I’m going to put it out there … I was a sceptic. Geraldine is my hometown (OK, village) and if you’ve followed my adventures, Mt Peel is without a doubt my favourite adventure playground in this big wide wonderful world. So, when I missed out on getting into Spring Challenge South, I was gutted. I really was. I felt like I had been cheated out of competing on my back doorstep, not to mention the free accommodation at Mum and Dads!! But there is always a silver lining, and we were fortunate to be given the opportunity to head north for the ‘urban’ Spring Challenge based in Manukau.

Standing in the hot showers straight after the event (one of the many advantages of the day), I ate my humble pie and admitted that not getting into Spring Challenge South was a blessing, because Spring Challenge North was bloody awesome! It was a day full of surprises, new activities, stunning locations and a great bunch of people. And of course, plenty of fresh bruises.

First things first, heading north meant taking my mountain bike on the plane. And with no male in sight (or answering their phones) I opened YouTube and step-by-step I packed my bike in my borrowed Evoc Bag. Once done I almost did a wee jig, feeling extremely smug with myself for now having completed the task at hand. I then realised I had taken the wrong part of the handlebars off! Oh well, I decided to leave it and deal with it later.

spring-challenge_1Meeting Jess at Christchurch Airport early on Friday morning we flew north to Auckland (silently crossing my fingers that my bike would arrive in one piece) where we met up with Jacqs who had come from Hawea. All kitted out in our super-smart Lululemon gear; we were ready to go. A USave Cargo Van would be our wheels for the next few days, which turned out to be the perfect mode of transport. Bikes and bags were loaded in the back, and with Google Maps at the ready, these three country bumpkins were ready for their first ‘urban’ adventure race.

We arrived at Janny’s (my aunt) house where we were staying having done a supermarket shop on the way. Our first task at hand – assemble our bikes. We figured we needed to give ourselves as much time as possible to fix anything that could have gone wrong! As it turned out, we needn’t have worried as in no time three bikes were put back together in what we could see as perfectly working order. The real proof of our skills would unfold the following day.

The second (and far more exciting) task was to try on our brand-new cycling kit, specially designed by the team at Champion Systems. I think Janny was just excited about it as we were! ‘All the gear, no idea’ did cross my mind, however. I did my best to look like the two supermodels beside me! “Your legs are the biggest”, Janny said, directed at me. Gotta love family honesty. And no, I didn’t take offence to this. a) I’m used to it; b) She was just speaking the truth, and c) She has the same affliction!

It wasn’t long, and we were back in the mighty USave and heading for registration and briefing at the Vodafone Centre. Located right beside the Vector Wero Whitewater Park this was also the start of the race the following day. Expecting to receive our maps we were a bit taken back when we were told we would only get our maps at the start of each stage – crikey, this was going to test our orienteering skills! But looking at the dummy maps they had there, it would be more a test of route choice than using the compass. Phew.

With a 5am start, we were on the road at 5.43am, two minutes ahead of schedule! We were in the first wave of the day starting at 7am, so had to get there with enough time to rack our bikes, get organised and get our rafting gear. It turned out this was a good thing, as Jacqs bike had managed to get a flatty overnight. Kitted out with lifejackets and helmets it was time to head to the start line, but not before a few body slams to get the blood pumping.

Stage 1: 150m Swim and 4 laps of the Water Park (2 x Grade 2, 2 x Grade 3) 3km

‘Bang’ – the horn blasted, and we were off, jumping into the flat section of the water park and heading for the end where the boats were lined up. Having not swum since Brecca in March, it took me a few seconds to get into the swing of it. But a few kicks to the face were all that was needed to kick it up a gear and head for the front. We managed to be the first team out of the water and into the boat and teamed up with some great young girls from Auckland. The same couldn’t be said about our guide, however, who immediately took us the wrong way!! We went straight up the conveyor belt (which popped us out at the start of the runs) instead of going around the buoy. But don’t worry, we got it the next time around! The Grade 3 runs were good fun, and we managed to stay upright the whole time, with plenty of water pumping down to keep us on our toes. A couple of boats weren’t so lucky, however, with a few bodies spotted floating down the river.

