Out of My Comfort Zone in Taiwan

Weekend Explorer with Randi Skaug: Norway’s first woman to climb Everest 

https://www.explorersconnect.com/inspirestories/2020/6/weekendexplorerwitthrandiskaug

There’s No Doors in the Rainforest

‘I didn’t realise the dead ones were this far down’. Everest is an emotional journey, as well as a physical one and I can see those feelings rise to the surface of Randi Skaug’s face, as she takes a sip of wine, still wearing her arctic base layers from our earlier hike. 

 

Randi’s positive attitude and huge smile, almost certainly plays a large part in her strength and success as a modern-day explorer. At 44, she quit her desk job and changed her life forever, not only is she the first Norwegian woman to scale Everest, but the highest peaks across seven continents.

 

With 70 countries under her travel belt, her thirst for adventure has seen her ski across frozen tundras and paddle icy waters. Randi Skaug’s ‘can do’ mindset is infectious and I feel deeply privileged to be have been invited to her arctic island.

 

Just a week ago, I had never met Randi let alone share her base layers, I was a stranger, but I’m not sure Randi ever saw me that way or least that is the way she made me feel. 

 

In 2015 Randi brought Naustholmen, an island located in Norway’s arctic circle just off the Vestfjord, near the Lofoten Islands, and over the next 4 days she was going to share this remote destination and her unique experiences with me.

 

But before I can step foot on the island, I have to battle the arctic weather. I travelled 15 hours from London, which included an ice road trucker style journey to the dock of Nordskot. It might be 11pm, but Randi’s radiating energy pushes us out into the dark Norwegian sea.

 

My headtorch, which had nearly blinded me on testing, barely bit though the sleet and rain. The Northern Lights danced above us, but the icy waters demanded our full attention. Danger is all around. We wave our headtorches around desperately hoping to catch sight of the reflective markers that would lead us to safety. Instantly we are a team. 

 

If we drift too close to the rocks it could be disastrous, we wouldn’t survive long in these freezing temperatures. Finally, my hand touches the dock and I cling on tight, while the waves fight to capsize us. Randi somehow manages to secure the boat. The only dry patch on my body is under my life jacket, but we are on land and the adrenaline along with the company dissipates any thought of danger. 

 

That’s the magical thing about explorers; their experience with the wilderness makes us feel safe, despite the possible danger. They let us believe that anything is possible. Dreams can become plans and you CAN conquer your own personal Everest. They have long left behind the shackles of your 9 to 5, knowing that they can climb higher than any cooperate ladder.

 

Away from the arctic elements we sip wine, as if it is any other Friday night. Randi takes us back to Everest. ‘Light as a feather’. Just three steps felt like a hike in itself and with leaking oxygen tanks, Randi was at breaking point, but something inside pushed her onto the summit. I wondered if this island would find my weakness?

 

A voice quickly interrupts my thoughts. ‘We can’t miss this opportunity to sleep outside’. Just to remind you, this is the arctic and it is winter. I’m not prepared, but something drives me to embrace the challenge and before I can think about it too hard Randi is giving me her base layers, sleeping bag and balaclava. ‘You’ll need this one’. I want to keep my leggings on under the base layers, but I’m told I’ll be too hot and to take them off. As the novice, I obey and hope that I’m not snapping off toes in the morning.

 

Its darker than night, more like the jet black of your I-phone when it runs out of battery. It’s silent and I can hear myself breathing. There’s no reason for us to be sleeping outside, other than…we CAN. We can share tonight with nature side by side, without harm, with a feeling of excitement and the moment we dared to live outside the box. 

 

The morning brought some confusion, as I excitedly announced that I too had hiked Denali, after last night I feel I have earnt my stripes. Quickly came the note comparing and very soon I realised that when surrounded by real explorers, they will always assume you have done the most extreme…not just walk around the National Park. 

 

The snow quietly clung together under the weight of our boots. Randi strides ahead at commuter pace, but my clumsy footing keeps me at tourist speed. I enjoy the contrasting colours of winter on the beach, while Randi considers adding an arctic dip to today’s schedule. Kindness, however is always in the itinerary at Naustholmen.

