I’d managed to cycle just over 300 miles in five days and knowing that this level of exercise is likely to cause more damage than good to my kidney condition… I visited Saint-Luc University Hospital to have some tests. I then ‘attempted’ to complete the first five skydives of the adventure!
HUGE thanks to: Dr. Nathalie Demoulin at Saint-Luc University Hospital Miguel Angelo for being an absolute LEGEND Jelle De Visscher and Janica Van Loo for being brave / mad enough to jump with me! The whole team at Skydive Flanders – Schaffen.
The first overseas leg of my 6000 mile adventure (10,000km) starts here, as I cycle from Calais to Brussels! With plenty of challenges along the way, I struggle with self-doubt and realise how much effort filming the entire trip on my own is really going to be… Especially when my drone attacks me!
The day I left home to cycle 6000 miles around Europe and skydive in every country I visited!
Going beyond our comfort zone allows us to make crucial changes in our life and unlock the opportunity to grow. From an early age I’ve felt an uncontrollable discomfort because of my kidney disease… so pursuing my own model of discomfort that I’ve created myself, in the form of action sports and adventure, is what keeps me feeling empowered!
We’re all faced with various challenges that require resilience every day.
During this time, especially while we’re still very much ‘crawling’ out of our holes, wary of the world as we knew it and anxious about a second wave… hitting a psychological wall, can feel like the end of your existence as you know it.
This modern world can be pretty difficult to navigate as it is… But throw in some degenerative deafness, continuous eye problems combined with guaranteed kidney failure into the mix… not to mention a world pandemic… and it definitely tweaks the standard hang-ups!
The trouble is, it’s only you that can find a way around it.
Here are a four techniques that I use to stay resilient.
1. Write it Down
Now it’s time to think about the wall itself. What is it that’s ripped the confidence from your soul? Write everything you’re thinking about down on paper. This helps to get it out of your head, read it out loud and to look at your own thoughts from a different perspective.
I spend a lot of time thinking about what makes me truly happy.
Outdoor activity and sports keep me sane and as soon as I feel as though I don’t want to do anything active, I know something’s wrong. The only way I can stay resilient and get back to being the best version of myself, is to fill my time with positive energy. Sports give me an enormous sense of achievement. That feeling has more value than any material item I can buy. So I think the only way to keep me going, is to know what makes me happy… truly happy… so when the wall is on the horizon and you’re heading towards it fast… write down what you have or haven’t been doing lately and read it through to yourself!
This is a difficult step for a lot of people to take.
The hardest part about this, is that talking about the issue you’re facing is accompanied by a certain amount of acceptance in the first place. Most of us will try to avoid admitting that we’re feeling vulnerable. If no-one else can even begin to understand what you’re going through, it’s very difficult to pull yourself out of the lonely whirlpool of doubt.
This is going to feel uncomfortable, but the whole point of going out of your comfort zone is to allow room to grow as a person. I love this example about lobsters in the video below.
Talking definitely helps to chop the gloomy presence of negativity in half.
By sharing your thoughts and feelings you’ll feel a weight off your shoulders and potentially realise a few things that you didn’t think about before. Although… the danger is if you’re just repeatedly venting to your closest friend, you’re not entirely dealing with the cause of the problem directly. Over time you could amplify your negativity and potentially damage a healthy friendship. Off-loading might make you feel better temporarily, but the problem isn’t over and the possibility of darkness creeping back to swallow you still lingers. As soon as you feel like someone else understands or has been through a similar situation, don’t stop there…
3. The Transformation
So you’ve got it off your chest, you feel much better… so what’s next?
Unless you take some time to think about the all important ‘WHY?’ did this happen… you may find yourself running into the same problem in the not-so-distant future. Just because you’ve vocalised your thoughts, doesn’t actually mean the cause of those negative feelings won’t make an unforeseen comeback.
Take the time to work out what the triggers were.
For me, most of the time it’s either a number of things that are beyond my control or something that may or may not happen in the future. I can now quickly identify when these anxious thoughts creep in and put them into perspective much quicker than I used to. This helps stop them from stacking up to the point where I slam into the wall.
Take some time to analyse why you reached the low point… could the triggers have been prevented, dealt with or put into perspective nearer the time?
If so… we’ve just gained the knowledge and power to stay resilient.
Find reasons to be grateful.
While we’re feeling strong and confident, I think it’s important to be aware and recognise what’s keeping you going. It’s very easy to get wrapped up in our problems again and again. No matter how bad you think your situation is, there is always something worth feeling grateful for. I think to be grateful for what we’ve got, acts as a huge contribution to our resilience. To overcome ourselves and realise the opportunities we have, to either make our own lives better or some else’s, is a really powerful tool.
Joel picked me up from Anna’s flat and took me to the drop zone.
