Category Archives: walking philosophy

OFFLINE DIARY MODE ACTIVATED

This blog – my diary and a hiking tips collection – is three years old now. And as much as I love updating it on a monthly basis, a time has come for a more private type of writing, at least for now. The gallery updates will continue on the gallery page. But the writing moves onto paper.

Trips, hikes and wanders that are stored offline for and from now, are:

  • Causeway Coast Way hike, Northern Ireland: 18-21.06.2018
  • Vormsi Island (Ormsö) wanderings, Estonia: 29.06-01.07.2018
  • SWCP (from Minehead to Combe Martin), Somerset + North Devon, England: 02-05.08.2018

 

Thank you, my dozen + sweet readers.

I shall return in some form or another. 🙂

 

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The walks and wanders between April 1 – May 14, 2018. Or – where have I ended up?

The long introduction

I want to write this down so I would have it. But already I do not have the correct form or the correct style. I will write this only for myself, not keeping my 10 readers in mind, yes, only for me.

It is for those days when I feel like I’m stuck, like I can’t get out enough or when I do not get out enough but it is all for a chosen good.

It is Monday, 14th of May. Since the beginning of April, I have been out. I really have. Here is proof:

Hiking the South West Coast Path in Cornwall, England: 09–12.04

A surprise trip to Paris: 13–15.04

A London LOOP walk – 18.04

Hiking the Eden Valley Trail from Hever to Leigh in Kent, England: 19.04

Spring travels in Alsace: 25.04–02.05

A hike in Schwarzwald, Germany: 28.04

A day out to Hara Gulf, Estonia: 06.05

Family trip to Istanbul: 09-13.05

Wanders in the Pääsküla wetlands reserve: 14.05

In April, I walked 244.16 km. From May 1 to midnight of May 14th, I walked 140.02 km. So the last 1.5 months have brought me more than 380 km worth of proper wanders.

I wanted to do this in sections. Write down bits from each walk but it all became a burden. There are too many lists and rules I have made for myself that perhaps are slowly starting to lose their meaning. Other things have taken their place. And although I love, love, love writing about my hikes and walks, and keeping my analogue hiking diaries and tracking some distances, it is this blog that has started to feel like a burden. Perhaps it is because I have made it a rule to update it at least once a month. Or perhaps it is because I am writing a travel book (and have my book deal to prove it!), so I already have a lot of real travel writing happening as well. But mostly it is because the format is just not suitable. To write long-form, readable, witty and perspective articles takes weeks of time, and since my blog is not in my TOP 20 priorities, I will not take the time to keep it. But I still, somehow… like it. It is clumsy and dirty and gets away with fever lies.

I think this is just me trying to apologise to myself for cutting down on some extra stuff that I have made myself do. But the cutting down is good. And it is mostly because something happened last month.

The month of magical thinking

One day, when traveling in Alsace, we asked an old lady in a mountain cheese farm (mmm, Munster) why her dog only had one eye. “Aaah, the cat”, she said. And then she cut us more cheese.

And took us to see her cows. And a young cowling (yes, this word, what about it) licked my hand and her tongue was long and soft and lasso-like in its purple splendour.

“Spring is a vigilant time,” the old cheese woman said. “The wild boars and deer come to eat my rose buds. One day, I would like to take revenge on the village people down there, I don’t like them. I would like to catch a wild boar and take it down to their village so it would eat all their rose buds instead.”

And off we drove, our hands full of packages of delicious delicious cheese, with the cheese cutting grandmother waving at us, and the husky having gone into hiding.

Later, in the same day, I understood that the last time I felt inspiration was 4 years ago. In 2014. Around the time we were in Greece. Somewhere in the early summer. The second thing I understood was that inspiration physically feels like a very concentrated form of LSD. But not just a random drug trip but like a trip with a very clear goal that sucks you into it. Hence the concentration.

