Giving Tuesday: Matching Donations Today Only

Did you know that today is Giving Tuesday? It’s an international day of charity and giving, rather than shopping. For today only, I will personally match dollar for dollar donations to my JustGiving page.

If you donate $1, I will donate $1. If you donate $100 I will donate $100 of my own money.

If you donate $1,500 I’ll… get a job as a high class escort to afford it, and then donate $1,500.

But on the plus side I won’t have to ask for any more charitable donations after that. And it would be good blog fodder…

The Costa Rica & Nicaragua Expedition

Costa Rica

I wrote over a year ago about a Costa Rica adventure, traversing the country from one side to the other. I also wrote how prohibitively expensive it would be to do it.

With no real expectation to ever be able to do it, it’s been on my mind’s back-burner, alert to any opportunities to make it happen.

Which is why an opportunity advertised in Escape the City caught my eye: Communications Officer in Costa Rica. I’m a Corporate Communications Manager by trade, and find myself drawn to various aspects of comms, PR and marketing even when I’m not being paid for it.

So I checked it out.

If you’re a keen writer, volunteer to write blogs about sustainable development in rural communities and environments.

That could be me. I’m writing a blog right here, right now, for no money — and writing for an NGO about rural communities and environments would be helping make the world a better place.

It would also be fulfilling my purpose as the Flat Foot Adventurer: to have adventures, write about them, inspiring and educating people in the process.

I applied. Got a reply fairly quickly asking me to write a sample blog post. Some research and elbow grease later, I submitted the blog post and waited.

Just when I thought I was going to get a Sorry, no I got a reply saying how impressed they were with my post, and how impact focused it was. Instead of a thanks, but no thanks, I got an invitation to interview.

The interview went well, even if you include me getting off-topic and discussing how if you are bitten by a venomous snake you shouldn’t try and catch it to bring it to the hospital with you. And how Perth is one of the most remote cities on the planet.

I got offered the opportunity. I paid the deposit. I provided references. I’m going to Costa Rica for three months at the end of 2019.

Short of raising a small fortune to cover the cost of the expedition, plus funding flights to Costa Rica — and a whole galaxy of minute things to sort out when you are gallivanting around the jungles of central America — this is really happening.

Costa Rica rainforestThe Costa Rica Adventure

In the autumn of 2019, I join the Raleigh Expedition in Nicaragua & Costa Rica, as a volunteer communications officer.

Volunteers from diverse backgrounds and all over the world join Raleigh expeditions in different countries. On this particular trip, I will be working with rural communities in the very heart of Nicaragua and remote areas of Costa Rica.

As part of working to protect one of the most bio-diverse places on the planet, projects on the expedition will involve working with local people on water and sanitation initiatives to bring clean water to rural communities, as well as helping construct school buildings for indigenous communities.

One of Raleigh’s core values is creating impact together. Passionate about change, Raleigh ensure that positive results are meaningful, long-lasting and far reaching.

When local communities and young people work side by side to create positive change, it empowers them. This can only achieved this by connecting with motivated people – supporters, project partners, communities, and volunteers. Everyone gets involved because they believe in young people and communities working together to create lasting change.

Volcán Momotombo NicaraguaIt was prohibitively expensive as a short-term adventure, and joining a charity expedition hasn’t made it any cheaper.

Plus it has added extra complications — like fundraising, and going for a longer period of time.

So why do it at all? Because an adventure is better if you can help change the world in the process.

Adventures Old and New

watching the sunrise in Peru

Way back in 2009, I went on an adventure to Peru. One of those once-in-a-lifetime adventures type things.

A one off adventure, inspired by people who had done or were doing similar things.

Except it wasn’t a one off and it didn’t end there.

A five day hike to the lost city of Machu Picchu in 2009 inspired this blog, the Flat Foot Adventurer.

In 2011, I traded remote mountain paths for the Arctic tundra of Norway. Instead of high mountain paths I was driving a sled and a pack of huskies through the snow and across frozen lakes.

