No pressure – it’s only new year’s eve!

Me & my sunglasses on the PCT, 1999.

Inverness, 31 Dec, 1999

No pressure – it’s only new year’s eve!
As a child I loved New Years day. But as an adult, until recently, I used to dread it. The day would start with promise and end with tears of disappointment – or intense hang over – or both!

New Year’s Eve so often ends in disaster because of the pressure we put on ourselves. “The promise of a magical night,

of new beginnings,

of some kind of rebirth at the strike of midnight.

But the reality is that midnight on New Year’s Eve is just another midnight.

The passing of time holds no transformative power over your career potential,

your love life,

or your character.

But it is this hope of something magical that dooms us for disappointment” (Metro article 31.12.19). On social media at present people are trying to sum up their last 10 years – often impressive list of trophies and achievements. Yet many of us don’t feel we measure up.

And add to this the illusion of this new decade that we are about to enter. And all the promise it brings.

It’s no wonder so many people will seek to get out of their heads tonight.

For me it’s too much.

It’s just a change in the date.

We are made of the same stuff and are living with the same circumstances.

We don’t need to stack on the pressure to prove we’ve mattered over the last 10 years.

We don’t need to post photos to show that we’ve aged well. Or hide photos that suggest otherwise.

Nor do we need to whack on a tonne of goals for the next 10 years.

I believe we are all enough, regardless of what we have or haven’t achieved.

Letting go of the illusion of control and chipping away at the old ego changes everything.

I’m looking forward to dinner with friends and then some live music – but it’s very likely I’ll sneak off to bed before midnight. No one will care and I’ve nothing to prove.

I’m grateful for the love of family, friends, health and knowing I’m enough. And it’s my hope that you can rest at the end of this year knowing and feeling this too.

The Causeway at Carnmore

Walking the Fisherfield 6 and getting in the way of beauty.

The Fisherfields are also known as Scotland’s Great Wilderness, and they are in situated south of Ullapool, north of Torridon. The area and particularly the round of six mountains caught my imagination when I hiked the Cape Wrath Trail last year. The Fisherfield 6 are known for their dramatic peaks and ridges and breath taking views from the summits.

I wanted the physical and mental challenge and I felt that completing this round would help me feel ‘readier’ for the Pacific Crest Trail.

The causeway at Carnmore
The Causeway at Carnmore.

We ‘walked in’ from Kinlochewe on an unseasonably hot day. After a leisurely day walking thought the Letterewe Estate we camped by the causeway.

The causeway and the views on approach are well worth the walking effort, even if you have no intent of doing the Fisherfield round. The causeway enabled us to walk between Loch Fionn and Loch Duhb – the Loch of light and the Loch of dark.

Loch Fionn by moonlight
Loch Fionn by moonlight

My plan was to summit all 6 mountains and then camp at the bottom of the last hill, Bein a ‘ Chaidheimh. I’d walk back to Kinlochewe the next day. 

I went to bed early and said my goodbyes to Simon as we were parting ways the next morning. The plan was to solo the Fisherfield 6 whilst he had further research to do the in area. I crawled into my tent, reluctant to tear my eyes away from this landscape. The hills tucked us in to the north, south and east and Loch Fionn lay calm and serene to our west. 

I’d set my alarm for 5:15am but I’m awake and it’s only 5. It’s going to be a long day – at least 12 hours of walking – so it’s important to get as much of the day as I can.

I’m buzzing with nervous energy.

Packing up my tent in the moon’s gentle light, there’s a harsh quality to my thoughts.

Why am I leaving the place that had held me last night to venture alone into these mountains?

This thought opens the way to old familiar thoughts. Questions that bore me, but that I still feel compelled to itch.  

Will I manage?

Do I have the navigation skills?

And the fitness?

Will I make good decisions?

What if I make fool of myself and need to call for help?   

What if this shows me I’m not ready for the Pacific Crest Trail?

But now I feel a comfort as I remember the quiet confidence I saw in Simon’s eyes last night as we talked through my plan.

