The Ultimate Trilogy – Interview with Margaret Bowling

“In 2013 four of the world’s most experienced female adventurers take on the Ultimate Trilogy of modern day exploration and adventure. 2000km of wilderness terrain covered in 10 weeks by human power: skiing, rowing, walking, climbing.”

Meet one of the team Margaret Bowling.

1.It is an all female expedition. Was this a conscious decision or just something that happened?

It was a conscious decision. I did my first ocean row with another woman. Since then I have been on mixed teams and worked with some pretty capable men, who I had become overly reliant on. After so many things went wrong on my first trip (19 major rudder repairs, electrical faults, broken watermaker, and much more) I knew I could deal with pretty much anything out in the field but I’d become lazy. I had slipped into patterns that are so familiar in our culture – always asking the guys to “just fix this for me” or “just carry that for me”. So this expedition is an opportunity to be the strong self-reliant woman that I know I am.

2.How do you think females are progressing in the field of adventure these days?

We may be in the minority but there are some big advantages to being a woman in the field of adventure. It’s easier to get sponsorship and the press are often much more interested in your story. Again I think this is cultural. I meet women every day who are capable of doing what I do. We just don’t live in a society where they are encouraged to give it a go. So when women do give it a go, it catches people’s attention.

3.How do you all know each other?

Tara and I met at the start of the 2007 Atlantic Rowing Race and have been hoping to do a row together ever since. Linda is one of my heroes so I aimed high and asked her to join us. We then needed a mountaineer to complete the team but nearly all of my contacts are ocean rowers or polar explorers so I came up with a shortlist of female mountaineers who had either done the 7 summits or spoke Spanish and sent out a cold call email inviting them to join us. And that’s how we found Cathy.

4. What does your training consist of for each section of the journey?

The main thing is to develop muscle memory in the disciplines I’m not familiar with. I can get in a boat and row without any problems so my focus is on climbing stairs and hills wearing a pack and pulling tyres along the beach. And of course general fitness is key. I work best with small training goals so have just entered the City2Surf here in Sydney.

5. In the team you all have a specialty!

  • Linda Beilharz  (AUS): Polar traveller – 1st Australian woman to ski to both South and North Poles.
  • Margaret Bowling (AUS): Ocean rower – 1st Australian woman to row an ocean (Atlantic) and the first Australian to row an ocean twice.
  • Cathy O’Dowd (ZA/AND): High-altitude mountaineer – 1st African to climb Everest. 1st woman in the world to climb Everest from both sides.
  • Tara Remington (USA/NZ): Ocean rower– World record holder for fastest all-women Atlantic crossing, east to west, with a four-person crew.

How do you think this will help the team?

It will help us immensely. Because we’re all specialists in our own disciplines we each bring a level of knowledge to the leg we’re leading which would be hard to find anywhere else. For me that’s what makes this an Ultimate adventure.

6.  There will be a lot of Expedition firsts in this journey:

  • 1st team to do a multi-terrain traverse of this nature in Chile
  • 1st all-female team to cross the Northern Patagonian Ice Cap
  • 1st team to attempt a modern-day ocean rowing expedition in South America
  • 1st women to do a sea to summit ascent of Aconcagua

Are you doing it so as to achieve these firsts or why are you doing it?

World records weren’t something I was thinking about until we put together our website and promotional material. My focus was always on putting together a cracking squad of female explorers and creating the Ultimate team.

7.You will embark in late December 2012 and return in  early March 2013, On average you will spend ten weeks completing the expedition. That is a fair chunk of time, how do you keep morale and enthusiasm up when going on long adventures such as this?

With difficulty. But our ability to manage the stresses and stay focussed is one of the things that really excites me about working with a team of such experienced women. With every expedition you do, your resilience improves so I expect fewer blow ups and dark moments than I’ve had when I’ve been with expedition novices.

8.What will you be packing?

EVERYTHING. We have to prepare for 3 legs which all have very different requirements so this is going to be one monster packing job and each leg has to be packed and carefully planned in advance. It’s lucky my mind works like a tetris game.

9.What will you be eating?

Freeze dried meals most of the way and lots of high protein snacks like salamis, chocolate and peanuts.

10.How will you navigate?

Compass, maps and handheld GPS devices are our main tools.

11.How did you come up with the idea?

I was working on a multidisciplinary endurance event called the Trip to Remember which gave me the idea to do an ultimate expedition trip that incorporated the big 3 disciplines of modern day exploration and adventure. I then spent a lot of time trawling through maps of the world to find the perfect location.

12.Why the charities you picked and why pick one’s based in different countries?

We’re doing this expedition for largely personal reasons and not ‘for charity’. Although we are focusing on the Charlotte Lucy Trust, the Wilderness Society and the Wilderness Foundation (who we each have longstanding affiliations with) we hope that by sharing our love for wilderness we will inspire people to either donate to or campaign for causes everywhere that embody our ethos of women and wilderness.

13.It is a physically demanding expedition, how will you keep your body in good condition?

On the ice any injuries we get won’t heal and on the water they will rot so preventing them is out top priority. And that is done by making sure we’ve done our research, have the right gear, are in great physical shape before we go and monitor any niggles and don’t let them turn into severe problems. Keeping hydrated and eating enough is also very important so we’ll be monitoring our daily calorie and fluid intake very carefully. We were quite concerned about muscle wastage and sea legs after the boat leg. Attempting to set off with big packs in that state is a no go so we’ll be fast packing for the walk from the port at Valparaiso to the base of Aconcagua and relying on the support team to carry the bulk of our gear.

14. How do you set a time limit for completion of a journey like this?

Sorry – pass. Not really relevant because we don’t have one.

15.Is there a level of fear in undertaking an expedition of this scale?

Yes, a massive one! I am scared shitless. I’m reliant on the skills and experience of my team mates to get me through 2 out of 3 legs so I have to be prepared to trust them 100% and let them lead those legs.

16.What kind of tent do you have to sleep in?

We’ll be taking Hillebergs. They’re the best tents on the market and I wouldn’t take anything else on an expedition like this.

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