Spindrifter Series :: Anna McNuff
↠ T H E S P I N D R I F T E R S E R I E S ↠
Today we were excited to introduce you to the very first of our brand new Spindrifter Series of incredible and inspiring women – Anna McNuff…
Anna McNuff who we have been avidly following for a while, was recently named by the Guardian as one of the top female adventurers of our time. Anna is a British born adventurer, motivational speaker and writer and amongst her many incredible adventures and achievements, Anna has cycled 11,000 miles through each and every state of the USA! Spent 5 & 1/2 months running 1,911 miles unsupported along New Zealand’s Te Araroa trail and also spent a month cycling across Europe being directed entirely be her followers on social media! Wow what an amazing women! You have got to love her drive and infectious positive attitude. She totally inspires us, here at the Spindrift Studios to get out there more often, push ourselves to redefine what is possible and enjoy our adventuring even if it is in our own city…
Let’s jump in and ask her some questions…
↠ How did you come to be a full time adventurer?
The transition to a full time adventurer has been gradual for me. My background is in marketing, and so I after retiring from being a full-time athlete (a rower) I spent many years juggling both adventures and a 9-5. Gradually the opportunities in adventure became greater, and so did the desire to let it take centre stage in my life. When I started out I never intended to make a living from adventure, but I’ve come to realise it’s the thing that makes me feel the most like ‘me’. Alongside that I’ve learnt that telling stories about the challenges that adventures bring is the greatest tool I have to help others recognise and unlock their own potential. And I think that’s what anyone wants out of life – the chance to make a difference. So now I make my living from motivational speaking – to businesses and in schools. In short, I tell stories to make the money I need, in order to go and create new ones. Magic eh?
↠ What’s your big vision // dream for the next few years?
I guess there is a vision I have for myself, and also the one I have for others around me. Personally I’d love to continue to build a life where I have the time and funds to go off on crazy adventures, and then to come back and write and speak about them in between. I’d love to have a couple of books published and have done a number of new challenges that have tested my limits. Equally important though is the mission I’m on to get other people out there adventuring. Women especially. I’ve started a group call the ‘Adventure Queens’ who are examples of girls who have made that transition from: “I want to do x, but I’m scared and not sure if I can…” To then having done it. I am hoping in sharing the stories of these girls alongside my own, that budding adventurers everywhere will see all it takes to go on an adventure is a willingness to embrace the unknown. And then they’ll take that leap. So hopefully in a few years time I’ll have hundreds of ‘Adventure Queens’ and we will together have managed to inspire thousands to get out there and get adventuring.
↠ Tell us what typical day for you looks like?
I’ll wake up, take some time to have a nice big coffee and a chat to the man I love dearly, then I’ll get started on my big priority for the day. If I’ve got a big speaking gig coming up, then I always do my talk preparation in the morning – that’s when my brain works best. So I’ll spend an hour or so surrounded by post-it notes, talking to the wall, videoing myself and refining the talk. Then I’ll head out for a bit run or cycle to clear my head. I’ll grab some lunch (I can’t do anything on an empty stomach!) then set up shop in a local coffee shop. The work I do from there on in is so varied, and I like it that way. I might be finishing off some book chapters, replying to emails, editing a video or writing a blog post.
↠ When you’re not busy adventuring, where can we find you?
Asleep, hanging out with my loved ones, or sipping on a flat white at the local independent coffee house.
↠ What has been your most important & defining moment so far?
It was my darkest day on the trail in New Zealand, and I remember it as if it were yesterday. I had to cross a river 30 times and I tripped on this rock and I sprained my ankle. It was a day from hell. I was on my own, I hadn’t seen anyone for about two days and it took me about four hours to find a place that was flat enough to pitch my tent. It was literally the lowest point in the whole trip, because I was tired, I was exhausted, I was lonely and I was properly at rock bottom. I couldn’t speak to anyone because there was no phone signal. But I had food, I had water, I had shelter and I suddenly got overwhelmed with this compete feeling of calm. I had a good big ole cry and then thought, “You know what? This is fine. This is what I asked for. I’ve come in search of my limits and this is my limit, it’s been brought to me.” You have to go to that place where you are so low you think you might fall apart to realise that you always have the strength to keep it together.
↠ Tell us about your personal connection to our wild and beautiful natural landscapes + what do you do to minimise your impact on them?
Oh my gosh I can’t tell you how much I love the outdoors. Up there, on a windswept hilltop, snuggled in a bivvy bag staring at the stares – I just feel at home. I get the same feeling when I’m running along a ridgeline with mountainous views. I am so grateful to mother nature. Our natural world is more beautiful than anything we could create, so I’ll do as much as I can to appreciate it, and to encourage others to do the same.
There’s a great phrase the kiwis use: “Pack it in, and pack it out.” That is anything you take into the bush, you take right back out with you. It’d really upset me if I stayed in a hut and people had left their rubbish there. I mean, I know my mum would moan at me as a kid about who I expected to clear up my mess, but out there in the bush, really no one is going to clear it up. Mess attracts mice and rats and ruins the wilderness for others. So where I could on the run, I’d carry out extra rubbish from the huts with me – empty gas canisters or cans or whatever.
Other than that I do my best to minimise packaging and recycle everything when home. I’ll level that it’s not the easiest task in the modern world, but I do what I can. I
↠ What two key things have you learnt in your adventurous path which continue to push you forward?
