In the years I’ve been trekking, I’ve been wanting to use the activity itself as a means to an end, not only for the purposes of taking people to trek globally through my social enterprise, but also to support a cause and be an agent of “change.” When I met Vix on one of the social media sites and learned about her project to do a solo trek of a lesser known long distance trail in Jordan to raise money for Doctors Without Borders, I quickly gained interest in her project.
For one, I am a believer in utilizing our experience outdoors as a way to have a positive impact on others. Secondly, Vix’s idea for a project is not new to me since I intend to do a trek of the Great Himalaya Trail in Nepal to interview women in the villages along the GHT as a way to share with the world their voices through a documentary or a book publication. Knowing that such an endeavor requires determination, meticulous planning, stubborness and enormous amount of time, I can completely relate to Vix’s aspirations of supporting a cause while undertaking a major trek in the process.
Without a doubt, I admire her courage to pursue this on her own and her deliberate intention to make a difference in the world in doing so, especially in the current global state that we’re all in. I’m excitedly anticipating the start of her journey which is set to commence in April, 2017 and will for sure be following Vix as she does a solo trek of a newly developed trail in Jordan. Let’s hear from her directly about this project and her hiking life.
Feature Outdoor Women’s Voices
Victoria “Vix” Harris grew up in Scotland, but have been nomadic for the last 10 years. At the time of her interview, she noted she’s in West Africa but then will be heading to Geneva before returning to Cape Town, where she will live for 3 months. Currently, Vix is wrapping up some Ebola projects for work and planning an epic 640 km solo hike through Jordan to raise £6400 for Doctors Without Borders.
When and how did you start hiking?
I grew up in the Scottish Highlands, in Helmsdale, a small fishing village on the ocean and surrounded by hills. I was a very hyperactive kid and I was always running, jumping and climbing trees. I would spend hours walking along the beach or climbing up hills. I learnt basic mountain skills through the local army cadets and Duke of Edinburgh Scheme but after I graduated, I stopped hiking and didn’t pick it up again until I moved to Australia.
Learning to hike was harder the second time around. I was older and more cautious. I wanted so much to do a multi-day hike and to do it solo, but I had talked myself out of it so many times, I was convinced that I couldn’t. That was until I stayed with an avid outdoors friend, who basically told me to get over it and go do it. He lent me a bunch of gear and drove me into the Australian desert and left me there with a promise to pick me up in 4 days at the other end. I walked, I got blisters and got scared and maybe I sat down and cried. But I got up and walked and camped and met other hikers who also had blisters and had been lost and wanted to sit down and cry. A few days later, my friend picked me up, handed me a cider and laughed at my blisters. I had survived. And I was excited to do more.
Wild camp on the Larapinta trail during my first solo hiking adventure, nobody else around, just me the stars and a rather loud red kangaroo who came by to wake me up in the morning.
What is your most memorable hiking experience to date?
Every trip is memorable, there are moments from each hike that I find myself coming back to, time and time again but it’s the kindness of strangers and the camaraderie of other hikers on the trail which is most memorable. I’ve been offered shelter from the weather, taken into people’s homes or yurts, carried across rivers by donkeys, brought home-cooked food and shared many fires, whiskies and tall tales. Other hikers have taught me lessons simply by allowing me to walk with them some of the way. It hasn’t mattered which country I’ve been in or if I could understand the local languages, it’s the people I remember most. The kindness of new friends and total strangers has made me more generous and giving myself.
The kindness of strangers in Kyrgyzstan – I speak very bare bones Russian yet I was welcomed and very well fed.
Kindness of strangers- yes, I couldn’t agree more on that. It’s a universal fact that people, regardless of where they’re from, are by nature willing to help whenever and however they can.
What do you like the most about hiking?
I like to be alone and self-reliant. I like the feeling of conquering something difficult where I’ve had to overcome my own fears or push my limits. I love those moments when you experience something special and you are the only person there to experience it. It could be a stunning sunrise or a surprise animal encounter but that moment is yours alone.
What are some lessons you’ve learned from hiking?