He had a calm expression as we confirmed our meeting time and point for the following day: Kinlochewe car park at 3pm. I’d searched for, but found no concern in his gaze.

Leaving Carnmore
Leaving Carnmore at 5:30am for the Fisherfield Mountains

I leave our camp and walk up this steep path, allowing this soup of doubt and hope to settle within me.

I’m in motion. Desire stronger than fear.  

8:12 am. Ruadh Stac Mor (The Red Stack).    

A stalkers path and a fun scrambly pull has led me to this summit.

From this height I can see clearly in every direction.  

view from Ruadh-Stac-Mor mountain
My view from Ruadh-Stac-Mor
view from Ruadh-Stac-Mor
view from Ruadh-Stac-Mor

9:17 am A’Mhaighdean (The Maiden).

The second hill right across from me looks easy to access from the beallach. But the remaining hills seem miles away. They loom massive – crags, dark mounds with dramatic ridges.

Looking down from A’Mhaighdean 2
View from A’Mhaighdean
View from A’Mhaighdean

11:15 am Bein Tarsuinn (the Transvere hill).

I’ve scrambled to Cairn on A’Mhaighdean (The Maiden). There’s a dramatic plunge to the crags at Dubh Loch and Fionn Loch lays beyond. Mountains frame my every view.  It seems a shame to move on so quickly but there’s about 4km to the next Munro.

I’d struggled to find the path up the slope of this hill. In my impatience I’d just ploughed up a fairly direct line. But given the steepness the going was heavy and I questioned my waymaking.

And then, as if the gods were watching my struggle, a very handsome dark haired man clad in running gear emerged from above me.

I waved and called to him, asking if he’d found a path.

In his Spanish accent told me he was on the goat’s track and I should be too. With a friendly laugh he continued to skip down the hill.

I turned a few minutes later to see if I could pick him out on the landscape – but he’d moved so quickly I couldn’t decide if I was seeing his bright green t-shirt – or just sphagnum moss.

As I made my way along the ridge I saw two figures coming towards me. An older man and woman greeted me with generous smiles. We blethered for some minutes. I enjoyed their company, particularly their relaxed way of being. They’d been picnicking on the ridge and didn’t seem to be in any hurry.

They shared they were also undertaking the Fisherfield round but unlike me from the traditional direction. Nervously, I asked if they thought I’d complete the round in time.

Their reply:   “Easily and with time to spare” .

And for the first time in 6 hours, I allow myself to relax.

This is after all one of the reason I come to the hills. To stop thinking. Or at least to think more slowly.

Bein Tarsuinn
The ridge of Bein Tarsuinn

1.20 pm & 2:30PM Mullach Coire Mic Fhearchair and Sgurr Ban  (the white Peak)

Despite my efforts I’m finding it harder to stay with the hills. I’m feeling less connected to the ground beneath my feet. Rather my attention is on time moving too quickly.

Leaving Sgurr Ban heading to the last hill

4:45 pm Bein a ‘ Chaidheimh   (The hill of the sword).

The wind has picked up. It’s blowing in about me. Standing here on this ridge I invite and welcome the aloneness.

This massive vista with layer upon layer of land-mountain-sea scape is everything. I feel my smallness. I feel this place’s indifference to my ‘me-ness’.  Not in a unkind way but in a way that somehow expands me.

View from the final summit Bein a ‘ Chaidheimh

I’m tired and part of me is already picking my way down towards the heather, the river and the flat grassy patch where I’ll pitch my tent and cook my dinner.

Yet another part of me wants to linger and understand what I know in this moment.

I understand that my completion of mountain rounds don’t matter. Nor my fearful thoughts and feelings.

I understand that what matters is getting to places of deep beauty. To moments of connection to things greater than me.

I understand that when I slip outside the smallness of my mind, when I stop trying to control everything, then there’s room for expansion.

This is what the Fisherfields have told me as I embark on the Pacific Crest Trail. Completing the PCT doesn’t matter, nor do the limiting thoughts and feelings throughout the journey.

It’s getting in the way of beauty that matters.