Ooooh good questions!! I’d say the two key things are that we are capable of far more than we know, and the only limit of possibility are those that we decide upon. Every time I achieve something I never thought I would, I stand there and think: “Man, I did that?!” And then I’d set my sights on something even bigger and scarier than before. I’m not sure you ever reach a limit on your capability.. I think in the end it comes down to choice – and whether you choose to keep putting yourself through the mill, or to have the aim to simply enjoy life! (although these two things are sometimes one and the same).
I’m going to go rogue and throw in a third lesson in here, and that is that we are incredibly hard on ourselves. We are our own worst critic 99.9% of the time. Being alone for so long on the run – I really had to listen to a lot of self criticism in the first month of running… I’d really give myself a hard time that I wasn’t running fast enough. One day I just got sick of it. I thought: “Im running the length of a country and I’m telling myself it’s not good enough?! I am officially bonkers.” From then on, I labelled it a ‘cheerleaders only day’ and the only thoughts that were allowed to surface were the good ones, the ones that cheered me on. If destructive thoughts appeared, the cheerleaders would jump out and kick those thoughts in the NUTS! The run became far more enjoyable from that moment on.
↠ Adventuring alone, must at times be scary // when self-doubt + fear raise their ugly heads, How do you handle it? – We loved your story of the pants of perspective on your Ted Talk!
Running the trail unsupported was blummin’ tough at times, especially when I was carrying up to seven days worth of food through the bush between towns, but I loved the freedom and the added challenge that being self supported brings to a journey.
At one point, I had three full days and nights where I didn’t see a soul and that was quite a lot for me. I sang a lot, talked to my soft toy, (Kiwi Kev) danced, did what I could to keep myself sane! But you do slip into an odd mood. If I would bump into someone after a few days of isolation, for some reason, even though all I craved was a chat, I wouldn’t want to speak to them!! I’d withdraw, cut the conversation short and move along the trail. The same would happen when I approached a back country hut. I’d be feeling lonely, but for some reason I’d want to turn the handle and find that there was no one in there, so that I could be alone. It was bizarre.
What did really help was that when I got to the towns the Kiwis were so kind, I would get hosted by friends of friends of friends and treated like a long lost daughter. Honestly the whole of the country just opened their arms to me and they would just feed me and take me in. Some people even came out and ran with me – I was run out of Wellington by about 20 people!
↠ Who / what do you look to for inspiration?
Oooooh I take inspiration from a heap of things. I love watching TED talks – I’ll quite often watch one of those over breakfast. I like to see how different speakers work, but also I learn about a load of stuff I had no idea I was even interested in. They don’t always have to be adventurous people to inspire me – I’m really just inspired by anyone who is deeply passionate about their cause. People who go against the grain, and aren’t afraid to fail. I think Seth Godin calls it ‘poking the box’.
I read a lot of books too (well, I go through phases of reading lots of books if I’m entirely honest!). They range from everything like Buddhism, which helps with my mental approach to life and its challenges, right through to more business oriented books about building tribes or progressing an idea. But by far the thing I read the most are adventure books, stories of personal struggles and triumphs. The book that started it all was a one by Rosie Swale Pope – called ‘just a little run around the world.’ I read that and thought ‘wow – this woman is brave and kick-ass and incredible’. Ironically it was my Mum that gave me that book, so when she worries about me I just remind her that my mischievous adventuring ways are really all her doing… 🙂
↠ What is your favourite quote and why does it particularly resonate with you?
My favourite quote was something that was written on the front of a card that I was given when I was 8 years old – by a family friend. It said: “It only takes one bright spark to set the world alight.” And alongside it was this picture of a little girl with a sparkle in her hand. It really stuck with me. I love the air of possibility about it – that you have the power to change something with the way you choose to behave. That you can take a situation from darkness to light, simply by doing. I think we all have something special to offer the world, something unique. And if you can find your own spark, then you have the potential to help others ignite theirs. And before you know it the whole world is ablaze with people passionate about the life they’re leading. I consistently aspire to be that bright spark, for myself and for others.
↠ What’s next on your horizon? // What can we expect to see?
I’ve got plans for the next two adventures so far. I’ll be heading to South America from October for 6 months – a friend and I are exploring the Andes on bikes – aiming to take in as many mountain passes as possible in those 6 months. And the adventure after that I’m keeping under my hat for now, but it involves being more connected to nature – I’m super excited about both!
↠ What advice would you have for someone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
Just start. However and whenever you can, just take the first step. Create a folder on your desktop. Get a map out and draw a line, put £20 a week into an adventure pot, tell three friends of your crazy idea. Whatever it is, take a step beyond where you’ve gone before and be honest with yourself about what it is in your life that truly makes you feel like the best version of you. We are all so wonderfully unique, but somewhere along the way our curiosity about the planet and our belief that it’s a playground just waiting to be explored gets squashed out of us.
And for goodness sakes ignore anyone who tells you you can’t do something – they are so very wrong. The only difference between the me at the start of the NZ run, and the me at the finish line was that the me at the finish line knew that I could do it. The me at the start was sorely hoping I could, but was mostly definitely bricking it with fear. The only failure in life is a failure to begin. Take a deep breath and just freakin’ go for it.
Thanks so much Anna, its been amazing chatting to you and learning about some of your incredible adventures. You are such an inspiration!
You can find more about Anna and follow her on social media here ↠
Portrait Picture Photo Credit :: Paul Petch