The Ultimate Trilogy – Interview with Margaret Bowling

“In 2013 four of the world’s most experienced female adventurers take on the Ultimate Trilogy of modern day exploration and adventure. 2000km of wilderness terrain covered in 10 weeks by human power: skiing, rowing, walking, climbing.”

Meet one of the team Margaret Bowling.

1.It is an all female expedition. Was this a conscious decision or just something that happened?

It was a conscious decision. I did my first ocean row with another woman. Since then I have been on mixed teams and worked with some pretty capable men, who I had become overly reliant on. After so many things went wrong on my first trip (19 major rudder repairs, electrical faults, broken watermaker, and much more) I knew I could deal with pretty much anything out in the field but I’d become lazy. I had slipped into patterns that are so familiar in our culture – always asking the guys to “just fix this for me” or “just carry that for me”. So this expedition is an opportunity to be the strong self-reliant woman that I know I am.

2.How do you think females are progressing in the field of adventure these days?

We may be in the minority but there are some big advantages to being a woman in the field of adventure. It’s easier to get sponsorship and the press are often much more interested in your story. Again I think this is cultural. I meet women every day who are capable of doing what I do. We just don’t live in a society where they are encouraged to give it a go. So when women do give it a go, it catches people’s attention.

3.How do you all know each other?

Tara and I met at the start of the 2007 Atlantic Rowing Race and have been hoping to do a row together ever since. Linda is one of my heroes so I aimed high and asked her to join us. We then needed a mountaineer to complete the team but nearly all of my contacts are ocean rowers or polar explorers so I came up with a shortlist of female mountaineers who had either done the 7 summits or spoke Spanish and sent out a cold call email inviting them to join us. And that’s how we found Cathy.

4. What does your training consist of for each section of the journey?

The main thing is to develop muscle memory in the disciplines I’m not familiar with. I can get in a boat and row without any problems so my focus is on climbing stairs and hills wearing a pack and pulling tyres along the beach. And of course general fitness is key. I work best with small training goals so have just entered the City2Surf here in Sydney.

5. In the team you all have a specialty!

  • Linda Beilharz  (AUS): Polar traveller – 1st Australian woman to ski to both South and North Poles.
  • Margaret Bowling (AUS): Ocean rower – 1st Australian woman to row an ocean (Atlantic) and the first Australian to row an ocean twice.
  • Cathy O’Dowd (ZA/AND): High-altitude mountaineer – 1st African to climb Everest. 1st woman in the world to climb Everest from both sides.
  • Tara Remington (USA/NZ): Ocean rower— World record holder for fastest all-women Atlantic crossing, east to west, with a four-person crew.

How do you think this will help the team?

It will help us immensely. Because we’re all specialists in our own disciplines we each bring a level of knowledge to the leg we’re leading which would be hard to find anywhere else. For me that’s what makes this an Ultimate adventure.

6.  There will be a lot of Expedition firsts in this journey:

  • 1st team to do a multi-terrain traverse of this nature in Chile
  • 1st all-female team to cross the Northern Patagonian Ice Cap
  • 1st team to attempt a modern-day ocean rowing expedition in South America
  • 1st women to do a sea to summit ascent of Aconcagua

Are you doing it so as to achieve these firsts or why are you doing it?

World records weren’t something I was thinking about until we put together our website and promotional material. My focus was always on putting together a cracking squad of female explorers and creating the Ultimate team.

7.You will embark in late December 2012 and return in  early March 2013, On average you will spend ten weeks completing the expedition. That is a fair chunk of time, how do you keep morale and enthusiasm up when going on long adventures such as this?

With difficulty. But our ability to manage the stresses and stay focussed is one of the things that really excites me about working with a team of such experienced women. With every expedition you do, your resilience improves so I expect fewer blow ups and dark moments than I’ve had when I’ve been with expedition novices.

8.What will you be packing?

EVERYTHING. We have to prepare for 3 legs which all have very different requirements so this is going to be one monster packing job and each leg has to be packed and carefully planned in advance. It’s lucky my mind works like a tetris game.

9.What will you be eating?

Freeze dried meals most of the way and lots of high protein snacks like salamis, chocolate and peanuts.

10.How will you navigate?

Compass, maps and handheld GPS devices are our main tools.

11.How did you come up with the idea?

I was working on a multidisciplinary endurance event called the Trip to Remember which gave me the idea to do an ultimate expedition trip that incorporated the big 3 disciplines of modern day exploration and adventure. I then spent a lot of time trawling through maps of the world to find the perfect location.

12.Why the charities you picked and why pick one’s based in different countries?