I was standing in front of a twirling metal OVERT (Open) sign next to an old winery on Monday, April the 30th, and that’s when I felt it, and that’s when I understood it. That very moment I also understood that I have not had more than 2 weeks off (in a row) for at least 14 years. And this is not normal. So I decided to take entire the September off and not put ANYTHING into my calendar. I have an entire summer to work towards it, so I think that it doable. But since these past weeks have shaped so many ideas already, I am beginning to feel like I don’t even need the month off. But I do. The main goal of that month is to discover what type of new ideas have I been nurturing over all those years. And what are the fresh thoughts that will come. I want to feel what my brain comes up with when it is not under a constant (yet ever so pleasurable) pleasure (yes!) to meet the deadlines for copywriting, house renovating, book publishing, travel writing, mountain training, etc., etc.

And I learned that there was a French Tour de France cyclist who always waited for others on top of a mountain because he was afraid to go down alone.

Out of France

On May 3rd I flew to Tallinn through Helsinki. I was asked to speak at a conference, and I did. The conference focused on the performative aspects of space, and had speakers from different disciplines and backgrounds: architects, mathematicians, sound designers, actors, etc. I talked about journey design for various user journeys, and how to create journeys and advetures in different fields and for different purposes. And flying over Finland is a happy thing on a sunny day because all the lakes reflect black the clouds like artistic graves with mirrors in them. There is another type of peace in the Finnish airspace, almost eerie. Something that makes you dream on ancient places.

And as soon as the conference was done, my friend took me to an ex Soviet submarine demagnetizing station. Submarines become magnetised when traveling around, I did not know that. So every now and then they need to be taken out of the water in order for them not to turn into mine magnets. There were lots of abandoned buildings in those forests (but there are loads of those left in Estonia, all from the Soviet days), lots of bird song and lots of moss. I asked my friend to stop the car on our way back. And to wait for me. I ran into the forest and listened to the raven and to the cuckoo and to some little fellas whose names I have no knowledge of. And the sun shone on the blueberry leaves and the moss invited me to stay. I can’t remember the last time I slept in a forest. Mountains, camps, swamps, etc. – yes. But not the forests. But this time the forest was calling my name.

Other strange things happened during this trip. Currently I feel like bringing an adventure journey I have been developing for 12 months to Estonia, and start from there. I feel like working with directors and actors, and in such a pure form, I have never ever felt it. And this feels funny. And light.

I flew back to London today – Monday, 14th of May. It was an evening flight, so I had the morning to myself. I took the cab (yes, I know, the environment) to my childhood bus stop and started walking. Soon I was standing by the first spring that I ever discovered. The water was still bubbling and it felt good. (Gods, I’m getting old.) The next place that I reached were some hills that felt like huge mountains when I was growing up. There were a couple I never dared to ski down from. And I walked up and down all of them today. “I can’t believe how small I have been”, was all I could think of. I really have been that small. But it was not a nostalgic visit. It was a courtesy one. I don’t know exactly how my plans will work out, but I do have my mind set on a dream mountain that stands 6000 m tall. My schedule-based training starts tomorrow. So there was an inner purpose to this visit that I had not been aware of.

I looked around in the wetlands that I took possession of as a kid, calling them my kingdom, dragging all my friends into forests and swamps until their parents started telling them off for being friends with me. I did not go on any of my old trails. My kingdom was given a nature deserve status about five years ago, so now it feels all different. There are wooden board walks and signs in the ground. But back in the day you had to know. And I still know where the rest of it is, constantly changing, constantly growing. Luckily, the board walks only spread out in one specific direction. All the rest is still out there, someone else’s kingdom, someone else’s peat coloured days with the May cuckoos singing their time in the pine forest background. And that makes me happy.

The Days of Drinking Peat Water or Walking the Affric Kintail Way in Summer Boots in Late Autumn

Affric Kintail Way (AKW) is the newest long-distance walking trail in Scotland. Albeit being only 44 miles (71 km) long, it manages to offer a sense of wander together with a crunchy chunk of wilderness! All you need, is a tiny bit of patience to get out of civilisation and into the more remote areas. But patience is something all walkers have. Right?

