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“Embrace the Unpredictable”
Bored with your humdrum, everyday routine? Meet adventurer and explorer Lucy Shepherd who says you just need to channel your curiosity.Who hasn’t said they want to add more adventure into their lives, travel more or vowed to step out of their comfort zone? Well if you feel you need a little nudge meet the amazing adventurer and explorer, Lucy Shepherd. Yes, that is her official job title. While traipsing through the Amazon, across deserts and climbing mountains maybe a bit extreme for most of us we could all channel a bit more Lucy in our lives. She’s made it her mission to chart the uncharted, walk the un-walked and challenge the unchallenged. Her thirst for adventure and love of the natural world has seen her cross the icy desert of the Arctic circle, scale Tajikistan’s Pamir mountains and face off jaguars in the Amazon rainforest. She literally is a WYLDE Woman. At 23, Lucy became a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and six years later is the youngest council member of the Scientific Exploration Society. “It’s our duty to protect our planet and its species but it’s impossible to protect what we don’t understand. That’s where I come in,” she explains.
Tell us how your love of adventure first started.“I was 15 and went on a two-week survival adventure course in Scotland. Until then, I hadn’t even heard the word ‘expedition’. It was the first place where I really felt like I’d come home. I became the leader of the group, something I’d never experienced at school before – I became the best version of myself. I was often labelled ‘shy’ as a child but I was no longer shy in that environment. I found my voice. I discovered I was good at picking myself up when things got tough, or the elements were against us and everything was aching. When you find something like that, you naturally want to do more of it. You think, maybe this is my calling?”
Were there any female role models who inspired you?“I started looking into whether expeditions still happen and they do. I researched explorers – from Shackleton through to Bear Grylls and they were all male. I began to think, perhaps I can carve a path alongside them. There’s no guide to becoming an explorer – it’s very much trial and error, but if you want something badly enough, you just keep trying.”
Did you try a ‘normal’ job?“Yes – my other big love is film making and storytelling but when I did that full time, I only lasted about three months.”
Is there a lot of admin in being an explorer?“There’s lots of preparation and because you don’t know much about where you’re going, you have to piece the puzzle together. It’s about problem solving. I find the build-up quite thrilling. How you do depends on how well you’ve prepared. You have to train both your mind and your body, and get your kit together. The last thing is making sure you have all the correct permissions from the government or from tribal chiefs – that can take a lot of work.”
You spent three weeks without sunlight in a jungle during a 250-mile trek across Guyana’s uncharted Kanuku mountains. How was that?
“Everyone thinks of the jungle as this lush and colourful place and on the edges, it is. But when you’re deep within it, there’s no sunlight. It feels claustrophobic, damp and dark. After three weeks, feeling the sun on my skin again was amazing – it gives you the sense that everything is going to be ok. The sun’s warmth fills you with optimism and hope.
You really miss that because going through the jungle is a very slow progress. You’re crawling on your stomach, climbing, wading through water. You can’t predict each day because you just don’t know how dense the jungle is going to be. It can take hours just to get metres, which is very frustrating. And on top of that, there’s the predators, snakes, wasps, herds of wild boar…”
You’re not really selling it to us. What is most difficult on these expeditions – the mental or the physical challenge?“I’ve learned that the body will keep going if the mind is in the right place. Your body constantly surprises you. It’s all about mental resilience and strength. We all have that but it’s just about whether we activate it and practise it enough.”
“I became the best version of myself. I was often labelled ‘shy’ as a child but I was no longer shy in that environment.”
Do you crave the wilderness when you’re away from it?“I do! If I know a trip is coming then it’s fine. But if there’s nothing on the horizon, I get seriously itchy feet because I feel like I need to top up on my identity, and who I am. Otherwise the best version of yourself starts to slip through your fingers. Being in the outdoors gives me a chance to reflect. When you’re walking or climbing, you have to be in your own head. It’s a great place to work out what you want to do in the future. I come back from these adventures knowing exactly what I’m going to do next. They help me find clarity.”
Have you ever had a crisis on one of your expeditions?“On the Amazon expedition (a journey of over 250 miles and 50 days that nobody had ever made before) I never let the thought ‘I can’t do this’ enter my mind. As soon as it does you start to fall down a rabbit hole. However, there were moments where it felt like everything was going wrong and I had the occasional breakdown away from the team. As the leader, they can’t see me like that but sometimes all you need to do is let it out – then you feel like you can carry on. My trick is to visualise a tennis racquet and imagine myself batting away the tennis balls that represent all the problems we’re facing.”
Can anyone be an adventurer?“Definitely! It’s all about curiosity and with curiosity, comes imagination. If you’re finding life mundane, you can do tiny things like changing your route to work or getting up an hour earlier to walk to work – that brings adventure into your daily life! And when it comes to things that are unknown or unpredictable, embrace them – we should be excited by the unknown. There’s a huge appetite for adventure since the pandemic. You shouldn’t look at an explorer as another ‘type’ of person – we all have an explorer within us.”
Of all the landscapes you’ve travelled, where do you feel most at home?“Probably the Arctic. There’s nothing better than pulling everything in your sled behind you on a still, sunny day, with just the sound of your skis underneath you. Pure bliss. But where’s the biggest adventure? I’d say that’s in the jungle because you never know what’s around each corner. “
What would be your advice to your younger self?“Keep following your dream and trust your gut – you don’t have to take other people’s advice.”
Thank you Lucy, for sharing your story with us.
To keep up to date with Lucy’s adventures go to lucy-shepherd.com
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