Peggy introduced me to Joel… and no… I wasn’t just hanging out with Guy Secretan, from ‘Green Wing’, or Donkey from ‘Shrek’ (sorry Joel).
This is Joel Strickland, He’s a Journalist, Skydive Coach and all round legend! Check out his work HERE.
We got to Take Off – Fehrbellin, about 60km North-West of Berlin, and I met the crew. I’d arrived just in time for the annual ‘Sky Parrrtyyyyyy!’.
A freefly event… for FREEFLYERS.
For a ‘belly-flapping-flyer’ like me with 65 jumps… I found it a little bit intimidating at first! That feeling soon went away when I got my bearings around the drop zone and got to know a few people! The weather wasn’t great all day and I didn’t feel very confident about jumping. I waited till the early evening, when the wind dropped and the sun splashed through the clouds.
I got my kit together and prepared myself for a solo sunset jump.
I have no evidence of this, because I’m still not allowed to jump with a camera. But you’ll have to take my word for it… it was ABSOLUTELY EUPHORIC.
I was very nervous. I’m always very nervous with every first jump at a new drop zone… but as soon as the plane door opened, I filled every millimetre of my lungs with fresh air, as a wave of tranquility flowed through my entire body. Maximum focus. Nothing else.
I watched the guy in front of me drop away from the plane, counted eight seconds and jumped…
I felt completely relaxed.
I did a barrel roll to the right, to the left and then a back flip. I stopped playing around at 9000 feet. I was falling between two blankets of cloud above and below me, with the orange glow of the sunset bursting through the middle. I fell belly first and gawped at my surroundings. Quick alti-check… and then back to the beaming orange light that bounced off mixed layers of cumulonimbus and stratus cloud. The vivid textures, soft glowing light and the feeling of the wind on my face, is an experience that will stay with me in my memories forever!
I was fixated on the incredible tunnel of colour, until it was time to pull.
The next day, I jumped with Joel.
We made a plan on the ground and had an awesome jump! Suddenly I realised my barrel rolls need a bit more practice… having someone else to jump with, as a reference to where you are in the sky, makes a big difference. My roll to the left made me speed towards Joel’s face and I ‘nearly’ smashed into his camera. Apart from that… all good!
Then it was PARTY TIME.
Mahle and the crew set up an evening of awesome food, awards and good vibes! I think German skydivers like techno?! Once the techno started, there was no stopping the techno. I mean, I like techno… and there was a lot of techno.
Boots – cats – boots – cats and ‘Bmm-Tss-Bmm-Tss-Bmm-Tss-Bmm-Tss-digadee-digadee-digadee-bwarrrp-bwarrp ALL NIGHT.
It was hilarious and great fun.
I want to say a huge THANK YOU to everyone at TAKE OFF – Fehrbellin for welcoming me, the sponsored kit rentals and all the good times!
So what did I learn this time?
Germans love techno! Haha! Yeah, that’s a sweeping generalisation… but probably true 🙂
I sent a few messages out on ‘Couchsurfing’ while I sat and ate a massive burger. I’d been so determined not to eat bad food, but I convinced myself the calories were more important at that stage…
No-one replied to my messages for a couple of hours. I eventually receiveda message… but they said they were busy studying.
So my next plan was to get chatty.
I’ve learnt from travelling solo in the past that instigating conversation and smiling is the only way to create opportunities, so I said hi to a family sitting next to me eating dinner. I found out that the Mum (and wife) lived in Minden. I told her what I was up to and that I was looking for a place to stay. She asked around to help me out and suggested a brand new hostel owned by one of her friends, called Simeons Herberge. It had only just opened for business!
I arrived and it was completely empty with no-one around to speak to. I tried phoning them and didn’t get an answer. I was just about to resort to paying for a hotel, when a girl who lived on the top floor called Annina turned up and saved the day! She phoned the owners and they let me stay for free!
I HAD THE WHOLE HOSTEL TO MYSELF.
The next morning, I woke up nice and early, feeling fresh and ready for action. I took my hearing-aids out of their protective pouch.
I put the right one in – ‘BING’ – I can hear!
I put the left one in – ‘NO BING’ – I cannot hear?!
It was broken. I was absolutely gutted.
It’s a real knock to my confidence when I can only hear from one side.
My Dad (the legend) informed me of a nearby hearing-aid shop, called Fiebing – Besser Hören. I made my way there to see if they could help and they bent over backwards for me! They sent my hearing-aid to Munster for repair, arranged a pickup for me in two-weeks-time in Berlin and fitted me with a spare ‘over-ear’ gadget!
That night, I met the busy student, Friedereke, and her fiends… and stayed over in her cosy little flat!
Hannover Town Hall
Bike or Train? BIKE! Not even a question!
The scenery through most of Germany wasn’t keeping me entertained for long… so to keep myself sane, I decided to play around with some hay bales, sang my own version of ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ and I DROVE A COMBINE HARVESTER!