Since then, the adventures continue. I raced on a dragon boat team, moved to Australia, tracked nesting sea turtles on deserted beaches, started a street roller hockey team, and kept looking for more adventures.

Adventures in 2017 and Beyond

thevenard islandIt’s now 2017.

In December, I travel to WA’s Thevenard island to join the flatback turtle monitoring program, counting tracks, tagging turtles, and collecting data.

In September 2019, I plan to embark on my biggest and most challenging adventure yet. I will be joining Raleigh International as a volunteer on an expedition for three months in Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

Volunteers will be working with rural communities in remote areas of Central America. Protecting one of the most bio-diverse places on the planet, projects can involve working on a water and sanitation initiatives to bring clean water to rural communities, or constructing school buildings for indigenous communities.

On the expedition as a volunteer communications officer, I am not getting paid. Due to Raleigh International being a registered charity I need to fundraise for them, and various charity fundraising activities and begging will follow. In addition, there will be some unashamed requests for funds to help me cover the period I will be in a remote Central American jungle instead of at a desk in Perth.

This will make the next year a challenge all of its own.

Adventures in Costa Rica awaitI set up today the Facebook page for The Flat Foot Adventurer.

After eight years of adventures it deserves to have one! Previous adventures had pages, but lost relevance when the adventures were complete.

It makes sense for there to be one page for sharing these adventures to.

Stay tuned for more adventures!

Taking the plunge in Perth

Taking the Plunge: Central Park Perth

While I wait and plan for new adventures, I have decided to take the plunge, and go abseiling 220 metres from Perth’ tallest tower next month.

This one-off mini-adventure is called the Central Park Plunge, and it is to raise money for Kids’ Camps, a charity that gives recreation and respite camps for children with disabilities.

My abseil is making the news this week in Perth: it’s just a little unfortunate that this first article to come out doesn’t include a link to my fundraising page.

I was asked by the reporter if I would call myself a “thrill seeker”. I told them, no. I’m an adventurer. Also, an idiot, and a fool, who thinks it’s a good idea to climb down tall buildings…

The fundraising link, by the way, is here: http://bit.ly/JayCPP

DAY 6: Jotka – Gargia

From the notebook:

“A fantastic day in the Arctic!  Surprisingly warm, clear skies and no wind — I couldn’t have asked for a better day to end the adventure on.

The landscape today was so varied: across frozen lakes, with our shadows keeping pace alongside, up steep hills, and down winding trails through Nordic forests.  The trails were narrow and sometimes scary, with tight bends and downhill stretches where my rocket dogs just wanted to run flat out.

Though I came off the sled a few times, I always managed to stay on my feet — or, once, on my knees — and recover the sled without it turning into a “fall”, which in some ways was better than not stumbling or falling at all.

We waited for the first competitors from the Finnmarksløpet race to pass by, they had already been going a few hours and were heading up, up, up the hill.

Arriving back in Gargia felt like a homecoming — back to the comfortable, warm cabins with showers and electricity — and chaining the dogs to their kennels.  I hugged all my dogs, though only Anneka liked it, and I thanked them all for their hard work.  I’ll miss those dogs, especially the beautiful, affectionate Anneka.  I’d keep that dog if I could.

Would I come back to the Arctic, would I dog sled again?  Maybe.  Maybe, if I was stronger in every way — maybe if I trained harder, but I didn’t ever feel like I was lacking, though there is always room to be better.

I’ve had 5 days here, maybe with more time I could get better at this?  On the other hand, there are more adventures to be had.  What adventure is next?”

After the unease and worry of what was to come on the last day, it was easily the most enjoyable day in every way.  The weather was perfect, the terrain was varied — so I even enjoyed the occasional steep slopes.  Despite being quite sedentary when I’m not training for an adventure, when I have something to get my teeth into, or like this when all my training has a reason,  I quite enjoy the physical exertion.

In moderation.