Once out of the water we boosted back to our bikes, grabbed our gear and headed for TA2 which was in the Botanic Gardens, about a 10-minute bike away. As we were heading along a path beside the motorway, this section wasn’t timed (safety reasons), and the clock would only start again once we crossed the mat to begin the next stage. Unfortunately, the concrete path was still slightly dewy, and Jess took a slide on a corner, ending up with a few nice grazes to start the day!

Stage 2: Orienteering on Foot, Botanic Gardens – 4km

We grabbed our maps, made a quick route plan and were off and running. The first marker we came to was not what we thought it would be, and we quickly realised these maps weren’t like what we were used to! Normally 1cm = 1km – but these maps were more like 100 metres! Backtracking we picked up the lost checkpoints and were on a roll. When we planned the route we (Jacqs and I were on map reading, Jess was on collecting the markers) didn’t write down the order in which we wanted to collect them; instead, we just made a line with our highlighter. We were three-quarters of our way through the course when we realised we had missed a checkpoint, so had to backtrack once again! I can honestly say this was our only major mix up of the day, a good lesson to learn early.

Stage 3: Orienteering on Bike, Totara Park – 15km

The bike stage needed more planning, as on some tracks we could only go a certain way and had to collect checkpoints in a specific order. This meant more time was taken at the beginning to make sure we had planned a route we were happy with, even with teams passing us. But that extra time we spent was well worth it, managing to have a great bike section. There was the odd steep hill to get the heart pumping, but most of it was rideable. A mixture of single track, 4wd track and shortcuts across the paddocks kept it interesting. Near the end, we did a check of our checkpoint sheet and discovered we hadn’t even seen #2 on the map at all! As it turned out, we could quickly collect it on our way home, but I suspect this caught a few teams out.

Stage 4: Orienteering on Foot, Botanic Gardens and Totara Park – 5km

Switching bike shoes for sneakers, we were once again off running. We had a better understanding of this map having done both areas already on foot and bike, but still managed to discover different sections. We ran through beautiful forested areas as well as open farmland, working well as a team. The weather had cleared, and it was now a blue-bird Auckland day. The pace was a lot faster than we were used to, all commenting that it has been a while since we had run so much on the flat(sh). This urban racing was turning out to be lots of fun! Heading back to TA2 we quickly grabbed our gear and crossed the timing chip to stop the clock. No point in sorting out our gear with time running on the clock!

Back on our bikes, we retraced our path back to the Whitewater Park for the next stage of the day. Loading our gear and bikes in the back, we jumped back in USave and headed East, passed Clevedon to Duder Regional Park. Stuck in traffic getting out we couldn’t help but laugh; this was a new experience! With the clock no longer ticking we pulled into the Z Station for some refreshments and to change clothes before making the last 10-minute section of the journey to the start of the next stage.

Stage 5: Orienteering on Foot, Duder Regional Park – 8km

Having looked on Google Maps the night before, I knew we would be in for a treat out here, and we weren’t disappointed. It was beautiful. The course took us to all four corners of the park, as well as the ridgelines along the top and the views were stunning. It was super warm by now, and the calm water lapping the beaches was very inviting! I was envious of the people we passed who were out there enjoying the day, not racing against a clock.

We managed to find each marker, with only one taking us longer than expected on the journey home. Standing there discussing what we were going to do as we couldn’t find it, Jacqs saw it out of the corner of her eye. It was right there in front of us! The relief of seeing a marker is always sweet, even more so when you have spent what seems like too long looking for it!

Stage 6: Orienteering on Bike, Waitawa Regional Park – 15km

While we weren’t timed on the driving sections, our goal of the day was to make it back in time to partake in the ‘special’ section – the waterfall. Until the day before I didn’t even know it existed! This meant there was no mucking around to get to the final mountain-bike stage of that day, a 20-minute drive from Duder Regional Park. It was a quick turnaround once we arrived getting the bikes sorted and cycling kit back on, before heading out on the course. Much like the others, we had sorted our route, hoping it would take us about an hour and a half to complete. We rode our way around the course in a clockwise direction, with a few back-tracks to pick up checkpoints in the middle.

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Highlight (or lowlight from Jess’s point of view) of this stage would have to be watching Jess do an unintentional dismount into a massive puddle of mud. Jacqs and I were following and quickly slammed on the brakes as we came down the hill behind her. Add this to her earlier dismount, and I think we can safely say she got MVP of the day on the bike!