 

Randi’s impressive exploits have led to a wealth of life shaping experiences, something I cannot help feel a little bit envious of. She has dared to turn her plans into actions and reaped the rewards. Now she wants everyone to feel, what she describes as kongefølelsen. Being king of your emotions and feeling like you’re on top of the world. 

 

Randi offers a slice of her wilderness adventures to enthusiasts like myself, because she wants to inspire and help others. ‘When people come together there is an energy that begins to emerge, which it makes us all feel good’. Although, all power sources need a host and Randi could fuel the Northern Lights.

 

The sky is so clear, I expect to see a smudge left by my cast. My fingers have frosted over; my gloves are perfect for the British country side, just not arctic sea fishing. The closet shop is a boat ride away (when the weather permits) so we’re hoping to pull up tonight’s dinner. My city roots seep to the surface, patience is not something I practice often. I have visions of battling a large cod and I begin to panic; have I over sold my expertise?

 

To my relief dinner will come from a previous catch, as Randi pulls me off on a hike around her island. It’s a wilderness paradise, I can understand why she feels so free here. I’ve only been here a couple of days and I am already reassessing my life values. Randi is a great adventurer, but now she is looking to create a new experience…one that she can share.

 

Over 15 years Randi has broken records, become the world’s first and conquered more than most of us will in a lifetime and if that isn’t inspiring enough, she brought an island so that she can share it with you. Plans for the island are continually developing, bringing the surrounding community closer and creating a small utopia.  

 

Even the night brings another opportunity to be an explorer. Our headtorches lacing their way the through the trees; the path is the one our boots are making. The falling snow makes it hard to see the stone stairs that were placed here during the Second World War, my lungs are working hard and I remember Randi’s words, ‘light as a feather’. 

 

The climb teases a magnificent view, but the darkness keeps the landscape hidden from human eyes. But this hike was not about the backdrop, but the night sky and the feeling of owning your own destiny. It’s a sneak peek into an explorer’s life and a chance for me to climb my own Everest.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
 

Randi Skaug - The First Norwegian Woman to Climb Everest

 Naustholmen

Fog had fallen like an avalanche and our GPS system was failing. It’s easy to get in trouble when you’re so remote and at the mercy of Mother Nature. Rain hammered down restricting our vision and rendering our head torches useless, with no visual we could bank the boat. None of us would last long in these freezing waters, you didn’t need to be an expert to know that. 

Our tiny vessel is beginning to let in a small amount of fear, but Randi’s voice turns it into adrenaline. Explorers can do that, they have the ability to make you feel safe. This select group of extraordinary people conquer some of the toughest terrains in the world and live to tell their stories…laughing about it over a beer. You believe in them, but more importantly you trust them.

I had never been to Norway, but now I was heading towards the Lofoten islands. This was not my normal life and it was not the first time today that danger had crossed my path. 

From an early age my mother had always encouraged me to be confident, ‘just walk up to people and tell them your name and the rest will come’. This simple gesture has served me well in life, but now I was going to try it virtually. A week ago, I skyped a stranger and told her my name. Randi Skaug is the first Norwegian woman to reach Everest’s summit and she’s living a new life in the wild on her very own private Island…in the Arctic Circle. 

This is why I had travelled 15 arduous hours, to experience off grid travel and get a taste of life as an explorer. Lesson one: real adventurers sleep outside, even in winter in the arctic circle. I just hope my excitement covered the shock and fear of freezing to death. The urge to sleep with all my clothes on and possibly even my backpack is overwhelming, I am not prepared.

“You’ll take my base layers, oh and you’ll need this one’. Randi handed me a balaclava, similar to the one she wore on Everest. We laid cocooned in our shells…silent, watching the dance of the Northern Lights, I realise what a unique gift Randi has given me. I wonder how I will sleep, but the sun is already waking me.

At 44 Randi decided to change her life journey, she ditched the day job and set her sights on Everest. Since that moment she has taken every challenge to the extreme to become one of the world’s most versatile explorers. While most who turn 40 will be piling money into a pension or battling the corporate ladder; Randi chose adventure.

