90 Days Towards Antarctica – A Little Update Along the Journey

It’s been almost exactly three months now since we started our UK2Antarctica journey, making this an excellent time to look back a little at our progress and take stock. Our 16,000km activity challenge had been set up within the context of the wider Homeward Bound leadership programme that all of us are a part of – not only to help us fundraise the participation costs, but also as a way to keep our focus aligned with the project and to help us stay connected as a group throughout the 12+ months of Homeward Bound. Consequently, let’s have a look at both our formal HB progress and our UK2Antarctica km-hunting journey!

The Homeward Bound Cohort 6 Programme

The official HB6 initiative started in March this year, comprising 10 online workshop sessions with a total of about 20 hours course delivery so far – in practice that’s essentially a session every two weeks, plus loads of post-workshop materials that we received to work through ourselves. Since Homeward Bound is an international programme, each workshop is run twice at different times of the day to accommodate the different time zones and circumstances participants may be in. Here in the UK, we are actually in the privileged situation that our workshop time options are either in the late evening (10pm onward) or semi-early morning (8am onward), leaving us with quite a bit of flexibility to join either one or the other.

The topics of the workshops so far have focused on different components of leadership, strategy and visibility, where we discussed aspects such as, for example:

  • our core values and how we can build these into a personal strategy to help us guide and prioritise our (personal and professional) decisions;
  • leadership styles and how to develop one’s own leadership philosophy;
  • how understanding the way we are perceived as leaders can help us reflect on our own behaviours when interacting with others;
  • how and why to be visible as a leader;
  • and how the complexity of systems and people’s minds around us affect our leadership.
The Cynefin model of complexity is a way to think about the complexity of a system and how this could affect one’s leadership style (source: C. Kane, R. Brookes, C. Little. Homeward Bound Programme, Leadership Session).

While this may all sound a bit vague and ‘hand-wavy’, the programme has actually been very good at introducing theoretical models and frameworks as a basis for our understanding and then giving us opportunity to reflect on these and discuss how to apply them to our own circumstances.

And yet this is still not all that’s been going on: besides the formal programme sessions (and to some extent also included in them) there have been many opportunities to network with other members of Homeward Bound. This has included mini speed-meeting sessions and comms call updates on ongoing initiatives within HB that we can become involved in. It has also been in the form of so called ‘Busara Circle’ sessions where we have had the opportunity to meet some very impressive and senior women leaders (see list of Busara members here). The latter has been especially inspiring, considering the diversity of experiences and knowledge that we got exposed to, with each leader (and each participant) bringing their own perspective to the discussions.

Speaking of different perspectives, here’s what each of us found particularly memorable or insightful about the Homeward Bound programme so far:

What was the most impressive insight that you gained from the Homeward Bound programme so far?

Maria: That’s really hard to decide as I feel very inspired after almost every session but if I have to pinpoint it I’d say it’s the idea of collective wisdom, i.e. wisdom coming from multiple people collaborating and contributing their individual life experiences to increase the group’s overall understanding. For me, wisdom has always been this desirable but almost unattainable goal that I may reach when I’m old, so the idea that I can share my knowledge now to contribute towards a greater collective wisdom and understanding is very reassuring. Plus, Homeward Bound has really given me great opportunities to practice and do that!

Sharon: How do I choose the most impressive insight from my time on Homeward Bound so far? It’s so hard. Each session brings new and exciting insights as well as interaction with AMAZING women from all corners of the globe. I was especially interested in the theory of leadership complexity, whether we operate in chaotic, complex, complicated or clear systems. At the end of the day whether one functions as a successful leader in any of these spaces is basically all down to people, relationships and communication. If Kirsty Allsop and Phil Spencer did a session on it, it would be called ‘Communication, communication, communication’. I really enjoyed discussing this with my triad team mates* this week and I’m sure as time goes on we’ll get deeper into it.

Clare: My favourite HB things: Just meeting everyone and realising the value in the cohort 😊

Maya: I particularly enjoyed the session where we focused on our values for self, relationships and work.

Ximena: As Maya, for me, the session where we were asked about our values was enlightening. It unleashed complete chaos in me, which has given me the chance to truly begin to be aware of who am I and my purpose.

Harriet: One of my favourite parts of HB has been connecting with you lot! I have learnt so much from you all already, I’ve already referenced Sharon** in a presentation, I am just so very grateful we’ve teamed up!

Stephanie: The learning experience over the last few months has been greater than I anticipated. The way the programme is structured has allowed me to discuss and reflect more about my values and how I see myself as a leader. I am also very grateful to have met all the great women who participate in the programme and the strong connections with the UK and Mexico teams, specifically through #UK2Antarctica and the @CuartetoAntartico. I hope to connect more with the other HB6 participants in the long run!

* Within our HB6 cohort, we have each been assigned two buddies as part of a so called ‘triad’. The purpose of these triads is to have build a support group with whom you can discuss the workshop materials and other programme insights in a bit more detail.

