Jenny Tough lives up to her name. She is an adventurer, writer, speaker and filmmaker with a thirst for a challenge and not afraid to throw herself into epic environments.
She has travelled six continents solo, cycled around Europe, paddled through the South American jungle, ran marathons on four continents, hiked throughout Asia, trekked in Patagonia, dived with sharks, surfed in the North Sea, competed in numerous adventure races, and lived in five countries. We find out more about her latest challenge, her preparation and what drives her.
You were the first person to run solo and unsupported across the Tien Shen Mountains in Kyrgyzstan. What was it about the challenge that enticed you in the first place?
I grew up in the Canadian Rockies, and mountains have always felt like home for me. My desire to go to the Tien Shan was born from a need to explore mountains, and during my research of this mysterious mountain range I somehow came up with the idea that I would cover the whole thing on my own two feet. I’ve been a runner for a long time, looking for bigger challenges every year, and I began to wonder just how far it was possible to run. This seemed like a great way to find out.
Kyrgyzstan isn’t exactly your typical holiday destination. For people unfamiliar with the country, can you tell us a little a bit about the country and what you learnt about it and the people during your time there?
I have to admit, even when I landed in the capital of Bishkek I still wasn’t sure if I was pronouncing Kyrgyzstan correctly! It’s an elusive little nation, still baring the scars of the Soviet era (they were celebrating 25 years of independence when I was there). In addition to the incredible mountains that cover the entire country, one thing that really drew me to Kyrgyzstan was that nomads still live in the traditional way in the mountains, dwelling in yurts with their small flocks of goats, sheep, and horses. Getting to know the nomads and seeing their way of life was a true highlight.
How much did you have to improvise when it came to your route? Was it a case of having a plan for each day of the expedition? Or just taking it day-by-day?
Because no maps of the interior existed, the route that I had plotted in my GPS was really just a hopeful guess created through endless zooming on satellite images. I had no idea if my routes would work out, and many times they didn’t. I could often find nomads to give me advice, but they would usually only know their small territory, so it really was a case of planning day to day and being really flexible. My original ‘route’ that I plotted in my GPS did not match very closely to the track that I did in reality!
It’s fair to say you went through a lot during your time there. What were the toughest moments? Do you ever look back and wonder how you managed it?
I still can’t believe I got away with it… So many difficult moments and situations unfolded, and I really don’t know how I managed. I started the adventure by succumbing to altitude sickness that plagued me for nearly a week (and resulted in a host of poor decision-making), got lost on several occasions, ran out of water on even more occasions, had a pretty severe near-death experience, and got bad food poisoning at the very end which took me days to recover from. Things got pretty real out there!
You’re an incredibly driven person, so to read about how close you were to quitting throughout the journey really hits home. How did you keep yourself going?
There’s an old adage that says, “when you think about quitting, remind yourself why you started”. I went to Kyrgyzstan to have a real adventure and to push the limits of what I was capable of. The breakdowns along the way were like validations that I was truly pushing myself hard. And when that motivation fails, there was always the reality that if I didn’t keep going, I would be stuck out in the mountains and would never get home. You have to keep moving!
In contrast to the lows, what were the highlights? Can you look back and enjoy these more now?
I had highlights every day that I’ll never forget. I enjoyed perfect mountain sunsets, stunning alpine lakes, and enjoyed true alpine wilderness – my favourite natural environment. But my highlight has to be the time I spent with the Kyrgyz nomads – they showed me so much incredible kindness and hospitality along the way and taught me a lot about mountain culture.
How did you celebrate finishing the run?
I told myself that I would celebrate – I’m pretty sure I looked forward to a nice hotel and a big pizza the whole 23 days – but when I got there, it was kind of anti-climactic. I had been running for so long that it was just part of who I was, and when I got up the first morning after finishing I didn’t really know what to do with myself, and I really missed my tent and the mountains. The truth is, I still haven’t really celebrated what was to this day one of my favourite achievements.
FIND OUT MORE – See Jenny’s amazing journey in this picture story and find out more about the adventurer, her mission and her time in the Tien Shen Mountains in Kyrgyzstan: https://discoverinteresting.com/the-path/of-the-mountains/