Wednesday 25th September. Different Strokes.

I’ve been away from Gometra for nearly a week, and returned just today. I hadn’t wanted to leave, but then when the time came to return I wasn’t sure that I had it in me to come back. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to, just that I didn’t know how.

The spell away was because of a run: a weekend relay event with a team of midwives (my sister’s colleagues and herself). It started in Maidstone, and then after a series of day and night legs of varying distances (three each), ended in Brighton. The team was divided between two vans which leapfrogged one another from one stage to the next, which meant that all sleeping and eating arrangements had to be accomodated within the vans. This kind of discomfort was nothing new, but it was sandwiched between the pre- and post-race comfort of air travel and hotel stays.

I was exhilerated by the process once I had made the reluctant move off the island, and I appreciated the benefit of easy warmth and easy food. During the race it was a different matter, since we all spent hours standing in the cold rain and wind at transitions, and had to deal with successions of wet runs and quick changes of soaking clothes in order to get (temporarily) dry.

In spite of the miserable weather I got the immense pay-off of kick-starting my running passion again, and after stiffness in the first leg, by the third I felt more like the runner I’d been before my hip issues. It isn’t like me to do this kind of thing, but after that first leg I booked myself in for a sports massage at the transition station, and it might have been having that massage that helped me to benefit from the next run. The massage therapist told me, in our rather injury-focussed converstaion, that she had given up a higher management career in the NHS, and set herself the challenge of running 100 marathons (which she has now completed but keeps running nonetheless). I could see the depth of struggle in her expression when she described how unendurably stressful her job had been, and I know from my own experience how leaving a job that makes you feel like that casts you into a terrible void. Running can save you life – as can an expedition or adventure!

After my immersion in this intense social and physical event I was daunted to think about heading back to Gometra, and especially since I would meet Andy only briefly on Mull or in Oban to recieve the car keys and Faffy-dog, then I’d be on my own. Whilst I had become accustomed to heading out in the driving rain over the tracks on the quad bike, by now I’d lost the rhythm of it, and my confidence. The prospect of having Faffy in the fishing box on the back made me even more anxious. On the journey out we’d both been thrown from the bike when it hit a stump that was concealed in bracken. My lip was grazed and swollen, so I turned-up for the run looking more like a boxer than a runner: bloodied lip and sweaty, salt-dried hair.

At the end of the race I had a hot bath at the hotel in Brighton, and my hair was now clean, so I shrank back from the prospect of dressing myself in second-hand oversized rubber dungarees, wellies, two less-than-waterproof jackets, goggles and mountaineering mittens, and I felt reluctant to put all of my bags back into plastic sacks for carriage in the fishing box on the front of the bike. It all felt too damn brutal for my racing frame! More than that, though, I wasn’t sure that I could actually ride it on that track after all the rain (which was and is still coming down).

I was feeling like this right up until the drive away from the East coast of Mull, away from Salen.

When I turned into the road alond Loch Na Keal, towards Ulva Ferry, my feelings changed gear. I’d say that my thoughts got slower, more measured, and I rediscovered the sense of one-step-at-a-time that I need out here. Maybe my breathing slowed and deepened too. Once that outlook was restored I was easily able to deal with the idea of what was to come. The landscape makes you step-up to it, that’s my sense of that shift. That’s when you get the pay-off, the liberation, of island life.

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