My name is Ashley, I am a 28 year old female, and, probably much to the surprise of some of those reading this, I am Canadian – born and raised on a beef farm near Calgary, Alberta. I completed my BSc. in Environmental Sciences at the University of Alberta (2006-2011), and my MSc. in Contaminant Hydrogeolgy at the University of Sheffield (2014-2015). In the years between and after my education I have worked as a Soil Scientist/Hydrogeologist at a large consulting firm, balanced (not always equally) with my side hobby of traveling the world. I am a Fellow of the Geological Society of London (FGS), a registered Professional Agrologist (P. Ag), and currently working towards my designation as a Professional Geoscientist (P. Geo) in Canada.
Ever since I was young I can remember I had a fascination with rocks. To this day I can remember being amazed by my great grandpa’s rock collection; rocks, crystals, and fossils that he and my great grandma had accumulated through their travels. I didn’t know it at the time, but we were kindred spirits. Unfortunately when my great grandpa passed away the rock collection was sold, but before he died he had given me an amethyst geode, which to this day has a place of honor on my dresser (among many other rocks and crystals I have accumulated over the years).
As I grew older, my love of rocks was put on the back-burner by a love of horses and the sport of rodeo. When it came time to decide on what career path to pursue in my post-secondary education I found myself enrolling in pre-veterinarian studies, an ambitious choice when a) I was not in love with the idea of becoming a vet, and b) actually getting admitted to vet school was harder to do than getting into medical school. I was smart, but not that smart! I was slowly drawn back to my interest in the subsurface, and ended up completing my B.Sc. in Environmental Science focusing on soil science, and later delving deeper into the subsurface by completing my M.Sc in Contaminant Hydrogeology. It would have been much simpler had I enrolled in geology, but without my round about route back towards my childhood interest in rocks I might not have ever fallen in love with the UK and travelling by bicycle.
Why the UK?
In 2014 my father passed away, and like anyone dealing with grief I decided I needed a big change of scenery. But, as I was not fully committed to giving up everything for a vagabond existence, I decided pursuing higher education halfway around the world was a suitable compromise. I knew I wanted to further my education in groundwater and remediation technologies so I had originally applied and been accepted to study Biogeochemistry and Pollutant Dynamics at one of the top research universities in the world (ETH Zurich). The program was not quite as focused on groundwater as I would have liked, though it had the remediation aspect I was looking for. Originally in my search for M.Sc. courses I had disregarded looking at any universities in the UK due to the high tuition fees for international students, but less than three months before the course start date, while attending a contaminated sites training course I found my interest piqued by the seminar titled Contaminant Hydrogeology. On a whim I googled Contaminant Hydrogeology M.Sc, and lo and behold exactly what I was looking for existed, the M.Sc. in Contaminant Hydrogeology at the University of Sheffield. In a few short weeks I found myself trading a view of the Swiss Alps for a view of the hills of the once (and very much no longer) booming steel capital of the U.K…
While my relationship with the city of Sheffield was very strained throughout the time I lived there, on one hand it was a bustling student city with two major universities known for their active student life and on the other hand it was a city with disparity, the older generations still living with the impacts of the crash of the steel industry. As a mature student, I was caught somewhere inbetween and was never able to find my niche in the city. Where I did find my niche was on a hot pink bike, packing up my tent and panniers I would leave on the first train out of Sheffield every chance I could, and this is how I first fell in love with the English countryside.
Why a Hot Pink Bike?
I won’t lie, I know very little about bikes. Being a kid on a farm full of gravel roads and fields, bikes had little appeal when one could ride a horse or ATV to get from point A to point B. Not to mention the appeal of cycling was even more dampened as our childhood bikes consisted of fixed gears, banana seats, and very narrow tires that did little to navigate through gravel at walking speeds. My first “real” bike came as a hand me down, a couple sizes too small, wobbly handlebars that constantly needed adjusting, and though it had gears and brakes, only the front brake and rear gear shift worked somewhat reliably. If only one brake is going to work, it is not the front on you want! But, I made it work, I even used it daily to/from university during my undergrad, even through the Canadian winter. There was one upside to using this bike though, I never, ever felt the need to lock it.
When I made the decision to move to the UK I decided that I would try a bicycle as my main means of transportation. Being on a thrifty student budget, I limited my search to ebay auctions and gumtree postings. A fellow co-worker who was a bit of a bicycle enthusiast helped to provide some guidance in my bike buying venture, but all that advice went out the window the moment I saw the auction for a hot pink B’twin hybrid bike. I’m not a girly girl by any means, and I don’t wear pink often, but after looking through boring grey, blue, and black bikes I knew I had to have this bike that stood out. Also, I rationalized later, a hot pink bike would be much lower on the theft radar. Despite that fact, I did something I had never done with my previous bike, I bought a lock.
Combining my love of geology, the U.K countryside, and my hot pink bike, I came up with The Great Geology Cycle. For details of my trip to the 100 Great Geosites click here.