Outside my comfort zone

After some time for reflection following the completion the mammoth crossing of the Greenland ice cap, we caught up with Hollie Woodhouse to hear her perspective on the expedition, the biggest challenges she faced, and what she learned about herself through the experience…

What was your favourite part of the trip?

The last day was my favourite – along with being so close to finishing, we also had the most amazing weather and great snow conditions., The mountains popped up from the horizon, and we had such a great vibe in the team. It was an incredible way to end a challenging 29 days.

What was the most challenging part?

Due to my size, I found pulling the sled physically very challenging. In the first couple of weeks I concentrated on trying to keep up and complete the task at hand. In the middle two weeks my mind went into overdrive and I thought about everything, going full circle on my thoughts. About halfway through I finally became comfortable and got into a rhythm. Towards the end I felt a lot calmer and didn’t even listen to music. It was quite odd. The length of the expedition was another big challenge, as 29 days was a long time to be out there, pushing it consistently every day.

What went through your mind when you were finally completed the expedition?

It was incredible to walk onto the rocks beside the sea and say, we’ve made it, we’ve walked across Greenland. I had tears in my eyes and couldn’t believe the relief of finishing this massively consuming experience. For the expedition to have gone to plan with all of us finishing was fantastic, as some other teams had been airlifted off. The final day pushed us to the absolute limit. It was hard physically and the weather pushed us right to the end. Even six hours out we didn’t know if we would make it. There was low cloud hanging around the sea so we weren’t sure if the helicopter would be able to get in to chopper us out. The fact we did cross in spite of all the obstacles made it even more of an achievement.

What did you learn or discover about yourself?

This experience was totally outside my comfort zone, and I’ve come out stronger because of it. I knew it was going to be a challenge, but probably not as much as it was. I’d never been pushed like that before so it was great to discover I could do it and didn’t give up, despite the many times I really wanted to. When you put one foot in front of the other and break it down, you’ll get there. I’m sure in six months I’ll realise more things that I have learned or discovered about myself on the expedition.

What skills did you have that you found most valuable?

Being able to work as part of a team. Everyone had a role without officially having a role. Brando had a lot of energy and strength, Nigel held everyone together, and Keith was great at filming. The boys carried some of Bridget’s and my gear. This ensured we could all stay together as we could only go as fast as the slowest person. If someone was feeling a bit down, there was always someone to encourage them to get back on track and keep going.

A comment about the team itself?

Apart from meeting for a weekend in January, we were a team of strangers who were put into a hostile environment and had to rely on each other. Early on I knew I was with an awesome group of people who I could trust and who would have my back. Sharing this amazing experience means they will forever hold a place in my heart.

What was something you experienced that was different to your expectations?

I had never been in a polar environment before so I wasn’t too sure what to expect. I had competed in endurance races but had never been pushed so consistently, day in and day out for 29 days. It is amazing how the body will just keep going as long as you keep your mind strong. There were times when I was down, but I kept thinking this is an amazing experience and what you signed up for.

Reflecting on what you know of Nansen’s crossing – what would you consider some of the similarities and key differences on this trip?

Each night we would have a meeting with Nigel and Bengt in their tent, and would share facts about Nansen. The differences in the expedition weren’t lost on us. We had access to weather reports, we knew where we were going, and at the touch of a button we could have been picked up. However, when Nansen and his team did the crossing 130 years ago, they went in completely blind with none of the modern equipment we had and no security on their lives. Nansen was an incredible human.

How have you been inspired to go out and share your story?

I’m extremely grateful to have been given this amazing once-in-a-lifetime opportunity by Antarctic Heritage Trust, and am putting a lot of thought into how I can use it to inspire the next generation of explorers. I want to reach out to people who are chasing a dream or want to start doing something they’ve always wanted to do. If I can spark an idea or give them a little push that would be great.

What did you miss most when you were away?

A Bacon Brothers burger! As soon as I arrived back in Christchurch I went to get one. This adventure really does make you appreciate the small things, such as favourite foods, and the warmth and ease of our lives at home. It was much different on the ice. We would walk all day, then get to camp, put the tent up, and it would take an hour to boil our water so we could get dinner. It is quite surreal to be home and to comprehend I just spent 29 days walking across Greenland!

What messages will you be giving to audiences about the trip?

Never give up. Five or six years ago when I started doing this adventure stuff I never imagined I’d walk across Greenland, and I didn’t know a lot about the polar region. Then doors started to open and I couldn’t have done this without consciously making the decision to chase my dream. My first dream was to compete in the Coast to Coast and everything has flowed on from there. Having the courage to take that first scary step or do that thing you’ve dreamt of can lead to a whole lot of new adventures.

Would you recommend others apply for future expeditions and why?

Absolutely. The Antarctic Heritage Trust is an incredible organisation that has done so much for the Inspiring Explorers’ community. It is giving young explorers the opportunity to step outside their comfort zone and take part in some amazing expeditions. The experience includes so much more that just the expedition, as we learned about the history of the region we visited and its past explorers, and got to meet some amazing new people. This experience opens the doors to some real self-reflection and learning, and putting yourself into an environment you wouldn’t normally see yourself in.