We’re doing this expedition for largely personal reasons and not ‘for charity’. Although we are focusing on the Charlotte Lucy Trust, the Wilderness Society and the Wilderness Foundation (who we each have longstanding affiliations with) we hope that by sharing our love for wilderness we will inspire people to either donate to or campaign for causes everywhere that embody our ethos of women and wilderness.

13.It is a physically demanding expedition, how will you keep your body in good condition?

On the ice any injuries we get won’t heal and on the water they will rot so preventing them is out top priority. And that is done by making sure we’ve done our research, have the right gear, are in great physical shape before we go and monitor any niggles and don’t let them turn into severe problems. Keeping hydrated and eating enough is also very important so we’ll be monitoring our daily calorie and fluid intake very carefully. We were quite concerned about muscle wastage and sea legs after the boat leg. Attempting to set off with big packs in that state is a no go so we’ll be fast packing for the walk from the port at Valparaiso to the base of Aconcagua and relying on the support team to carry the bulk of our gear.

14. How do you set a time limit for completion of a journey like this?

Sorry – pass. Not really relevant because we don’t have one.

15.Is there a level of fear in undertaking an expedition of this scale?

Yes, a massive one! I am scared shitless. I’m reliant on the skills and experience of my team mates to get me through 2 out of 3 legs so I have to be prepared to trust them 100% and let them lead those legs.

16.What kind of tent do you have to sleep in?

We’ll be taking Hillebergs. They’re the best tents on the market and I wouldn’t take anything else on an expedition like this.

Interview with Margaret Bowling – Expedition Manager and first Aussie women to row an ocean.

1.For all those who want to follow in your footsteps, how did you become an expedition manager….university degree/extra curricular activities/work experience…the lot?

In 2008 I formed Team EPIC, a team of mad, bad and dangerous to know adventurers. An initial failure to find sponsorship for a Greenland Icecap race led to a last-minute scramble to pull together an alternative expedition, an independent ski traverse of Greenland. We managed to get everything in place before I realised that I couldn’t actually afford to go. (Funding is the perennial bug bear of all adventurers!) So, much to my dismay, Birdy, Niall and Muzz set off without me while I sat at home and became their one woman support team. After the trip was over I realised that all of the work I’d done to set up the team, coordinate logistics, source kit, set up a website, do PR, manage sat comms and generally try to get everything running as smoothly as possible had potential as a proper job and not just a hobby. I still think that if I had gone on the trip I probably wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today so it was probably a blessing in disguise.

 

2. You specialise in polar and ocean expeditions, have you tried all the other stuff, running, climbing etc and then settled on your two favourites?

I love all wild environments but feel most at home on, in or near the water and have an incredible draw to the ice that I just don’t have to mountains and deserts. But just because I don’t make certain expeditions a personal goal doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy helping other people with them. This year I’ve done support for a RAAM cycling team and worked with two separate teams on ultra triathlon style events that incorporated cycling, rowing and climbing mountains. I loved every minute of it. After all an adventure is an adventure no matter where you have it!

Margaret Rowing

3.In your job, you plan everyone else’s expeditions, what about your own? Is it a case of all the hardship and none of the fun or is this your inspiration to get out and do your own?

Planning other people’s expeditions puts you in touch with people who inspire you to dream bigger and better for your own expedition. And you make the contacts that get you access to the resources needed for a successful expedition, which makes doing your own so much easier. It also puts you in pole position for some incredible opportunities. Last December I was given a free seat on a pay-per-place Atlantic ocean rowing team after they lost someone to injury just before they were due to depart.

 

4.What is your favourite part of planning an expedition?

The thing I love the most is helping people find the outer boundaries of what is possible. This comes in many forms. Sometimes it will be advice on logistics so they can reach a certain point during an opportune weather window. Other times it will be sitting down with a map and the seed of an idea and looking at what is the biggest and boldest thing we could turn that idea into. And other times it will be putting them through their paces at 4am in the morning after I’ve already been working them into the ground for the past 24hrs. The common thread is about pushing the boundaries of possibility.

 

5.Why did you choose to live like you live as opposed to following the more traditional route?

My formative years were somewhat different to most people’s and they left me with very itchy feet and an aversion to the 9 to 5 life. Growing up I was dragged off to an Indian ashram (read hippy commune) most summers. And when I was 10 my parents bought a fold down caravan and a station wagon and took us on a 14-month tour of Australia that involved very little school and lots of fishing. Then, aged 17, I spent a year in Italy on a student exchange programme. And the rest is history.

 

6.Rowing is quite a random sport (in Ireland anyway) Sell it to me. What is the appeal and how did you get into it?

