For The Love of Exploring | Living North

For The Love of Exploring

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Luke & Hazel
How does a date which includes hauling 15kg of gear across the Sahara Desert on your back in 55 degree heat sound? According to Luke and Hazel Robertson – the wife-and-husband team with a zest for adventure – it’s the perfect honeymoon
‘We recognise what the outdoors has given us throughout our lives. Fresh air and time in nature unlocks fresh ideas, builds confidence and resilience and improves well-being, so I think it’s important everyone experiences that.’
Edward Fitzpatrick
Edward Fitzpatrick

While you’re reading this, you may well be sitting at home on the sofa with your partner, bickering over whether it’s Strictly or Countryfile which will provide the night’s entertainment. Perhaps you’re perched à deux at the kitchen table, growing increasingly impatient at the lack of a decision over what to cook for dinner. After all, it’s these testing moments together that really sow the seeds of a solid relationship.

But what if you and your other half were on the other side of the world, high above the Arctic circle in the Finnmark area of northern Norway, deciding which route to take across the frozen expanse? Or travelling across the Pacific Ocean, when a curious humpback whale breaches intimidatingly close to your kayak? Maybe we’ll have to rethink the true relationship test.

Those experiences have been the making of Luke and Hazel Robertson, a couple who have used their lust for exploring to create their own business. Everyday Exploring offers bespoke guided walks and expeditions across the Scottish Highlands, as well as motivational speaking for businesses and schools which aims to help others to realise their potential and embrace the outdoors. 

Close friends during their time at Mackie Academy, a secondary school near Aberdeen, the pair had adventurous upbringings in common. Hazel had grown up in Alaska and Canada before moving back to Scotland. Luke had been brought up on a farm in the North East of Scotland, barring an 18-month stint in north-west France, where he and his family enjoyed a taste of cosmopolitan living. ‘We both loved experiencing different cultures,’ beams Luke. ‘We stayed in touch after school and eventually got together five years ago, before getting married on my dad’s farm in 2016.’ 

They have built their relationship on a mutual love of the outdoors, undertaking a series of extraordinary expeditions across the globe in the years since their marriage. From climbing Mont Blanc and Kilimanjaro – two of the highest peaks in the world – to completing a 156-mile unsupported run across the Sahara Desert, kayaking and cycling more than 1,600 miles across the wilderness of Alaska, and following the reindeer migration across Norway, it’s been some honeymoon for the daring duo. 

They are also voluntary Explorers in Residence for the Royal Scottish Geographical Society (working with young people on their Duke of Edinburgh journeys), and Arctic Guides for The Polar Academy (taking secondary school children who have experienced bullying on an 10-day expedition in Greenland to build their confidence). 

But it hasn’t all been plain sailing. In 2014, when Luke and Hazel were just friends, Luke was told he had a brain tumour. He underwent brain surgery, and was thrown a lifeline when they discovered it was a cyst, not a tumour, which he now has monitored yearly. It’s not the only health problem the 35-year-old lives with. He has had a pacemaker since his early twenties.

While such scares would deter many, these brushes with mortality only added to Luke’s desire to explore. Following his release from hospital, he walked St Cuthbert’s Way with his father – a 62-mile trail between Melrose in the Scottish Borders and Lindisfarne on the Northumberland coast. It was during this walk that he decided to pursue his love of adventuring.

‘The rolling Northumbrian hills, the fresh air and the chance to bond with my dad just reminded me of how much the outdoors can do for you both physically and mentally,’ he says. ‘That walk was life-changing and made me think a lot about how I want to live mine to the fullest, and inspire people to overcome their own challenges. If I could get through my health scare, I could get through anything.’ 

Since then, the Scot has undertaken a series of almost unthinkable challenges, including achieving his lifelong dream of becoming the youngest Brit to trek solo to the South Pole. But while he is best-known for that extraordinary expedition in 2016, as we discover, he’s more keen to discuss those he has shared with his wife Hazel.

In 2017, Luke and Hazel completed the Marathon des Sables. Dubbed ‘the toughest footrace on earth’, they ran for 156 miles across the Sahara Desert in temperatures of up to 55 degrees, carrying 15 kilograms of equipment on their backs. In one particularly gruelling stage, they had to cover 86 kilometres of tough terrain, battling steep rocky dunes, mountain passes and intense sleep deprivation. 

For any couple this type of scenario could spark trouble, potentially culminating in a hunger-and fatigue-induced argument and an awkward trudge back to base camp. But not for Luke and Hazel, who completed the race with aplomb. ‘When you’re on an expedition, you trust implicitly in the other person,’ explains Luke. ‘Because we know each other so well everything gets stripped back to basics. We’re focused on where we are and what we’re doing, so the small things don’t seem to matter.’ 

Their latest expedition in April 2019 saw the pair travel to northern Norway to undertake a four-week ski and filming trip, following the hooves of Arctic reindeer from feeding grounds in South Finnmark to birthing grounds in the northern tip of Scandinavia. When travelling such long distances in challenging climates, teamwork and resilience are tested to the hilt. 

But while they’ve made a name for themselves as a couple, Hazel is hoping to empower people in her own right. She’s working on a new initiative called ‘Wild Women’, which will be a series of exploring weekends in the Scottish Highlands and Pentland Hills (just south of Edinburgh). The aim is to provide women with the opportunity to learn new skills such as building camp fires and trail running, while connecting them with like-minded women. 

‘Hazel knows what it’s like to grow up as an outdoorsy female and she has such an enthusiasm for it,’ says Luke (testament to this claim, Hazel can’t speak to us as she’s currently attempting a crossing of Europe's largest mountain plateau in Norway). ‘It’s traditionally been seen as a male-dominated activity, so she wants to open it up to women and show them just how liberating it can be. Our expeditions are not a serious course that you get assessed on, they’re about asking questions, building relationships and widening horizons.’ 

It’s clear to see the benefits Luke and Hazel have reaped from the outdoors – both as a couple and as individuals – so why are the adventure-aholics intent on sharing their passion with others? ‘We recognise what the outdoors has given us throughout our lives,’ says Luke. ‘Fresh air and time in nature unlocks fresh ideas, builds confidence and resilience and improves well-being, so I think it’s important everyone experiences that.’

‘I definitely think we’re all much stronger than we think. It’s only when we go through tough times and come out of them that we realise we have the potential to do anything we want.’ 

To find out more about Luke and Hazel’s work, visit www.everyday-exploring.com

 

Luke’s Packing Hacks 
Inspired to head out on your own hike? Be it St Cuthbert’s Way or the Sahara Desert, avoid the kitchen sink and pack cleverly

1. Go light – carrying less weight will reduce your energy expenditure. 

2. Keep rolling – rolling your clothes into cylinders will reduce the space they take up in your bag.

3. Prioritise multi-use items – Dry bags can make great pillows when stuffed with clothes, stop your bum getting wet when resting, and act as food stores. 

4. Pack things you need, last – Maps, cameras and snacks are vital, so keep them handy in the top of your bag. 

Published in: February 2020

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