At PhotoAid our founder often gets asked the same question, “Aren’t you scared going out on your own, you’re a woman..” While one would have thought that view should have fallen into the dustbin of the Dark Ages, it seems the opinion prevails in some corners. We caught up with one young and beautiful woman who is doing it her way, throwing off pre-conception and inspiring the next generation of women adventurers, Lucy Shepherd. Using her illustrated blog as a vehicle to educate and facilitate communicating the message, not just of independence and courage but also to highlight environmental change.
1. First of all, tell us a little bit about yourself, how you started taking part in expeditions and why? Can you include a little about how the expeditions have changed who you are as a person or how you approach life?
As much as I hate the title, I suppose the easiest way to describe myself would be an adventurer. It’s a rather show-offy title that I find cringe-worthy and overused in this age of social media but I’m afraid I use it with lack of a better word. Perhaps adventurer in training would work better as I in no way compare myself to the greats such as Ran Fiennes or Shackleton!!
I don’t exactly fit the stereotypical adventurer persona. I’m 23 and blonde and often underestimated on my abilities in the extreme environments. This is despite having proven myself from the high altitude Bolivian mountains to the sub zero temperatures of the Arctic to the depths of the Amazon jungle. I work in television developing both of my passions of adventure and film into a career.
I can’t say when the adventures started because it’s always been ingrained in me as a young, risk taking child. Scotland became my chosen place to explore as a child and then at age 15, I was treated to a 2 week adventure camp at Ridgway Adventure School in Sutherland where I first learnt the real meaning of the word expedition. These expeditions felt all too exciting and from then on all I wanted to do was go on challenging expeditions. So from then on, I found a way to make that happen.
Expeditions can’t help but change a person and it’s always for the good. They give me a boost for life, recharge my batteries and make me appreciate every little thing. Expeditions give me confidence in myself and mankind. I live for the now when on the adventures and love having to make crucial decisions and having responsibilities that could mean life or death. It makes me feel alive.
On a larger note, they’ve made me want to make others more aware of the fragility of our planet and the crisis that we are facing with climate change and mass extinction. It’s all too clear when you’re surrounded by nature every day the damage that we are causing from our western habits. Nowadays, the general public is far too detached from the world in which we came from which is deeply saddening not only because of the impact it is causing on the planet but also those very people are the ones missing out on the best thing about this Earth.
2. In your opinion, why do you think there aren’t more women adventurers and why might that be?
I can only speculate here. There are plenty of women adventurers but they tend to stick with one adventurous discipline such as sailing, climbing etc (and are incredibly good at that, don’t get me wrong). I tend to learn on the job and get stuck in to all kinds of adventurous areas which usually mean I start off not particularly A-class at any. I don’t mind this, I train in the area I will need for the next expedition and go from there. I’d rather be average at lots of things instead of world class at one.
In our papers and on our tv screens are numerous male adventurers. They have similar military backgrounds which I think make people feel that they need to be like them to learn the skills in order to be an adventurer.
Young girls are not encouraged to go out and play in the mud or climb trees when they get to a certain age. They are instead praised with ‘what a nice dress they have’. Girls who used to explore in their gardens end up inside playing with dolls because it is what is expected from them and their peers. It is also sadly seen as dangerous for a woman to go out on her own without the accompaniment of a male. In all of my experience of solo travelling and adventuring I have found that most people in this world are nice.
3. Tell us how you came about wanting to be a voice for women in adventure and expedition? What happened? As much detail as you can remember.
I had just got back from the Amazon jungle and had edited and put a video online. A lot of that video is of me talking at the camera as I was alone with a tribe and sought comfort in it. Shortly after posting the video, I received a comment from a teenage girl praising my honesty in the video. She went on to say how by seeing me struggling but pushing through, made her realise she could pursue similar challenges. It had occurred to her that she didn’t need to be the best, just have a strong mind and work hard to get where she wanted to be. She’d looked me up after watching the video and had discovered I do not compromise my girly side to be an adventurer – The other part of me likes to get dressed up, wine and dine in the city and wear high heels… Us girls can do both.
After reading her comment, it dawned on me that many young women, and older women, must have the same misconception of what a female adventurer must be like – I want to change that.
4. How are you creating the noise needed to make people wake up? What are your challenges?
I use social media a lot as I think everyone should if they want to reach a large audience. I write a blog with stand out moments and thoughts from my trips, which I hope gives an insight to my world and how it isn’t always easy. I film and photograph everything. These films and images really give a sense of what goes on during the expeditions.
I constantly try to inspire others to get out of their comfort zone but it’s hard to get people out of their rut if they don’t want to get out of it in the first place. The challenge when trying to make people more aware and knowledgeable about climate change is the fact that most don’t want to hear the problems. They want to shut their ears and stay in their bubble.
5. Who is your biggest inspiration and why?
I know he will squirm if I say him, but I’m going to anyway. Neil Laughton is a man who has taught be so much without realising it himself. Neil is a well-known adventurer and businessman who continues to make his dreams a reality. To top it all off, he is heavily involved with numerous charities.
Not long after meeting Neil, Neil invited me to join his team of 5 to reenact the Heroes of Telemark, operation Grouse expedition on the Hardangervidda plateau in Norway. Arctic conditions and long days of pulling pulks. He now says he saw a spark in my eye and believed I would be able to hold my own on the expedition, he had no way of knowing I’d be able to keep up with the other men but he took a chance. I did.
Neil inspires me because he continually makes goals for himself, has fun and creates opportunities for others. He has the ability to make you feel like you can do anything and that is such a talent.
6. Why do you think imagery is important? You use images actively on Instagram and social media to tell your story, how do you think this changes opinion, and why?
Images are incredible things when you think about it. They capture a moment in time and everything in that frame is saved forever. I have always loved to document adventures. I am not a perfectionist when it comes to uploading the best image; I prefer to just get it out there and let it contribute to my overall story. Before humans knew how to read, they used images to tell stories. Images were used to teach others about their ancestors. Images can still teach others in the way they used to. Social media cannot change opinions alone but they can contribute and hopefully teach.
6. Has there been somewhere you have travelled which touched your heart, either out of compassion or as a result of the environmental impact.
Svalbard is a place of mystical beauty. It was what I would call my first ‘extreme long haul’ expedition. I was there for 10 weeks and it changed me forever. I went with fifteen others with what is now called British Exploring.
To know that such a pristine place is in danger of forever dissappearing as we know it breaks my heart. It was after this expedition that on my return to normal life (I use that phrase loosely) I could not settle back and pretend that adventure wasn’t out there. I could not stop and ignore the changes to our climate. I had to continue exploring and see the beauty and extremities that this planet has to offer.
8. If you could go anywhere, where would it be and why?
There are always so many places to go to. Now that mankind are exploring further than our planet, the list of possibilities is endless. Saying that though, I have got something in the pipeline coming up. Early stages but it will be incredibly exciting and what I believe to be a really worthwhile, challenging project.