The outdoors has taught me how small I am in the world. I stand and look at 6000 meter mountain peaks and I’m a mere speck. Yet I know the smallest things can be the biggest motivators. When you think you are too small and insignificant to direct change remember that the tiny Scottish midge can motivate anyone to change their plans! And if you have never had the pleasure of a midge swarm at your beautiful Scottish wild camp you are not missing out.
What advice would you give to those new to hiking?
Take some lessons, there are great resources out there, or start with a group. The success of your hike comes down to preparation and safety: you have to know how to navigate and how to cope with bad weather and injuries. Hiking should be fun but you have to know how to avoid problems and how to cope with the unexpected. Knowing you have those skills means you are free to relax and enjoy the walk.
Vix shares with us her favorite hiking photos.
Facing your fears – This picture just can’t convey the pain of arriving at this spot or how steep this final section actually is. 25kms at over 4000 meters in altitude, one dead horse and the final ascent is a scree bowl. I have nightmares about this kind of terrain, I’m convinced all the rocks will just keep sliding and I’ll be cut to 1000 pieces falling down the mountain. But it has to be done, even if I hate every moment of it.
At least the view from the top was amazing! 80km, 6 days, 5 people, 4 passes between 3500m- 4800m, 3 kg of chanterelle mushrooms, 2 sore knees, 1 trek
Scotland in May! Overcoming this section of my walk across Scotland in 2015 really boosted my confidence. (It helped that only a dozen km away was a pub with an open fire and a large Scottish breakfast!)
River crossing selfie – one of the biggest challenges of hiking solo is getting any good action shots. Kidding. In Scotland, you have to be prepared to ford a river or two, which comes with obvious risks, but makes you feel like an absolute champion when you cross it safely.
What treks do you have on your bucket list?
Greenland, the Arctic Circle trail, 170km. It’s remote, beautiful and I know almost nothing about Greenland so I want to find out more.
You can read more about Greenland here.
The Cape Wrath trail is my nemesis. It’s the trail I most want to experience, it’s almost on my Scottish doorstep and it’s a massive challenge because being remote you need excellent hill skills and to be confident wild camping. Then there is the weather which can destroy the best laid plans on a whim. And if you survive that there are always the dreaded midges.
More information on Cape Wrath can be found here.
What challenges have you faced if anything as a female hiker?
The most annoying thing on a trail is coming across a guy who thinks you shouldn’t be out there on your own. Oddly, these guys are usually on their own and that isn’t a problem, but they see me as a delicate liability. I’ve been told by an Australian ranger that I should turn back now as he doesn’t want to have to come out and rescue me later. I was 5 days into a multi-day trail, I had all the correct gear and nothing other than being female gave him the impression that I would get into trouble. I usually shrug and carry on, there is no point debating, and in the case of the ranger, I reported him at the park exit, the woman behind the desk knew exactly who I was describing. This was not the first time he has tried to send women back.
Ignoring the sexist ranger meant I got to enjoy this view during the only 5 minutes of sunshine on my 3 capes track walk.
Getting your period on a trail is challenging – do we talk about that?
Yes, YES! Please do so.
The ethos of leave no trace includes sanitary products, and that means storing your waste and carrying it out, which let’s be honest, is a bit gross. I’m not a fan of menstrual cups as keeping them clean in the backcountry can be difficult, but others swear by them. If I can’t avoid hiking on my period I carry spare ziplock bags and make sure they are packed careful away from my food, then dispose of them when I reach civilization. But that is only half the problem, you won’t be able to keep the same hygiene standards in remote areas especially if water is scarce. Wet wipes are great, remember to carry out the waste too, it’s a pain having to carry extra weight and but nobody wants an unwelcome yeast infection or UTI.
Even finding a concealed spot on a trail to deal with these and bathroom issues can be difficult if hiking a busy trail or with others. Sometimes you just have to get on with it…. Or buy a she-wee.
Or a Go Girl which I personally took with me on my one year trekking trip. Also, just so you know the ladies from Animosa have developed a solution to address some of the sanitary issues. The hassles of being a woman on the trail are clearly self-evident.
I’d like to move on to the future trek in the horizon for our feature. Vix is set to trek 640 kilometer of the Jordan trail over a period of 30 plus days, which will commence in April of 2017. This trek aims to raise fund for Doctors Without Borders.
