Portals to adventure

I have always loved not living in a city. I think if I did, it probably wouldn’t be as bad as I think it would be. Working in the city is enough for me and I can accept the lack of green space, the bustle of people, the various social problems and the constant stream of man made noises, because I get to leave every night.

Sometimes living in a town can feel like a cage too though. For me, there’s nothing better than escaping, even if for a few hours, somewhere rural, quiet, maybe somewhere I can find space and solitude. In the towns I have lived during my life, I have always done this; looked for escape routes out, like it’s a maze. It’s interesting how in some cases, I had to pass through portals where suburbia ended and guaranteed space began. I have yet to find one where I currently live, although on my regular run, I head out into the countryside, usually in the darkness of evening or early morning, and I run past the last lampost of town. I pass under it and then watch my feet as they and the tarmac beneath them get gradually darker and darker.

Where I used to live, one of the exit points was an underpass beneath one of the relief roads. Once I was through that, I was into a magnificent park. Then through that and I was on a single track lane. The most difficult decision then was ‘Which way, left or right?’ It was a great way of shrugging the town off, leaving all that hum and concrete behind, being full of hope and excitement for what I might find.

It just goes to show that if you don’t have the means of travel, the budget or even the time, but have the desire and imagination, you can do this within a few miles of your front door. A good idea to try is the five to nine challenge. This is one for the summer really, unless you have the gear and are really keen. It’s where you finish work at five, and see where you can get to and back from by nine PM. This could be walking, running, cycling. A really adventurous twist on this could be swapping nine PM with nine AM, throwing in a wild camping spot and then arriving at your place of work as if you’ve been home. It all depends on where you live I guess.

I’m sure everyone reading this can think up adventures to have on their own urban doorsteps. Such a world of possibilities, a plethora of wonders to see and feel down every footpath, on every tree and stream. I’m going to set myself a small challenge to find a portal out of town, explore it for an hour or so and see what I can discover.

Rekindled magic

The cold wind blew down platform one as I stood waiting for the next train. My usual train came in a few minutes before but had been too crowded to board, so I let the really desperate-looking commuters get on. For all I know they might have a hot date to get home to be ready for, or something banal like Love Island. Bless. Anyway, so I accepted my fate and waited a few minutes more. With a screeching trundle, in it came. A few rosy red faces pressed up to the glass, though most heads were bowed like there was a minute’s silence for some tragedy. The smartphone tragedy. I hopped on and began to warm up.

An hour later, my understaffed chariot of despair ground to a halt at my stop. “Great!”, I thought. “I’ll get home, and go for that run that I’ve been plotting all day.” Then two things hit me when I stepped off the train. The first was the cold wind, and the second was reality. And they were both inextricably linked. To make matters worse, the house was warm, everyone was pleased to see me, even the cats, though I suspect they thought I’d brought food, and brutally, dinner was ready. As I shuffled past the shoe stand, I’m sure I heard my trainers laughing at me.

I settled down, ate my dinner, caught up with everyone’s day, then… wallop, like a pro, before I knew it, I was upstairs, pulling on my running shorts. A couple of layers to compensate for the inconvenience of cold weather, my head torch and an iron will later, I was gone.

Within a mile I had left the last lampost of town behind. Leaving its circle of light can be both exhilarating and unnerving. As soon as I turned off the main road, I was completely alone. The only thing I had for company was a nearly-full moon. Struck by its beauty and brightness, it took me back to a long-lost memory, one that I was happy to revisit, given my current life predicament. I switched off my torch and navigated by moonlight alone.

My mind stretched back, searching, using the visual clue of the moon as its bait. There it was, perhaps ten years ago, when I was in a much rougher place, my lowest ebb perhaps. Sleepless nights, occasionally glimpsing the full winter moon out of the window. It seemed strangely soothing to be able to see a distant satellite, countless miles away, and although feeling alone, I knew I was one of many gazing up at it at that precise moment.

Fast forward a year or two, and my troubles at that time required an escape. And that’s where nature came in. This whole other world of places, living things, occurrences, some of which are unexplained. I didn’t get much help from people, so I stopped looking, happy to surround myself in the outdoors. Even when I wasn’t actually in it, I’d be reading about it. And so began the shaping of who I am today.

I remember walking home from town from the pub to the village where I once lived, no street lights, again guided by the full moon. The pavement-less road like a silver ribbon ahead of me.

Everything at that time felt magic. Over the years I’ve lost that magic as there aren’t as many new things to discover; or maybe I stopped searching. From seeing the moon again like that, it rekindled a forgotten fire inside of me, so perhaps it’s time to search again.

Movie time

On the train yesterday morning, I observed something beautiful. It was the simplicity of the fields whooshing by the window, with a low mist settling over them. It was like the landscape was made of layers of paper stretching back to the horizon, and each layer was separated by a sheet of tracing paper. The occasional tree would pop up out of the mist, showing its bare branches, looking like a silhouetted toilet brush trying to clean the sky. I’ve written before about my love/hate relationship with this time of the year, but as much as it’s sad to see the leaves go, it’s beautiful to see the colours of them as they change, and to appreciate it’s all part of a natural process that’s greater than anything us humans will accomplish.

I suppose ultimately, while gazing out of the window, watching all this go by, I was living in the present, in the moment. While the rest of the carriage were busy letting their smartphones make them dumb, I was getting a show for free. Some mornings, I can be the same though. I’ve consciously been looking at how much time I spend on my screen, and while it is quite low, it’s still shocking. Admittedly, it’s looking on Google to see how many appearances Denis Irwin made for Wolverhampton Wanderers, or checking to see when Coldplay last had a top ten single. What I try not to do is scroll perpetually, gazing at nothing. The phone owns me then. So it’s a case of read a book, or select a suitable soundtrack and watch the movie passing by, because by wrapping myself up in an online world, that’s exactly what real life will do – it will pass me by.