Due of my previous engagements (trekking in Uzbekistan :)), my friend and I could not leave for our adventure earlier than at the very end of October. Which is a tricky time when it comes to packing. Winter kit would obviously be over-doing it, but summer kit does not offer enough protection any more. Our main concern was our boots – we are both dearly attached to our “summer alpine” style walking boots which offer about 20-35% protection from the rain only when arduously sprayed with the waterproofer in the morning. And our budgets banned us from getting waterproof boots before our hike, so… Off we went in summer ones!

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Day 1, October 28. From Drumnadrochit to Cannich: 23.34 km

This is the day the internet described as the “boring slog” and the “I should have just skipped this part”. Frankly, I have no idea what those people were going through when out on their walks, since day one was nothing but boring. Just now, when writing this up, I again came across someone’s walking diary where they admit to hating the first 25 miles on AKW. Hmm!? I think it is one of those “it is not what you are going after, it is what are taking with you” mindset things, for sure. Or something more mysterious. But because of all the warnings, we kept a keen eye out for the boring bits to surface and met with none.

We started our walk under the lovely Scottish sun (Kadri and I still are subject to a spooky weather luck every time we cross the Scottish border) (and I am aware it will end one day soon), only to run into a giant redwood within the first half an hour. My very first redwood! And we were just talking about visiting the States only because of them. Their bark was incredibly soft. But above all, they just felt old and strange and happy. What a start!

I managed to see a red squirrel later on, but actually spent the most of my day staring at the clouds. There was something happening which I had never seen in my life – massive rolls of apocalyptic carpets were twirling and floating above our heads, opening up a completely new level of wide for me. They changed the space, somehow, making me feel as if we were completely alone and the world had decided not to collapse yet but was thinking about it.

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You do have to walk on a lot of forestry tracks on day one. At one point, the living trees started howling behind the massive stacks of their felled companions. The howled similarly to a curious wolf or to a dog sentenced to patrol a very small territory. It was scary and heartbreaking. Later, when we were already starting to near Cannich, the forest once again started wailing, and accompanied us with the sound of windows and doors creaking open, as if a slow-motion art movie was taking place around us. Thinking about it later, I obviously understood that it is technically the other way around – doors and windows carry the sound of the forest with them, within them. But still.

In summary, the first day offered good straightforward walking. No chances of getting lost but definitely fewer people than on the first day of West Highland Way, for example. Also, fewer waymarks.

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Day 2, October 29. From Cannich to River Affric Car Park: 19.94 km

Day two of AKW is all about the forest. And about getting the first glimpses of the stunning Glen Affric with little islands poking out of the water and people casually gliding between them in their red kayaks. I was looking at them when walking amongst the trees, wondering whether they lived close and would they be out here in the rain as well. If I knew how to drive I would drive here just for this glen. And their kayaks!

As a side remark: lots of people mention not seeing much of the glen on their way on day two. I think none of them walked it so close to November when a lot of the leaves have already fallen. Because we certainly saw the glen constantly to our right, making our camera sensors buzz with its blue waters.

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Luckily, there is a spot marked as Classic View on the trail, so you don’t have to take detours to see the majestic glen when it first comes into view. I’m pretty chuffed about that spot. Just because I’m such a mountain/hill/forest person, so I never go out of my way to take in the beauty of glens, valleys or waterfalls. But luckily, the older you get, the more beauty you start noticing, so am looking forward to widening my intake of marvels.

The going is once again pretty straightforward but our journey was made magical by having to walk on silvery ground for quite a while. We even suspected frost at places but finally understood that it was just good old pyrite giving the ground the look of an Elvish rug.

All in all, the day starts with quite a long walk on a forestry track but when that is over and you can turn left to descend into the glen, things start getting pretty. First you are greeted by some of the healthiest ferns you will ever meet, and if lucky, dragonflies will take a flying break on your belly as well. And then there are the tree beards – thin moss and lichen curtains hanging from the tree branches. There is also an excellent lunch spot just in the middle of the way at Dog Falls with tables and a river view.