Tell us about this upcoming trekking trip you have in mind?
I will be walking the 640km of the Jordan trail. it starts in Um Qais and ends with a dive into the red sea. The trail traverses the length of the country and one of the highlights is hiking into the ancient and world-famous city of Petra. The trail was developed with the support of USAID and only opened in its entirety in 2016. So far, nobody has done the walk solo, (although I’m sure that will change before I get there) and only 2 women have completed the whole trail in one go. I’m going to do the whole trip on my own but I will take rest days especially in Petra so I can do some sightseeing and eat some of the amazing Jordanian foods.
You can learn more about the trail HERE.
What is the itinerary like?
The trail should take me around 33 days to walk end to end and I hope I can do it in less time by using a light and fast approach. But, I don’t want to push myself too hard and fail early so I’ll play it by ear depending on the weather and how many of the sights I want to take in along the way. It could take up to 40 days.
What are the logistics?
When I arrive in Jordan I will have to pick up some last minute items such as stove fuel and then drive to Petra to drop of a resupply box and a number of water containers with a local guesthouse. Then I can drive back and head to the start of the trail in Um Qais.
For the first time, I’ll have to navigate 100% using GPS as there are no detailed maps of the trail have been published yet. I’ll need to carry a backup GPS as well as new batteries. And a compass, just in case.
Tell us about the accommodations along the way?
I plan to mostly wild camp, but also to regularly stay at guesthouse stays so I can shower and get an amazing cooked meal. The Jordan trail website has all the details for guesthouses along the route. I’m going to be carrying my sleeping bag, a bivvy bag, sleeping mat and yes, a pillow. Comfort is important on long walks so I’ll be able to camp when I find a nice spot or carry on to a village guesthouse.
I plan to stay a few nights in Petra, where I will spend my days visiting the Petra site and eating my way through the Jordanian menu!
How do you deal with the food and water?
For the first part of the walk, down to Petra, water and food can be found in numerous small villages which the trail passes through. Although I will still have to carry a lot of water, I expect it to be similar to hiking in the Australian outback where I carried 5L as standard – that really makes your pack feel like a brick after refilling everything! I am looking forward to the Jordanian food, I’ve just found out about Kanafah, a Middle Eastern cheese pastry soaked in sweet, sugar-based syrup, which I am super excited to try. I might actually gain weight while hiking!
For the second part I will need to hire a driver who is familiar with the trail, to fill water containers and drop them into the desert along the trail so I can refill when I walk to the spot. This will give me an additional safety margin in the remote region. During this stage I’ll rely on dehydrated foods and shed the extra weight gained in Petra.
Will you be receiving any help or support from anyone or any organization to accomplish this?
I’m not receiving any formal help but so far, everyone has been very helpful. The folks responsible for the Jordan trail are providing advice and contact details for drivers familiar with the trail and on social media several people have reached out and offered advice and help when I am in Jordan. Again, I’m relying on the kindness of strangers and I will welcome all the support I can get!
How did you come up with this idea of a trek/project?
I love to travel. I travel for work more than I stay home, but I needed a personal challenge and wanted to take on a new hike. At the same time I didn’t know where to go. Being a geek I set criteria, the hike had to be over 500km in length and in a country, I had never visited. When I thought about Jordan, I knew I’d found my next destination. The trail is new, but well-documented on their webpage, and not yet crowded with thousands of reviews of every step along the way. There’s still a lot to discover. Also the thought of walking into Petra, really grabbed my imagination.
What inspired you to do this?
I woke up and realized that if I want to see change, I have to act as if I can effect change – hence “be the change you want to see”. I hope I can reach out to others who want change, who want to help, but don’t know how. I’ll walk the walk so they don’t have to!
What is the purpose?
I want to “be the change I want to see.” To me, that means doing something more than clickbait social activism. I want to walk the walk and not talk the talk. I can’t just sit and watch as the world builds walls and demonizes groups of people. I can’t solve those issues myself but I can do more than repost angry tweets by raising money for a cause I believe in so people with the right skills can reach and help more people.
