The freedom of the mountains (after careful planning)

It’s been a couple of weeks since my last post. There is a legitimate reason for this and it is relevant. It’s not an excuse, honestly.

Radio silence was the fault of spending four days and three nights in the mountains. I’ve been trying to get away since winter really and booked a week off work to get some quality hikes in. The planning of the trip was quite full on. Booking the campsite was easy, but it was the three or four days leading up to the trip that required the most organisation. I like to think I’m well organised, but I have been known to forget obvious things. Example one; there was the time I drove 20 miles to watch and photograph a friend’s band, only to discover as they walked out on stage that my camera battery was at home, still charging. Example two; the time I drove 100 miles for a weekend away taking part in a civilians version of a military test march, only to discover that the bag with all of my (quite expensive) nutrition for the march was still at home.

For this reason, I am quite methodical in the way I pack for trips. I pack in stages, after a few days making lists of what to take. If I don’t pack in stages, or leave those stages half complete, I’m that scatty that I’ll return to the task and completely lose my train of thought and overlook something blinking obvious. Think walking boots, maps, tent.

DSC_0904

This trip was particularly difficult to pack for because it involved three things – the tent and all the camping paraphernalia, the clothing and equipment for three separate hikes, and clothing and other items for the day-to-day activities. I had to start very slowly and be very thorough, and I am proud to say, didn’t miss a thing.

The biggest part of the planning process was actively planning each hike. And we’re not talking about grabbing a map, choosing where to go, and following it without getting lost. Those simple days are behind me! Those wonderful lowland walks. Gone. No, in the mountains, every step must be planned, distances, expected timings, speed, elevation climbed, compass bearings and weather conditions. Not everything goes to plan however, as my account of the week will reveal.

Whilst the hills and mountains can’t be made 100% safe, the risks we take while there can be minimised. One way of doing this is having a contactable person elsewhere who knows exactly where you are and where you last were, so if you’re not back when you said you were going to be back, the appropriate action can be taken.

I had a very pleasant, but at times, testing, three days, which I will describe in the following three blogs in the coming weeks.

Pathways to anywhere

It is with envy as I make my way to work, that I pass a fingerpost pointing away from the busy road. It takes my eye away from the bumper of the car in front of me and through the gap in the hedge to, well, who knows where.

I’ve never walked this path, and countless others like it. Just the mere sight of an untrodden path and the mystery of where it might go leads to an adventure-hungry excitement.

Maybe some paths aren’t meant to be explored in the physical sense. They may be the ones to walk along in the mind, calming the flow of thoughts through the conscious, creating a kind of utopia over the hedge. There’s the fear that what lies beyond will not live up to expectations, which happens just as much as the reverse, when the path exceeds hopes, and becomes immortal in the memory.

I tend to find that the feeling I take away from a path or series of paths has a lot to do with the weather on the day that I first tread them. An average walk with perfect conditions can easily eclipse a stunning walk with dreadful conditions.

In honesty, I don’t think I will ever tread my morning path. Probably because the thought of not knowing is of far more use to me that the fact of knowing.

Perpetual winter and learning

This winter seems to be never-ending. Slowly, the mornings are getting lighter as well as the evenings. Pretty soon, the clocks change and everything accelerates further. Those are the best days yet often taken for granted. Whilst I no longer hate winter I still prefer spring and summer. Spring is unbeatable for the feeling of hope, warmth and the buzz of nature at work.

Whilst the bad weather and extreme temperatures can be devastating to our wildlife, it can bring rarely seen species into our neighbourhoods and gardens. Just the other day I saw a Redwing in extremely close proximity. These are winter visitors to our countryside and are usually seen from afar in flocks. This one seemed to be very tame and alone. ‘Tame’ in that situation is more likely to be representative of desperation. All the same it was great to admire one so close – the red on the wing, the Thrush-like feathering, and the distinctive flash of colour above the eye.

Snow in gardens reveals its secret story. Look at the tracks making their way across the lawn, follow them. See where garden visitors enter and exit your patch. The power and accessibility of the Internet and its wealth of information means you can look up track marks to help identify animals and birds.

Maybe I don’t want the winter to end after all.

Roll up, roll up! It’s free!

It probably wasn’t a great philosopher that said it, but things are better when they’re free aren’t they?

Free drinks? Go on then! Free food? Great! Free money? Have I died and gone to heaven? What about free exercise? Technically all exercise is free, after you’ve paid out for the kit and equipment you’re going to need, because the outdoors is free.

Gyms aren’t normally free though, but let’s ignore those for now as this is a family show, geared at getting out, not in. In my opinion, the best free stuff is stuff you can enjoy with others. This also supports my opinion that sport should be accessible to all, regardless of status and income. Every weekend, I kick things off with my local ParkRun. These are free to take part in, are timed and you get a placing. At my local, we get over 300 people a week, all abilities, with multiple goals and motivation. For me, it is about the challenge through the year of chasing the elusive personal best, and largely about the community feeling that goes with it. We welcome new runners almost every week as well as running and chatting with familiar faces. If you asked everyone, you’d probably get a different answer every time. I personally look forward to Saturday mornings as I’m sure others do too. As it’s a free event, it is ran on a tight budget by volunteers. You can in turn volunteer some weeks to put a little bit back into it.

We’re very lucky in my part of the world to have free access (both physically and financially) to public rights of way, making walking in scenic or rural areas realistic for the majority. All you need to do is treat those areas with respect. Of course, aside from the physical benefits of being out in the open, there’s the mental health boost too, fighting depression and stress.

If you want to get fit, what can you do for nothing where you live? If there aren’t many options, could you create a group? The possibilities are relatively endless!