And, on this day, everything was in moderation, there would be the hills so steep you had to give your dogs a run up at them and even then I would still have to get off the sled halfway up the hill and push.  People laugh now at the thought — it seems so absurd to the inexperienced that a team of dogs wouldn’t be able to do it alone without help — but we were told early on that we were one team, with the dogs.  And the dogs would perform better for you helping them out: not that they would remember your help, as such, but towards the end of the day when the dogs are getting tired a bit of help on the difficult parts earlier in the day can count for a lot with their energy.

There was also the very pointed looks your team of dogs would give you.  Another thing we’d been told, but you think is a joke until you experience it.  Picture the scene: A steep slope, a team of dogs, a sled, and a musher on the back.  The dogs race up the hill, until about halfway up when gravity on the sled and the musher starts to equal the strength of these amazing dogs.  The dogs slow or stop, and almost as one they look over their shoulders at you with a look that almost says “Come on, fat boy — get off and push”.  Having been reprimanded by your dogs, you sheepishly get off and put your weight behind it.

Except by the last day, it’s not like that — there’s no question, no need for meaningful looks from your dogs. You get off and run behind the sled, pushing for all you’re worth, because now you really are one team.  And you know there is no way you’re getting up this slope without them.

Of course, the steep slopes went the other way too: down.  Steep downward slopes could be dangerous — your sled would pick up speed very rapidly, it would be harder to control, or worse yet it could hit your dogs.  Sometimes a slope would require one foot on the brake. Sometimes we were warned in advance: both feet on the brake.  Not that both feet would do a whole lot to slow down a sled over ice and snow on a steep downward trajectory, but it was enough to avoid casualties.

I’d been worried about the winding trails through the Nordic forest, but for the most part while, yes, they were winding and they were narrow and there were lots of trees to crash into, I found a bit of brake was enough to keep the sled under control enough to be able to just let the dogs take the corners and for me to just slide with the motion of the sled; just like I’d learned to do earlier in the week.  Don’t try to control it, just go with it.

We stopped for a long break when we came to a point where the Finnmarksløpet race would pass.  We’d been asked if we wanted to stop and watch the race pass, or carry on.  I voted to carry on — I was enjoying the sledding so much, and didn’t want to stop for long.  I wasn’t in a hurry to get back to Gargia, but part of me felt that if my dogs were running, then we’d keep running forever.  Unfortunately, everyone else voted to watch the race, and I was called a misery for not wanting to — which I felt was unfair.  I didn’t have anything against the race, but I though watching it pass was going to be a lot like it eventually was: we watched no more than 3 or 4 competitors pass, and it was mostly uneventful.  We’d cheer and shout encouragement and they’d keep going.  It wasn’t like there were large numbers of competitors all going past at speed.  Just the same, it was good to see how the pros did it.

It was almost a little sad getting back to the lodges at Gargia: it felt like a month rather than a few days since we’d last been there.  We each unclipped our dogs from the sleds, and chained them to their kennels.  As my notebook says, I’d grown very fond of my dogs and hugged them all — with all except one being largely unwilling to be hugged.  My beautiful dog Anneka just loved attention from me — I’m told she wasn’t used to a lot of it, and she loved being scratched or rubbed behind the ears.

I’d talk to my dogs each day in the morning before we’d set off, tell them what was ahead and how I’d be grateful  for their help, and in the evenings each night thank them for being such clever, strong dogs, I thanked them all one last time.  To them, I was just another stranger weighing down their sled.  Except for Anneka, whom I firmly believe wanted to come home with me — or wanted us to run away and live on a farm somewhere in the Norwegian countryside.

This is where the “adventure” ended, though we were in Norway for almost a whole day more after this.   And much like how the notebook ends; I’m left wondering what adventure is next.

DAY 5: Mollisjokk – Jotka

Donate to the Arctic Adventure at http://justgiving.com/james-chesters
Photo copyright of Rob Thein

From the notebook:

“Thankfully a short day today — the wind was howling and blowing up snow.  Though, at first, it was on our backs this didn’t seem to last and soon the wind was side-on. The dogs love the cold, but they struggle to run against the wind.

Most of the terrain today was flat, across vast frozen lakes — and visibility was limited to a couple of sleds in front.