We picked up the last checkpoint and found some new energy as we headed for home. We could sense the finish line, and the idea of getting back in the water was very appealing!

Stage 7: Orienteering on Foot + Special Test – 500m

Even though travelling may sound like a break, it’s a bit of a killer. We were all yawning as we drove the last section back into Manukau, our bodies feeling weary from the day. The mighty USave pulled into the carpark for the final time, quickly jumping out in search of the Spring Challenge crew. They gave us a page with a mini orienteering route to complete from around Transition 1, which we managed to find quite quickly. There was a huge sense of relief and excitement as we pulled on our life jackets and helmets for the final adventure of the day – the waterfall!!

Jumping in the boat with our guide, we headed up the conveyor belt while listening to his instructions. “Don’t let go of the paddle. Heads forward. Knees in the boat.” I hadn’t thought it through at all, so when Jacqs asked if we went under and our guide confirmed we would, I suddenly felt quite nervous! But no time for that, the water was flowing one way only, and that was off the edge!

I’ll let the photos and video tell the story, but it was a boomer way to finish what was a fantastic day. We paddled the last few strokes to the edge, hopped out and crossed the finish line in second place.

Team Say Yes to Adventure had a great day out; many laughs, a few lulls but nothing that couldn’t be fixed. It was no wilderness race, but it was never going to be. Instead, we experienced a man-made whitewater park, some breathtakingly beautiful scenery and had an absolute blast. Jacqs and I worked well together on the nav, with no significant hiccups. And Jess is a bloody machine, a powerhouse on the bike even with a few false starts.

Massive thanks to the NZ Sock Company who have supported me since forever with the best socks, which mean I haven’t had a blister since I ran 250km through the Sahara. Also to Lululemon who provided all three of us with a full new kit for the day. You can’t beat quality gear, and theirs is not only super comfortable, but it also looks good on a shortie like me. And to Champion Systems for the great colourful cycling kit, we had may comments! And lastly massive thanks to Nathan, Jodie and the Spring Challenge crew for putting on such a great event. I know you are heading back to the wilderness next year, but I can guarantee if you did another urban race you’d have people lining up.

And as it turned out, maybe with all this gear we did have an idea!

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When I first went through Goat’s Pass, I felt a 50/50 split of terrified and excited. What did this magical part of the world have to offer? There was quite a team of us; a mixture of complete newbies and seasoned vets. It was the middle of spring, and we had had intentions of heading through sooner, but the weather gods had other ideas. Even on that day, we were pushing the limits. The sun was shining, but the rivers were high from the recent nor’west which is far too present during spring.

I had no idea what to expect but had heard many stories about the river crossings, big boulders, the hidden tracks, the hut at the top of the pass followed by the open expanse down the other side. Following a ‘goat track’ can be quite different for two people’s imaginations; it’s not until you experience it for yourself that you understand what it is like to run through the pass. About the third river crossing I somehow tripped, and in an instant, I was submerged. Thank goodness Rob was beside me to grab my pack and pull me to the side. Lesson #1: Never underestimate the power of mother nature.

Since then I have gone through several times, each trip a little different from the last, but always just as breathtaking. I was so grateful to Rob and Matt for giving up their time and taking me through on my first trip, and now I feel I have enough experience to pay the favour forward. In May, I took two friends through for their first time, and have two more groups of friends lined up to take through in Spring.

Below are a few tips that I have learnt along the way that will help you on your first time through the Pass.

Direction/Transport: As simple as it sounds to people who have done it before, the Coast to Coast course goes from West to East, so this is the direction I have always run it. If you have two cars, park one at Greyney’s Campsite and drive to the start of the run at Morrison’s footbridge, located five kilometres west of the Otira township on SH73. If you only have one car, I’d suggest parking at Greyney’s Shelter campsite and hitchhiking to the start, or if you’re really keen you could bike from Greyney’s to the start! (Great training for Coast)

Course: Starting from SH73 where Morrison’s footbridge crosses the Otira River, you follow a well-marked route (thanks to the Te Araroa trail) through river flats up Deception Valley, crossing the river numerous times, primarily in the river bed, although there are some tracks if you know where to look. About 11 kilometres in, Dorreen Creek joins the Deception River on the true left. Carrying on you come across the Upper Deception Hut (hidden in the bush) which also signals the start of Big Boulders. From here the route involves scrambling and boulder-hopping up the riverbed and through the adjacent bush for about an hour, before a final crossing of the Deception River. At this point, you scramble up a steep side stream for about 500 metres to reach Goat Pass Hut and the highest point of the run (1,070 metres).

