Ch-ch-ch-ch-challenges

Another long run in the bag on Sunday. Three and a half hours by myself out on the road. Quite unimaginable really. The human body is amazing. Compare the time spent on that run with other things that you could do. You could watch two films or two football matches. It’s half of the average working day. And yet, even without music to listen to, I didn’t get bored, or negative. I thought about a lot of things, a kind of therapy. Definitely not a meditation though. I think in order to do that, I would have to focus on my feet. By definition, meditation is the art of focusing on a single (hopefully virtuous!) object or thought, so rolling countryside and lanes don’t tick the boxes. It’s a great way of getting to know yourself though, seeing where your thoughts go, and finding out what you’re capable of. I don’t talk about my running at work unless I’m asked about it mainly because most people find it difficult to understand why I would want to do it. Equally, I find it difficult to understand why they want to spend their free time in bed until lunchtime, then switching the TV on for the rest of the day. If pushed, I always reveal that I’m just happy doing it and constantly pushing my ageing body to achieve things I never dreamed of. In other words, finding out what I’m capable of.

I think a life testing yourself in any way is a virtuous life. A meditation I guess. Challenge yourself to run a marathon, walk every street in your town, spot every species of wildflower that you can, count every star – whatever it is. It will fill you up. It will help you to dream. It will give you something to talk about when other things fail. And guess what? Keep doing it! Keep reinventing challenges. You’ll discover the outdoors, yourself and your next big move.

Falling leaves

It’s a bit of a cliché, but the autumn really is a pallette of colour. I myself have long preferred spring as I feel it is full of promise. But the autumn brings colour of a different kind, coupled with melancholy. Technically it is now winter here, but the leaves are still falling and are beautiful.

This is one of the most rewarding times of the year to get out and about. It is mild enough to get out, yet cool enough to be comfortable. From a photography point of view it is the best time of year.

I enjoy country walking at this time of year. With the seasons changing, and less leaves at the trees you can see more birds. Autumn also heralds the return, of sorts, of the dawn chorus, and bird song in general as many overwintering species contest their territories before the cold weather hits.

Don’t be put off by the falling mercury of your thermometer (if you have one). Wrap up and get out. You’ll be amazed at how quick you warm up. Take some photographs, share them! Don’t fall (pun intended) into the hibernation mentality. Cold weather can invigorate too. I take cold showers. It’s a great way to feel buzzing and alive. Consult your doctor first though!

Small things. Baby steps.

Fresh off the back of the weekend came the inevitable Monday morning blues. The mental kicking and screaming tantrum informing me it’s time to go to the circus again.

How many of us genuinely love our jobs? I’d guess it’s a minority. My job is OK. Tolerable. Maybe I take it for granted. If I did find a job that I loved, however, would I still seek the physical and mental escapes to balance it out?

The dangerous thinking is that (assuming we live to current life expectancy) we spend about 80% of our life at work. Add on all the time we spend asleep, and we’re left with…well…not a lot.

I went running yesterday. It was a long run. I just set myself a time target to see how much distance I could cover in three hours. I enjoyed being out; the weather, the scenery, the solitude. I also loved the challenge. A fair way in to it, I began to tire and it became a case of putting one foot in front of the other. I began to think of how each step, although small, was part of something massive and the end goal wasn’t possible without the smaller parts. Just like moving a mountain. It’s done pebble by pebble. Or a beach, grain by grain.

This led me to wonder. The time spent at work, coping with stress, hoping for better days, more money, ‘clean desk’ policies, unjust promotions, coffee break gossip et al, is worthless. But we all need a job. Filling your marathon-length life with lots of small things adds up to a happy life. Making the most of the the small things. Small things add up to big things. Do more small things. I’m hoping to do some voluntary work, picking up litter. What I pick up will be a minute segment of the litter in my town, not to mention the planet. But it’s a little step towards a much bigger goal. Baby steps. Not just for babies after all.

Between a bivvy and a great place

Cutting a very long story short, I’m currently trying to plan my first solo walking/wild camping trip – just as winter is drawing near!

There is a lot more to consider, due to the time of year, the remoteness (and therefore lower number of other walkers) of the area and I guess the strangeness of being completely and utterly alone. It’s a bit like my birthday every year: looking forward to it and terrified of it at the same time.

The main word today is bivvy. Which type to get. What size. A lowland one or Alpine one. I spent an hour at lunchtime today ping-ponging from site to site, forum to forum. And I still couldn’t come up with the goods. A bivvy, by the way, is a sleeping bag. But a more weather resistant one. Effectively a one man tent, but small enough and light enough to carry in a backpack. Cost is a big thing too. A top of the range bivvy will set you back three hundred quid. A cheap one might not be suitable for most weather types and could put you at risk. It is only really the rock of the bivvy that is between me and adventure. Once the equation is solved, that’s it. Gone.

 

Another summer’s promise almost gone

After a week away from it, I decided I would make the most of the early autumnal sunshine and walk down to the rough ground. I find September to be a melancholy time of year. The end of summer, impending winter, watching things die back. I used to dread the end of August. But in recent years, I’ve grown to embrace it. Not like it, just embrace it.

