Following her motto: ‘If your knickers are right, your day goes right,’ Squash Falconer has climbed Mount Everest with 60 pairs of underwear and broken world records.
Speaking from Isny, South Germany, Squash tells me about her latest challenge, cycling 3000 miles across Europe with fellow adventurer Dave Cornthwaite.
The pair, now a month into The Go Trek Challenge, are attempting to set the record for the longest distance travelled by an ElliptiGO; an elliptical bicycle, or ‘a cross trainer with wheels’ as Squash describes it.
At 32 Squash had broken her second world record without knowing it.
In 2009 she set to ride, climb and fly Mont Blanc. She said: ‘I took a motorbike to the South of France, climbed 15,780ft and then paraglided for 20 minutes back down.’
But it wasn’t until weeks later that Squash found out she was the first British woman to have achieved the flight.
‘I didn’t have a clue. Someone at the paragliding club mentioned they thought I might have set a record but it wasn’t until I got the certificate I realised the achievement,’ she said.
A year previously, Squash became the World’s highest ‘bum boarder’ (a small sledge) from the peak of Cho Oyu, the sixth highest mountain in the world.
‘I think it was then that I saw Mount Everest, an ambition of mine, as actually being possible,’ Squash said, ‘my 30th birthday was coming round and I was still single so I just thought ‘now must be my moment.’
On 12th May 2011 Squash stood on top of the world. She said: ‘It was the best and worst thing I have ever done. Climbing a mountain is an emotional experience.’
Sadly she couldn’t make the descent from Everest by flight because of bad weather conditions but she said she was still chuffed, ‘especially because I came back with all my fingers and toes.’
She maintains flying is her favourite method of descent.
Apart from this occasion bad weather doesn’t stop Squash on a journey. Severe flooding has caused destruction across Europe in the last few weeks but the team continue their ElliptiGO challenge.
Squash wrote on her blog: ‘I’m looking at the sky, it’s cloudy and grey BUT it’s not raining! This week has been the wettest so far and the places we have been have made world news due to the floods! I was told by a local that ‘in 50 years of being in the region there has never been this much rain.’
The Go Trek challenge is part of a bigger ambition of Dave Cornthwaite’s: to complete 25 journeys of over 1000 miles each using different forms of non-motorised transport.
The Go Trek with Squash is just one of these journeys. Dave has already completed seven of his conquests, including swimming 1001 miles of the Lower Missouri River and skateboarded 3618 miles across Australia.
Dave and Squash designed their challenge with one word in mind: ‘yes’.
Born and raised in Derby, at 18 Squash found herself travelling and working the ski season. It was with the friends she made here that she climbed her first mountain, Aconcagua in Argentina.
‘I loved it but I hadn’t really made the connection of it being more than a one off adventure holiday,’ Squash said.
Squash has been an importer, done events work, and even worked as an accounts executive in Dubai.
‘It was never my plan to do these challenges but with every adventure I realised that anyone can do this sort of thing full time.’
Squash doesn’t have a car or a mortgage in order to afford her thrill-seeker lifestyle.
She said: ‘A lot of people wonder how you can afford this life but I have very little really. The whole ethos is about making things happen on a shoe string, through funding and sponsorship.’
Dave and Squash want to encourage others to say yes more, develop new habits and prove self-confidence through action.
Squash said: ‘I met Dave through a colleague, we had a coffee and I told him I would love to be involved, then one day he sent me an e-mail with a picture of an ElliptiGO saying ‘fancy 3000 miles on this?’
Having only been in each other’s company for that 30-minute coffee I asked Squash if she was nervous about spending nine weeks together.
‘It didn’t even cross my mind, I just knew we would be ok because he is an adventurer too.’
Crossing five European countries, the pair give presentations wherever they stop. Squash said: ‘During the question and answer sessions I’m learning more and more about Dave and I still have things I want to ask him today.’
The team took an unorthodox approach to training for The Go Trek: ‘Dave never trains before hand, always on the journey, and I didn’t train much either,’ Squash said.
She said: ‘Just before the trip I got a throat infection. My doctor said to rest and not exert myself training. I expected the first week to be really tough but it wasn’t painful at all.’
Despite being 30 per cent harder than a bike, the ElliptiGO has little impact, often used for rehabilitation.
The pair cycle for 4-9 hours a day, losing between 4,000 and 10,000 calories at a time.
Squash said on past expeditions she has lost strength and condition, but on this trip she is getting stronger every day and feels better than ever.
She said: ‘Women are incredibly tough and resilient and these challenges are a mental game too. I think women possibly tip the balance there.’
Squash’s attitude to remain feminine comes back to her knickers philosophy. She said she completely respects the ‘hardcore, bearded mountain men, non-knicker changing, let’s get filthy approach’ to climbing mountains.
Squash writes on her blog: ‘Before I left for my first expedition I learned that kit, and its weight, is crucial. Everything must be kept to a minimum. Therefore it is widely accepted to take 3-5 pairs of knickers and wear them for a few days between changes.’
Squash said not all advice is good advice and just because that’s how it’s done now, it doesn’t mean that’s how it should continue to be done.
She said: ‘I soon discovered that there were days when I simply did not have the knickers that matched my mood or feelings. It was dreadful.’
Squash now always packs the correct number of pants for days away.
The Go Trek is raising money for Copperfeel, a charity raising awareness of the symptoms of breast cancer. So far the pair have raised £1,300, and you can donate here.
‘This isn’t just a journey for my own achievement,’ Squash said, ‘and it’s the charity which motivates you.’
Squash said she admires a lot of sports people, but it is personal connections that inspire her the most.
‘When I dig deep it comes from my friends and family, even teachers who have encouraged me in the past, you remember all of those little moments. I can often hear my mum’s voice telling me to keep going.’
And when the chips are down, Squash always has her motto.
‘Maybe it was a bit extreme to take 60 knickers to the top of Mount Everest with me, but I always had a pair to suit my mood. You can make anything happen if you want it to… if you have the right pants.’
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