It wasn’t too challenging, which was good — but with nothing to see, the day also wasn’t much fun.

One of my rear dogs broke their neck line and wasn’t pulling properly, plus the sled always seemed to be swinging out to one side.

As we left the lake, buildings came into sight and the wind dropped. Suddenly, it was a nice day — and part of me wanted to continue in this good weather like yesterday for another few hours.

Tomorrow, we start early to avoid getting caught in the big race — and I’m a little nervous about how technically difficult it will be.  If nothing else, at least it will be the last day.  Go carefully, go slow — and enjoy it.”

As the notebook says, we woke up to a howling wind on the fifth day. It wasn’t snowing, and it probably wouldn’t even be that cold — if it wasn’t blowing a gale. We had a very slow start to the day, in the hope that the wind might die down or drop altogether, and there wasn’t a long distance to cover. In the end, it became clear the wind wasn’t going to go anywhere — so it would have to be us that made the first move.

And after all, wasn’t it this kind of thing we’d come to the Arctic Circle for? We’d had blizzards and we’d had blue skies and sunshine — now we were going to have icy Arctic winds. I’d said many times before I went away that the cold was the least thing I was worried about, since we’d be kitted out with cold weather gear. Now it was the time for this gear to earn its keep.

The Arctic suit was zipped all the way to the top, the full face balaclava was pulled all the way down and tucked inside the suit, the snow goggles covered the only part of my face that the balaclava didn’t, and my hood was pulled up over to the top. Once my rocket dogs were patted and told what clever, strong dogs they were and fastened onto their lines (by this time I had grown very fond of my team of dogs), I had two pairs of gloves to protect my hands.

Most of this day is just a white blur to me now, much as it was at the time. Because the wind was whipping up the snow so much, the conditions were almost a total white-out so there was no scenery to admire, and no real way of knowing how much lay ahead.

When I mention in my notebook about it being easy terrain, the connection seems obvious to me now. The weather conditions were bad because we were low down, the terrain was easy because we were following the Jiesjokka River and across frozen lakes.

The cold and the wind wasn’t too disheartening — after all, it wasn’t hard work so I had to work harder to keep warm. Sometimes I’d get off and run behind the sled, pushing it in front of me, just to help the dogs out in the wind and to do something to get my blood pumping. Other times, I’d hold on tight to the back of the sled and do squat reps to make sure blood was flowing to my feet and toes. As I say, there wasn’t much to look at so we had to make our own entertainment sometimes.

Lake Jiesjokka is apparently the biggest lake in the Finnmark area, although it was often hard to tell when one lake ended or another began. Sometimes it wasn’t immediately obvious you were sledding across a lake until you noticed the ice under your foot brake, or the lack of vegetation.

When we crossed the lake, the buildings of the Jotka mountain lodge came into view and the wind disappeared completely.  With the sun shining down on us and the chance to breathe a little, I didn’t want to stop — it didn’t feel like we had been going that long, I wasn’t tired or hungry, and I was enjoying it too much.

This was the last evening before our final day of sledding, a day that had been described as “the  most technical section as we sled through narrow trails downhill through dense woodland, and you will put into practice all that you have learned over the last few days”.  This had be worried.  I’d just about mastered the art of not falling off the sled, was I supposed to have learned some skills like how to turn the sled when going downhill along narrow, winding trails?  I had visions of being dragged behind my sled all the way down a mountain.  I told the group leader later that evening I was worried about it, but he reassured me that it wasn’t actually that bad.

Donate to the Arctic Adventure at http://justgiving.com/james-chesters
Photo copyright of Jim Weston

But to add to my slight unease was the knowledge that we had to set off especially early the next morning, because the route we were taking was also the route that the famous Finnmarksløpet covered — except that they were coming from the opposite direction. If we weren’t out of the way by the time the race came up the mountain, there would be big trouble. So — no pressure.

That afternoon/evening was the last night we were going to have with our dogs on the trail, so I took the opportunity to get some photographs with my dogs — and especially my favourite dog, Anneka, who was especially affectionate and loved attention.

