Guest Blog: An Interview with Eco Adventurer Sal Montgomery

By Lowri Hill

On this blog, we like to open up the floor to interesting people with stories, opinions, campaigns or ideas too good not to share. Our paths crossed with the brilliant Sal Montgomery thanks to the Pedal4Parks expedition that sees our interviewee, our very own Alex Egan and 3 more intrepid eco-adventurers, bike-packing across mainland UK in aid of our National Parks. 

We sat down (virtually) with Sal to pick her brain about being an Eco Adventurer and how being planted in the UK changed all her plans but gave her a new sense of purpose...

Lowri: Can you tell us a little bit about how you got involved in the expedition and what drew you into such an extreme challenge? And it is quite extreme when you consider the water bike element.

Sal: My year is usually dominated by international expeditions for my whitewater kayaking, and that's very much my normal life. Except for in 2020 and 2021 where these things haven't been completely possible. I am someone that is driven by expeditions and working towards a goal with purpose. So I was seeking out something a bit different with value.

And that’s when the Peddle boys put up a sign that they were looking for another team member. I just got in touch and said it sounded pretty cool and I'd like to know more. I had a really good, enthusiastic phone chat, probably about an hour or so. And I didn't hear anything back for a couple of weeks so I thought, never mind! I actually started planning something else and then I got an email saying welcome to the team. And my initial thought was, oh gosh, now I need to become a cyclist! It was also the same day that I'd broken my foot so I had to squeeze it in with not much time. And that's how it's been from the's just been a whirlwind and pretty exciting and challenging and yeah, definitely keeping me occupied.

Lowri: And you are the only woman in the expedition team. Have you found this to be a reoccurring experience in your career as an eco adventurer? Are you often the only woman in the room?

Sal: The majority of my expeditions, I've always been the only girl, including the one that I did last year. I think it is something that is growing and more women are getting into adventures. And I for one, know loads of women into outdoor adventures and thrills, it's just obviously there's so many more men doing it. For now, I'm used to it and it's all I know. Ultimately, it really comes down to the personality of your team mate and their character and how they are as a team player. And these guys are great in the way that they're happy to work hard and they're motivated. We're all in it for the same reason. So that's the main thing for me.

Lowri: You could be the source of inspiration for another little girl or a teen or someone that maybe doesn't see people that represent them doing these kinds of things. That's why I think it's so important. Is that something you're conscious of?

Sal: Originally it hadn't occurred to me so much because I was just so driven and it was about the adventure and achievements. The more I did it, the more people got in touch saying, you really inspired my daughter! Or, I saw you doing this big kayaking expedition on the TV and it's inspired me to go and have a go at kayaking.

I didn't particularly think that I was influencing anyone or that anyone was really noticing what I was doing, but that since then I have had quite a bit of feedback, which is really nice. And now I'm aware of it, I'm trying to do as good a job as that as I can.

Lowri: That's fantstic! Because a lot of the time, you want to be what you can see. So even just that kind of visibility alone has a huge impact.

Sal: Yeah, someone said that to me recently, the term you can't be what you can't see. And I hadn't really thought about it until then. But it's a really good point. We can make more of an impact that we realise.

Lowri: Going back to you as a little girl, what was the thing that convinced you that this life of adventure travel and probably very risky challenges with the right career path for you?

Sal: I don't think it's ever a conscious decision. And I genuinely feel that it was inside me when I was born, because my family are not adventurous in the slightest.

Lowri: Oh I that maybe you come from a family that was always outdoors or into camping or whatever!

Sal: It was actually quite the opposite for me. My mum and dad can't swim! They take the dog out for a walk but that's about it. They tell me quite often that even as a child, I was always quite brave and adventurous, and I learnt to climb really young. So I don't think it was ever really a decision. I just wanted more of it all the time. And I loved sports, but it was never quite enough. When I got into kayaking and realised that, oh wow, you can go and do this and makea job out of it. I would seek out the opportunities and then find a way of making it work.

Lowri: So this pandemic has been horrible for you then, knowing that you are trapped in one country.

Sal: I did feel a bit like my identity just vanished this year. All this awful stuff been going on in the world makes you feel guilty to think that, oh, it's made my life a bit boring. But equally, it's been so hard for people. What of normally drives people has just been taken away you've no idea when it might come back again. That is quite difficult. It's partly why I signed up for Pedal4Parks, because I saw that it was something to work towards.

Lowri: And it's all doable in the UK!

Sal: If anything, it's shown us that we've got some amazing places. Let's celebrate them. And after that ask ourselves how do we look after them? How do we make sure that they're still here in ten years’ time and beyond?

Lowri: It's good point, actually, because I'm guilty of also looking further afield or looking for something a bit more exotic. But actually, a lot of us completely overlook what we have in front of us.

Sal: You don't have to travel to the other side of the world, to find natural beauty and adventures!

Lowri: Having said that, you have had some pretty amazing adventures across the world. I'd love to know if you've ever been in a tricky situation the other side of the world...

Sal:  The one that comes to mind happened while shooting a TV programme a year or so ago. A team mate had a very traumatic experience being held underwater by a recirculating current. I managed to pull him out but it was a close call and you don't really have time to think about it as it's happening. I suppose there's a presumption that expeditions go completely smoothly, completely planned, and you've always got backup plans...

