I am now back at my sister's house in Kendal, after we completed the West Highland Way together on Thursday afternoon. We covered 95 miles in 6 days, which may not sound much (especially since I found out there are some hardnuts who run it in under 24 hours) but it's no mean achievement either - especially carrying a full pack of tent, sleeping bag, camping stove etc, over a route that includes 11,500 feet of ascent.
The West Highland Way brought its share of highs and lows. The highlights included beautiful scenery on the shores of Loch Lomond, rainbows and white-topped hills on Rannoch Moor, the bleak majesty of Ben Nevis and the surrounding mountains - and an unforgettable breakfast at Glengarry House B&B, with eggs from the backyard chicken run and the tastiest field mushrooms I have ever had the pleasure of eating.
The lows were accidentally pulling half the skin off my heel on Day 2, a freezing night on Rannoch Moor on Day 4, and a brutal walk down a rubble track into Kinlochleven on Day 5. My body is still in shock ("where are the oars?"), with the final tally being two sore heels, two toenails bruised and likely to fall off (again), one dodgy knee and numerous midge bites.
I found out part-way through our hike that there are many companies that will carry your bags from one B&B to the next for only £30 (about $60) - but that my sister had decided we would go hardcore: the double whammy of camping AND carrying our own packs - with the associated impact on our poor aching feet.
As we took the train back to Mulngavie yesterday, retracing in 3 hours the distance that it had taken us 6 days to walk, it struck me that this was not so different from choosing to row an ocean (3 months) as opposed to flying across it (5 hours).
This leads me to conclude that there must be a masochism gene that didn't manifest itself in either of our parents, but somehow emerged in the next generation. Or maybe it's the way Mum brought us up - those cycling and hiking holidays we took as children may have imprinted our young psyches with the message that these challenges were some kind of fun.
But whether it's nature or nurture, I'm glad that the urge is there. The sense of achievement, especially when you've been through that stage of "Am I going to make it?" but you push on anyway, makes it all worthwhile.
P.S. Good luck to all those running in tomorrow's Great North Run. Sympathies!
By the time you read this I will still be out hiking on Scotland's West Highland Way, without access to internet. I will probably be suffering from blisters, trench foot (it's going to be WET) and internet withdrawal symptoms, but otherwise having a great time...
I've temporarily run out of ruminations, but didn't want to leave too long between blogs, so here is a rather gorgeous photo, taken by Mervin Thompson, of me setting out from Crescent City on 12th August.
As hopes fade of finding Steve Fossett alive, the question presents itself again: is it ever worth dying in the pursuit of an activity that you love?
In answer to the first - I think it is for each person, adventurous or not, to decide what level of risk they are willing to accept. For some people, flying on a plane is outside their comfort zone, while others have an irresistible urge to climb Everest, where for every 6 successful summiteers, 1 will die.
On 9/11, people died at their desks. In London, commuters have died in train crashes on their way to work. There are no guarantees of safety in this life - so let's get the risks in perspective, and not allow irrational fears to hold us back from living our dreams.
For me personally, I have a low tolerance for risk and a powerful desire to stay alive as long as possible. I would not row oceans if I thought that the odds were poor. This is also why I prefer to stick to routes near the equator rather than venturing into rougher, colder waters nearer the poles. Prior preparation and learning from my mistakes have helped me mitigate the risks to an acceptable level.
For many years I dreamed of doing something adventurous, but was held back - more by fear of failure than by fear of death. Letting go of that fear was empowering - but also frightening in itself. It was almost more scary to realise that I could do anything I wanted to do than to hang on to my self-imposed limitations.
As the saying goes, Every Man Will Die. Not Every Man Will Live.
Theory: Few things have intrinsic power. Most things only have as much power as we allow them to have. Giving away your power to externals leads to unhappiness.
I've had my share of addictions - cigarettes, alcohol, sugar, eating, not eating. At the time it seemed that each of these things had uncontrollable power over me. But they only had that power because I allowed it. At any time I could have decided; enough. I am reclaiming my power.
Every day countless people give away their power to externalities - their boss, their partner, food, body image, material possessions. How often do we think, "I'll be happy when I get the promotion / lose ten pounds / get a new car" or "I'm miserable, and it's all the fault of my partner / lack of money / weight"?
It doesn't have to be this way. Things are only annoying, depressing or irritating for as long as we allow them that headspace. Happiness doesn't have to wait for tomorrow, or depend on something outside of ourselves. We can be happy right here, right now - all we have to do is to allow ourselves to be. It's that simple, and that difficult.