Why are you doing this SOLO as opposed to group?
I’m doing this solo because I prefer to walk alone, although I’m not sure I could persuade any of my friends to come along if I asked them. They all support me, but mostly they think I’m a little crazy.
Have you hiked solo before?
I usually hike solo as a preference, I’ve walked across Scotland and several Australian trails. I love setting up for a wild camp and being the only person around, where possible I use a bivvy so really can sleep under the stars.
How would you measure the success of this project?
Initially, I thought I would aim to raise £640 just £1 per KM of then trail, but my mum hearing my plans, offered to donate £500, basically my wedding fund, to the project. At first I thought she was offering to donate it if I didn’t do the walk! But happily it turned out she is really 100% behind me. Then my friends and family chipped in more and I broke the initial £640 in a few days. So now I am aiming to raise £10 per Km I have to walk, a total of £6400.
What do you hope to accomplish on a more personal level?
Other than raising funds, I want to have fun, I want to enjoy Jordan and meet people along the way. I want to do the walk safely and dive into the Red Sea at the end of the trip. I want to walk every step of the way, so no cheating and hitching when the trail follows a road! Safety first, then fun will come and completion is a bonus.
What do you anticipate to be the challenges?
The biggest challenge for me is being active and engaged on social media and contacting people to support my cause. I’m a science nerdy lab rat, not a social butterfly, so I don’t have a huge media following, I’m not famous and I’m not setting out to climb Everest or Kilimanjaro which everyone has heard of. But I have set a huge goal which I won’t reach with donations from friends and family alone so I have to be bold, loud and proactive. And that is scary. But I’m putting myself out there anyway and I’m already surprised by the generosity and kindness of strangers.
It’s great news indeed to know how supportive folks are for this kind of project. Given that there are tons of options for organizations to choose from in terms of fundraising, I wonder how she decided to support Doctors Without Borders (or Medicines Sans Frontiers). Her response echoes my own sentiment about the current struggles around the world and the feeling of helplessness and search for empowerment as individuals.
I didn’t decide to raise money for Medicines Sans Frontiers/Doctors without Borders until after I knew I wanted to hike the Jordan trail. I was frustrated at the world and feeling powerless in the face of Brexit, the American elections, the war in Syria, the escalating humanitarian crisis in Burundi and so many other terrible situations. I can’t personally change these things, But I can donate to an organization that helps people around the globe and that shares my values. I’ve worked with MSF three times and seen firsthand that almost all money donated to MSF goes directly to saving lives, instead of big salaries or fundraising appeals. They won a Nobel Peace Prize for their work but they still need more support to help more people. Because of their neutral and independent stance, they do not accept money from governments, and instead they rely on the public. As some governments build walls and fences and cut aid spending, MSF will become more and more vital to those in need.
You can read more about the reasons why Vix is supporting Doctors Without Borders via this ARTICLE.
Curious and wish to track Vix’s project before the trek? She’s put in some serious time to create this outline below.
Vix is raising the funds through JUST GIVING.
She’s also hoping to raise some funds from personal collections after the trek by giving a couple of talks which have yet to be arranged. All funds raised will go directly to Doctors Without Borders or MSF. Not one penny will be spent by Vix to fund her trip. She also intends to add to the donation funds any gratuities she receives during the trek via free food, accommodation and other expenses as saved cost.
How can individuals support you on this project?
You can support by sponsoring me per KM for just £10. In return you can request something from me on the trek. For example, I can dedicate KM 100 in your name as posted on my social media, or you can ask for a specific picture at a certain place, or challenge me to do 20 push-ups on film when I reach your KM. You can be creative, as long as it’s respectful.
To support Vix’s project, you can either help her through spreading the word about her project or via donation HERE. It’s a secure website and donations from UK have a bonus 25% gift aid tax relief that allows UK charities to reclaim an extra 25% in tax on every eligible donation made by a UK taxpayer.
Vix’s aspirations are truly inspiring. I wish her the best, and the most life enriching adventure yet as I look forward to interviewing her again after her off the beaten path trekking experience! Until then…hit those trails, enjoy the journey to the fullest and leave nothing behind except a positive impact on the world.
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