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

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

Everyone has heard of Amelia Earhart, the nice 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 grew to become immersed in her life, she rapidly grew to become my heroine.

Isabella was a gifted creator, writing about her adventures as she travelled the equal of thrice world wide, 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 basic malaise. At a time when girls solely actually had two choices – to be a housewife or work in a manufacturing facility – she ventured midway the world over seeking therapeutic.

As soon as there, she spent months dwelling boldly. The journey impressed her journey e book, A Girl’s Life within the Rocky Mountains, which grew to become my bible as we revered this unbelievable 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 turn into clear in the event you watch the present).

She weathered freezing ice storms carrying only a kaftan over her Victorian gown for heat. She slept within the snow for 3 days – after 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 driving 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, grew to become my heroine | Ruby Wax
Ruby Wax on horseback, following Isabella Chicken’s path in Trailblazers: A Rocky Mountain Street Journey. {Photograph}: Jill Worsley/BBC/Studio Ramsay

“There’s nothing western folks admire a lot as pluck in a lady,” 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 trip simply in addition to any man. Ravenous, she even lower open a bear and ate cherry pits from its abdomen. She fell in love together with her “pricey desperado”, a one-eyed, violent outlaw often called Rocky Mountain Jim. Even the toughest outlaws tipped their hat to her as she rode by.

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

The journey drew parallels with my very own journey. I too have spent a variety of time working from painful issues and trauma. I feel lots of people determine with eager to run from what they don’t need to have a look at. In at the moment’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 can find her long-lasting legacy in the neighborhood of individuals selecting to stay 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 era of Victorian girls to dare to be daring, and her spirit lives on.

  • As advised to Lucy Pasha-Robinson

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