The morning begins with a hike. Randi bounces forward like a springer spaniel, whilst my cautious steps expose my inexperience of climbing in these conditions, but before I can dwell on my short comings a tap on the shoulder turns me around. I stop focusing on my feet and look up. I’m left speechless by nature’s beauty, I was on top of the world. Today I had chosen adventure.

Toasting marshmallows back on Randi’s snowy beach, staring out on an explorer’s paradise of ice capped mountains and uncharted ventures, I start to understand why Randi is here. Her journey back to the basics has already fuelled me to put my stagnated plans into action, be mindful, kind to others and where you can, inspire.

Explorers like Randi are captivating, because we can share their journey with little sanction on our own lives. They inspire us because they show us what is possible…and they give us hope.  

The next day I wake with a renewed energy and as we cast our lines out to sea, Randi’s huge smile fills my frosty fingers with excitement, she tells me this is kongefølelsen, which means to be a king of your emotions. I hope I remember to keep this feeling close to me when I return home, so that I can share it with my son.

As night falls there is one more treat in store. The sky holds back the sleet and beckons us forward with open arms. Our boots leave dents in the self-made path; when you own an island, nothing is off limits. This time it’s not about the view, but a chance to live life through the eyes of Norway’s most adventurous womanand an opportunity for me to climb my own Everest.

By the time I come to leave Naustholmen my body is aching, but my mind is overflowing. If you have a dream, make it a plan and put it into action. The journey starts the moment you decide ‘you can do it’.

 Me with Randi Skaug at Naustholmen

‘I didn’t realise the dead ones were this far down’. Everest is an emotional journey, as well as a physical one and I can see those feelings rise to the surface of Randi Skaug’s face, as she takes a sip of wine, still wearing her arctic base layers from our earlier hike. 

 

Randi’s positive attitude and huge smile, almost certainly plays a large part in her strength and success as a modern-day explorer. At 44, she quit her desk job and changed her life forever, not only is she the first Norwegian woman to scale Everest, but the highest peaks across seven continents.

 

With 70 countries under her travel belt, her thirst for adventure has seen her ski across frozen tundras and paddle icy waters. Randi Skaug’s ‘can do’ mindset is infectious and I feel deeply privileged to be have been invited to her arctic island.

 

Just a week ago, I had never met Randi let alone share her base layers, I was a stranger, but I’m not sure Randi ever saw me that way or least that is the way she made me feel. 

 

In 2015 Randi brought Naustholmen, an island located in Norway’s arctic circle just off the Vestfjord, near the Lofoten Islands, and over the next 4 days she was going to share this remote destination and her unique experiences with me.

 

But before I can step foot on the island, I have to battle the arctic weather. I travelled 15 hours from London, which included an ice road trucker style journey to the dock of Nordskot. It might be 11pm, but Randi’s radiating energy pushes us out into the dark Norwegian sea.

 

My headtorch, which had nearly blinded me on testing, barely bit though the sleet and rain. The Northern Lights danced above us, but the icy waters demanded our full attention. Danger is all around. We wave our headtorches around desperately hoping to catch sight of the reflective markers that would lead us to safety. Instantly we are a team. 

 

If we drift too close to the rocks it could be disastrous, we wouldn’t survive long in these freezing temperatures. Finally, my hand touches the dock and I cling on tight, while the waves fight to capsize us. Randi somehow manages to secure the boat. The only dry patch on my body is under my life jacket, but we are on land and the adrenaline along with the company dissipates any thought of danger. 

 

That’s the magical thing about explorers; their experience with the wilderness makes us feel safe, despite the possible danger. They let us believe that anything is possible. Dreams can become plans and you CAN conquer your own personal Everest. They have long left behind the shackles of your 9 to 5, knowing that they can climb higher than any cooperate ladder.

 

Away from the arctic elements we sip wine, as if it is any other Friday night. Randi takes us back to Everest. ‘Light as a feather’. Just three steps felt like a hike in itself and with leaking oxygen tanks, Randi was at breaking point, but something inside pushed her onto the summit. I wondered if this island would find my weakness?

