...and you're never too old to make a difference.
On August 6th 2019, Jo Moseley became the first woman to SUP (stand up paddle board) coast to coast from Liverpool to Goole along the Leeds Liverpool Canal and Aire & Calder Navigation.
It was a journey of 162 miles through Merseyside, Lancashire and Yorkshire, raising funds for The Wave Project and 2MinuteBeachClean community. Along the way, Jo litter picked each day to raise awareness of plastic pollution in our inland waterways.
Six years earlier, at 48, Jo burst into tears in the biscuit aisle of Tesco’s, totally overwhelmed by life. At this time, Jo talks of being tired, anxious and stressed and how an encounter with an indoor rowing machine was the turning point that lead Jo to becoming a midlife adventurer, joy encourager and beach cleaner.
Jo’s goal is to help people rediscover and nourish their own joy and well being and her story is fabulous. We’re delighted that Jo took some time out from paddle boarding, 'plogging', teaching aquafit and dancing in her kitchen to have a chat with us.
Enjoy this wonderfully positive interview with Jo! And thank you to Frit Sarita Tam for the fantastic photos.
What’s a ‘Joy Encourager’?
Great question! It’s something I made up! My hope is that my speaking, writing and tiny films might encourage others, especially women my age, to find what brings joy to their busy lives and for me to be there cheerleading them on!
I know how awful it is to feel life has lost a sense of joy and how great it is when you rediscover it, so I want to help other women find theirs.
Before being a joy encourager, midlife adventurer and beach cleaner, what were you doing?
Pretty much what I am still doing now - being a Mum, friend, sister, working hard to look after my sons and doing what I can for my Dad. Life is both exactly the same and yet quite different.
My purpose then was very family focused and now I feel I have a slightly wider perspective - encouraging others to look after their health and happiness with my freelance hydro fit business and looking after the places I love with my litter picking adventures.
You mention being overwhelmed by life and how an indoor rowing machine helped you feel brighter and better within two weeks. A year later you’d rowed a million metres, which is some undertaking. Do you view this as a turning point and the start of your journey as a midlife adventurer?
Yes, absolutely. I think that the moment I broke down sobbing in the biscuit aisle in Tesco's was a turning point. I felt so lost and unhappy, starting to indoor row was the beginning of everything I am doing today.
Do you recommend indoor rowing to others? And if not, what do you typically recommend to people to get them moving more?
I think indoor rowing is a super way to exercise. It works your whole body and it will always have a special place in my heart. I am so grateful for how it helped me sleep when I was feeling so overwhelmed in 2013 and then helped me raise over £10,000 for MacMillan Cancer Support in memory of my Mum.
If someone wants to move more, I would recommend walking. It is free, simple, in the fresh air and you don’t need any special equipment other than a good pair of shoes and possibly a rain jacket if you live in the UK. Walking has so many benefits for your mind, body and soul and it is a really practical way of bringing more exercise into our daily lives. Short 10 minute bursts are wonderful! If you can add a litter pick at the same time that would be fab.
Aside from adventuring, you do a lot of beach cleaning and we’ve discovered a new word…plogger. Can you tell us a little bit more about plogging and the #2MinuteBeachClean community?
Plogging is a Swedish word and essentially means picking up litter whilst you are running! It is a great way to keep active and do our little bit for the places we love.
The 2MinuteBeachClean charity has a simple message - encouraging each of us to spend just two minutes a day picking up litter on our beaches, streets or parks and to make a difference to the places we live, love and work in. It was founded by writer and surfer, Martin Dorey and is a community that now spreads across the globe. It is kind, supportive and hugely informative on social media, especially wonderful on Instagram, celebrating everyone who goes out of their way to pick up litter and make simple ecofriendly choices. I was really proud to fundraise for them with my PaddleboardTheNorth adventure last year.
What’s the origin story of PaddleboardTheNorth?
I started stand up paddle boarding in September 2016. I had had a knee injury and heard it was really good for building core strength. The minute I stood on the paddleboard during my lesson in the Lake District I knew I loved it - I felt strong, uplifted and calm at the same time. I loved it so much I decided shortly after that I wanted to create a paddleboard adventure coast to coast. However, when I told someone at a party he really knocked the idea, saying he thought it sounded boring, logistically difficult and probably too strenuous for someone my age. I put the idea away and then brought it back to life in January 2019.
