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The DuoBoots Changemakers: Meet Ness Knight

The DuoBoots Changemakers: Meet Ness Knight

Ness Knight is an accomplished explorer, survivalist, and conservationist. Growing up in South Africa, Ness has always had a passion for adventure. She has completed a diverse range of expeditions including in 2016, she cycled solo and self-supported across the Northern Namib desert, exploring the people, wildlife and culture of the Northern regions that were declared inhospitable. She also became the first in the world to descend the Essequibo River source-to-sea, the third largest river in South America. Alongside completing expeditions across America, England, South America, South Africa and Namibia, she made history as the first female to swim the length of the River Thames. Now, she shares her accomplishments and passion for ecological conservation as an inspirational speaker.

 

All of your achievements are extremely impressive and uniquely challenging. When did you know the blood, sweat, and tears of explorer life was for you?

In all honesty, I was an accidental explorer. About ten years ago, I quit my job in the City of London where I was teaching entrepreneurship and headed to the USA to become the first female in history to stand-up paddleboard over 1,000 miles. It was meant to be a brief break as I grappled with what my next career step would be, but after months on the Missouri River, I still didn’t know what I wanted to do next. So, I bought a bicycle older than I was, borrowed a pair of men's shoes two sizes too big, was given crumbling old bike panniers from the 1960s to stuff all my gear into and headed out west, following my nose. While on this solo journey, I shared my stories on social media, which was becoming increasingly popular. It was just meant to be a creative outlet for my passion for writing, but the posts attracted a mass following of people who wanted to live vicariously through my trials and tribulations in the wild. It was on this trip when I realised I had an opportunity staring me in the face: a new career as an endurance adventurer. I had an audience who wanted to travel the world with me through my photos, videos and writing. They wanted to go to places they hadr only dared to dream of and see what it might be like to live spontaneously. Fervidly. To feel the trepidation of going into the unknown, understanding you are venturing entirely beyond what’s familiar.

At the time I was young, a little under the thumb of my youthful ego, and intent on pushing the boundaries of what is humanly possible and testing my mental and physical strength. This also captured people's imaginations.

 

What happens when you aim high then fail and fall into a dark pit of despair? What happens when you put your body through such physical extremes it begins to fray at the edges? How do you get back up when you feel utterly lost and alone with no obvious lifeline being thrown out to save you? And how do you find the courage to take on a new path in life when fear comes knocking at the door?

As with most things in life, my career evolved organically. Where I predicted I’d be today is a million miles from what I imagined. It’s better. I went from endurance athlete to adventure traveller, to explorer and survivalist, and now I’m able to begin the real work which is all about finding solutions to encourage a healthier symbiotic relationship between people and planet Earth.

The blood, sweat and tears I have dealt with through my many expeditions to far flung corners of the Earth have taught me a lot. The wilderness, wildlife and ancient tribes I encountered showed me how a thriving future for the human race does, indeed, hang on whether we can learn to work with nature and not against it. My stories these days are less about my own mental and physical journeys in extreme environments, and more about the planet’s journey back to health.

With that in mind, my husband, Jake, and I have decided to buy a farm. It’s organic, carbon neutral and fully loaded for regenerative agriculture. We are strengthening the health and vitality of the soil , which we are losing at an alarming rate having waged half-century-long chemical warfare on our earth through pesticides and fertilisers. We’re also re-establishing lost ecosystems and using farming to actually sequester carbon back into the ground, all while producing extraordinarily high yields and high-quality produce. I’m entering a new phase of my life as an explorer, one of deeper meaning, even greater challenge and peril, but still, one requiring a lot of blood, sweat and tears!

 

In this day and age, many people feel trapped in a passionless job and somewhat monotonous lifestyle. As an inspirational speaker, what would you say to those looking for the courage to take the risk and pursue a more ‘adventurous’ lifestyle? How can we all incorporate sprinklings of adventure in our daily lives?

