Anna in Auckland 2 Credit Paul Petch

An Interview with...Anna McNuff

Our new feature continues with an insight into the adventures of Anna McNuff. Fuelled by cheese and Super Noodles we spoke to Anna as she was cycling from Bolivia to Argentina.  Read the full interview and don't forget to let us know if you're inspired to go on your own adventure and want to join our TEAM 25!

Our first ‘adventurous interview’ was with Al Humphrey’s back in November. Al nominated the next inspirational person for us to talk to, so just before Christmas we caught up with Anna McNuff. Anna is an adventurer and full-time mischief maker. She has undertaken some amazing trips including solo-cycling 50 states in America, solo-running the length of New Zealand on the Te Araroa trail, and currently she is cycling from La Paz in Bolivia to Ushuaia at the southern tip of Argentina. Anna has recently been named Condé Nast ’50 most influential travelers of our time’. Anna’s zest for fun and living life to the full is completely contagious – she is passionate about being outdoors, expanding her horizons through adventure and, most importantly, doing so whilst having as much fun as much as possible (and eating as much cheese as possible) – all pretty relevant to what we try and bring to YAT camps!

After chit-chatting for a while, and Anna introducing me to the hostel cat via skype, we got down to the questions. Here’s what Anna had to say…

1. What are you top 3 places in the world?

Oh crikey – starting with the hard questions!

OK, number one would have to be the Mount Richmond Range in the north of the South Island of New Zealand. There’s a peak called Mount Rintoul, which is 1700m above sea level on this amazing ridge. From one side you can see down to Tasman Bay and the twinkling lights of Nelson, and on the other side there is nothing but mountains for as far as you can see. It’s empty, desolate and incredibly beautiful.

Number 2 – can I have the whole of Utah state in the USA?! I had no idea before going there that it was so beautiful – it absolutely blew my mind. The rock formations in the national parks, particularly Bryce and Zion, were absolutely incredible. (**there ensued a long-winded chat about how cool rocks are…).

Number 3 goes back to an early adventure of sailing off the coast of Belize. We stopped overnight at a tiny island, I can’t even remember the name of it – it was maybe only 50m long. One man lived there with his dog lived, and it was so remote and simple. All you could see was the ocean and the sky, it is a very special place. Also, the Belizean people were amazing! I didn’t understand a word they were saying, but they were so friendly!

2. Where’s the weirdest place you’ve slept?
Ha! I’m sure they’ll be plenty more on this trip, but from previous trips, the weirdest was probably in the USA. I arrive at a campground, which was closed, but I was in serious bear country. So I decided to sleep sandwiched between the Interstate and the Freight Railway line. It did detract bears, but I got no sleep at all between the constant noise of the Interstate and the massive freight trains rumbling past a few meters away from my head. There’s a big distinction between ‘wild’ camping and ‘free’ camping!

3. What’s the one thing you don’t go on an adventure without?
Something that you can use to snap you back to reality if you’re having a bad day. A mascot, or for me my pants of perspective (*If you’ve not seen Anna’s TED talk then please do – you’ll hear more of her pants of perspective there!). When we go on adventures we need to remember that we’re incredibly privileged to be in the position to do so – it’s our choice. So if you’re having a bad day running/cycling/hiking, then I find it helpful to keep perspective!

4. Who was your role model growing up?

When I was younger it was any Olympian! Both of my parents were Olympians, so any sporting stars of the 90’s are high on the list – Fatima Whitbread, Daley Thompson, Steve Backley.

Later, it would Rosie Swale-Pope. She ran around the world on her own and my mum gave me her book (BIG MISTAKE!), and it’s that moment that flicked the switch in me – that you really can do anything you want to do. She was incredibly brave and it made me think that if she could do it, then why couldn’t I?
Fay asked me as we sat at the side of the road by our bikes a few days ago, ‘Is there anything that you think you couldn’t do?’ and I meant it when I say that no – if you want it and work hard enough for it, then you can do anything (and it applies to everyone – it’s not me being big-headed!).