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In the setting sun, we set up camp at the very edge of River Affric Car Park, now also called the most glamorous camp spot of my entire life! Here you have real toilets and picnic tables at your elbow’s reach! I climbed to the viewpoint to see the last shades of the orange light, and once again concurred that life looks magnificent. Soon, the moon was shining bright and the temperature dropped below zero. What else would you want from a night out?

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Day 3, October 30. From River Affric Car Park to Camban bothy: 16.36 km

It took a long time for my friend to fall asleep – her sleeping bag was a bit too thin, as was her mattress. Eventually, she got the survival blanket from her bag and wrapped it around her. Nothing carried should go unused, right? I, however, woke up with a sweaty back in the middle of the night. In my moment of utter cowardice, I had put on too many layers before falling asleep and now had to start lowering the temperature inside my bag. I think the two of us combined probably reached the optimal sleeping temperture. Not a perfect consolation, but almost!

When I zipped open the tent in the morning the world was covered in frost. The outside was warmer than I had guessed. We cooked some porridge under the salmon pink skies and watched the double rainbow lose itself in the glistening trees. I had not planned on waking up in Rivendell but I was not going to run away.

It did take us a lot of time to get going. While this was the most glamorous camping spot of my life, it was also the longest time between waking up and hitting the road. I think we got lost in staring at the sky and trying to capture all the changing shades of it. 🙂

But finally, off we went, with the Alltbeithe Youth Hostel (the remotest youth hostel in the mainland UK) as our lunch spot in mind. Once again, the weather rolled over to the sunny side and the going became straightforward. Today we also met the first people on the road! (We had a little bet going on about this.) Apparently, they had had their tent nearly ripped off by the harsh winds of two nights ago – something we had no idea about (they were walking from a different direction).

There was a single small wind turbine standing not too far from the hostel. Seeing an odd man-made object in nature makes me think of eternity every time.

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After a very nice lunch (today we munched on things Kadri had prepared) things started turning boggier. We kept our eyes on the road, trying not to step on the wrong type of green moss. Soon, I found myself walking in the hoofprints of a deer who had probably used a similar bog avoidance system. There are no waymarks in this part of the trail but you can’t really get lost since most of the forkings lead back to the main trail, so the best thing is just to choose the path that offers the driest ground. And check the map if you feel like your gut and mind are starting to argue.

After all the delightfully winding paths, the Camban bothy came into view. But only after both of us had started seeing mirage houses in the highlands! I know there are records of legendary optical illusions which people see in the deserts, but nothing on the granite stacks making themselves seen as houses, right? I’m pretty certain it is a common occurrence among people with weary legs, and only needs to be researched and written down into a book.

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Aaaand – there was no one else in the bothy! Reading through the logbook we soon came to a realisation that what we were walking in, were probably the only three consecutive non-rainy days of this autumn. And that we had both been talking to the weather gods with the same favour in mind: if you give us dry days at first, we can take anything you show us on the last one. * gulping sounds *

Fair enough, though, Kadri’s boots were properly soaked by now, and there was not enough coal to light a fire, so we did what any normal person would do: a slightly adjusted re-enactment of Bruce Robinson’s Withnail and I. There are few things some plastic bags and foot warming pads can not solve!

Day 4, October 31. From Camban bothy to Morvich: 16.76 km

So! The Camban bothy kind of has a double roof at places, creating a wind tunnel that magnifies some of the sounds. I woke up only once but was then certain that we would be stuck in this bothy for a long time, hiding from the storm. A creepy start to the morning of All Hallows’ Eve, for sure!

But the entire All Hallows’sinister vibe flew out of the door the moment I opened it. Because there was barely a drizzle and absolutely no wind outside! I don’t know about the sound mechanics of the bothy’s roof but it sure does fill your dreams and your reality with some special layers of imagination.

We had our porridge when sitting at a table, this time browsing through the bothy logbook, and me reading Robert MacFarlarne’s The Wild Place. There is valid geeky peace in reading books in locationally suitable settings.

The packing, of course, went quicker indoors, and we were soon on our way. The weather gods had indeed heard us. But at least they had not taken us too seriously. Our last day of AKW was a day of soft, drizzly rain, with a bit of real rain at the very very end of it, when buildings were already in sight. (Eewh, that strange feeling!)

