Flip flops for all

Have you been on holiday?

That’s what a few of my colleagues have been saying to me lately.

Have you been away?

I’d like to think it’s because something terrible has gone wrong and their first thought is that it can only have occurred because I wasn’t there. As I haven’t been on holiday relatively recently, if anything has gone boob up, chances are it happened because I was there.

No, of course, they are referring to my natural tan. Being fair in complexion, I am prone to sunburn. When I used to burn, I burned, then peeled, then went back to pale again. But over the last eight or nine years since I seriously ramped up the running, hiking, cycling and alotmenteering, I have began to look decidedly grubby. I am proud of my cyclist’s tan, runner’s tan and general tan. Spending more and more time outdoors has made me look a bit more healthy. It’s not just on the outside however. Being an outdoorsy type is good for your mind. It’s no secret anymore that sunlight equals vitamin D which is good for your happiness levels amongst other things.

I like having an outdoor mind set too. If you’re the same as me, you will know where I am coming from. That kind of train of thought throughout the day that thinks in terms of contour lines, places to go, the fresh air in general. Conversation in the communal kitchen with me can soon turn to stories of weekend adventures, not what has been happening on the already-slated-by-me Love Island.

I find l loving the outdoors guides my decisions and even my wardrobe. I work in an office. Not a very creative environment, although it is meant to be and is viciously sold to our clients as one, and every bloke there wears pretty much the following: smart shoes, jeans, checked shirt. Attack of the clones. I, and one more guy, who incidentally is NOT an outdoorsy type (unless you count beer gardens and barbeques) wear shorts, and, wait for it…flip flops. Yes, in our minds, we are outdoors on the beach. We get stick for it, but I’d rather break rank and have an identity than cower in the safety of dressing like a lumberjack.

Keeping fit used to be my other thing. The thing I did when I wasn’t at work, and the thing I talked about and thought about when I was at work. Then a change happened. The more I kept fit outdoors, the more time I spent outdoors. Soon enough, the outdoors became my thing. It’s like a disease with next to no cure at all. But what a disease to have! Imagine if it was an epidemic, what do you think the world and its people would be like? Would we still be money and status driven? I think it would be a world where nature and environmental issues would take precedent, with the majority protecting their favourite spaces, and their decisions being driven by their love of the outdoors. It sounds a bit hippy-like, but can you picture a whole people wearing flip flops in high powered jobs? I can!

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.

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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.

Progress – part 2

In my last post, I covered different aspects of what constitutes progress. I should probably say that I believe that humanity as a whole is regressing not progressing. I see progress in the form of its definition:

“development towards an improved or more advanced condition.”

Call me old fashioned but I feel that compromising the environment is in no way progress for us at all. After all, how do you measure progress? Inevitably it will be facts and figures, numbers and profits, not general human state. If you could capture that, I think it would be a different story.

I do admit that the planet is becoming overcrowded and we all need somewhere to call home. That can’t be disputed, but the manner in which it’s tackled is generally deplorable. For example, a few hundred acres of prime agricultural land is given up for housing. That for me would be more easy to accept if it was to have 500 suitable, sustainable family homes built on it. However, more often than not, the majority of houses are 3, 4 or 5 bedroom houses that don’t accurately fit in with the needs of that community’s housing needs. It is clearly down to the greed of developers and local authorities.

I have always been critical of HS2 here in the UK (a high speed rail link, that is cutting through the countryside including irreplaceable ancient woodland and wildlife corridors). It is wreaking all this destruction for what? So business users can get to the north for something ridiculous like 30 minutes quicker than they are now. Again, I ask, what for? Well it’s money and that word again, progress.

I was amused a long time ago by post I saw on social media. It hit the nail on the head for me about the general human state vs the environment. It said this:

“Imagine if trees gave off a WiFi signal. We’d be planting trees all over the place and we’d probably save the planet too.

Too bad they only produce the oxygen we breathe”.

The crying shame is, it’s true. If only we had the same attitude towards environment and nature as we have towards high speed broadband, high speed rail links, high speed everything.

Our human state is ultimately unhappy, and probably will continue on this path, but at least we can get there quicker.

Progress – part one

Despite my rugged, muscular, ‘man of the mountains’ aura (sic) that I possess, I do have a sensitive side. A few years back, I felt sensitive enough to put my feelings down on paper in poetry form of how I was feeling about some proposed housing developments on designated green belt land near the town where I live. I was quite pleased with the result, not because it was good (it wasn’t) but for the fact that for the first time, I had actually hit the nail on the head with what I wanted to say without being vague and dancing around the subject. The title of this as-yet-to-be-published ditty was Progress.

I called it so in a ironic, sarcastic way as in my view, carving up the green belt was far from progress. After all, how can sacrificing greenery and its own delicate ecosystems in favour of bricks, mortar, cars and concrete be a sign of progress? Councils have the habit of removing green belt status from any previous green belt land as and when they see fit. In my view it makes a mockery of all the systems and policies in place. If green belt can be reassigned, what about conservation areas, SSSIs, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty or even National Parks? Is it just something to revoke when the call is made?

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Apart from having nice spaces to look at, humans need them. More importantly, so does the planet. The planet seems to be the biggest loser among all of this ‘progress’, having to contend with our materialistic existence and demands to move quicker at whatever costs. Green spaces, clean air and generally exercising outdoors have been proven to promote healthy bodies and minds. With diabetes, obesity and mental illness on the rise, could there be a link between lack of open space, natural beauty and increased urbanisation and these human conditions? Maybe. A huge part of the problem though is down to increased industrialisation and automation making the human race and labour redundant. With nothing for us to fill the void left by an honest day’s work, we have to look towards other things that ultimately make us unhappy – the never-ending vacuum of material want.

All of this is bringing me more questions than ideas, and not wanting to ramble, this is the end – for now. Which is why it is called Part One!

It would be interesting to hear your thoughts, ideas, or experiences from your lives, cultures and environments too.

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.

Four snow storms and a cancellation

It’s been a funny old week. Four days of snow brought things to a standstill. I, and a few others still managed to get out for a run or two. For me, the snow is a great chance to use some of my winter and mountain kit. My fell running shoes got a good run out, resulting in easy traction and bone dry feet. Much less stressful than trying to drive in it too I might add.

A half marathon that I was entered into was cancelled too, which was probably wise, given the risk of safety for not just everyone competing, but also everyone getting there to compete, marshall or spectate.

Only a few days prior to all this I entered an ultra marathon in May and my thoughts drifted towards summer days, heatstroke risk and staying cool. Next thing, I’m digging my car out of a snow drift. All this happens at the same time that my studies cover weather fronts, so I can go some way to explain this Siberian atmosphere to myself as best I can. It’s not the sort of weather I’d like to be caught up in on the hills though, even if it does make for beautiful photographs.

Outdoor life goes on though. In the snow, I have always loved the silence. The ghost-like qualities of a busy town shut down by mother nature jamming her spanner in the works. Us humans can have a snow day, moan incessantly, watch TV and turn up the thermostat. I couldn’t help but notice the tiny tracks in across the path, made by a small bird, no doubt looking for food. They can’t have a day off. Imagine that, your whole life is your job. No leisure time, just survival from dawn til dusk, birth to death. Would we still have so many ‘problems’? Would our lives have more purpose, satisfaction and meaning? Think of things from nature’s point of view and they might start making sense.

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!