In the years in between, I had said goodbye to too many friends my age, all wonderful, vibrant and inspiring women who died way too young. I realised life is too short and too precious not to go for our dreams and try and make a difference in the world.
By January 2019 I also knew I wanted to fundraise for The Wave Project and the #2MinuteBeachClean charities and pick up plastic pollution along the way. My youngest son would be going to university in the October and PaddleboardTheNorth became a dream to pull me towards a new, single Mum, empty nesting future.
162 miles along the Leeds Liverpool Canal and Aire & Calder Navigation, from Liverpool to Goole. I would be the first woman to SUP the crossing (only one man had done it previously) and whilst being the first wasn’t the biggest appeal, I thought it would be a nice high five celebration of women my age!
Why was a journey by paddleboard so appealing and did you consider other forms of transport?
I only dreamed of a paddle boarding adventure and I love the idea of a journey coast to coast. As it was my annual summer holiday I needed something that I could do whatever the weather - there was no possibility to postpone or delay. On a canal, I didn’t have to worry about tides as I would on the sea. I also hoped to show that tiny adventures on a smaller budget and on our doorstep can be joyful and uplifting. The Leeds Liverpool Canal passes through my hometown so I could sleep in my own bed and wash my clothes half way through along!
I really didn’t know much about our canal system before I started paddleboarding on the Leeds Liverpool Canal. I have since learned and read so much about its heritage and construction, it has been a real journey of discovery.
Can you give us a flavour of what a typical day looked like? And what would a great day look like and what would a challenging day be like?
When I shared the adventure on Instagram, a wonderful film maker, Frit Sarita Tam, asked if she could join me and make a film about it. I also had offers of an overnight stay and friends wanting to join me and walk along the towpath. These were all completely unexpected gifts which shaped the eventual schedule. Frit and I would film in the morning talking about my hopes and plans for the day and the locks, towns or bridges I would see. We would also film at the end of day so we could talk about what I had learned, found litter picking-wise and how I felt physically and emotionally.
Most of the time I was paddling alone but then someone would pop up (often with cake or flapjack) and would walk alongside, chatting and laughing.
I had hoped to cover 16 miles a day However, this didn’t happen! The weather played its part as we had thunderstorms and a lot of rain the first weekend which slowed me down. Added to that was the weed on the canal, a bright green layer that caught around my fin and dragged the board backwards. I spent a lot of hours on my knees fighting through it! I was always behind my original schedule but in the end I finished the adventure only 3 hours later than I had planned, reaching Goole about 5pm instead of 2pm.
Despite the challenges, there was a wonderful simplicity to the adventure routine. All I had to do for 11 days was paddle, pick up litter, eat, sleep, Tweet and repeat. Frit or a friend would drop me at the canal and off I would go, listening to the birds, saying hello to passers by on the towpath or on the narrow boats, picking up plastic and swooshing under swing bridges. I would sit on my board eating peanut butter sandwiches as I watched the ducks launch into flight or a dragon fly would land on my paddle.
I aimed for 16 miles a day but on some it was barely 10 miles with the weed and on 2nd August it was 25 gorgeous miles. That would be one of the most memorable and special days of my life. Leaving the outskirts of Burnley in the morning, paddling through the mile long Foulridge Tunnel and then into the Yorkshire. Sunshine, Zoe, a 2MinuteBeachClean friend, joining me from Essex, beautiful countryside and finishing at 10.30pm in Skipton.
A magical day so close to home and yet in a bubble of joy and discovery.
We’re big believers that with the right planning and preparation we can all live more adventurously and take on amazing challenges. Did you have a background in paddle boarding and how did you prepare for PaddleboardTheNorth?
I had been paddle boarding for almost 3 years so I just had to trust I could paddleboard 162 miles! I went to kettlebells, yoga and spin classes to get stronger. When I was at the coast I paddled in rougher waves and I spent quite a few weekends training on the canal near my home.
My planning was very straightforward and I kept it as simple as possible. I bought the two maps I needed from our local bookshop, The Grove in Ilkley, and two Nicholsons Waterways Guides. I divided up the distance and made accommodation bookings along the way, incorporating 4 nights at home. As people offered to join me or put us for the night I added that to my huge spreadsheet and started thinking about logistics of getting to and from the canal.
