“Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success.”

I never thought I’d be comparing Earnest Shackleton’s famous advert to sitting at home on my sofa, yet here we are. I am locked down behind my keyboard in the times of a global pandemic. In a strange twist of fate, his recruitment to arguably the last great adventure in the golden age of exploration was posted just a few years before the previous global pandemic, the Spanish flu.

Low wages, tick.

Long hours in complete (emotional) darkness, tick.

Safe return (to normality) doubtful, tick.

Honour and recognition in event of success… thank you, key workers!

Bitter cold hasn’t come yet, but it’s entirely likely if nothing changes that come winter, many people won’t be able to afford their heating bill, so I’ll hold my breath on that one for now.

As phase 1 has arrived in Scotland and the wider UK is starting to take tentative first steps into a new normal, I can’t help but reflect on the parallels between lockdown and traditional adventure.

Can you remember the last time you watched a TV survivalist program? Bear Grylls, Stafford, Mears, or one of those survivor challenges like the Island or Naked and Afraid. Personally, I’ve binged on a few on Netflix in the last few weeks. I always seem to find myself comparing and analysing, wondering how I might fare in the same circumstances. Boom… 2020 happened.

We are now all thrown into our own survival challenge. Like the TV premised, unaware and unprepared, but less a camera crew. Some of us are in teams, while others are going solo. Some have a cushion to rest on, while others have a real struggle to survive. In this new challenge, we are not all on the same ship, but all of us are weathering the same storm in our own way.

Personally, I’ve coped by pretending lockdown was an expedition. This was largely because around the date lockdown was announced, I was supposed to be on one, paddling some 800km to Cape Horn and back in 35 days. To say the least, coming directly out of a full season of Patagonian kayak guiding to sitting on my sofa watching Netflix was quite a culture shock.

Will with his brand new Lightweight Kevlar/Carbon Infusion Aries 150, which arrived just in time for lockdown easement in Scotland!

I’ll premise this to say that compared to the many who have very real problems to tackle, my personal situation is and has been relatively comfortable. I am at home with my parents and my partner, everyone is in good health, and my business will survive to re-open when the time comes. But I’m also human and, as I’m sure many of you have too, I’ve felt at times a little lost, like I’m without a paddle, although not yet floating down s**t creek.

So how is lockdown like an expedition?

Like an expedition, our food shopping is back to a planned routine. No more ‘popping to the shops’. Instead, there are detailed meal plans to last the week, the assumption that anything not on the list is forgotten until the next available re-supply. Albeit our rations are quite a lot fresher and tastier than 35 days in a kayak, no eating butter with a spoon quite yet!

Like an expedition, our contact with the outside world is limited. Those phone calls and Zooms with family and friends become all the more important and treasured in the absence of regular visits. Meanwhile my partner and I, just like my friend and I when on an expedition, are now almost developing our own language of in-jokes and mad musing. I look forward to seeing friends more than anything else when this is all over…

I wonder if we will have separation anxiety?

Like an expedition, teamwork is essential. Those of us living with families or friends throughout this will already know this, without good communication and compromise, arguments happen.

Like an expedition, routine is everything. Regular exercise within our allocated time and distance, a structured day, making new plans and goals, filling the time. A mind with purpose is a mind of pleasure. Allowing rest and recuperation as part of the urge to achieve is just as important in a healthy routine.

Like an expedition, dressing has become a little easier. I’m essentially rotating through a couple of sets of joggers and t-shirts on a loop. At least, unlike my kayak expeditions, they get properly washed in between with more than the odd wave. Bathing is at least still a thing.

Like an expedition, there is a huge unknown. No matter how well-planned things are, there are broadsides. This is the definition of adventure. Experience is found in the gaps of planning and with each new stage comes new learning opportunities.

I’m sure there are more comparisons to be made. What would yours be?

I’ll finish by paraphrasing Shackleton’s diary from the same expedition he advertised for. This time from his bleakest moments where hope was waning and a good future seemed impossible,

‘A person must shape them-self to a new mark directly the old one goes to ground’

i.e. When situations degrade and seem too tough to bare, Keep Calm and Carry On.