DAY 1: London – Olso – Alta

Gargia Lodge, Alta, NorwaySO. The Arctic Adventure.

After months of planning, months of training, and countless feakouts when I thought about what I was doing, it was no longer “next year”, or “next week” but instead…now.

To avoid an early-morning cross-London Tube journey with heavy bags, I chose to spend Sunday night in a Travelodge in west London near Heathrow airport. Despite walking the wrong way out of Hounslow West station to catch my bus to the hotel, the Sunday night was not time for adventure. I got up early Monday morning, showered, checked out and waited outside for my taxi.

Which it turned out the hotel staff had forgotten to book.

We were instructed to assemble at the Scandinavia Airwarys check in desk at Heathrow Airport, three hours before out flight was due to take off. It had been a similar set up when I went to Peru, but I remember that feeling slightly easier: I just had to look for people in hiking boots, Macmillan t-shirts and large rucksacks. But what did people look like when they were going to the Arctic?

Lucky for me, one guy was already there and waiting — while he might not have been dressed in a snowsuit, he did have that outdoorsy look.  People started to join us quite rapidly, with each new arrival asking “Across the Divide?” or “Dog sledding?”.  Before long, there was quite a group of us assembled — but no trip leader.  We began to wonder if we had been deliberately told to get there early so that the group could begin to bond with each other, or if it was a plan to get everyone to the airport on time.

Eventually, everyone was together — including the trip leader, the trip doctor and a rep from Across the Divide who wasn’t actually coming on the trip itself.  We checked in, dropped our bags, and killed time in the airport.

The flight to Oslo was short and largely uneventful.  I say “largely” because I was sure this was the first flight I’d ever taken that didn’t have a safety briefing — it wasn’t until our return flights that I realised there was one, but it was done entirely in Norwegian, so when I hadn’t been watching I hadn’t known what was being said.  Oslo airport’s internal transfers terminal seemed very Scandinavian: it was smart, clean, quite small, very expensive, and not worth noting for much more than that.

From my notebook: “7pm.  Alta from the air and in the rapidly-approaching darkness seems icy, snowy and rocky.  Dark lakes and fjords, reflecting a bright moon and stars.  The cold fresh air, and a feeling of excitement”.  We took a minibus from Alta airport to our first night’s lodge at Gargia — the main part of the town of Alta (for it seemed to cover quite a large area with not much to see) was quickly left behind to darkness, snow, and the occasional red-painted farm building.

The picture at the top is the Gargia Fjellstue lodge, our base and accomodation for the first night of the adventure.  There were half a dozen lodges, the main building which included the dining room, and the kennels for our 70-something dogs.  The first night was luxury; the lodges had under-floor heating, showers, electricity and there was a bar in the main buidling.  Dinner was cooked for us by our hosts, Cathrine and Pål — a delicious reindeer stew called something like “Beadle”.

After dinner we mainly rested and talked — until it was decided to check for the Northern Lights.  At first, it seemed like there was nothing to see, but then when you stood for a minute, faint misty patches in the sky that looked like cloud would begin to brighten.

Again from the notebook: “10pm. Aurora Borealis!!  Green sheets of light, appearing, brightening, then fading. My camera can’t capture them — but what a sight!”.  Yes, unfortunately, it seemed my compact Canon camera wasn’t going to be up to the job — I just couldn’t find a setting for long exposure, but seeing the Northern Lights was as good as capturing them on camera.  You could stand out all night watching them, but it was time for an early night — because the next day the adventure was to really begin: a 30km journey by dog sled from Gargia to Souluvombi.

What are you thinking?

Every now and then I have a “What are you thinking?” moment and the enormity of the Arctic challenge hits me.  In that moment it’s like I realise my place in the universe, how small I am, and at what tremendous odds I am up against.  It’s truly terrifying.

I think about the £6,000 I have to raise.  I think about the physical challenges.  I think about the sheer speed the dog sleds are going to be travelling at.

I think about all of these things, and I worry that I’m just not up to it.