Fortunately, I had most of my kit already as I am an Ambassador for British Canoeing, FINDRA outdoor clothing and BlueFin SUPS. They were all so supportive and that gave me a huge boost of self confidence. The wonderful team at Keen gave me some amazing shoes, which I would not have been able to do the trip without given the rainstorms.
One of my goals was to use as little single use plastic as possible so I made my own energy balls and froze some to collect when I stayed at home. I was also given a massive tin of Yorkshire peanut butter from Proper Nutty so I knew what my lunches were going to be. The lovely people at Pure Hydration gave me a beautiful water bottle so I could keep hydrated.
I set up my Just Giving fundraising page and began sharing my goals and story on Twitter and Instagram talking about the trip and why I was raising money for the two charities. Thankfully the local press and radio asked me to share my adventure which was so appreciated.
If I’m honest, I approached it as if I was organising something for my boys…. keeping it simple and thinking how best I could look after myself along the way.
When considering a challenge or adventure to take on is there a particular process that you follow to work out what you want to do and how to get to the start line?
I think the biggest thing for me is visualising how an adventure might look and feel. I spend a lot of time working out what I am trying to achieve and why. I talk to myself about what I am doing (crazy but true!), looking at the ideas, the challenges and the opportunities.
Once I feel confident about it and working out what it means to me deep in my soul, I talk to trusted friends and family. I almost speak it into existence in a way. I think knowing your why is hugely important. It is the anchor, it means that when things get tough you can draw upon something meaningful and important to you.
Being the first woman to do it was nice for me but I felt it was more important to show other women what is possible. Fundraising and highlighting plastic pollution in our inland waterways was a bigger goal that helped sustain me in the thunderstorms and the weed. There was no way those things were going to stop me in comparison to the contribution that the funds could make to the children The Wave Project helps.
I also realised that I had a choice to doubt myself or believe in myself. I have spent a lifetime second guessing myself and thinking I am not good enough. I decided this would be the time to change that narrative. I learned from my friends The Yorkshire Rows that believing in myself would be my superpower. I took this on board wholeheartedly and am so grateful for their wisdom and experience.
When not paddle boarding or litter picking what are you most likely to be doing?
Working at my job, teaching aqua fit, being a Mum, daughter, friend, sister, writing, reading, going the cinema, pootling at home making soup, dancing in my kitchen… all very simple, lovely things.
“You are never too old to do something wild” is a fabulous outlook on life. What 2-3 life lessons have you learned from doing wild things?
a) Joy: I’ve learned that happiness is within. I understand what fills my heart with joy and gratitude, moving outdoors, being in the sea, making a difference, having a purpose and being with people I care about. My adventures have helped me understand that if I fill my life as far as possible with tiny adventures and wild ideas then I have the key to my own happiness.
b) Courage: I’ve learned that I am braver than I ever thought I was. When I was sobbing in the biscuit aisle 7 years ago, I never imagined I would one day paddleboard a mile through a dark tunnel or go on TV to talk about my coast to coast adventure.
c) Gratitude: I’ve learned that I am deeply grateful for being 55 and healthy enough to paddle on the sea, run along the beach or teach hydro jog. I am so fortunate. Ageing is a privilege denied to too many of my friends. The best way I feel I can show my gratitude is to look after the places I love by picking up litter, fundraising and sharing my adventures.
My hope is not that women will look at me and say, ‘wow, look what she did!’, but more, ‘I wonder if I could do something wild too. I wonder if I could make my dream come true.’
That for me is what it is all about. Encouraging others to find their joy and cheerleading them as they do.
For someone looking to do something wild, make a difference or be more adventurous what advice or practical suggestion would you give them to take that first step?
Start small, start today, start just as you are. You are enough right now. Once you have taken the first step, take the next. Build it up, learn, surround yourself with people who care and who can teach you what you need to know.
Believe in yourself.
And know that somewhere I will be cheering you on all the way.
What's the most inspiring book/blog/film/talk you've read or watched?
Oh gosh, so many to choose from! I think a short paragraph from One Day by David Nicholls has really helped me develop what I want to achieve with my adventures and writing.
And finally, how can people find out more about Jo Moseley and follow your journey?
I’m on Twitter and Instagram @healthyhappy50.