 

A voice quickly interrupts my thoughts. ‘We can’t miss this opportunity to sleep outside’. Just to remind you, this is the arctic and it is winter. I’m not prepared, but something drives me to embrace the challenge and before I can think about it too hard Randi is giving me her base layers, sleeping bag and balaclava. ‘You’ll need this one’. I want to keep my leggings on under the base layers, but I’m told I’ll be too hot and to take them off. As the novice, I obey and hope that I’m not snapping off toes in the morning.

 

Its darker than night, more like the jet black of your I-phone when it runs out of battery. It’s silent and I can hear myself breathing. There’s no reason for us to be sleeping outside, other than…we CAN. We can share tonight with nature side by side, without harm, with a feeling of excitement and the moment we dared to live outside the box. 

 

The morning brought some confusion, as I excitedly announced that I too had hiked Denali, after last night I feel I have earnt my stripes. Quickly came the note comparing and very soon I realised that when surrounded by real explorers, they will always assume you have done the most extreme…not just walk around the National Park. 

 

The snow quietly clung together under the weight of our boots. Randi strides ahead at commuter pace, but my clumsy footing keeps me at tourist speed. I enjoy the contrasting colours of winter on the beach, while Randi considers adding an arctic dip to today’s schedule. Kindness, however is always in the itinerary at Naustholmen.

 

Randi’s impressive exploits have led to a wealth of life shaping experiences, something I cannot help feel a little bit envious of. She has dared to turn her plans into actions and reaped the rewards. Now she wants everyone to feel, what she describes as kongefølelsen. Being king of your emotions and feeling like you’re on top of the world. 

 

Randi offers a slice of her wilderness adventures to enthusiasts like myself, because she wants to inspire and help others. ‘When people come together there is an energy that begins to emerge, which makes us all feel good’. Although, all power sources need a host and Randi could fuel the Northern Lights.

 

The sky is so clear, I expect to see a smudge left by my cast. My fingers have frosted over; my gloves are perfect for the British country side, just not arctic sea fishing. The closet shop is a boat ride away (when the weather permits) so we’re hoping to pull up tonight’s dinner. My city roots seep to the surface, patience is not something I practice often. I have visions of battling a large cod and I begin to panic; have I over sold my expertise?

 

To my relief dinner will come from a previous catch, as Randi pulls me off on a hike around her island. It’s a wilderness paradise, I can understand why she feels so free here. I’ve only been here a couple of days and I am already reassessing my life values. Randi is a great adventurer, but now she is looking to create a new experience…one that she can share.

 

Over 15 years Randi has broken records, become the world’s first and conquered more than most of us will in a lifetime and if that isn’t inspiring enough, she brought an island so that she can share it with you. Plans for the island are continually developing, bringing the surrounding community closer and creating a small utopia.  

 

Even the night brings another opportunity to be an explorer. Our headtorches lacing their way the through the trees; the path is the one our boots are making. The falling snow makes it hard to see the stone stairs that were placed here during the Second World War, my lungs are working hard and I remember Randi’s words, ‘light as a feather’. 

 

The climb teases a magnificent view, but the darkness keeps the landscape hidden from human eyes. But this hike was not about the backdrop, but the night sky and the feeling of owning your own destiny. It’s a sneak peek into an explorer’s life and a chance for me to climb my own Everest. 

Out of My Comfort Zone in Taiwan

I had just come from the kind of place where you do not look under the sink and sleep on top of the bedcovers, and now three men were screaming into our head lights; even if this wasn’t the end of the road it looked like the car was going no further. I can hear the low growl of a dog and as the passenger door is flung open, just a thin strap of leather keeps the snarling beast from puncturing my skin. This is Taiwan and I am out of my comfort zone. 

                 

I’m beckoned out of the car with several frantic hand gestures; it’s 9pm and light pollution is just a myth here. My backpack is already making its way down a narrow stone wall and despite the height, I am encouraged to follow it - plus it contains my passport!

