Monthly Archives: September 2016

Broken: Scars

I’m sitting in a park under the shade of a tree. Its early but the sun’s been out long enough to warm the patch of grass I’ve parked myself. Its a new city so things are still a little alien. Slowly I’m feeling my way round, tuning into the same frequency of the machine, each street a new page to turn, a huge maze to explore, a puzzle to solve.

A homeless guy nearby is stirring. Appearing from behind the bushes he spent last night, blinking in the sunlight and wiping last night’s sleep from his eyes. Stretching and scratching his hair out like a dog when it finds the sweet spot.

I’m looking at my hands, scanning the lines that show my age and the scratches from my new neighbours cat. Its friendly enough but we’re both at that early stage. Wary of each other, unsure how much we should let each other in.

I look at the scars on my knuckles from another life so long ago. A teenager not understanding his place in the world. Lost, looking for answers and having no real guidance on what to do. Lashing out through frustration: bins, walls, windows. Real violence in the action but answers never quite coming. Pain lasting seconds but the scars forever etched, a reminder of where I came from.

I have another scar under my right thumb. I trace it and feel the lump that’s been there for as long as I can remember. I must have been 8 or 9 when I got that. A vague memory of sliding down a grass verge on a flattened piece of cardboard like some speed racer.

I caught my hand on broken glass and sliced it open. I ran all the way home crying, hoping to be healed. I got a plaster and cuddle. I have a few good memories of living in that house. Sometime later my parents split up and we moved away. The scar another reminder of where I came from.

I tried cutting myself once. I don’t think I ever told anyone but I took a craft knife and made a small slice in my arm. Not too deep but enough to draw a little blood and feel a blunt pain. The cut healed and whatever faint scar disappeared over time, now covered in tattoos. I never tried it again. It didn’t quite take care of the frustration I felt.

A scar can be a physical thing to remind you of an action, that you’re human and fragile in the shell you inhabit. It can also be emotional. Whether it be an insecurity, grief, post traumatic stress or, god forbid, a form of abuse. These mental scars can run a lot deeper than anything physical.

The homeless guy has moved on. Looking for breakfast, money, alcohol or even his next fix. I have no idea and I’m not judging. Whatever his reasons for living like he does are his.

The park is starting to come alive with people. Business folk, mothers and children, students. I wonder how many have scars, hidden deep inside. How many harbour those insecurities we all feel.

Its only human nature to feel this way and it’s how you deal with your problems that define you. Let them fester too long and you’re fucked. I’ve learnt to just grab a hold of the little bastards and squeeze them out. I’m broken but easily fixed.

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Bad Dreams

When you have a bad dream and wake up sweating, confused, in that state of unconsciousness and the real. Rubbing sleep from your eyes hoping that action eradicates the bad memories of what you experienced while under. 

You pick up your phone desperate to find anything to wipe away the cloud of what bothered you. You check social media, the news, old photos. Anything to take away the bitter taste.

I had a bad dream last night. I woke up at stupid o’clock and couldn’t get back to sleep. I spent a while browsing various things on my phone and came across some random notes I made while on my LEJOG walk. Figured I would post them here. I think they were going to form some sort of “end of trek” report but I didn’t finish. Rather than see them just disappear in the ether I’ve edited them slightly and decided to post them. Some sort of line being drawn and the ending to the journey I took.

LEJOG represents a shit time in my life. A means to battle anxiety, depression & stress. To focus on something else.  I’ve questioned why I’m doing this a few times and thought of quitting. This walk has taken up nearly 10 months of my life. From initial idea, to planning, organising, mapping routes, logistics to the actual doing. I love walking but I need a break. I want a normal life. I need to adjust to being amongst people. Coming back from the last walk I did, I got off the train in London and got on the tube shaking. That anxiety of being among people. 

I need to reconnect, see my friends and family. I’m moving to Bristol but the time I have with them will be good. And there’s always FaceTime and Skype. I want to spend some time with my girlfriend, do normal things together and develop what might be there without stupid plans or work getting in the way for a bit.

Rain sucks but I’m getting used to it. I now smile when it starts, I laugh in its face. The two days walking in the heat has been worse. So much so I pray for rain. Forecasters can’t predict the weather.

I used to have problems talking to strangers, starting conversations, sharing. Now it seems so easy. I’m interested in the small talk that leads to full blown conversations about anything and everything. Looking for strands to keep the conversation going.

I’ve enjoyed the independence and being on my own for long periods but mentally its been tough. I have struggled over time but got used to it. I like being on my own but now find myself enjoying being with people a lot more. I appreciate the silence but also the inane chatter that comes with social situations. 

The physical aspects of the walk have not been a problem. I can walk for hours but I fear I have a glass ankle. If I don’t break it before I’m done I’ll be surprised and lucky. I may need physio when i’m finished.

There have been areas of my comfort zone I struggled with at first. A line I’ve sometimes had problems crossing. The weather being a big factor and the wild camping in built up areas. Managed it eventually. Just takes time to step out and get on with it.

The best laid plans….are sometimes not the best. I did a load of planning and recce work but on the ground I find where I thought I might wild camp I can’t. Fields are full of crops, there is no clean drinkable water around, no flat ground, water logged pitches. I really wanted to wild camp but sometimes it hasn’t been possible. The further north I get, and into hills & mountains, the easier it gets.  