The drizzly rain accompanied us when we crossed all the tiny mountain rivers and walked on the mountainsides covered in fast-moving clouds. These are the night-time dreams of my teenage years, so time gets blown open every time I walk in the clouds. And then there is the feeling of freedom – feeling hunger and contentment at the same time. I think this is my definition.

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The drizzle traveled along with me when I had to climb 20 – 30 meters up hill to find a single crossing point for an especially wide mountain river. Of course, I could see it from afar but did not start planning much before reaching it. I think what nature (and yoga, funnily enough :)) have taught me, is to deal with the things/obstacles/issues when I get to them, and not worry about them too much beforehand. It is not a professional attitude yet, but it seems to be expanding, yay!

The narrow path next to Allt Grannda waterfall finally made me realise that looking at intensely vertical waterfalls from above and below is now definitely pulling me into a vertigo-like state. Especially when that bubbling water comes into your view quite suddenly. So, just to get a picture of the whisky-coloured cauldron, I had to drop my rucksack against the mountainside and press myself very strongly against the mountain as well, and only then reach for the camera.

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Everything changes in seconds in the mountains. The clouds, the wind, the light. For a second, I saw a row of bunnies chasing after each other in high spirits. Silly me! That was just a frothy and bouncy stream with tiny white waves jumping out. Soon afterwards, an actual heron did glide above the River Croe just before the Glenlicht House, so I counted my wildlife spotting a success. The porch of the Glenlicht House provided a lovely spot for lunch, but also notified us of the journey coming to an end. I did not know of the Five Sisters of Kintail yet. Nor that they have beautiful ridge walks on top… This day made me promise that I would return to Glen Shiel.

The last part of the Affric Kintail Way meanders between the striking towers that are the Five Sisters of Kintail. They feel like some oddly powerful children of the mountains of Glen Coe and the Liatach of the Torridon Hills. They are munros, officially, but they send you back towards civilisation in the most awe-inspiring manner.

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So, if I were to write a 4-day hike description about the AKW, it would go as follows:

– Day 1 – stuff looks nice

– Day 2 – everything is getting nicer

– Day 3 – things are getting really beautiful

– Day 4 – omfg, omfg, omfg, omfg

On the last night we slept under a (high and real) roof. Hazel (at Ruarach Guest House) gave us whisky and cake, and a lift to a bus stop in the following morning. The people you meet, eh?

*

“Our years hold the times where all and everywhere is always beautiful”, I wrote then turning 30. I don’t know whether it was the release of the inner hippie, but that is time where the most maginificent times of my life started. Even if they mean drinking peat water.

What does it really mean – to go walking with friends?

On the gorgeous Saturday of June 10th, I set out to walk the Chess Valley Way with three of my friends (N, E & L). It turned out to be one of the best days in months.

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However, it was not the gorgeousness of the Chilterns AONB nor the perfect walking weather nor even the shallow chalk rivers that allowed us to playfully wade through them that made that day into an acutely special one. After all, technically speaking, the entire last month has not been lacking in the special – I finally obtained my PhD (yup, I’m Doctor Marion now :)) and signed my first book contract (oooh yeaaah!). But none of those specific moments can now be compared with June 10th. Why?

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For starters, had I walked the Chess Valley Way alone, it would have still been a gorgeous day out. Also, had I taken the same friends into a pub – we would have most definitely had a good day out as well. But I would not be writing about this at the moment. So now I’ve been wondering for nearly three weeks… What renders walking with friends so special that it makes your heart sing with joy even 1.5 fortnights later?

 

Where does the walking joy come from?

There is enough research out there (without me having to repeat it) about the benefits of walking in nature. It lifts your mood, boosts creativity – and hence, helps to think outside any box and see new connections -, pimps your immune system, and generally makes you into a better person (fine, fine, meta tests are yet to prove this last one, but I don’t think I’m too far off the mark). But this is not all.

