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The Gearzette
Front Runner on the move: Sophie Hollingsworth

Front Runner on the move: Sophie Hollingsworth

- June 03, 2022

Sophie Hollingsworth is a former ballerina, turned internationally acclaimed explorer and adventure chef.​ ​As the Founder of AquaAid International, Sophie has worked with some of Central America and Sub- Saharan Africa’s most remote villages establishing sustainable sources of clean drinking water. Building upon her environmental health non-profit background, Sophie currently consults across corporations and geographies to bring clarity and results to complex environmental challenges. When not in the boardroom or the field she is undertaking long overland expeditions, often solo.​ ​

Sophies exploration combines an interest in two of the most significant topics of our time: environmental change and health. Sophie is a Fulbright Scholar, the 2017 New Explorer of the Year, and an environmental consultant. Her expeditions have taken her from the streets of Managua to the mountains of Madagascar and everywhere in between.

© Sophie Hollingsworth

Roughly how many kilometers have you done over the past year or so?

Not very many, unfortunately, but that was all out of my control. Last year (2021) witnessed a hard lockdown in Sydney, Australia which lasted for a total of 107 days, during which time I had only a 5km radius. I enjoyed a few sunsets sitting on my Front Runner Roof Rack pretending I was on an overland adventure and learned to enjoy the adventures in my own backyard - using my Jimny as more of a surfboard or free diving kit transportation vehicle.

So, while there were a few long weekend haunts, the state border restrictions lasted most of the year, seriously stifling the kilometers. That being said, 2022 is all about making up for the missed kms and adventures!

© Sophie Hollingsworth

How important are those quick weekend trips?

Weekend micro-adventures provide that much-needed city escape (in my day job I am a climate change advisory for a global management consulting firm). Weekend trips are a chance to escape the contrast to the ping of the phone and internet and disconnect with friends and family. And for me of course, embrace my Indiana-Jones-meets-Martha-Stewart open fire cooking ways.

Part of what I love about remote four-wheel driving, particularly in Australia, is the concentration required that keeps you living in the moment. There are so many obstacles that could add a hiccough to your day, rocks and desert crabs that will puncture your tires, bulldust that will envelop your entire vehicle, and wash beds that rattle your brain. You have to be entirely in the moment and focused. It is hard to get bored like you easily can on paved roads. It is oddly like a kind of meditation where you have to stay in the moment.

© Sophie Hollingsworth

Out of all the spots you’ve ever camped in, what are your 5 favorites (of all time)? And could you give us a short reason why?

In no particular order because they are all amazing…​

Cape Leveque, Western Australia:​ 

There aren't too many places in the world where you have bright red sand butting up against some of the bluest water you'll ever see. Makes you almost overlook the crocodiles.

Tanami Desert, Northern Territory, Australia​:

The Tanami Desert is one of the most isolated areas on earth. Many people told me it was a boring landscape and to get across the ‘thing’ (referring to the desert) as quick as I could. But, then again, big skies and vast desert plains stretching to the horizon, dotted with kangaroos, have a uniquely Australian appeal.​​​

South-west Namibia​:

Two words: Hyena watch. A favorite due to the sheer unexpectedness and memorable nature of spending the night rotating who kept a watchful eye for the not-so-friendly four-legged friends.

​Maewo Island, Vanuatu​:

Vibrant indigenous communities still practice their traditional culture but infuse modern technology on their own terms. Also, some of the most genuine and giving souls I’ve ever met.

​Along the banks of the Onilahy River, Madagascar​:

Wild camping that truly feels like you are on another planet.

© Sophie Hollingsworth

What is the biggest challenge you’ve ever had to deal with on an overland trip (in terms of mechanical breakdown, or getting stuck etc.)? Where was it and how did you eventually get out?​​

Backtrack to 2018, while I’ve had my fair share of breakdowns, getting stuck, kangaroos jumping in front of the vehicle, the biggest challenge I ever had to deal with on an overland track was four-wheel driving across Australia, alone.

