Why Isabella Chicken, the Victorian explorer forgotten by historical past, turned my heroine | Ruby Wax

Why Isabella Chicken, the Victorian explorer forgotten by historical past, turned my heroine | Ruby Wax

Everyone has heard of Amelia Earhart, the good aviator. Or Florence Nightingale, the revered statistician. However what about Isabella Chicken, the 4ft 11in Victorian adventurer who rode 800 miles throughout Colorado solo on a horse? The tragedy is that this pioneering explorer has largely been forgotten by historical past – till now.

In April, alongside the Spice Lady Melanie Brown and the comic Emily Atack, I travelled to the Rocky Mountains to retrace Isabella’s footsteps and pay homage to this trailblazer. As I turned immersed in her life, she rapidly turned my heroine.

Isabella was a gifted creator, writing about her adventures as she travelled the equal of 3 times around the globe, by boat, on horseback and foot. However she additionally suffered from debilitating power ache. After spinal surgical procedure in England to take away a tumour, in 1873 medical doctors suggested her to get out to the recent air of the Rocky Mountains to heal her common malaise. At a time when ladies solely actually had two choices – to be a housewife or work in a manufacturing unit – she ventured midway the world over searching for therapeutic.

As soon as there, she spent months dwelling boldly. The journey impressed her journey guide, A Girl’s Life within the Rocky Mountains, which turned my bible as we revered this unimaginable girl within the Colorado wilderness – till a pack of wolves ripped it to shreds and returned it to me coated in saliva (this scene will develop into clear should you watch the present).

She weathered freezing ice storms carrying only a kaftan over her Victorian costume for heat. She slept within the snow for 3 days – once we climbed Pikes Peak, we braved snowy situations however just for a couple of hours. Regardless of our layers of technical thermals, we had been left with burned pores and skin from the perishing situations.

She climbed mountains, reaching dizzyingly excessive peaks on foot and horseback. She fell off sheer ridges on her horse quite a bit and as soon as broke two of her ribs. Regardless of being a assured rider, I knew I didn’t need to try this. The journey was the primary time I had been again within the saddle since a horrible using accident in my youth. However flanked by digicam crews, two RVs and a well being and security workforce, I used to be reassured by the concept if my horse fell, the crew beneath me would soften the blow. Isabella, although, was alone.

Why Isabella Chicken, the Victorian explorer forgotten by historical past, turned my heroine | Ruby Wax
Ruby Wax on horseback, following Isabella Chicken’s path in Trailblazers: A Rocky Mountain Highway Journey. {Photograph}: Jill Worsley/BBC/Studio Ramsay

“There’s nothing western folks admire a lot as pluck in a girl,” Isabella wrote. And it was a lesson she lived by. She was hardcore.

She wrangled cattle, was a professional lasso and have become identified throughout the Rockies because the English girl who might journey simply in addition to any man. Ravenous, she even minimize open a bear and ate cherry pits from its abdomen. She fell in love together with her “expensive desperado”, a one-eyed, violent outlaw generally known as Rocky Mountain Jim. Even the toughest outlaws tipped their hat to her as she rode by.

All through our journey, I discovered myself continually questioning how she survived. I realised Isabella was pushed by her ache – the agony was driving her to maintain shifting and exploring, and pushing the bounds of her existence. Operating is an effective survival tactic; it’s higher than sitting at residence and complaining. Each new vista and waterfall helped her keep away from going through as much as her inside torment. There’s no introspection in her books; Isabella was all the time wanting ahead.

The journey drew parallels with my very own journey. I too have spent numerous time operating from painful issues and trauma. I believe lots of people establish with desirous to run from what they don’t need to take a look at. In at present’s world, that’s more durable to do. Some use social media as an escape – the fixed quest for extra followers, extra notoriety. In Aspen, the billionaires’ playground, America has veered so removed from what it represented for Isabella: nature is now overrun with greed and entitlement.

However enterprise deep into the Colorado wilderness, and you’ll find her long-lasting legacy in the neighborhood of individuals selecting to dwell a life with out limits. From the lady who traverses the harshest mountain climes in her open-air Jeep, to the 80-year-old ranch proprietor who was one robust cookie. Isabella impressed a technology of Victorian ladies to dare to be daring, and her spirit lives on.

  • As instructed to Lucy Pasha-Robinson

  • Ruby Wax stars alongside Emily Atack and Melanie Brown in Trailblazers: A Rocky Mountain Highway Journey. Episode one will air on BBC Two and iPlayer on Monday 28 November at 9pm

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