I’ll never forget the look on the farmers face…
as I stumbled across his field like a sweaty, dehydrated fugitive who’d just stolen a camera and was in desperate need for a getaway driver! His son was with him in the cabin and they were more than happy to let me drive. I eventually hit 2.7mph.
IT WAS EXHILARATING!
I was having so much fun I forgot to take a photo, but I filmed the whole episode!
I visited Helmstedt-Marienborn border crossing. It was the busiest border crossing between East and West Germany, in operation from 1945 through to 1990.
Just over three weeks of cycling and I finally arrived into Berlin on 3rd July.
I looked forward to resting my mind, body and soul…
So what have I learned this time?
You can only plan so much.
Planning completely takes the sense of adventure away. If I can enter most situations with an open mind and a big smile… things will fall into place and I’ll rarely feel very disappointed! The art of talking to people I don’t know is a skill that I’ve worked hard at, and it’s finally paying off!
Leaving Amsterdam was even harder than leaving home.
I hope that statement doesn’t upset any family and friends!
The only way I can describe it is… going through an entire month of feeling overwhelmingly vulnerable and intensely grateful after meeting such awesome people… made it difficult to say goodbye to Peggy, Amsterdam and the coziness of her flat.
Something happens when you leap from a plane and fly with someone… a spark ignites and you connect through the purest form of respect, admiration and a mutual understanding of why we do it!
I really made myself at home. I’d been living there, cooking healthy dinners and relaxing in the evening. It was the perfect break from the manic month I’d had. I’d burnt myself out and was dangerously comfortable. It wasn’t until the day before I was set to leave, that I realised I’d become far TOO comfortable. I left Amsterdam with a concerning lack of motivation.
My enthusiasm, confidence and determination had plunged into the middle of the earth.
Filming had become a chore, I felt like I was dragging a huge sack of spuds along the floor behind me and I kept making mistakes en-route. It was hot, humid and stressful. By the afternoon I was completely mentally, and physically, DRAINED.
The only thing keeping me going were the pretty little villages and a glimmer of happiness that it wasn’t raining… yet…
I heard that Skydive Teuge was en-route East from Amsterdam. Considering I’d only managed ONE jump in Schaffen, I decided to try and make up the numbers! I did a bunch of jumps with Joyce and had a great time meeting the crew at the dropzone.
While in Teuge, I was lucky enough to see noctilucent (night-shining) clouds. They’re mesmerising sunlit wisps of cloud on the edge of earth’s atmosphere and can only be seen after sunset.
I was awake, gawping and grinning at the sky till 2am.
When I got to Enschede, I met Jorik and his flatmate Emiel. They’re both highly intelligent tech-wizards. Jorik’s expertise in technical engineering meant he could seemingly fix and solve any problem! Emiel is a computer and LED lighting expert!
I stayed for two nights, visited their university faculty to see where the magic happens and Jorik made me a really cool keyring out of a piece of leather!
From Enschede I crossed the border into Germany, through a narrow trail between Losser and Bad Benthiem.
I still felt exhausted.
In the past, I’ve always gained a massive boost of motivation and confidence after doing the sports I love… but for some reason, I felt as though jumping in Teuge had really slapped the energy out of me!
I was desperately trying to find my flow again. I cycled 40km and got as far as Rheine. I had to stop. I was in a whirlpool of self-deprication and I needed to find a place to rest and get my head straight.
I managed to put what was going on into perspective and explained all in the video below…
After a couple of nights, I picked myself up and carried on.
Not long into the journey between Rheine and Osnabruck, my senses were cranked up abruptly by a raging thunderstorm that caught up with me. I searched for shelter and as I looked across a field to my right, a bright flash of lightning hit the ground, just a couple of hundred feet away from me! The noise rumbled inside my chest. For a moment, the sensation felt as if my blood was surging through my body ten times faster than it should be! Wide-eyed and heart pounding… I tucked myself under someones porch in their front garden.
Peggy and I set off for Skydive Texel early in the morning.
We had to rush through the ferry port in Den Helder, on the North coast of the Netherlands to meet up with Peggy’s clan of skydiving buddies! They’ve all known each other and been skydiving together for 20 years, so I felt incredibly gratified to be immediately accepted into the group! As an ‘outsider’ It’s not always easy to embed yourself with a bunch of close friends, but I felt like I’d known them for years almost straight away.
We arrived at the drop zone, I met the team, registered to jump and got my kit ready.
It was an event called the ‘Beer and Tits’ boogie… and I suppose… there was beer… and some women… and possibly some men… with tits… so the title was pretty accurate… but anyway, I met Jessica, who was running her own ‘Kickstarter’ course for beginners and we made a plan to exit the plane together, with some fun camera-flying-fandango, which was awesome!