​In 2018 I had an approximately six-month window to overland across Australia. While I had friends join me for parts of this epic adventure, the leg back from Western Australia to New South Wales I ended up undertaking solo… A situation that spellbound the few people we came across - I can’t blame them, as many people in the city are reluctant to step out into the street at night, let alone drive across many of the world’s most remote deserts alone.

I was only a few days into the leg back, in a remote part of Western Australia, where I met a couple who had a self-proclaimed ‘allergy to bitumen’ - just the kind of people I wanted to talk to. Poring over the maps, they showed me the 4x4 tracks that the locals used to get around in avoidance of the paved roads. The idea became that even if I got stuck, I would likely see one other vehicle every four days or so.

A couple of nights into this track, I found the most epic remote camp in a sand bed, there was no moon and no light pollution. A night sky so dark, I couldn’t even see my hand extended arms-length in front of me. I was awoken in the night by a banging on the side of the door.

I had no idea who or what was there. But something was definitely there. I went into fight mode, adrenaline pumped thick, and my heartbeat spiked so high I thought I might have a heart attack before I could even be attacked by the unknown pounding noise. I always slept with my knife, and satellite phone within arm's reach - although on this particular night I was not wearing pajama pants - which I deeply regretted.

I quietly lay there terrified, calculating my surprise attack. Whatever it was, was on the back right door (right next to my bed), so I decided to crawl up to the front left seat, open the front door and jump on the roof rack - it made sense at the time, although the execution was less than graceful and half nude. When I opened the front door, the banging on the door stopped. I froze. I peered to the other side of the vehicle and jumped on the roof. My toes gripped the rack as I stood there, trembling in the cold and fear, unable to determine what shape was below.

Was it a serial killer or a kangaroo? I forgot to grab my glasses. Golly, I felt useless. It is amazing that humans have come as far as we have. And then the unidentified shape let out a sound, not a human sound, almost a dinosaur-like ‘moo.’ I braced myself between my jerry cans and spare tire, now laying on the roof rack to get closer to said object. There were four legs and fur. It was a baby cow banging itself against the truck! Not the Wolf Creek serial killer I’d imagined. I crawled back into the safety of my bed in Lord Laszlo and put on pajama bottoms, in case I had any more night visitors.

 I made it back to Sydney a few months later.

© Sophie Hollingsworth

Can you give us a brief rundown of the Front Runner products you have on your Jimny?

My Jimny is an ever-evolving work in progress. It is such a tiny overland vehicle that every product has to be fit for multiple purposes.

Up top, we have the Slimline II roof rack. Aboard the roof rack I have one Wolf Pack Pro and one Wolf Pack, largely with my camping kitchen and cast-iron pan. I’ve got the axe holder for splitting firewood and the padded surfboard mount.

​Moving downstairs via the Front Runner Rear Ladder and of course the all-important Rack Mount Bottle Opener, for my homebrew. And last but not least, you will not catch me leaving home without the Spare Tire Mount Braai / BBQ Grate affixed to my spare tire.

That said, it is a phased approach, and all calculated to provide the perfect balance between an overland adventurer and something that can still (mostly) fit in parking garages in Sydney’s business district.

© Sophie Hollingsworth

Where to next with the Jimny?

I will be cheating on my Jimny for a few weeks to rent a kitted Land Cruiser for an epic overland adventure in Zambia in mid-2022! But then to show the Jimny some love, I am planning on taking the Jimny out to Western Australia later in the year for an ocean meets the outback trip between the Exmouth, Ningaloo region and then back up into Cape Leveque in The Kimberly.

© Sophie Hollingsworth

If you could give the everyday outdoor cook one tip to elevate that camp meal, what would it be?

When cooking over a fire, nothing is as instantaneous as in the kitchen at home, nor do you have all the tools or options that most people are accustomed to in the kitchen.​ ‘Sophie says: Everything takes longer.’ In our age of instant gratification, we’ve become used to microwaves heating up food and gas stoves providing fire all within a matter of seconds. With a fire, that is simply not the case. Patience is probably the most important element of cooking over the fire. It is all about slowing down to enjoy the outdoors—and it’s even better with company. At first, you will inevitably undercook, overcook, and drop things in the fire. That’s life. Enjoy the time in the outdoors and be patient with the fire cooking journey