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People who undertake longer treks and walks seldom do it out of politeness. This means that all the people you meet during your walks are enjoying what they’re doing. Fully. I think this feel gets mirrored back into your micromuscles and neural networks. Also, lots of people come with dogs – so, even better. You can pet the dogs together with your friends. But even this does not fully explain the essence of that special joy to me. So, to properly figure it out for myself, I’m turning to my oldest friends: lists.

What does it really mean to go walking with friends?

  • It is a perfect combination of alone and together. Walking with friends allows you to fall silent for long periods of time with the knowledge of the bubbling word being right there, at your fingertips. It is the feeling of doing your own things in your room while overhearing all your friends having a party in the kitchen. My semi-silent version of a secret heaven.
  • It is old topics. It is new topics. The change of scenery acts as a catalyst for new ideas and for new connections. Suddenly, you are asking questions about your friend’s thoughts and feelings on topics you had not even worded to yourself yet. This is the time that showers you with ideas for new stories, games, services – you name it!
  • You let new people into your life. Better than a dinner at home or a pub visit – walks with good acquintances have a good chance of turning them into friends later.
  • The shared process of witnessing the new. This experience is richer than a bag of gulab jamuns dipped into clotted cream! This how life itself should unravel, being on the road with the people you love, not fully caring about reaching the destination or getting lost.
  • It pushes you into the present.
  • It feels like a micoradventure.
  • And you see your friends being happy.

 

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When England gets DRY –> Epping Forest (Chingford, 09.04.2017).

Life is out there,  and I celebrate it, quietly

The older I get, the more I like spring. With every year. It was the only season I never noticed in my 20s. In my 30s, springs come with a sense of relief.

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Entering the Epping Forest in Chingford.

On Sunday, 9th of April, me and my lover set our course to Epping Forest (of the Chingford area). We had been there once before and we both remembered it for its luscious magical properties. READ: tense green foliage with foxes jumping onto forest glades and butterflies circling the air. The last and only time we visited this area, we walked out of it mesmerised and refreshed.

For the record, I don’t know Epping Forest very well. So far, I’ve been to:

  • Epping Forest in Chingford
  • Epping Forest in Epping
  • Epping Forest near Whipps Cross
  • Epping Forest in Aldersbrook (across the Wanstead Flats in E7)

Of these forest areas, the Chingford one was the fairy tale one, the Epping one the muddy one, the Whipps Cross one the wormhole one (you can end up where you started while thinking you have just reached the other shore of the lake) and the Aldersbrook one the cultural looking one.

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Silent walking made impossible by all the leaves on the forest floor.

Choking on expectations

But this time, Epping Forest was different. That’s because the spring is uncommon. How? It has not rained for weeks. For WEEKS. In England. In Spring. In London. On top of that, on that particular Sunday, I was not walking with my mind really at peace, so my steps were not always in the present but also falling into past memories and expectations of the forest. I think it was the only time I have expected the forest to be something. To show me something. To give me something. (How funny and stupid is that?)

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Life pressing through forest shadows.

But forests teach you good lessons. When you go looking for foliage magic, you will end up inside the landscape of Arizona. When you go looking for foxes, you’ll barely spot a squirrel. When you want to find moist moss, you end up staring at cracks in the dead bark. What is this, spring of death?!

Relaxing into it

There was nothing left to do than to give into the half-lifeless state of it. And just like any good story or a well-built moral structure would suggest – as soon as we accepted the New Arizona, bits of life started revealing itself to us. We even found grass to sit on.

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There is no moral to this sotry. Apart from not to expect things, from people or from nature.

Why you don’t always need the sun to be happy

March 2017: A Different Time in Scotland

I travelled back to Scotland in the middle of March. The aim was to gather more technical winter mountaineering skills with the help of Rob Johnson Expedition Guide. Luckily, when I contacted him near the end of 2016, the group had just one space left. I was set to go!

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What I absolutely had not planned on, was developing either a monster migraine or an uncanny sinus infection a couple of weeks before the start of the winter skills & mountaineering course. In my case, getting the train up to Fort William from London could have easily been taken for a road trip to Damascus, only with a difference that instead of a ruggedly holy calling I was starting to have doubts whether I could climb at all.