 

The eager canine nearly chokes as it is yanked back, allowing me to exit the vehicle. It is only when my balancing skills are put to the test on the crumbling 6-foot wall I understand what is going on; the road is being re-cemented. I do not question why it’s being laid in the dark and besides, I’m still not sure if I’m being helped or kidnapped. 

 

I’m told to wait on the side of the road - or at least that is what I think I am being told. Behind me is wet cement and the desperate howls of the dog that has been denied its first bite of the night and in front… is darkness. How long do I wait? 

 

My trip had started in the more populated Taipei. Much like Hong Kong its neon lights decorate the streets, but Taipei is different. The new might tower over the old, but tradition (and of course price) keeps the street vendors busy and the franchises begging for your custom. My first Taiwanese encounter was a taxi driver who would not let me into his cab, instead walking me across the street to my hotel. It’s rare anyone will rip you off in Taiwan. 

 

Two days ago, I had drunk from the eternal springs at the iconic Taroko Gorge, now I’m wondering if veering off the tourist route was a bad idea. This trip was about experiencing the real Taiwan, but am I really up for it? 

 

The ground begins to vibrate and I leap to my feet in Olympic record time. Taiwan has thousands of earthquakes a year, but I’m in no hurry to experience one first hand. Luckily this earthquake is a battered pickup truck with no lights; I haven’t been abandoned after all. 

 

Wang has to be in his early seventies, but his constant smile and abrupt movements make him appear younger. Communication is limited to a few basic hand gestures, but I think this is my ride; either way I can’t stay sitting on the side of the road all night, I just hope I end up at my home stay.

 

The ride is bumpy, but that’s a minor issue compared to the lack of light. Just before I climbed into the passenger seat Wang had thrust an old torch into my hand. I now understand its importance; this torch is to be our headlights! I glance at the speedometer… 20mph, it feels like 100mph! Together with the dust from the road and the tight bends, surely, it’s just a matter of time before we end up slipping into the rice field.

 

To my surprise, we arrive in one piece and I am greeted by more snarling dogs! The light inside the home stay is dim and I can’t help but wonder what sins this darkness hides. I am exhausted, but mostly relieved…maybe I am a Gonzo Traveller after all. 

 

Morning arrives, burning my eye lids open, but my arrival at the breakfast table brings some welcome company to the home stay’s only other guest, a Norwegian Postman. It feels strange eating beef rolls (Jiang Rou Da Bing) and soup at 6am, but I know I’ll need the energy later.

 

Somehow for the last 10 years the Norwegian postal system (and his wife) has let Mr Postie travel every year, for 6 months at a time. I feel instantly jealous. He too is heading up the Walami Trail, but has a permit and plans to hike to an overnight cabin. I now feel like a package tourist. My plan was to hike just 6km so that I can make it to Kenting tomorrow, but now I’m wondering - what happens if I camp without a permit?

 

We enter the Yushan National Park and its subtropical jungle. I’ve previously heard that there are white-throated bears roaming these parts, but a local tells me they’ve mostly been hunted to extinction…still, I’m regretting this morning’s pineapple shower gel!

 

Taiwan was under Japanese rulebetween the years of 1895 and 1945, so if this trail could talk it would have one hell of a story to tell. Mr Postie starts to tell me that the creation of this trail was all a part of the ‘pacifying the natives system’, but I’m distracted by a sudden movement amongst the trees.

 

I’m no stranger to wildlife wanting a piece of me, but this does not mean I instantly embrace these episodes or become Bear Grylls. I cannot see what kind of battle is happening amongst the dense forest - just that it is coming towards us. And then it happened; a flash of red, I am no longer breathing…we are not the only creatures on this trail.

 

I start to make out a small face and then a tail, the sense of danger slowly dissipates, as a troop of Formosan rock monkeys keep their eyes fixed on us. We continue along the changing terrain, waterfalls, suspension bridges and overhanging branches that create their own tunnels - this place certainly keeps you on your toes. 

 

I say goodbye to Mr Postie; I don’t fancy risking the night in prison and decide to stick to my day permit – besides, who knows what I what adventure awaits me tomorrow!

Copyright © 2020 by Trish Conti.
All rights reserved.