5. How did you get into going on adventures – what was your first adventure as a teenager?

I come from a really outdoors-y family, so that definitely helped. We were dragged out on family walks a lot, and spent summers camping in France. I also did a lot with the Girl Guides – lugging soaking wet heavy canvas tents around for fun. We went on a big family holiday when I was 11 to the USA and Jamaica, and that’s when I got the travel bug – I realized that there was a whole other world out there to explore.

At Uni and through my 20s I was in the British rowing squad, so everything else got put on hold. I was training 2 – 3 times a day, so I didn’t have time for anything else. After that I moved to London and got a ‘proper job’. It was then, sitting at my desk working 9-5, that I decided to do something big. I planned and saved for a year and then set off on my 50 states cycle ride around the USA. As soon as I left I realized that it was what I wanted to do – I immediately felt like my real self, and could be creative with it too. I actually always wanted to be a writer growing up, but I messed up my exams and lost my way with it a bit.

Adventure has re-kindled that confidence to write again. Adventures are great for that – it stretches you vision and limits of what you think is possible in every single direction, so that you feel more brave in all areas of your life.

6. What’s your greatest achievement?

I’m most proud of the New Zealand run – it was the length of the Te Araroa trail – all 1,911 miles of it! And I did it completely alone and unsupported. I’d never done anything like that before – it took me right to the edges of myself. It was a physical challenge, but the mental challenge of being alone and that remote was harder – knowing that if you got injured or lost, you were miles from help. I was scared a lot of the time, so I’m proud that I stuck with it and finished.

7. Can you tell us a bit about your current adventure? How does it compare to your other adventures?anna bike

I’m currently cycling from La Paz in Bolivia to Ushuaia at the southern tip of Argentina with a friend, Fay. We both love cycling up and down mountains, so instead of the fastest route, we are taking the route which takes us up and down as many Andean mountain passes as possible! Lots of dirt tracks, altitude and remote cycling! It’s been a shock to the system so far, as the other cycling tours I’ve done I’ve never been that far from civilization, but out here we can go days without passing towns. So managing the remoteness and food/water availability is difficult.
It’s also been a big culture shock – I’ve not done big trips in non-English speaking countries before, so learning the language and actually having to use it a lot has been a challenge. I’m chatty and confident normally, but in Spanish to begin with, I was quiet and felt strangely nervous of trying the language, knowing that I might be wrong. I’m over that now. I’ll give any conversation a crack – but we have to as in the remote towns out here, no-one speaks any English.

8. This year is our 25th anniversary, so we’re looking for 25 people to go on an adventure for us! What would be your top tip for people who are thinking about going on their first adventure?

Try and not to over-plan. It’s likely that 80% of planning won’t work out anyway, so plan as little as you can and trust that the rest will fall into place. Go with the flow – and that way it means that you have the flexibility to say yes to totally random opportunities along the way, like staying at a random Grandma’s house, or going for dinner with a family you just met on the side of the road…

9. What is your favourite expedition snack?

(without hesitation): Super Noodles. They’re amazing – they sell them almost everywhere. You only need a little bit of water, and if you add cheese or tuna then it’s actually really delicious! If things get really desperate then you can have them crunchy with ketchup!

10. A question we often end up discussing on camp is…cake or cheese?

Cheese, cheese, cheese. I love cheese. I love cheese so much I could eat it until it came out of all of my pores. In the USA when I was cycling a lot, I once bought a 500g block of cheese and accidentally ate all of it, in one sitting, outside the supermarket. If you asked me to choose between cheese and chocolate, then there’d be a problem. It would be like picking between my two imaginary children. Chocolate is my treat of choice for running, but for cycling its always cheese.

11. Can you nominate someone inspiring for us to interview next?

I nominate Lois Pryce – she has done some incredible motorcycle journeys, most recently through Iran. She’s a great adventurer, and she also has an awesome sense of humor!

We’ll be bringing you an interview with Lois in our next newsletter – watch this space…in the meantime here’s where you can find out more about Anna:

Anna’s TED talk ‘But What If I Fail?’ - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aEcuqJb9H9k


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