About that pain

There will be no cliffhanger in the middle of this story. Sorry! 🙂 All went well, albeit laboriously. The prescription drugs I was taking at the time lowered my walking heartbeat to 50 bpm. Even a single set of stairs became an accomplishment of sorts, not to mention a mountain. True story! The ascent of Stob Ban ended up the hardest walking experience of my life. I actually had to rest my head on my axe after every ten meters.

But when there’s a will (and the love for the mountains, and a truly patient mountain guide and one other patient climber), there’s always a way. I did end up:

  • climbing/scrambling the quartzite North Buttress of Stob Ban in the Grey Corries (a borderline route between grade II and III, if my memory is not jig dancing);
  • climbing my first Grade I winter gully in the Cairngorms (Jacob’s Ladder). A very gracious gully for learning, I have to say.
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The last meters of Jacob’s Ladder. (Photo either by Rob or Rachel.)

I also spent one of my climbing days in bed with vertigo, holding on to my mattress and ignoring the fiercely orange flashes the smoke alarm in my room was producing. I mean, you go out with many things, but you don’t go climbing with a vertigo.

So, this time it was a a slightly mixed bunch of feelings. And definitely the only time in my life I have felt less than flawlessly happy in the mountains. But still, I aaaaalmost got there, of course.

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After the last climbing day, feeling properly vague in the head but so devastatingly happy I spent these days in Scotland.

This year, man!

The beginning of 2017 has not been particularly lucky. Having been almost professionally lucky (and healthy) so far, it has been tremendously hard for me to accept the physical daily pain. I’m definitely better equipped to deal with years of high level mental strain (positive and the other shade) than even a week of physical discomfort. Not kidding.

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Fort William at the end of winter 2017.

When I can’t move, all my versions of the future lose their grounding and their zest. It’s as if someone has changed my light switch for a capriciously functioning dimmer. There are bursts of normality, but mostly I inhabit a space filled with thick, gooey air. In here, I need to refocus my eyes and my itinerary with every step I take.

I have no idea how people with chronical pain deal with it. Where do you find your projections of peace? Can everything be trainable?

Why you don’t always need the sun to be happy?

So, where on Earth is the only place to find peace when you are officially burnt out, over worked, over stressed and physically crumbling? In the Scottish Highlands, of course.

In here, you do not need the sun to be happy:

  • The light and warmth often hide some of the smells eminating from the soil. Although warmth gives free reigh to blossoms and such, it also takes the soil away from underneath your feet. You kind of stop noticing it. But sometimes you need to feel the ground the most.
  • The sun is always about the present. The mirky weather fixes your thoughts on possibilities instead.
  • The grey weather gives you time to think. The sun is an action call. (In other words, the wolf-coloured weather makes for a great travel planner.)
  • You notice more shades in colours in the hands of a dubious climate.
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View from the top of Jacob’s Ladder, Cairngorms.
  • As long as a snowstorm or a gale is not visiting the same place as you, you can still go forwards with your most loved activities.
  • The dramatic (and the grand) scenes mostly welcome the traveller in the non-sunny landscapes.
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On top of Jacob’s Ladder. Last day of climbing, Cairngorms. (Photo by Rachel.)
  • The mirkiness makes you feel as being part of a story. You feel yourself and your itinerary in a specifically intense manner when hitting the road in proper dreary weather.
  • The sunlessness makes you notice more allurement around you. It does.
  • A tough weather brings strangers together.
  • The gloom makes you move. The sun habitually traps you into the moment. (By no means a wicked trap, though!)
  • The overcast weather works wonders for the imagination.
  • A weather with an epic temper makes you feel like being on a journey the legends are made of.
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The Mamores Ridge.

And what else forms the core of a human heart than all of the above?!

Can bleakness be good for the soul? (A few words about that Norfolk visit…)

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So. I visited Norfolk for the first time this February. Norfolk has a skull-shaped coastline but I did not discover it all on my feet. We wandered around Hunstanton and the Holme Sande Dunes instead. And the biggest thing that happened to me in February is straightly related to that visit.

