle. Oddly they had reached the conclusion that I was a nurse and said that they could do with being looked after! I wondered, did I look like the type of women who would make an ideal domesticated goddess to stay at home as I was floating on a SUP in the middle of nowhere, un-washed for a couple days, hands blistered? I smiled at them politely and waved goodbye to the friendly fisherman as they headed off in the distance and I continued on my journey alone.
I found as a female solo traveller, I met people who were intrigued with my expedition and I received such acts of kindness. I felt well and truly loved and encouraged on my personal journey around Wales. I was offered places to stay, have a shower, fed with home-made cakes. I never thought the trip would be this good and I am so grateful to everyone who touched upon me. I didn’t feel alone. I was asked once if I ever cried during the trip. I just couldn’t relate to the question, I never had a down moment. A lot of people would say keep going, but I had never considered the option of giving up. I always knew I would complete it, the only thing I just didn’t know was when!
The trip was an incredible experience, I have seen such stunning landscapes, encountered beautiful marine and bird life and I have savoured daily magical moments from expedition life.
“A passing fisherman had somehow reached the conclusion that I was a nurse and would I look after him? I wondered, did I look like a domesticated goddess as I was floating on a SUP in the middle of nowhere, un-washed for a couple days, hands blistered?”
I had the privilege to meet others who were actively involved with protecting their waterways by doing their own litter picks and I encouraged them to also make a pledge to give up at least one single use plastic item such as ditching the plastic straws, opting for reusable coffee cup and water bottles, cardboard cotton bud sticks instead of plastic one etc… It was gratifying to see this awareness and the shift in people’s mind sets for altering their daily consumption for the better. I hope this awareness can continue to reduce our demand and reliance on single use plastics. If we all do our bit, we can help towards plastic free coastlines.
People prepared me for post expedition blues, I don’t think I have experienced it yet, but I am aware of it. I am conscious I have been away on a big trip and that my friends and family haven’t so I need to adapt and slot back in. Already though since returning I have been off on mini adventures to get my fix, I need to be close to the water.
I guess the biggest shock to the system was readjusting to normality since leading a simple life, struggling to go to the supermarket and seeing packaging surrounded by packaging and consumers oblivious when they are using plastic carrier bags, disposable bottles and coffee cups. However, I am hoping my message will reach those people and they will make a positive change to be responsible for the decisions they make.
On a personal note, I have gained more confidence in myself, to trust my gut instinct and not be influenced by others. I feel I am at peace with myself and content in the present moment, enjoying the rich tapestry of a simple life in the outdoors. It has been truly life changing and I’m psyched for more great adventures. SUP
Sian is a fully qualified International Mountain Leader and SUP instructor in Wales, UK and runs her own business Psyched Paddleboarding www.psychedpaddleboarding.com Sian has travelled the world, building up vast experience of leading expeditions to Nepal, Mongolia, India, China, Peru, Morocco, Iceland, Europe and the Alps. Sian’s mission is to inspire others to SUP and to offer high quality SUP training and safety advice. She offers memorable stand up paddle boarding adventures whether hiking to a tranquil wilderness lake, exploring stunning coastlines and of course leading SUP expeditions.