Cal Major Catch Up - Paddling Land's End to John O'Groats
dryrobe ambassador, founder of Paddle Against Plastic and all-round legend Cal Major recently completed an epic expedition - completing the journey from Land's End to John O'Groats on her Stand Up Paddleboard, setting 2 new world records on the way! Cal lives just down the road from dryrobe HQ, so she came by recently for a catch up and to talk about her incredible adventure.
Welcome home and congratulations! How have the last few weeks been since finishing LEJOG?
Thank you very much! It’s been very strange going from spending all day on the water, completely immersed in nature, being drip-fed endorphins and going at a maximum of 5 miles per hour, making snap decisions which determine my safety and ultimately my life, mindful and simple, to motorways, noise, parking charges and all the ridiculous, trivial stuff that seems to come along with our society! It’s reiterated to me the need for us as humans to maintain our connection to nature for our mental and physical wellbeing. Having said that, it’s also lovely to be home in North Devon and spend time with my friends, and be able to go paddle boarding and surfing for no other reason than to enjoy it!
If you had to pick just one - what was your favourite moment from the expedition?
It has to be my first dolphin encounter of the trip. I was about 5 miles out to sea, crossing from St Agnes to Newquay in Cornwall. I’d set off very early in the morning as a storm was brewing, and I could feel the weather taking hold all around me - the wind was picking up and the sky had taken on a grey, very wet feel to it, as if it were about to break into rain at any moment. A fishing boat passed me, and with it a pod of dolphins who were very curious about what I was doing standing on the water! They circled and played around my board for about 2 minutes before heading off again on their merry way, just long enough to tip me out of my head and back into concentrating on the task at hand.
Did you have a favourite stretch of coast/waterways that you paddled?
I am in love with Scotland! The West coast saw me paddling past breathtaking mountain ranges and islands, but the North East coast was my favourite section. 100 meter cliffs towered above me lined with thousands of sea birds, while below me were seals playing in kelp forests. It was so dramatic and so wild, and I feel very fortunate to have experienced it from the water.
What was the biggest challenge you faced on the expedition?
The biggest challenge was physical and mental exhaustion. I was paddling for between 8 and 14 hours a day, day after day, struggling to get enough calories on board, and alone at sea with only my own thoughts to motivate me. There were days when I pushed myself to collapse, days when I was so emotionally drained that I cried for hours at a time, and moments on the water when I couldn’t comprehend how on Earth I was going to be able to make my destination that day. But most of the time there was no other option, so I had to find ways to dig deep, keep my head up, and keep paddling.
You were paddling to raise awareness of plastic pollution - what were the most common examples of this you saw on your journey?
Plastic bottles were by far the most commonly found item. I would find them floating in the ocean, piled high on inaccessible beaches, and in rivers on their way out to sea. One morning on the canal in Wigan I counted 691 bottles just in the first hour of paddling! I also found several beaches covered in thousands of plastic cotton bud sticks, and would regularly find plastic bags floating in the ocean.
How can people get involved and help prevent plastic pollution? What advice would you give people trying to reduce their single use plastics?
The first advice I would give is to try and stay positive. There is so much doom and gloom around the marine litter crisis, and it can feel quite overwhelming to think about. But we can all play our part in this issue however small; we all have strengths we can bring to the table, and collaborative efforts make a much bigger difference than trying to tackle it alone.
Start by noticing the plastic that you’re using in your daily life, and reducing it where possible; the easiest examples of this are committing to using a refillable water bottle instead of single use plastic bottles, taking a reusable coffee cup with you, and asking for drinks without a straw. Start to notice plastic in the environment too - whether you're inland or a coastal dweller - 80% of marine litter originates in land, so the more we are using on land, the more ends up out to sea. By starting to understand the scale of the problem, we can all add our voices to the growing movement of people demanding change from companies, businesses and governments who can make larger, tangible changes to the amount of plastic that is used at source. And they are listening!
I am part of the Surfers Against Sewage Plastic Free Coastlines campaign in North Devon, and have seen first hand the incredible positive changes that can come from working together as a community, and the pride and excitement that has come along with this. Seek out your local Plastic Free Coastlines group, or start your own if you feel inspired to do so - it’s a great way to bring people and communities together.
What do you feel you've gained from the expedition?
Ah, I feel so fortunate to have had this experience. Despite the pain, exhaustion, hunger, loneliness and fear, I’ve seen some parts of the UK coastline that few people have had the opportunity to experience. I’ve been able to immerse myself in nature and gain a much deeper appreciation of its fragility, the interconnection of life in the ecosystems, and its importance for both sustaining our life on Earth and maintaining our physical and emotional wellbeing. I have a deeper respect for the power of the oceans, and a greater understanding of tides, winds, and swell. I’ve massively pushed my comfort zone well beyond my panic zone, resulting in a deeper knowledge of myself and my abilities and strength. And I’ve been humbled by storms, the limits of my body and my mental resilience.
Funniest moment of the paddle? (Apart from watching Pete from dryrobe fall off his SUP repeatedly when he came for a paddle at Croyde)
Apart from that… Paddling along the Caledonian canal, thinking I was alone. Then out of the bushes lining the canal jumps my Dad, camera to his face, channeling his inner paparazzi. 30 seconds later, my Mum emerges from a different bush proffering food. Funniest, and one of the best moments.
What's next for you? Any expeditions on the horizon?
There are so many places along the way that I didn't have time to fully explore that I'm looking forward to going back to, particularly up in Scotland. Beaches to clean, people to talk to, and some incredible places to wild camp. I also intend to join up the stretches of UK coastline that I haven't yet paddled, that may take some time! In the meantime I’m looking forward to helping connect people to the ocean environment and to show just how much life there is there to fall in love with.
People protect what they love, so if we want any chance of protecting our oceans, we need people to understand just how incredible they really are.
All photos courtesy of the epic @jamesappletonphotography