Namely, I came up with a new theory about human nature which answers the most spike-y and acute questions I’ve had about what makes us all so different. (Well, technically, what makes us all the same, but using different means to reach that sameness.)(Uhuh.)

Surely?!

Imagine you get an unplanned job project that suddenly leaves you with you a nice amount of extra money. What’s your first reaction?

I, being a slow thinker, spent the most of 2015 and 2016 pondering over the following question: is it possible that not all of us feel the same thing in that situation?


The answer: it is not only possible, but it also is the actual case. The actual life. With a perfect shock I discovered that not everyone is thinking about new routes, roads, mountains and destinations all the time. And that explains it. The difference of us all.

Yes, I have a job that’s my love and my hobby, and which I would also do it for free (for any clients reading this, only kidding). Yes, I’m reaching an end of a long academic road this year which just might leave me with a PhD degree. And yes, there is life, and a house renovation that is nearing its finish this year as well. But surely, SURELY, all one really thinks about is what unknown roads there are, just hours from their doorstep?!

 

New theory for human nature

Based on long hours of interviewing my friends, and on accounts heard from others, I am now convinced that humans fall into two large (and obviously not always straightforward) categories:

– people who get properly grounded, energised and refocused by visiting places they know well or where they have been before (visiting the same fells feels like visiting an old friend, a friend once said);

– people who get their soul back and reach their metaphorical home by going to places that are completely new.

 

How the theory really explains it all?

Here’s why and where it can be applied. It shreds light on:

  • why some people are not upset when an idea of a trip gets forgotten because no one really takes the lead in organising it;
  • why people have savings accounts that are actually savings accounts, and not cover-names for Travel Accounts;
  • why some people follow maps in new cities and others could not think of anything worse;
  • how certain work and living choices get made;
  • why it is not the most shared dream of all people throughout all times –> to sit around a map or a globe, dreaming of places you can’t yet pronounce;
  • why some of us have a need to return to certain places that give us back the sense of self (a ritual of sorts, technically);
  • why some people always choose the new dish from the menu or never cook the same dish twice, and why some do.

 

A ritual for relocating the self

Usually, humans need rituals to create a new space either physically or mentally. This is why we choose the same roads to walk on when feeling on the edge, and why we re-read the same books or visit theat same holiday spot. This is partially why meditation works, and why regular workouts keep us sane (apart from the funky hormones, of course). It is curiosity that’s been given a form. But there’s another way to handle curiosity.

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The ship skeleton on the Hunstanton Beach. Norfolk 2017.

Gaining security and strength from the new

The other way is the following: you are one of those people who feel most secure and yourself-like in places where you have never been. This makes a rucksack full of sense. In a new place, your idea of the self has no familiar triggers to bring on the feel of a certain image, so you can feel borderless and – in the lack of a better description – the most authentic version of yourself.

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River Great Ouse of King’s Lynn.

You probably belong to this category, if:

  • you’re willing to sit on a bus for 7 hours just to see a new place for one evening;
  • you feel like sleeping in the palm of your favourite god when sleeping in a new place (a bunkbed, an airport, a hotel, someone’s sofa, etc.);
  • you prefer hiking new trails to returning to a set of sweetly favourite ones:
  • your mind rests like crazy when having boarded a local bus or a train in a country you have never been in;
  • the unfamiliar makes you love and respect life and strangers more;
  • an amount of fear in the day renders the peace of your evening more serene;
  • it’s bliss to sit on trains for 12 hours withour internet or books;
  • you need the knowledge that you’ll never run out of streets to walk on. You need it for your daily sanity;
  • horizonless cities make you feel home;
  • mountaineous terrains make you feel home (ok, now I’m just talking about me, but mountains are some of the last areas of true wilderness left);
  • not having your things around you makes you feel creative again.

And this is why bleakness is good for the soul.

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Norfolk. February. Between Holme Sand Dunes and Old Hunstanton.