I started rowing dingys around the bay with my Dad as soon as I could walk so rowing was an obvious sport to choose when I started high school and I’ve been doing it on and off ever since. A proper rowing race has been compared to giving birth. It’s just as painful and just as rewarding. Rowing is about committing to a team, committing to completing a race, committing to training and committing to that awesome feeling you get when you win. There’s nothing like it.

 

7.I am quickly noting that for a big niche, the adventure sports elite (you, Dave Corn…) all seem to know each other, everyone is linked. It’s pretty awesome to see actually! Do these people (other adventurers) become your core group of friends or is it still people from back home?

Other adventurers, especially the ones who are social media addicts like me, quickly become firm friends. But our relationships with each other are largely virtual and we don’t meet as often as I’d like. The  adventurous friends I spend most time with are all ocean rowers and polar explorers who I have been at the start of a race with or planned trips with. But I’m a very social person so I have close friends from all walks of life, not just adventures.

 

8. I swore I wouldn’t ask the female question but I am caving; how does it feel to be a women in a so called ‘men’s’ area? Or have you ever even noted it like that?

I feel it often. It’s the elephant in the room. Nobody talks about it but all of the female explorers I know feel the same. This is not an equal game. You have to work twice as hard to gain respect from your peers and it’s very hard to be the most resourceful person you can be when our society encourages you to ask men for help at every turn. On my first ocean row everything that could possibly go wrong did and we fixed it all ourselves. Despite this I still find myself looking hopelessly at my male counterparts and asking them to do things for me. I know that if they weren’t there I could probably do it myself and it’s just social norms getting in my way. So women (myself included) can be their own worst enemies. My solution is to do as many expeditions with women as I can so that I can achieve my full potential just as much as I did on that first row.

 

9.Your CV is mind blowing; The Celtic Crow Conquest, The Trip to Remember, Ride for your Lives etc. Do you ever read it back and think, holy shit I’m good?!

As an ex competitive rower who decided she was up to tackling some of the biggest challenges in the world today I’m not going to lie and pretend I have a small ego. The answer is yes, sometimes I do think that the things I do are pretty awesome. But mostly I’m doing them because I can and not because I want to massage my already over inflated ego. Just because my version of what I ‘can’ do is very different to most people’s doesn’t make me better than them and I hope that everyone has a ‘fuck I’m awesome’ moment every now and then.

 

10.Is your job just a job at the end of the day or is it your life?

I still work in TV a lot so it’s not my whole life. But when I manage to make some money out of doing something that feels like it should be a hobby it gives me a huge amount of satisfaction. Isn’t that what we all want, to live to work instead of working to live?

 

11.Heads up, big up in the air question coming, What is your aim/goal in life?

To be good to others and hopefully it will come full circle.

 

12.How is it working for ‘Big Blue’?

Big Blue is a mixture of hard work and heady enjoyment. We’ve got out first expedition coming up next March and April and I can’t wait to spend a few months in the Caribbean with two amazing crews organising their rows from Barbados to Jamaica to Mexico. Getting it off the ground is taking up all my spare time but every time we sign up yet another incredible crew member I am reminded why I’m doing it. They’re going to have the adventure of a lifetime and I’m making it happen.

 

13..Do you still have your Aussie accent? -random question but since I moved over here (Edinburgh from Ireland) I’m practically defined for mine it’s so strong.

Yeah mate. Todally. Almost 12 years in and I’m still a true blue Aussie, albeit with a twist of English. Kind of like a good cocktail.

 

14.Finally, I’m going to ask you the same question as I asked Dave as I figure the more opinions on it the better:

This question may seem rude but that is not my intention. It is just a challenge I am constantly facing and am wondering if you too have ever struggled with it? I am twenty years old and want to get into adventure sports journalism, but I am constantly confronted with people’s scepticism that this is a career that cannot bring about change. That as a smart girl, I should go into politics or war reporting. Change the world. Subsequently I am left feeling guilty about doing something I love? Any thoughts?

Most expeditions do a huge amount for charity. What would you rather do, report on how people are helping the world or how they are blowing it up and killing each other? The answer seems pretty obvious to me. And if the people around you can’t see that then ignore them until you can move to a place where you can surround yourself with people who are going to support you doing what you love and can see the value in it.

If you feel like you’re being selfish with your chosen profession (and let’s face it, what we all do is the ultimate selfish indulgence) then find ways to make it just as much about other people as it is about yourself. Don’t worry about being selfish if you can balance it out. I choose to find this balance by mentoring young people who want to break into adventure and exploration, which is one of the reasons I wanted to do this IV. I also spend lots of time giving people advice and helping them with their expeditions for free.

 

Margaret’s website: http://margaretbowling.wordpress.com/