Back at our 5th Birthday Weekend in December 2019, we were talking to our brand ambassador, Graham Kelly, about his plans for 2020 and whether it was tricky to find balance between work, relationships and play in the mountains. He put down his thoughts for us, and even with the current uncertainty in the world with people having to postpone their plans left, right and centre, we thought this quite a relevant topic for discussion. While we have downtime to plan for the future, it could be the perfect time to consider your relationship with the outdoors and how you want to shape and nurture that relationship going forward.
Back in 2008, I finished the Marathon des Sables. In the previous seven days, I had walked and ran the equivalent of 6 marathons across the Moroccan Sahara. For me, it was very much a glimpse into the possible on the basis that if a fella who was a mid pack runner at best could achieve a finish then possibly anything was within grasp. I made an internal promise of sorts to do something challenging at a bit special every year thereafter.
What followed was a series of tremendous adventures that took me to some spectacular locations around the world ranging from an ultra-marathon in the Blue Mountains of Australia, ski touring across the Hardangervidda in Norway and in the European Alps, two ultra-marathons in the Copper Canyons of Mexico, various van trips in across the south west of the USA and Canada, fastpacking the Tour de Mont Blanc and taking part in the Skyrunner® World Series at Tromso and Glencoe as well as big bag of stuff across the UK. I wouldn’t change a thing and loved it all but, it has come at a cost.
My favourite poem of all time is by the rather wonderful Robert Service, The Men Who Don’t Fit In, and in the first verse he notes:
They range the field and they rove the flood,
And they climb the mountain’s crest;
Theirs is the curse of the gypsy blood,
And they don’t know how to rest
That slightly romantic idea is tempered however in the last verse with the words:
He is one of the Legion Lost;
He was never meant to win;
He’s a rolling stone, and it’s bred in the bone;
He’s a man who won’t fit in.
The financial cost is actually fairly easy since I don’t have a complicated lifestyle out with the adventure trips and I am lucky that I have a job that pays well (Project Engineer in the Railway Industry). On reflection, the true cost was at the expense of family, friends and other relationships. With the exception of my daughter, I’ve never been good at getting the balance right. When that became clear, my coping mechanism of choice was to simply head to the hills once again. Back in 2014, I bust my ankle up and had an enforced period of remaining stationary for around 9 weeks. All I can say is I gained an understanding of why bears chew their own paws off when kept in captivity.
In the last year or so, I’ve tried to get better at the domestication thing, with little success. I’ve tried resisting the impulse to sign up to another race or adventure by employing the auld “sleep on it” approach. I’ve tried leaving gaps in the spreadsheet I use as a diary of sorts, I’ve even tried sleeping in buildings more (still prefer my van). I’ve cut down running and used the spare time to read more (on the basis of reading whilst moving is difficult). End result has mainly been frustration and, I suppose, a small number of missed opportunities but I’m certainly not any happier for the trying. If there has been one gain, it has been an acceptance that I’ll probably never fit in (as much with my own expectations as those of others) and that is okay. The folks that matter the most probably already knew that.
In the last week, many of my friends have seen short and medium term plans turned upside down whilst others have very real concerns for health and well being due to the coronavirus pandemic. What will happen next is anyone’s guess but it is clear that a period of down time is coming for us all very soon if not already. For my part, all I can do is sort some photos that needed organising, work through that backlog of books, plan for when things get back to normal and try not to chew a paw off again ! Stay safe and keep an eye on the horizon ….