Sometimes I think maybe it’s too hard, and I should admit defeat..

But I haven’t given up, and I won’t give up.

Yes, I’m out of shape, and yes I have only raised 25% of my fundraising total so far.  Yes the Arctic Circle is one of the most inhospitable places on the planet, and yes I will be in charge of some hyperactive huskies pulling me across ice and snow at break-neck speeds.  And, yes, the fundraising is still hard work.

But I can do this, and I will do this — one way or another.  I think perhaps you have to be slightly crazy sometimes to see the odds stacked so high against you and want to carry on anyway.

As always, you can show your own support for the Great Arctic Fundraising Adventure here: www.justgiving.com/james-chesters.

Adventure is out there

Preparations for the Great Arctic Fundraising Adventure have got into full swing this week — and hardly a minute too soon.

Donations via the Just Giving page have reached £220 this week. It might seem like a slow start, but that’s 5 donations — including one from someone who is a little bit a personal hero of mine, Peter Lubbers.  The man does it all — ultra-marathons, bungee-jumping, skydiving — and still finds the time to be an expert on HTML5.

Corporate requests for sponsorship have so far been met with polite declines.  From a sports marketing perspective, I also approached several brandsto see if they would get behind “The Flat Footed Adventurer”, with much the same level of success.  Adidas have told me that while Macmillan Cancer Support are one of the charities they are supporting this year, they can’t support me “due to resource & budget limitations”.  Animal — without a doubt one of my own favourite brands — agreed that Macmillan Cancer Support are a great cause, and like so many others the friendly press office contact had seen first-hand their work, and said on a personal level he “supported” any charity fundraising for them.  However, like so many others, Animal have to draw a line somewhere.  In this case, I was told normally they offer goods to raffle off or to support in any event that ties in with their core of surf, board and bike sports.  However, dog sledding doesn’t count as one of their core board sports — although it involves snow.  As they say, there has to be a line somewhere.

Among the other responses I have had included a no from the office of Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London.  As a publicly funded organisation and a strategic body for London, I am told the Greater London Authority is not in a position to assist individual causes, no matter how worthy they might be.  As “sorry, no” responses go, while it may be entirely copy/pasted, there’s very little you can argue with in it.

I have not had any kind of response from the press offices of London’s various transport services, nor from my local MP.

In a more positive light, the organisers of the Hacker News London Meetup made an announcement to their members about my Arctic Fundraising Adventure ahead of this month’s meeting, and I was given a very kind donation by the organiser of the London Java Community.

Outside of fundraising, I was generously given a free personal training consultation by Matt Wolstenholme this week — Matt has a variety of fitness qualifications and bags of experience under hsi belt (as well as being a talented sports writer), so I considered myself very fortunate to get an exclusive consultation with him.  Although I am sore today, and noticeably out of shape, I found I’m not nearly as disastrously unfit as I had thought I was — but this could just be as a result of Matt’s motivational style.  If you’re in London and want a personal trainer, Matt comes highly recommended by me — and hopefuly, if finances allow, I will be able to see Matt on a regular basis for more personal training. With his help, I have no doubt that in no time I will be fit for chasing huskies and pushing sleds uphill.

So , where does this leave me?  I consider this some of my first steps along the road — I have made a start on fundraising, but there is an awful lot more to go.  I have also had one personal training session, the first of many more hours of fitness training.  From here, we can only go up.  There needs to be more donations, which will surely come as a result of more effort to find the donations — so there must be more emails written and more contacts made.  I also need to start some traditional supermarket collections.

I should also get a proper press release written, since all contact with the Docklands newspaper was met with a resounding silence.

In the news his week was a report that Four in 10 Britons will get cancer.  According to the Guardian, “Figures obtained by Macmillan Cancer Support show that 42% of Britons had cancer before they died – compared with around 35% a decade ago.  The study, which analysed data from 2008, also revealed that 64% of cancer sufferers will eventually die from the disease.”

It reminds me of why I am doing this trip in the first place.  You can donate to my Great Arctic Fundraising Adventure here.  Adventure is out there!