Lowri: That's what came to mind when I saw a picture of you in a kayak, going down an epic waterfall. I thought, this woman must have no fear. But I've recently been told what makes the best adventurers are people that have a very good sense of their own fear because it stops them from doing stupid things. So would you agree with that?

Sal: Yeah, definitely. I learnt a little bit of fear is actually good, not only for keeping you a bit safer, but also for the times where you're stepping up to a big challenge. When I've gone in a bit too casual and relaxed, I've messed it up.

The nature of my expeditions means that quite often I'm in remote places and whatever happens, everyone needs to get out safe. I'm often the guide, so I'm responsible for people like you.

Lowri: So there's a bit of pressure...

Sal: Yeah. And equally, if I'm out with my friends, we're all looking out for each other. No one continues down the river on their own. You do everything together. And I've had situations where I ripped my shoulder and had to keep going. I tore three key parts of my rotator cuff and we were only halfway down the river. So me and my friend just had to take it slowly and get out!

Lowri: I can't imagine you just being in your kayak and having all that pain - you are hard as nails.

Sal: It’s silly really! I decided that it was fine and continued my kayaking trip for the next three weeks until I got back to the UK, had all my scans where they told me ‘you need shoulder reconstruction’. I'm very stubborn and I think I had one of those pain thresholds that doesn't do me any favours...

Lowri: So speaking of being back in the UK more recently due to the pandemic, did you take up any hobbies or even just learn anything new about yourself as a person?

Sal: One thing that's come out of this the idea of impact. It's also given me a chance to start writing my book! I actually had covid at the beginning of the year, so I had a couple of weeks where I couldn't leave my bedroom. It's about my adventures, what I've learnt and how my experiences have taken me in different directions. But writing just wasn't enough, I was missing something. So I started going swimming in the ocean and as soon as I did that, it clicked that the thing was water.

I've got a good friend that will come with me no matter the weather and it really has changed things for me. For quite some time now, I've become more and more aware of the environmental pressures our planet is under. I'm feeling a responsibility as an adventurer that's getting a lot of benefits from being outdoors, that I should give something back.

For example, I've had the time to put something in place and leading up to World Action Day. So from the first to the 8th of June, me and the swim buddy are taking on a physical challenge with purpose. It lasts 8 days with the finale being on World Oceans Day. We're doing an ocean swim on a different beach every day followed by a big beach clean up. We're trying to encourage as many people all over the country to get involved in any way they can, whether that's all week or just one of the days.

And it can be anything outdoors during those eight days, even if that's just going out for a walk and picking up litter afterwards. The links between nature and wellbeing are well known and it really makes you feel good to give back. Here is our chance to get out and enjoy the outdoors while showing you care about it and want to protect it.

Lowri: What a fantastic idea. It's so simple as well and easy to do. You don't have to be a pretty brave ocean swimmer. You don't have to be an adventurer, all you have to be is someone that enjoys getting outside and enjoys being in nature and then takes the time to reflect on that and wants to give something back.

Sal: Absolutely, it's not a competition. It's not for people to prove how fit they are or anything. It's all about encouraging that relationship of the give and take. And not expecting the planet to just look after itself and just be there when we want it every day.

Lowri: That ties in brilliantly with Pedal4Parks.

Sal: Yes! And similarly, we're asking people to share, take pictures and build up a lot of awareness around this message.

Lowri: Which leads us on to our last question and it's a big one -what does the world need most, that you are uniquely positioned to provide?

Sal: The thing that springs to mind for me, and what I'm told quite often - is my infectious enthusiasm and motivation for environmentalism, the outdoors and expeditions. It's really easy to be overwhelmed by statistics that just make you feel completely hopeless. Whereas people can come into my talks and understand that we can make such an impact together. So it's just that positivity! It can really change people's perspective and their motivation to do something.

Lowri: And the fact that you come from a background that had nothing to do with it whatsoever. You found your own way into it, and that's inspiring.

Sal: I find the word inspiring, quite corny, but showing people that if I can do it, anyone can is important. You might fail. It might not work out the way you hope. But if you want to go for it, amazing.

Lowri: You can get so much out of life from putting yourself out of your comfort zone.

Sal: It really does shape who you are. What everyone else considers "normal life" and the things I learn on expedition can link up when we talk about comfort zones. In fact, I tend to find the "normal life" a bit challenging…

Lowri: Is that going to be the golden nugget of knowledge that you'll put in your book as well? How to take extraordinary skills and use them in what other people consider their everyday lives?

Sal: Yeah, because a lot of it is around having a determination to take on the things that seem impossible. The idea that you can pursue a challenge knowing full well that it still might not work out. But you've got to try because you would go crazy if you didn't.

Lowri: One lesson that we can all learn! I get it, even just from this 30 minutes we've spent, I'm feeling more motivated!

Sal: Oh thank you. That's why I love doing my talks because when you're with an audience, you feed off each other's energy -  that's something I do miss. Hopefully we'll get that this year. It's about taking the energy and passing it on.

Lowri: Well, thank you so much. I think that wraps everything up pretty nicely - a Wednesday afternoon well spent. We wish you the best of luck on your expeditions and will be cheering you on every step of the way!

Keep up with Sal on her adventures!

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