From the hut, the track opens and passes over sub alpine scrub while crossing over Goat Pass before descending to the headwaters of the Mingha River. Following the track all the way, you pass the Mingha Bivvy then for the next three kilometres the track undulates through the bush before a short steep section to reach Dudley Knob (known as the last climb on the Coast to Coast run). The track passes through bush for another kilometre or so, sidling high above the Mingha Gorge before emerging onto the expansive flats of the lower Mingha River. Continue heading downstream, aiming for the power poles and the Bealey River in the distance. Once you’ve crossed the Bealey River, take care crossing the railway tracks to reach SH73. Greyneys Shelter campsite is a further 500 metres south.

Note: The Coast to Coast course involves an extra three kilometres at the start across farmland from Aickens Corner, and another two-and-a-half kilometres at the end across dry riverbed to Klondyke Corner, making it a grand total of 31 kilometres.

Fitness: Expect to take between 5-8 hours with a reasonable fitness level for your first time. If it comes to it, you can walk the whole thing in a day; as long as you have a good base fitness you will be fine. Keith Murray holds the record for the run course in a blistering time of 2:22:34, set in 1994. Insane. My fastest time is double that, 4.42, set on my 2-Day Coast run.

Weather: Aghh the weather, the most unpredictable part of running through Goat’s Pass. The weather itself is fine; it’s the quickly rising river level that will catch you out. If you struggle to get to the other side of the first three or so river crossings, then I would highly recommend you backtrack and attempt it again on a different day. But as quickly as the rivers rise, they also drop, so you can usually get back up there quickly (not ideal with life commitments though!). I’m not too sure if it’s 100% correct, but there is a rumour going around that if you get caught out and have to be rescued and you have entered the race, then your race entry becomes void. A good rule if you ask me. If in doubt, call the Arthur’s Pass Information Centre; they are great.

Terrain: The Deception Valley is a mixture of single track, river bed running, river crossing and boulder climbing – pretty much an off-road runners dream. There are tracks you can find along the way which makes it runnable, but unless you are a goat or a freak (insert top athletes here), then there will be a fair amount of walking done in the top section. Expect a few sore upper-body muscles for your first trip (more so if you’re a short ass like me). The only steep section is right before the hut, maybe the last 15 minutes or so, but nothing that you won’t be able to handle. From the Hut at the top to the finish, the Mingha Valley is almost entirely runnable, a nice stretch for the legs on your way down. There are many river crossings, especially on the way up. Being able to read the river to cross in the best spot is key so take your time. Linking arms (with the weaker person down river) is something I always do; someone even helped me cross a few times during the race. I never say no to someone helping me!

Nutrition: As with any long-distance run, food and hydration are really important. Everyone is different, so figure out what works best for you (ideally before race day!). Personally, I take a collapsible cup with me (the Ultra Aspire Cup is perfect) and use this to drink from the rivers and I have electrolytes (I use Pure Nutrition) in my bladder too. Food wise, I am not a fan of gels as they wreak havoc on my stomach. I take a scroggin mix (including nuts for salt), Bliss Balls (survive well to the odd river dunking), bananas and muesli bars of some sort – both Ems Power Bars and OSM Bars are great. And when I am going through on a training run (not racing) I take a salami wrap for lunch at the hut. I have had cramp twice in my life – once while doing the run section of 2-day Coast and once doing the run section of Red Bull Defiance. Both times I was carrying Cramp Stop and I highly recommend this. I always take it with me on my adventures. Even if you’ve never had it before during exercise (alcohol-induced cramp doesn’t count!), cramp is a killer, and a few squirts of this stops it almost instantly. (Hint: You spray it on your tongue, not on the affected area as I have seen done before!)