** Check out Clare’s and Sharon’s earlier podcast here to find out more about some of the very referenceable things Sharon has been up to.

Our 16,000km UK2Antarctica Challenge

Now, our km-counting virtual journey has been a bit less thinking and a bit more doing – and we’ve been doing very well at it actually!

Check out our progress in the infographic below or directly on our progress map here.

Our virtual journey has led us more than 5,000km away from the lovely Scottish Highlands, all the way down to the south of Mali. A huge contribution to this has been thanks to our team member Harriet who still holds our record as top km-collector – just consider that she covered 165 km all by herself on one of her most active days in the past three months!

We’re not just going far but also up, though: with our collective elevation gain from our walks, runs and cycles we have now virtually climbed Antarctica’s highest mountain, Mt. Vinson, more than six times. We’re actually at a total of about 30,000 m elevation gain as a team, bringing us a third up the way to space (at 100 km)! Again, a good portion of this has been contributed to our top climber Clare as she quite regularly climbs hundreds of meters during her activities – with her newest record being 1,778 m in a day.

Yet, our km-challenge has not only been about breaking records. For me at least, it has really helped me to build a better habit of walking and running regularly. And, of course, it has also been an excellent opportunity for all of us to explore our neighbourhoods and local countryside – check out some of our highlight walks, runs, cycles and other activities below:

What has been your favourite walk / run / cycle / other activity so far in the past three months?

Harriet: My ride to include in the blog is the most recent 100 miles I did from my new house to Henley on Thames. It was the hottest day of the year so far, and I needed to spend some time getting used to my racing bike (it’s a time trial bike that I use for Triathlons) as I have an Ironman scheduled for September but haven’t spent that much time on my racing bike outside yet, and it always takes a bit of getting used to. I set out at 7:30 in the morning to try and beat the heat of the day, as it was going to be the hottest day of the year so far. I made good progress across the hills to Henley and managed to top my water bottles up when I reached the town centre.

The ride home was a bit tougher as the temperature rose, but I was gaining confidence on the aerobars (the bars at the front of a TT bike that allow you to go faster because you’re more aerodynamic). I’ve recently moved to the North Wessex Downs, having previously been in Cambridge, which is incredibly flat, so it was lovely to be back in the hills, and turning a corner to see this most beautiful field of white poppies was particularly spectacular. It was great to get 160 km in the bank towards our 16,000km goal!

Stephanie: Since last year I have been discovering amazing places to swim around Scotland. Last week I was super happy to swim in the western shores of Loch Lomond between Inverbeg and Tarbet, Firkin Point. This is now one of my favourite places to wild swim, especially since one can appreciate the true beauty of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs.

Sharon: My favourite walk was along the beach in St Andrews, the one where the famous scene in Chariots of Fire was filmed. This is my fav beach walk. I come to the town every year on summer holidays. When I come out early and walk far I usually have the beach to myself. This one morning it was hotting up to be a great summer’s day, blue sky, sunshine and a very light breeze. I walked the length of the beach and reached the Eden Estuary at very low tide. I sat on the edge of the dunes for a while, a solitary soul on the beach, my own private idyll. I watched an osprey fishing for its breakfast and listened to the cacophony of seals barking on the mud flats. Cormorants were diving, seagulls squealing. Just bliss and all before 8am! It reminds me of how much life there is on earth, how lucky I was to witness it and how we must fight hard to keep our planet healthy.

On walking back along the beach to my holiday house I saw first-hand a success story. When I first brought my kids to this beach the dunes had been badly eroded mainly by human activity but also coastal erosion. Over 10 years ago sections of dunes were fenced off in an attempt to protect the dune structure and bring back the plant and animal population. I now see vast swathes of dense marram grass, wildflowers, lots of small birds, insects and even a friendly stoat that sat about 3 feet from me just watching. Evidence that with some effort we can reverse the damage caused by humans or better still not cause the damage in the first place. Wherever we visit we should’ve nothing but our footprints and take away only great memories.

Maya: My favourite activity so far has been hiking in the Dead Sea region and getting to swim in natural hot springs along the way.

Clare: My favourite walks… a solo run around Ben a Bhuird and Ben Avon in the Spring snow of April followed by a dip in the Dee. And an overnight wild camp with Florence with 2 Munros in the mix at the start of the summer holidays 😊

Maria: One of my favourite activities since the start of our UK2Antarctica journey has been a walk up Ben Lomond that I did with friends in June. Not only did we have great weather for Scottish standards but I also got to catch up with an old friend I hadn’t seen in a while, marvel at some beautiful, diverse landscape and enjoy an ice-cold beer after the exhaustion from the 1,000 m elevation gain we had covered.

Ximena: Wow, everyone has visited amazing places! I’m afraid I haven’t had the opportunity to go farther than the uni, 😦 so my favourite activity so far might be a bit boring, haha. (editor’s note: check out Ximena’s photos on the right, they do look exciting! )

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