Winging it has become the norm. Things I might have arranged have been cancelled in favour of keeping moving. The unpredictable nature of things has kept me on my toes and made things more interesting.

Litter. Not much in hills but the amount of times I’ve been walking along paths or roads and come across Mcdonalds, KFC, Costa or Starbucks cups and cartons is disgraceful. Hill and mountain folk appreciate nature and the need to protect it but there are idiots who just don’t have a clue.

My navigation & map work has improved. I haven’t used the compass much, trusting the map and what I see. At times I put the map away and just check it every now and again to make sure I’m on the right track.

Like waking from a weird dream it was strange reading all this back and remembering the times sat in my tent or on the side of a hill and just tapping away on my phone or writing in my journal. Thoughts that made no sense to anyone but me. Things were simple and uncomplicated. Its also interesting to see the seeds of doubt being planted throughout. I was already talking myself out of finishing

Its strange but I kinda miss it. Miss having the freedom to please myself. Not having to worry about anything other than where I was stopping and what I was eating. I have plans for next year so its back to some sort of routine, earn some money to fund it all and sweeter dreams.

Dehydrated Dust

Expedition and camping food has come a long way since I first ventured into the great outdoors as a kid back in the 80s.

The food we took away on weekends in the hills of Northumberland and the Pennines was some nameless grey ration pack containing dehydrated dust with noodles or pasta. No fancy packaging or thought into nutritional value. Occasionally we would take a tin of beans and sausages and supplement it all with crisps and chocolate as an after dinner treat.

As I got older and went away independently from school and scouts the food choices didn’t generally improve. Money being a key issue, it would be pot noodles or pasta in a bag meals. I recall on a few occasions taking tinned hamburgers or meatballs!!!! All I know is that those tins couldn’t contain the meat it professed to on the label.

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Tinned burgers (believe it or not)

Much older still and the camping got more “glamorous”. Well-maintained campsites with all the facilities and comforts: huge four man tents, tables and chairs and inflatable beds. The food was generally cooked on the BBQ, sourced from the local take away or a meal in the pub. Then things changed.

The months prior to my LEJOG walk I experimented with different types of dry and wet expedition food, trying to find the right balance of affordability and weight. While the food was tasty and nutritionally well balanced I just couldn’t afford to fund my whole walk on it.

I had to find a way to make sure I hit my daily calorie count of between 4000-5000 so not to lose too much weight but more importantly enjoy what I was eating.

After doing a bit of research (this article was pretty helpful) I figured the best idea would be to make up little breakfast bags containing porridge or Weetabix with granola, dried fruit and powdered milk. Cheap, easy to make and lightweight to carry in batches of 10-12 days, I would post them ahead to carry at the start of each stage.

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Putting breakfast and food packs together.

Lunch was bought on the go. I passed a lot of shops so it would generally be a bread roll filled with cheese and meat, a pasty or pork pie, nuts, fruit and chocolate bars.

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Nothing beats ham and pease pudding sarnies.

Dinner was again whatever I could source from shops. Pasta in bags, noodles, cous cous or soup, lots of chicken, more cheese and plenty of vegetables. I generally got good at knocking up a cheap hearty meal and my favourite was a packet of noodles cooked with tuna, spring onions, red pepper and olives. This would often cost me around £3, which is a bargain for something so simple and filling.

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Cheap and easy to put together.

However I did have some expedition food, kindly provided by the online outdoor company Above and Beyond. They sent me food from Extreme Food and Real Turmat which were posted ahead to use later on in the walk where it would be harder to come by food.

I tried the Extreme Food packs first when I was walking in the Pennines. They are freeze dried, lightweight, high in calorie sealed packs of food and I had three meals to try: chilli con carne, chicken & pesto pasta and chicken tikka masala.

The walking along the Pennine Way was long and hard so tucking into something easy to prepare was essential. You simply tear off the top and pour boiling water in before sealing it and leaving it to hydrate. However on my first go I made the mistake of pouring too much water in and my chicken & pesto pasta turned out to be more of a soup. A tasty soup but I like my pasta a bit a la dente.

I hadn’t read the instructions properly and poured past the level it showed. I didn’t make the mistake with the other two packs and tucked into those later on, having a fondness for the tikka masala.

The Real Turmat meals were tried when I was walking part of the West Highland Way. Freeze-dried and vacuum packed they profess to retain the natural taste and provide good nutritional value. I had a pasta bolognaise and a chicken curry to try.

After walking all day in the rain I arrived at a campsite in Inverarnan, which had a shelter you could go in to dry clothes and cook. The shelter was buzzing when I got there. People cooking the same bland food from the camp site shop: what looked like tinned dog food or noodles.

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Shelter at Inverarnan

I got the chicken curry out, poured some boiling water and waited. It smelt good and tasted amazing.  Definitely needed after a long day walking wet through to the bone. I got a few jealous looks from people sitting near me so I drew the bag in close, ready to fight to the death with my spork to protect what was mine. It was like a scene from some prison drama.

Out of the two I have to admit I preferred the Turmat. It just seemed to hold its taste better. Yes the Extreme Foods were lighter and easier to pack but when given the choice of something hot and tasty at the end of a soaked day, sitting in a shelter in the hills of Scotland while the rain battered off the roof, it just seemed to me to be the better option.

Beats the dehydrated dust I used to eat.