I’m at my happiest when I’m outdoors, the wilder and remoter the place the better.
I’m at my most miserable when I’m cold, with no immediate prospect of getting warm.
My happiness and the misery often collide when I’m trekking in the hills.
Sometimes it’s easier to say no to things than it is to say ‘yes’ if it means facing and sitting with temporary misery or discomfort. Yet sometimes a little bit of misery and discomfort are so worth pushing through. If I let my cold feet rule my decisions my life would lack a very beautiful and rich landscape.
Six month ago, on a dark November evening in the rural village of Tomintoil, I’m sharing a meal with Simon and his family. We chat through our dream of running women’s treks in the Cairngorms. We want to remove some of the barriers to entry of hill walking to women. By the time we’ve drained two bottles of wine, today’s date is marked in my diary as ‘Well Being Trek, Day 1’.
Starting the Trek
The day has arrived – my friend Simon and I are guiding 6 brave women on a three-day trek and wild camp, “Trekking for Wellbeing’. I’m here in the capacity of Life Coach and Simon as Mountain Guide.
Standing by the mini bus in the Lin of Dee car park I watch as everyone fills their back packs with food supplies. We start walking with a bounce in our step, our feet cushioned on a carpet of moss and needle pins. Scotts Pine and Fir trees mark either side of our way. The lush grass evidently from the endless rain we’ve had this summer.
As we slip in and out of footfall with each other, the conversation feels as easy as the walking.
Arriving at ‘Bob Scott’s’ Bothy I’ve a gnawing hollow in my tummy. It’s a dark, almost black, wooden building, near hidden by trees. The inside lacks light but the bothy has an immediate homely feel. A peaty smell lingers from last night’s wood fire.
We plunder our sandwich bags whilst Simon lights the jet boil – the promise of tea. I devour my smoked salmon sandwich – salty, oily fish, with thick butter and seedy granary bread. We chat about how food tastes better outside and spirits are high as we start moving again.
The land opens out and the path ascends.
We tread through bog and heather.
The hills spread out before us – inviting us forward, deeper into the Cairngorm. There’s nothing made by man but the path and the tiny wooden slated bridge we cross.
As we begin our steep ascent to Loch Etchanchan the weather’s getting claggy and the sky ominously grey.
Cold Feet on the first night
Lying in my tent, shivering, I question my sanity.
Cocooned in my maroon silk sleeping bag liner and feather down sleeping bag, I’m achingly cold.
My feet got wet in the bog and I’d had no opportunity to take my boots off until we’d set up camp and eaten.
Although I’d excused myself from the group and headed to my tent as soon as I could, the cold had already set in.
Within my sleeping bag I’m rubbing my bare feet against each other – creating friction – skin to skin – desperate to get feeling back.
Slowly, slowly, my circulation seems to come back into play.
My feet are tingly now.
As my immediate misery dissipates I move from survival mode to frustration.
I’m here to support this group.
I’m here doing something I’m wildly passionate about – sharing the wild outdoors.
The group has trusted me – they’ve invested time, money and energy to be here. And yet I’ve spend the last 2 hours absorbed in my own drama.
I suffer from Raynaud’s – it’s a fairly common condition which blocks the flow of blood to my fingers and toes.
I’d struggled tonight to put up tents because my fingers had gone numb. I so wanted to be present with the group – to get to know each of them better, to hear their stories – but instead I’d retreated inwards.
When I get really cold and numb I find it hard to think about anything other than getting warm.
I have this weakness –as much as I’d like to be seen to be tough and hardy – the group has witnessed my frailty.
But as time passes so does my self judgement.
The bigger and better picture
I self coach by telling myself ‘I am the way I am’.
All I can do is to keep working on improving my clothing and footwear choices for future treks.
Beating myself up about my weakness – adding a ‘second’ arrow to my initial arrow of pain from the cold – will do nothing but make me feel worse.
Rather I cast my mind beyond my tented cocoon.
If you were here, you wouldn’t see the 7 others as grey canvas tents hide them from view.
From a distance you’d easily mistake our tents for rocks in the murky fog.
You’d hear the lapping of the mountain loch, just metres from our camp.
Ben Mheadhoin is covered by cloud but the gift of memory brings her to my mind’s eye. With her vertebrae shaped bumps (tores), she reminds me of a dinosaur. A dinosaur who could rise up and move away at any time – but who choses to stay, lying by the Loch, supping its life enriching elixir.
I curl into myself, still searching for warmth. Drifting in and out of sleep I’m returning to myself, feeling content and hopeful.
I relish the prospect of tomorrow seeing the view that is currently alluding me. More than that, of seeing it as if for the first time, through the hungry new eyes of my group.
I’m not the only one with cold feet
The next day Fiona and I are walking down Ben Mheadhoin together.
She has sore knees so we take it slowly.
I’d only met Fiona on Facebook prior to this trip. It was wonderful to see this vibrant and courageous woman step out side of her profile picture.
Rather than the glamourous made up lady on her Profile Picture, her cheeks are ruddy – kissed by the wind, her blond hair pops out of the sides of her black woolly hat. She’s warm, engaging and one of the most honest people I’ve met.
Fiona seems like someone who is most fully herself in the outdoor environment so I’m surprised to hear her tell me that she came very close to cancelling her place on the trip:
“When I read about the trek I felt a rush of excitement but then when I asked a friend, it was outside of her budget.
After I booked I started thinking up excuses: I might not manage the hills, I might not be able to keep up with the group.
Then these thoughts grew into a broader ‘I can’t be bothered’ – it just felt easier to say at home.
But friends told me I’d regret not going, they encouraged me. I remembered that the hills were ‘my happy place’. And now I’m here and wouldn’t be anywhere else”.
It would have been so easy for her to fire off an email cancelling the trip but she chose to bear temporary discomfort – to push beyond her cold feet.
Why it’s worth it
For Fiona the pull ultimately felt stronger than the urge to retreat.
The same stands for me.
Old Shona was scared of the cold, she wanted to be warm, safely tucked up at home, looking at other people’s adventures on Facebook.
Now I know I might be a tiny bit miserable but I’ll be a bigger bit happy.
For years I put off having adventures like this because I made excuses – I didn’t like the cold, I did’t want to do it alone etc. etc. It’s now my biggest joy to have adventures and to inspire others to have them too.
I come home looking weathered after a weekend in the hills. I throw my washing in the machine and fill my hungry belly with ladles of pasta and fresh vegetables.
I feel the glory of a hot shower and clean sheets as my head melts into the pillow, exhausted I fall into a deep contented sleep.
It’s my dream for more women find the freedom in mind and body that the outdoor life can bring. Do you want to join me? We have places on our Trek for Wellbeing this August and September. Find out more here:
I hope this post inspires to get out there more – or if you already are – it affirms you in this!
Post script: I’m a life and weight loss coach who is passionate about the outdoors. It is my passion to work with you to help you move towards freedom in your life. This could be freedom from body image & weight concerns – or if you are single, freedom to know that you are enough and that you can have all the adventures irrespective of relationship status. I’ve two new courses starting in September in this regard. Message me if you’d like to find out more.