‘I don’t want to be solo all the time now’
Sarah Outen, 30, an athlete and adventurer, and Lucy Allen, 29, a farmer, will marry in June 2016 in Oxfordshire
Sarah was in a boat by herself in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, rowing from Japan to Alaska, when she contacted Lucy via satellite phone to ask for her hand in marriage. Lucy was 11 time zones away, driving her Land Rover on her family farm in Oxfordshire. She had to pull over to say “yes”.
Wedding plans were discussed as Sarah made her way around the world travelling by kayak, bicycle and boat on her “London2London: Via the World” challenge, which she completed after four and a half years last week (News, Nov 4). Sarah, who was appointed MBE and is a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, did it “for the adventure”. She is the first person to have rowed solo from Japan to Alaska. Lucy joined her by bike and kayak for the last leg of her record-breaking 25,000-mile trip, which ended at Tower Bridge.
In January 2013, the pair met through a mutual friend, Claire, who played rugby with Lucy at the University of Edinburgh and went to secondary school with Sarah in Lincolnshire. Claire mistakenly invited them both for supper on the same night. Lucy had vaguely heard from Claire about Sarah’s expedition which began in April 2011. Seven months before meeting Lucy, Sarah’s boat had capsized in a terrifying tropical storm during her first attempt to cross the Pacific Ocean; she was just starting to feel “normal” again.
Sarah was drawn to Lucy’s smile and warm, easy-going manner. “It was all a bit of a surprise to me because I had never been attracted to women before,” Sarah says. Lucy had previously been in same-sex relationships. She sensed a connection, but discovered that Sarah had had boyfriends in the past and was left feeling “really confused”.
A few days later, Sarah invited herself to stay at Lucy’s family farm in Oxfordshire. “If I want something, I want to make it happen,” she says. “I am a bull in a china shop.” Lucy asked her identical twin sister, Katy, to join them at the pub on the first night in case they ran out of conversation. They soon discovered a shared passion for the outdoors, cycling, sailing and having fun. “We fell in love very quickly,” Lucy says.
Sarah introduced her to her mother in Rutland. (Her father, who had served in the RAF, died in 2006.) “It didn’t feel like a coming out,” she says. Two months after meeting Lucy, Sarah set off again to complete her challenge. This time, Lucy went with her to Japan. They talked about one day living together. Once Sarah had left, they regularly called, texted and emailed. Sarah would call Lucy at 6am to update her and to hear about life on the farm. They talked about having children and made a decision to propose to one another once Sarah reached Canada. Sarah could not wait — after 66 days at sea, she proposed. Lucy cried; Sarah drew an engagement ring on her finger with a felt-tip pen.
Sarah ended up having to change route because of the weather, landing in Alaska, and returned to England for seven months. She received a diagnosis of pneumonia and moved into Lucy’s house in Oxfordshire, where they live now. “When you are apart for a long time, you really value the time that you have together,” Sarah says. Lucy was a key member of her support team. When Sarah was away, she would sometimes receive weather reports before Sarah and knew if a tropical storm was on its way. The “unknown” scared her, but that did not stop her joining Sarah to cycle 2,200 miles from Calgary to Minneapolis in temperatures as low as -40°C.
They plan to marry on the farm next June. The wedding, which they want to be “laid-back” and “quirky”, will take place outdoors. “I’m not wearing a dress,” Sarah insists. Lucy has, though, banned her from wearing jeans.
Sarah enjoyed having Lucy alongside at the end of her trip. “It felt very reassuring to have her around because it is quite a transition to make,” she says. They describe one another as thoughtful, caring and loyal. “We are keen to look out for friends and family,” says Sarah, who studied biology at the University of Oxford, where she took up rowing. “I set off on this journey solo,” she says. “I don’t want to be solo all the time now. I want to be with Lucy.”