Footwear: It’s often thought that the more grip on your shoe the better the traction. Wrong. Shoes like the Salomon Speedcross are awesome for muddy terrain but lethal on wet rocks (super slippery). I’d suggest a shoe like the Salomon Sense Marin or the North Face Endurance, which has less grip but are amazing over the slippery rocks. Unless you’re carrying a heavy pack, I wouldn’t suggest tramping boots. Just your sneakers will be fine. If you are training for Coast, find a pair of sneakers you like and use them to train with, then grab a new pair (yes, I’m sorry, more $$) and wear them a couple of times before race day. (You need two different pairs of sneakers come race day anyway!)

Equipment/clothing: Compulsory items are there for a reason. The Southern Alps are extremely unpredictable, and the last thing you want to do is be caught out by poor planning. Along with the Coast to Coast compulsory items, I also carry a dry bag which has a collection of goodies that come with me on every adventure I go on (anytime I take my running or mountain bike pack!). Inside is a PLB (Personal Locator Beacon), head torch, spare batteries, lighter, Gurney Goo and an Em’s Power Bar. I know this might sound extreme to some people, but if you were to be caught out due to weather or an injury, you need to be able to make yourself slightly comfortable! I also carry plenty of merino (top, leggings, gloves, socks and hat) in a different dry bag. The last thing you want is to be cold and have to put on wet gear. Just use your common sense. I’d rather carry it and not use it, than not take it and look like an idiot.

If in doubt, stick to these five key points from the Outdoor Safety Code to reduce the risk while in the outdoors.

  1. Plan your trip
  2. Tell someone your plans
  3. Be aware of the weather
  4. Know your limits
  5. Take sufficient supplies

If you have any questions, please get in touch, I am only too happy to answer them or point you in the right direction to find out. I will be rolling out more blog posts over the next few months offering advice to people who are doing the Coast for their first time. Here’s to a spring with minimal nor’westers!

How did I get here?

This weekend I am jumping aboard the Say Yes to Adventure wagon (literally) and heading south to Wanaka. Why? Apart from the fact that Wanaka is a pretty impressive spot, the main reason is to check out the premiere screening of ‘Waters of the Greenstone’ at the Mountain Film Festival. Commissioned by Kathmandu and produced by the amazing crew from Resonate Productions, the documentary follows two women’s journey (myself and Robyn Dewson) as we attempt one of New Zealand’s most iconic sporting events, the Kathmandu Coast to Coast.

So how the heck did I get to be one of the main characters in this film? It’s a question I have asked myself over and over since I found out about it in August last year, not that I had any idea what I was signing up for. I don’t see myself as a top-level athlete, let alone someone who is worthy of being filmed as they run, bike and kayak from one side of the country to the other. But maybe that’s why they chose me. I am no different from you; I have dreams, I have goals, and I have a desire to do things that scare the bejesus out of me. So occasionally my adventures can be bigger than most, but I truly believe that anyone can do what I do, it’s just whether that’s what you want to do.

To be honest, I’m as nervous as hell! Watching myself (and hearing my voice) can be so cringe – all I can see are my insecurities. Double chin, cankles, whiney voice, stupid comments (did I really say that??) … plus there’s also that voice in your head telling you that your cover is going to be busted and you’re not actually any good at what you do! We are our own harshest critics. Or is this just me??

I was approached by Kathmandu mid-last year to be an ambassador for them and ultimately compete in the Coast to Coast. Over the eight months leading up to Coast I blogged and posted to social media about my training, as well as spending an epic week based at Arthur’s Pass being filmed and photographed alongside Jess De Bont, Richard and Elina Ussher, Robyn Dewson, David Avei and Courtney Atkinson. Plus, the great crew from Kathmandu, Resonate Productions (filming) and Mickey Ross (behind the lens).

While the weather didn’t exactly play ball, we managed to find enough breaks in the weather to get the job done. Biking up the viaduct, running through the pass and flying in helicopters – it all sounds so dreamy! (*cough) Read sandflies, lots of backwards and forwards, and a healthy dose of waiting. But an incredible experience and a new group of friends were made.

There aren’t any more screenings planned, but hopefully, we can work something out and get a screening here in Christchurch sometime soon. When I know more details, I will post them on my social media channels.

I also want to apologise in advance to Anna McCone and Joy Weston-Arnold. During school days, I loved doing aerobics (you will not catch me in those outfits ever again!!), and one year we headed to Invercargill to compete. It was a time that frizz hair was all the rage and throw-away cameras were how we recorded our life events. There is a section in the documentary where I am flicking through old photo albums and come across a section from the good old days. My fingers are crossed that the majority of people who watch will blink at the very second this image comes on the screen because boy howdy, it’s a doozy!”

“Difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations.” – Unknown

International Yoga Day

I was asked recently if I was happy with how my Coast to Coast training went. As a whole, the answer is “Yes”, but compared to when I trained for Coast the first time, my situations couldn’t have been more different. The main factor between the two was working for a company compared to now being my own boss. Working for yourself has this dreamy connotation – you get to work your own hours, have as many days off as you like etc, etc. But to be honest, the last two (or so) years have been the hardest of all. The highest of highs and the lowest of lows. I know I shouldn’t say this but some days I just want to throw it all in the air and work in a café. But luckily those days are few, and there are more good days when I feel like I’m kicking butt and doing what makes me happy.

No matter how many hours you get to put aside for training, there is one aspect that I did the first time around that I didn’t do last year was yoga. And I regret it. If I can offer you one piece of advice – yoga is it. Mentally. Physically. It helps on so many levels. And as it’s International Yoga day today, I thought I’d write about it.

When Lululemon asked me to speak at their event to celebrate International Yoga in a few weeks, I was initially stoked, but that was quickly followed by ‘What they heck am I going to talk about?!’. Which got me thinking. Yoga is more than just downward dogs on a mat and praying that you don’t fart, though. Even though it’s really, really hard not to laugh when someone does. Or an excuse to pick your toenails when you’re holding a position for what seems like an awkwardly long time. If you’ve done yoga before, I can almost guarantee you can relate to both. And while I do love going to classes, I find my yoga in the hills and mountains; my form of meditation that helps with the stresses of life. Have you ever found yourself running along, and then you get to the end suddenly and wonder how the heck you got there? So lost in the moment that it becomes therapeutic. That’s what yoga is to me.

If you’re free next weekend and are in Christchurch then why don’t you come along? They describe their event as “A day of flow, connection and inspiration from Christchurch’s best. Explore how the benefits of yoga show up in all areas of your life and how practice can become something so much more than on the mat.” You can grab a ticket here.

I am in no way sponsored by Lululemon, but I want to genuinely share with you how awesome I think they are. And not just because they have amazing fitness clothes. I went into their shop a while ago (I try and stay away to be honest as I just want to buy everything!) to sort out some gear for my Coast to Coast supporters and started chatting away with the lovely girls working there. A few weeks later I received an email asking if I would supply some magazines to an evening they were organising (which, I, of course, said yes) and was stoked a few weeks after that to be invited to their event ‘Talk to Table’.

Rocking up to the stunning venue in Lyttleton (the old Kingswood Skis workshop) I was blown away. I was one of 50 that was invited along, all from the Christchurch community who Lululemon support in different ways. Surrounded by people who ran their own business, were ambassadors or worked for Lululemon, we mingled while listening to epic tunes before sitting down to a beautiful spread by Herba Gourmet. It was a great night meeting new people, going somewhere new and feeling like what I do doesn’t go unnoticed. No longer do I think they are a global company chasing the dollar, but a company who supports their community and is helping those in the fitness industry pursue their goals. A boomer of a marketing strategy!

And it gets better; I was invited to their store opening too! They have moved out of their temporary store next to Ballantynes in the iconic Container Mall and can now be found further up Cashel Mall at 145 – 161. The morning started with a Bootybarre® class at the recently opened On Pointe studio at Carlton Corner. It wasn’t just the new gear that got me excited, but if I had my time again, I would have carried on with ballet and dance. I was so excited to go and do a class in their studio and while it turns out I’m not as strong as I was when I was 12 (those glute exercises), the love for ballet is still strong. Described as a fun, high energy fusion class, combining Pilates, Dance, Yoga with Cardio Intervals at the barre, it is suitable for all levels. Give it a nudge if you’re looking for something a little bit different from the usual yoga class.

We then headed back for a yummy breakfast and the chance to check out their new store before it officially opened to the public. I would highly recommend a visit if only to see the beautiful art on the walls by local artist Lara Marshall.

Thanks Lululemon for your support and for giving me the chance to be a part of your amazing community.

“True meditation is about being fully present with everything that is – including discomfort and challenges. It is not an escape from life.” ~ Craig Hamilton