“There’s a sunrise and a sunset every day and you can choose to be there for it. You can put yourself in the way of beauty.” – Cheryl Strayed 

My tent up at the end of the round
I camp tiredly at the end of a long day

Pacific Crest Trail prep – the nerves and butterflies

It’s just 6 weeks until I fly from London to Seattle (1st of July 2019)  to begin the massive adventure of walking the Pacific Crest Trail.

This is my third – and penultimate monthly blog about my prep for my SOBO (south bound) PCT attempt.

In this blog I touch on both the factual / logistical elements of preparing for a trek like this, and the very real feelings of nerves and excited butterflies.

I’ve found this blog the hardest one to write thus far. Its content is dependant on my working out details of food resupply and timings.

Whilst part of me quite enjoys geeking out on logistics, I also find it hard, and so I procrastinate seeking easier rewards.

(My February prep blog HERE and my March one HERE). Continue reading

It Takes a Village. Pacific Crest Trail Preparation Blog No. 2

On the 1st July this year, I’m leaving the UK to head off for a massive adventure. It’s just over 3 months away and time seems to be passing very quickly.

Last month I decided to start a monthly Pacific Crest Trail Preparation blog, with hope that it will be of interest and also that I’ll find some accountability in the telling, to help me get my laid back arse into gear.

(If you missed it you can read my February one HERE).

This is to be a real life, non sugar coated, telling of how I feel as I prepare for something that scares the life out of me! (Today’s blog is pretty tame – talk of pants and bras is as ‘real’ as I go. Next month’s might get more interesting!)

I’ve named this blog “It Takes a Village” as that’s what I’ve learned and felt this month. I’ve felt an unexpected, and therefore all the more precious, sense of interest, care and kindness and assistance. Continue reading

“I’m doomed. I’ve lost my tent”. Limbic Lies Part 2

Read Part 1 here: ‘Limbic Lies – why my brain tells me I can’t navigate

“Crap. It should be here.

 Where is it?

 How long have I got before the cold kicks in?

 Why isn’t it here?”

This is the story that my ego and pride didn’t want to tell you. But in the telling, I hope I hope to convey something useful about how to soothe a stressed mind.

It’s the story of how on a dark, wet winters night, I lost my tent in a remote wild Highland glen.

Story 1 – Are you sitting comfortably?

It’s a windy Saturday night evening, unseasonally mild for February. At 600 meters of elevation there’s a fierce south westerly. I’ve found shelter for my tent behind a grassy knoll, near a Loch with a view out onto the ‘witches hat’-like peak of Sgurr Mor.

I’m here to test out my new super light-weight tent that I’ve bought for my Pacific Crest Trail adventure. But I’m also here because I’ve felt a familiar pull to wild camp alone again. The winter’s felt long and I’ve missed camping out.

I’m in the Fannichs, a mountainous area West of Inverness, on the Ullapool road. I’ve pitched my tent with no problems. It’s only 6pm and darkness has just descended. I decide to practice some night navigation before bunkering down for the night. I noticed an enticing small hill near me as I pitched my tent. Continue reading

Limbic lies – why my brain tells me I can’t navigate.

My Mum tells a story of me as a little girl. I was learning to play the recorder in primary school and being small for my age my fingers wouldn’t stretch the bottom holes. At home  I cried in frustration and although my Mum tried to soothe me as she explained it just wasn’t possible for me – I kept trying.

I was a determined wee thing.

I wish I could say this was an ethic I carried into all areas of my life but in some areas I’ve given up on myself.

I can’t read maps

I’ve always given up on myself when it comes to navigation. I held a belief that I’ve a poor sense of direction. And various well intentioned friends have light heartedly confirmed this to me over the years.

In my mid 20s I worked as an Aid Worker and I lived in various villages and cities in Africa and Pakistan. I struggled with the geography of our various projects and relied heavily on my colleagues and drivers to help me navigate.  Rather than working to improve my spatial awareness and spatial memory I instead put energy into hiding this shortcoming. Continue reading