Robin Drysdale - left in 1999
On leaving school, I took a gap year with the aim of completing a Raleigh International expedition in Costa Rica and Nicaragua. The expedition involved building a school dining room, laying a path up a mountain at 10,000 feet and a tour of the best volcanoes and cultural highlights of Nicaragua. As part of our training we had to learn about living in the rainforest as part of our training. Going to bed on the first night in my bed made of an A-frame with a hammock slung between it, I was struck by how quickly the darkness fell, and then by the noise that followed it. The rainforest chorus started up as soon as it turned dark, millions and millions of insects, birds, monkeys and other nocturnal animals started calling each other. Lying in a hammock with a tarpaulin and mosquito net stretched over the top, with the noisy lullaby I felt exhilarated at being out of my comfort zone in a new environment and having created my own comfort in what is a fairly inhospitable environment.
After university I spent three winters in ski resorts across Europe. The Alps is one of my favourite places; the sky is much bluer than in the UK, the sun much brighter, the air crisper and the views sharper. Skiing is one of my true passions and it was a dream to be able to help others to enjoy the environment as much as I did. I would spend my days off trying to find peace in busy ski resorts, searching for the untouched corner of the mountain and the fresh snow it held, be it on skis or hiking in snow shoes. However, I need not have searched so hard to be impressed by the alpine environment. Walking through the village one day I heard the sound of a train going through the station, not something I had noticed before. Before I could remember that there was no train line in the village, a white cloud burst over the cliffs a few hundred metres from the village, across the lake. The village was engulfed in a cloud of snow dust as the ferocity of the avalanche landed safely in the lake.
I joined the Army late in life. As my mother would say, I had had a few gap years by then, and I had also spent two years working in an office in Manchester as a recruitment consultant. That time had allowed me to join the Army Reserve and I had started to follow my dream of commissioning as an Officer. Eventually I decided to make my hobby my career, and at the age of 27 I attended the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, commissioning into the Royal Signals. I have had amazing experiences with incredible people from Afghanistan to Norway. On a night patrol during an exercise in Kenya, our team stopped to check our map. As we knelt behind a bush, we were met with a very low growl – not enough to illicit panic, but just enough to warn us that we were on the lion’s patch and not to get any closer. The outstanding memory of the exercise however was the dawn helicopter ride I had across the grasslands on the final day. Unfolding below me was a scene from the Lion King, as all of the animals were making their way to the lake.
That’s not to say that adventures closer to home cannot be just as exciting. Whether it is the fascination of a new lamb being born, and the instinct of the new mother ewe, dolphins off the coast at Cocklawburn, or swans on the Tweed, the Borders holds its own richesse of nature. I have spent many weekends exploring the wild parts of the UK, hiking uphill sides to see deer grazing as we stumble over the crest, or being surrounded by seals in a sea loch we were kayaking through, whilst above a golden eagle circles. So if all of that is on the doorstep, why did I feel the need to row an ocean?
I wouldn’t say the natural world is my motivation for the adventures I have had, it provides a fantastic backdrop for the experience. It is more about the joy of simply being in space, fending for oneself, dealing with discomfort and the satisfaction of tackling the problems that crop up. As an ocean rowing crew in the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, we were taking on the ocean as an entirely self-supporting boat. We made our water, we carried our food, we rowed and we rested on our 30 foot vessel “Auriga”. If anything broke we had to fix it, if anyone was hurt we had to deal with it. We faced 3,000 miles of ocean, waves the size of houses and 45 days of freeze dried food. The scale was well beyond anything any of us had ever tried.
I was diagnosed with Bowel Cancer in August 2016. The circumstances that led me to the one in a million diagnosis meant that I was operated on and recovering at home before I would have been diagnosed in the normal timelines. Bowel Cancer is a disease that is easily operable on as long as it is diagnosed in time, which just shows how awful it really is that it is the second most deadly cancer in the UK. I emerged from the diagnosis determined that cancer was not going to be a negative experience for me, I took courage from the stories of friends of friends and the tales of what they had managed after their treatment, I felt very lucky to have caught the disease early on, so I felt a desire to have a positive influence – giving hope to future cancer patients and raising money for charity – and also to have an adventure I had always dreamt of, which is how I came to be on a tiny boat, rowing alongside a whale in the middle of the Atlantic.
To date we have raised £70,000 for charity, and we have inspired countless people to do a bit more with their lives, either by raising money for charity or taking on a challenge. To donate please click on the link: Men of Oar
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