Yesterday afternoon we were lucky enough to have Elsa Hammond visit us in the Swoop office, and inspire us with her extraordinary plans: Elsa will row solo and unsupported 2,400 miles from California to Hawaii.
We thought people would be interested to hear about her challenge that lies ahead, her environmental goals and the opportunity to recognise an inspirational woman in their own lives.
Elsa, you’ve done a lot of exciting things, and visited lots of places. What are the top 3 most inspiring places you’ve been to and why?
Wow – that’s a difficult one to start with! I’ve been to so many different places that inspire me for lots of different reasons. There are a lot of amazing places in this world, so I’ve decided to pick three that both inspired me when I visited them, and continue to haunt my thoughts long afterwards.
For sheer variety and a sense of freshness and excitement. I spent two months travelling both islands back in 2005, and it wasn’t nearly enough. I felt completely at home and constantly excited at the possibilities this modest-sized country holds. From skydiving to kayaking with dolphins, black water rafting to home-made hot tubs, this was somewhere I felt welcomed, challenged and soothed. Of all the places I’ve visited, this is perhaps the one I’d like to return to the most.
Lake District, UK
This has always been a very special place for me, even though I only visited it for the first time half-way through my life-so-far. For me the whole feel of the place is caught up with stories and poems that I love, and I find it difficult to separate it completely from these. There is a softness about the light and the shadows, the rain, the shapes of the great hills, and the feel of the water. It’s brilliant for camping, hiking, climbing, swimming, kayaking, and sailing – adventure right on our doorstep.
I was recently looking through some old photos of me as a child growing up in Italy, and noticed that I had a couple of postcards of the Lakes up on the wall. Seeing them in the photo, I remembered those postcards well: I used to look at them for hours, imagining the adventure that lay behind the pictures. The Lakes were alive for me through Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons stories long before I ever went there. My first visit was when I was fourteen. We spent three weeks camping on the shores of Coniston Water and miraculously we didn’t have a day of rain.
Maliau Basin, Borneo
None of the pictures I can find of this place really manage to convey the sense of wildness, greatness, age, peace, noise, growth, damp, movement and stillness. It is a huge wilderness of pristine primary rainforest, a self-contained ecosystem that has never been permanently inhabited by humans. Plants grow at astonishing speed, and the insects are huge. The sound of gibbons making their morning call across the valley is something that still stays with me. I love the way the whole jungle sounds alive with insects, birds, animal noises, branches, rivers and rain. When it rains, it really rains. Rustles in the canopy above mean monkeys swinging through the trees, and flash-floods can increase the height of the river by six feet overnight. It is one of the busiest places I’ve been in terms of constant life, but also one of the most peaceful. You are continually surrounded by wildlife, but hardly ever see it – it is all sounds, rustles, calls, and breaking twigs, with the perpetrator remaining constantly elusive.
This June I’ll be starting the longest and most difficult challenge of my life up to now – rowing alone and unsupported across the Pacific Ocean from Monterey Bay, CA to Hawaii. I will be at sea for around three months, and will row up to 16 hours a day to cross 2,400 miles of ocean. This will be a different kind of rowing from the sort of river rowing I did at university – the focus is on endurance, survival, and keeping going for hours, days and months on end. My boat is different too – 24 foot long, with two small covered cabins (one to sleep in and one for storage) and enough space to store 3-4 months’ worth of food. People ask me about the fact that it’s a long, long way, and whether this is daunting. It is a long way, and in a very foreign environment, but I think part of appeal is learning to accept and even embrace the difficult parts, and slowly learn to thrive somewhere that I will initially find incredibly difficult. I’m also really drawn to spending a long time completely on my own, taking the time to appreciate subtle changes in the world around me.
Beyond completing the row, what are your goals for this adventure?
This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and I’m mainly aiming to challenge myself and learn to live in a difficult environment. It would be nice to be the first solo woman ever to complete this race. More importantly, however, I will be using this row to raise awareness of plastic pollution and to celebrate inspiration women. I’m supporting two charities: The Plastic Oceans Foundation and The GREAT Initiative, and will be fundraising for them once I have covered my core costs. In terms of practical action, I’m turning into a citizen scientist for the row, collecting samples for a microplastics study throughout the adventure. I will also be speaking about the adventure and the issue of plastic pollution in schools on my return. Finally, I’m also hoping to see each mile of the row dedicated to an inspirational woman, whether that’s someone’s mum, someone famous, or even someone fictional. 2400 miles is 2400 inspirational women – see below for how you can choose a mile to dedicate.
What do you know about Patagonia and what’s it like in your opinion?
I actually know very little about Patagonia, although I’ve always felt drawn to it. It sounds wild to me, bursting with nature, mountains, contrast and extremes, and on the edge of the great Pacific Ocean. One day I’d love to go there – perhaps on a bicycle and definitely with enough time to explore properly.
So many different things, it’s difficult to think of them all! I’ve been lucky enough to hike on glaciers both in Norway and New Zealand, although never for long periods of time. I’ve also been up some fantastic mountains. I’m a real amateur in terms of mountain climbing knowledge and skills, but I’ve had some fantastic experiences, from climbing Mount Kinabalu (the highest mountain in Southeast Asia) to spending three days stuck up the Black Cuillin Ridge in Skye during a storm. I think my favourite mountain has to be Tryfan, in Wales – I was twelve on my first ascent, and have summited it about five times in all. Actually, thinking about it, I must be due another visit soon…
There are so many things I like to do – I don’t imagine I’ll ever be a specialist in one area. I love variety and trying new things. I’ve enjoyed adventures short and long on foot, by bicycle, swimming, up mountains, by unicycle, sailing, climbing and hitching.
Although I love the physical challenge and the freedom of undertaking an adventure under my own power, I also really do enjoy hitching. The sense of freedom is different but still very much there. The journey is an adventure, as you never know how long it will take, what route you will follow, who you will meet, when the next lift will come along. If you’re feeling at all cynical, hitching is a sure-fire way to reignite your faith in people’s kindness and generosity. Don’t be limited by cars, either – the longest lift I’ve had lasted a week and crossed an ocean!
So once you have finished rowing the Pacific, what’s next?
That is a continually tempting question at the back of my head, but also one I’m trying not to think about too much…at least, not until I’ve actually begun this one! I know how easy it is to get carried away with maps and lists and ideas, and I need to keep the focus at the moment, as it is mere weeks before I row into a huge ocean completely alone.
Ideas that have crossed my mind include some long-distance cycling, more hitching, kayaking, or maybe even a combination. I’ve always been drawn to the frozen wastes of the Arctic or Antarctic as well, but am determined that at least the next adventure will cost less than this one, so I might have to put snow and ice on hold for a while!
We understand it’s a solo endeavour, but is there any way we can get involved?
Yes! Go to www.2400women.com and dedicate a mile of the row to a woman who has inspired you! Her name will be on the website and will be written on the boat, and she will also receive a certificate of dedication. An ideal gift, with a twist of adventure.
For more information you can watch My TEDx talk about the row.
If you’re a business and reading this, please contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss sponsorship opportunities.