In this day and age, many people feel trapped in a passionless job and somewhat monotonous lifestyle. As an inspirational speaker, what would you say to those looking for the courage to take the risk and pursue a more ‘adventurous’ lifestyle? How can we all incorporate sprinklings of adventure in our daily lives?

There are those lucky individuals who have the funding, freedom and support to up sticks moving from one pathway to another but most succeed through gradual change. It can test patience levels but it is the steadiest way to guarantee you will succeed on your chosen path.

Before you dive in, use your evenings and weekends to explore your passion further. At some stage, you could then look at shifting to working part-time on your new career path. Build your network, your skills, your knowledge until you reach the point when the leap across is no more than a comfortable and inevitable hop. The same goes for sprinkling adventure in our daily lives. Often the hardest part is just making it to the start line. If you want to run the Marathon des Sables, wild camp in the Scottish Highlands or learn to surf in Cornwall, just book it. Stop thinking about it and book it. That way you can’t back out. Once you do this a few times, you’ll start building momentum and very quickly this new lifestyle is a part of your world and your identity.

 

People are becoming increasingly aware of the ecological disasters the globe is facing. Why do you think there is still opposition to change and how would you mobilise others to stand with you in making these necessary changes?

There is opposition to change because it requires us to do things differently. We are creatures of habit, and we have become so used to convenience. It doesn’t matter what you are trying to change – a sense of environmental responsibility, product choices, a career, a relationship – if the thing that needs changing has been ingrained for years, even decades, then it will take time and effort to shift.

We will reach a tipping point when the pain of our impact on the planet will become more unbearable than the pain of changing a lifetime of habits. We’re getting there, but we need to drastically up the pace of this process now because we don’t have the luxury of time, our planet doesn’thave the luxury of time.

To make changes, we need to do all we can to connect people with nature in an effective and powerful way that propels them into wanting to become lifelong champions and guardians of our Earth. We can see this happening with kids. The second you send them out into the wilderness, they connect with it on a deep level. That’s why I have great faith in the younger generations and their ability to see the obvious path forward. It makes sense to them to start with care and compassion, and create change out of that. As for us, we have all the tools and technology we need to solve the problems we face today, it’s just a question of nurturing that groundswell, and doing so quickly. Encouraging people to understand the issues and then put their understanding into action through more sustainable choices..Part of this understanding stems from our own experiences with nature and the wilderness – it’s hard to ask someone to care deeply about something they have no personal or historical connection with. We need to close the gap between fundamental interaction.

For example, David Attenborough has been a wonderful catalyst for encouraging people to get outdoors and be passionate about our planet. We need more of these messages to translate into something tangible.

 

Social media and the internet have made us increasingly interconnected and aware of current affairs and celebrity gossip. When you go away for months at a time, are you glad to disconnect from it all? Do you practice this disconnection when you are home?

Oh yes! It’s such a breath of fresh air to be in the middle of a remote jungle in the Amazon or desert in Africa where you have no choice but to disconnect because there simply is no signal. This is when I find headspace to actually live more in the present (not just today or this week, but this very moment), and worry less about the past and future.

Instead of the constant stream of never-ending stress from emails, calls and social media, I find myself truly at peace. That peaceful state being subject to only acute – powerful but short-lived – stress and adrenaline spikes (when I happen to accidentally go down a raging Grade 4 rapid backwards, or wake up to a jaguar walking beneath my hammock in the jungle or stumble only semi-conscious from heat exhaustion, dangerously dehydrated into the vicinity of a fresh lion kill), where the other 99% of the time, I feel calm and stable with no sign of chronic (long-term and prolific) stress whatsoever. I don’t experience this state when I’m back home. The noise of media, notifications, calls and the internet distrubs the peace. So, I think it is important to make time to switch off from it all more. To find more balance. Our increased interconnectedness is incredible, useful and a remarkable achievement for humankind, but it does require moderation and management if we are all to stay mentally healthy and balanced amongst it all.