One advantage to shorter days is you get more time to catch up on any reading. I especially like reading books about natural history and reading about spring and summer flora and fauna leaves you looking forward to the new year, giving hope. Autumn and winter also help me to get out more, as strange as it sounds. The cold doesn’t bother me, it’s more the wet and grey that gets me down, so if there’s a sunny day, it’s a great chance to drop everything that can wait, and plan a last minute trip to the hills, lanes, rivers and fields.

I get reflective at this time of year. I used to get depressed that another summer had drifted by without much thought and appreciation but nowadays I’m not like that so much, probably because I do more things that fill my imagination and needs, things I love doing, so when August comes and goes and that fluttery panic feeling creeps in, I smack it back with memories of the past four months. Walks, runs, camping trips, time at the allotment. Basically, less time on the sofa, in front of the TV.

The rough ground looked different yesterday. It was bathed in sunshine. The greenery slowly turning yellow and red. I heard more birds, a couple of crickets and began looking at what trees grow there. I noted a few maples more than anything.

I started to imagine if I could take ownership of the rough ground. What would I do with it? Would I close it off and leave it to mother nature or actively manage it? I thought first and foremost that I’d manage it. Remove non-native trees and plants, and encourage young saplings to grow up to regenerate the area. I pretty much worked out that I was more or less taking things away, not adding anything, which sounds unproductive but in the long term, it’s adding new trees and plants. It’s hard to work out what is ‘natural’ for an inner city scrub. Invasive species thrive. Being near a river, in flood, seeds will wash up. Damp ground fauna will survive over ill-planted species. I did definitely decide to keep it as open access, I mean, what’s the point in creating an urban wild patch that no one can appreciate also? Other that the obvious litter problem and the burned out car, and trolleys, there’s no sign of vandalism. If I showed care for it, would other people? Would I even mention it to friends? I haven’t even told my friends about this blog.

 

 

 

Fun time camping with friends

My weekend started early. I left work at lunchtime, with the car already packed, and drove 80 miles up the road to go camping with a bunch of friends. We have been planning this trip for a few months and it felt great to get there. The campsite was like a festival; burger vans, music, beer tent, pop-up bars, and masseuses. It’s probably a good time now to mention that the festival is actually a 24 hour endurance running event. A couple of thousand people turn up and run on their own, or as part of various sized teams on a hilly, cross-country 10km (6.2 miles) course as many times as they can in 24 hours. And camp.

We graced this event last year, so we knew what to expect and where and how much to push ourselves. We set a target of 31 laps, worked out a strategy and started strong. It is starting to sound very serious and technical, but the main aim above all else was to enjoy our time together, working towards a common goal, sharing the experience. We didn’t sit around talking endlessly about heart rate zones, negative splits and rivalry. We did laugh a lot, live a lot and made memories. We also fell short of our target – but only by three laps. Next year, we kept saying. Next year.

It goes to show that we had a great time without ruining it by being overly competitive. Everybody suffered, but it was part of the fun.

I find competition a healthy aspect of improving. It’s important though to compete with the clock, or yourself. If you do pick out a rival, hopefully it’s a mutually respected rivalry. I have had rivalries in the past, most of them unspoken, but still oppressive. They took away the enjoyment and purpose of what I was doing. A negative strategy. Now my main rival is myself. My own worst critic too, thankfully. So just get out there and do what you enjoy doing, because one day you might no longer be able to do it, and taking away positive memories should really be the goal.

Rough ground

I assume most people reading this (if any) work most of the day, most of the week, most of the year. Even so, if you don’t, the same applies. Today’s subject is about making the most of the outdoors and what is around you when it is not the weekend.

For me, I work on the northern edge of a major city. My office window looks out over a packed motorway, a grimy railway line and a busy main road. You can see houses, blocks of flats, Church spires, and trees. There is life out there. But city life is about hustle, bustle, money, short tempers and bleak views. That is, if you don’t actively look for the alternatives. I should point out that this window of mine isn’t mine at all – it’s behind me. Yes, I face the wall more or less. It just means I can’t watch the world go by, or the rain pour down, but it does mean I still get to appreciate the sun rolling in and the shadows it creates across the carpet.

It was earlier this week that I decided to explore a patch of land that I drive past every day. Well hidden, accessible yet still remote in a city. To give you an idea, it sits between a main road to its East, a motorway to its north (which actually goes over it via a flyover) and a river (also beneath the flyover). It is fairly overgrown and I can see signs of previous human habitation in the shape of old pavements and concrete, slowly being reclaimed by mother nature. Nearly every side is hidden from view by trees and shrubs. Behind some of this on the western edge, are houses. This place is not exactly a secret, more of a cut through for people going to the shops, or work.

Once I set foot on the path, I decided to stray from the main path straight away, cutting north-west down a track perhaps created by a fox or badger. I soon found myself amongst trees and very close to the flyover. My first thought was how loud it was, and how I couldn’t see or hear birds, or any sign of life for that matter. So I just stood still.

Seconds later, I heard the hum of a hoverfly. Then more. There were several busying themselves on the blackberry bushes, which still contain flowers.

After standing still for a few minutes, a quick glance at my watch told me it was time to get back to work. While walking back, I heard a brief but sweet chirp of a Great Tit (Parus Major). Not a rare species at all, but welcome in this urban pocket of forgotten greenery.

All of this was only a fifteen minute walk from my desk. If I lived here, I would disregard it. If it was under threat of development, I wouldn’t care either, but as I’m an out-of-towner, it would be a shame to lose it.