Again, I was a pretty nervous… it’s always nerve-wracking jumping at a new drop zone. There’s so much to think about and to make sure you know before getting in the plane, although it’s becoming a lot more second nature now. I was a bit tense on the first couple of jumps… but landed in one piece and in the right place, thats the main thing. Thank you for the jumps and camera flying Jessica!
Next up was a jump with Peggy’s crew and their coach Troy.
Troy was on camera flying duty. It was a pretty spontaneous decision to do a 6-way hybrid. We didn’t have much time to plan and it was the first jump of the day! With less than five minutes to run through the plan on the floor, Troy had to run back to the hangar to swap his GoPro with mine, my goggles fell apart while in the plane and to top it off, I held onto a bar above my head where the door was about to slide across and crush my hand!
A stressful start… but we did the jump and it was awesome!
I’ve learnt so much in the last few days and it really helps jumping with people that are far more advanced than me. I’ve had the same experience while snowboarding with people better than me and it’s the the perfect way to progress! My only ‘issue’ is that there’s SO MUCH to think about when skydiving, you really have to be on point all the time… but my stress levels were heightened by trying to film everything as well. It’s a lot to think about and my mind was on the edge of being able to cope. I can’t just relax and chat to people about skydiving without thinking “I should be filming this!” Some of the stories I’ve heard and situations people have dealt with while skydiving are fascinating… and I’ve not been able to capture as much as I’d like to.
So what have I learned this time?
JUMPING WITH OTHER PEOPLE IS MUCH MORE FUN THAN JUMPING ON MY OWN.
Taking control of a negative situation and turning it into an opportunity can create a lot of positive energy. I feel so alive and full of positive energy, and in turn that means I receive positive energy… which is good for everyone! I really feel as though I’m doing something worthwhile, which is very important to me.
I completely missed the border crossing from France into Belgium, because I was finding it difficult to stay present… my mind was overactive and filled with anxiety. This time I made sure I knew when I was crossing the border into the Netherlands.
It was a glorious moment.
Cycling on the other side of the road hasn’t been an issue for me, probably because I’ve driven quite a lot in France during my ski seasons. The most unnatural thing I’ve found so far, is nearly always having right of way! I’m not used to being treated so well on a bike… it’s the complete opposite in England. Another first-world-problem I’m faced with, is if I just tap the destination into my Garmin, without saving specific via points for my route, I end up cycling a few extra… and very unnecessary miles!
Just a small amount of research will save me a LOT of hassle.
Nearly 12 hours on the bike and a winding 114km to the north, I arrived in Dordrecht. Again, It was later than I’d expected and I hadn’t arranged a place to stay… but this turned out to be my favourite spontaneous-overnight so far…
I found B&B Het Tuinhuis… a cute house tucked away in the suburbs of Dordrecht with a small canal and a bridge leading to the driveway. The sun was setting, which splashed an orange glow across the white building with a red tiled roof. It looked very inviting! I approached the house and could see people shuffling around carrying trays full of food and drinks into the back garden… A wedding party!
I met the owners Corrie and Freek and asked if there was a room available. They said no, but were intrigued to know where I’d come from and where I was going! So I explained what I was doing… and they bent over backwards to make space for me! It was incredible. The ‘unfinished’ annex out the back was hoovered, cleaned and given a full makeover. A bed was built (thanks Thomas!) I was fed, hydrated and after semi-gatecrashing the wedding, I was showered!
I had a great night’s sleep and even managed to blag some cake and coffee with the remaining wedding party in the morning!
I got to Rotterdam on Sunday 26th May and rested for a couple of nights. I knew it was going to be a busy week when I got to Amsterdam, so I took advantage of some down-time. I ate as much as I could and organised my media files! I didn’t really go exploring… but Rotterdam is a pretty cool city, from the little that I saw of it.
I got just 10km outside of Rotterdam when I had my first ‘mechanical’.
The gears completely gave up on me and I found out just before a steep hill. I leapt off Creaky Dawes just in time without stacking it… I’m still getting used to being clipped into the pedals! I hauled the bike up the hill and I attempted to fix the problem myself but had no clue what I was doing, so I only made it worse!
It was time for a video call with the legend himself, Rob at AW Cycles and he talked me through the process! “Undo that bolt there, click the gears all the way down, unwind that screw to the left two and a half turns, loop the cable through, tighten that bolt up, swivel this dial here and away you go!”
Absolute hero… and now I know what to do next time… I think!
I arrived in Amsterdam at about 7pm and this time I knew exactly where I was going to stay. I met a great bunch of people, while jumping in Schaffen, and they were really interested in everything I was up to. That’s when I met Peggy and she offered me her spare room in her flat! I absolutely loved the area and her balcony overlooked Borneo Isle on the East side of Amsterdam. Peggy is, understandably, very proud of her neighbourhood, so we went out on our bikes so she could show me around!