I can hardly even start to think about my Expedition as a whole, or indeed in sequence, it has been so involved and so long in the planning and in the doing. It came to mean so much to me. The investment of my efforts had to grow and grow to complete what I’d set for myself, and setting myself a defining goal has extraordinary powers over my actions. And then there’s the more esoteric aspects: all those things that are hard to put into sensible thoughts but that make up the poetry that frames the obsession.
There’s a Scottish ancestry in my family, and in Andy’s, that gives me some kind of identity in a life that has been less rooted in place. Andy’s identity has had more substance that way than mine, his father still having his Aberdonian accent and his Scottish names, Primrose. Then there’s the romance of adventure counterpointed with the need for sheer physical hardship. If I never feel hungry, never drop-down exhausted, then I start to feel like a pudding. I get slow witted and small minded. And then – and maybe this is the most essential bit – the exhilaration of being outside, passing through places, touching nature, just focusses life in, and lets me BE. It is less emotionally draining than anything else I know, even though it takes a lot of emotional work and concentration (especially when in pain, hungry and in punishing weather, with uncertainty over where I might end up that night). I seem to just get a thrill from putting myself out there to see what I can make of it, holding quite a lot of trust that it will be okay and that I don’t need to know everything in advance.
To allow myself to be that way took a lot of planning and forethought (and experience too) as to what I absolutely needed to carry with me in order to give myself enough safety and security: the clothes, the kit, the food, the technology. Then I pared them down as much as I could. This was a double-sided thing: keeping lightweight so I stood a chance (18kilos is pretty heavy though!), and being as self-supporting and traditional as I could. The bushcraft ethic was a strong one.
I enjoyed passing through places – picking up trails and leaving them – not feeling led by the nose into bagging a trail just because it has a name. Nicer to hop and move in my own direction, with all my mistakes and confusions in the process. To arrive at Inverie was my strongest urge, but the process became so utterly absorbing that I managed to stop the rush and panic that a task like that can produce. I took every day slowly (though it started early, at dawn) and always ended by 5pm. That made sure I could get a good night and enough daylight and energy to cook something – whatever that I had available. On a few nights I didn’t want to and knew that was a bad sign and all the more reason to force myself. But my big acievement, I think, was to do it this way, i.e. unsupported, and STAY HEALTHY. I’d been sick and lost my appetite on the previous sections of the expedition, but I was determined to be sustainable on this last, longest, most testing one.
My excitement since last year when I managed to see a way, a time mainly, to do the expedition, had seen me through many months of making kit, preparing food, replacing kit etc. but on the few days before I left I was really scared. Scared of the scale of this one. It still feels big and hard to chew over now. I wrote my diary religiously and took pictures so that I would have the essence there for me to write something later. It was often hard just to stop for a while to do it, other than for the the many 5min stops to take off boots and socks and have a drink. I had a sense of being driven, and competing in some way. This tendency when other walkers pass me by is so ingrained that it’s really hard to remind myself that this is my project and that they have their own. There is no baseline of comparison, and there is no basis to try and compete. That was a very releasing lesson.
Another conversation that I kept having with myself was to stop trying to outrun the weather: that it would do whatever it would do and that I could do very little about it, except to keep everything covered. It was very tempting to rush to the nearest forest every time i smelt rain and never get anywhere. The deciduous woods only came into leaf towards the end of the expedition and then the foliage wasn’t dense enough for shelter, so my preference was always conifer forest for a night. I slept more out in the open once the weather dried up,since it’s the pitching up stage that counts – if you do it in the rain things will get wet and stay wet. Through luck with the weather and my own meticulousness I managed to keep my ‘dry kit’ dry (sleeping bag, clothes and even bivi bag).
Anyone walking with me, though nobody did of course, would have been quite annoyed with how often I stopped to adjust things and take my goretex on and off, so the only way to do it is alone. It makes it simpler for all the little details and small decisions that just have to occur without there being and right or wrong way to force the choice. I know that I would always want to lead in those because I would hate to be led. However, I would only want to do this with someone as self-motivated as me (i.e. someone who wouldn’t want to follow), so its never going to happen.
When I arrived in Inverie I wanted, apart from getting my first cup of tea in 3 weeks, to contact Andy and all my family to announce my success in a fanfare. Instead, there was no network at all. I also arrived 3 days ahead of schedule, so there was nobody to meet face-to-face. I think this has done me a lot of good. It gives me time to absorb the ending slowly. (Still this process could only start once I DID find a way to message home, since I was sure, correctly, that worry was setting in). But the absence of immediate fanfare, taking the wind a bit out of my sails, means that I can go back into my normal life prepared.
I’m still sleeping out, but in a very simple and immensely wholesome campsite, so I can gradually bring myself back round to indoor living stage-by-stage. I’m using the cafe and will go to the pub tonight. The pleasure of this is immense because Inverie is about the most relaxed, idyllic place you could want to recuperate from anything, and because the glorious healing sunshine is getting right into my bones. MAGIC. Magic sparkling sand from the mountains to lie on at the beach right by my little pitch under a tree: my ‘Glitter Beach Bivi’.
My sunburned nose has had me walking around looking for sunblock but once again some simple ‘craft thinking’ has solved it. I’ve made a nose shade from paper to use with my sunglasses (an interesting sight!). It’s the sort of thing most people might not do from not wanting to look silly. That’s what 3 weeks out alone can do for you though. It can help you to actually, honestly, look after yourself.
Thanks to everyone who’s reading my blogs, and Andy’s updates. I will be transcribing my diary when I get home.