A fool in the hills

What sweet luxury it is to have a weekend that’s longer than one afternoon and one full day! It feels like it’s been a long time coming…

Instead of taking it slow and resting, I decided to wake up at my normal time on Saturday morning and hitch a ride to Honister and have a little walk on the hills around there. I had prepped everything the night before: the bag, the food, my knee. I had ordered some kinesio tape and on Friday night I spent some time watching YouTube videos about how to tape up your knee. After a two big Saturdays in April, I suffered from horrible knee pain and ended up having to see a physio. The problem was my IT band which was too tight and had been rubbing against the bones in my knee and as a result became inflamed. I walked with a hobble for nearly a month. So I wasn’t really ready to go through it all again and pretty much taped the shit out of my knee. Spoiler alert: it worked!

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However prepared I thought I was, I hadn’t quite got it in my head how big the start of my route was going to be. I did consult the map and count out roughly 2 kilometres to the top of Dale Head and I calculated that it would be 400 metres of ascent. I was aware of these numbers but it didn’t quite hit me what it meant in reality. In reality, it was going straight up hill for first 2 kilometres; no warm up, no easing into it. I’m really unfit right now anyway and having suffered from an annoying cold, this was quite a struggle from the start. Half way up I considered throwing in the towel and turn back down. It felt so hard! A huge help for me was having my Garmin watch that helped me to assure how much more I have to take this struggle. There’s something about knowing exactly how far I’ve come and calculating how many metres of ascent I’ve yet got to climb actually helps me to cope with the hardship.

It took be roughly 45 minutes to get to the top of Dale Head (753 m). By that point I was dripping in sweat, majorly out of breath and feeling quite nauseous. So I beelined to the summit cairn and sat down in its shade to gather myself. It was about 8.30 in the morning and I had the top to myself. It was already a hot day. I think I spent about 15 minutes there just to make sure I was up for the day I had planned. I watered the dog and had an apple and decided to push on.

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I dropped down to Dale Head Tarn where Mac the dog could have a cool down and then headed back up to High Spy. A much shorter and easier ascent. I met two guys on the top of the hill there and foolishly said that I had done all my climbing for that day. I also shortly after met a family who said they hadn’t been able to pick up the path I had chosen for my decent. That didn’t fill me with much confidence as I am an expert in going the wrong way. So I took out the map, measured the rough distance and looked at my Garmin determined not to miss my turn. As it turned out, the path was clearly marked by two cairns and it was visible on the ground. It didn’t really take that much of navigation skills to pick it up. Nevertheless, I mentally patted myself on the shoulder and felt quite smug. Again, foolishly.

I loved that decent. There were plenty of bilberries and I took my time in picking them and stuffing my face with them. I also had a little sit down on a high point that offered spectacular views of Borrowdale and Derwent Water. And the best part of the decent was that my knee held up! The taping had worked!

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I decided not to go in the the village of Grange and just turn back towards Honister via the bridleway. All the smugness I had felt about my navigation earlier on the fell came crumbling down as I got seriously confused over bridleways and campsites and pretty much had to be led by hand to the correct turn by a sweet couple staying at one of the campsites. Well, that was embarrassing. Also, I then realised that I now was at the very bottom of the valley and I had to get back to Honister Pass which is at 356 m. So my climbing for the day hadn’t actually finished at the top of High Spy. Why I had though it would be an easy stroll back to the start when planning the route, I had no idea.

After the first kilometer or so, which I found really hard on the wide paved bridleway, the path actually narrowed down and turned into a really beautiful and enjoyable trail just under the crags. I had one last look of the map and made sure that I just need to stay on this track and keep to the right and it would take me right back to Honister. Again, a mistake. As when I came to a fork in the road, I just confidently kept to the right and started to climb up the path only to realise about 200 metres later that, actually, this wasn’t the junction I meant to keep to the right. However, there were people about and I was too embarrassed to turn around, so I continued to go uphill for another 200 or 300 meters until I could cross the stream and take the path on the other side of it to get back down to the bridleway. So much about my wonderful navigation skills…

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The slow but steady climb in the heat back to the start point made last bit of the journey just next to the road seem quite endless. I just wished Mac to pull me along a bit. However we made it back to the visitor centre just before 1 pm. This meant that we had about 2 hours until my Employer was due back from supporting a friend of his BG attempt. Mac seemed tired enough and settled down in the back of the van for much deserved nap. I had made him go into every bit of water along the route to keep him from over heating in this weather and I was pretty certain he was okay. Just tired from a good day out. I was also hot and tired and cuddled up with Mac.

Altogether we did 14.9 kilometres and ascended 931 metres, which in my books is quite a good day out. Back in Shap, I managed to drag myself for a half an hour swim before crashing into bed for a very good night’s sleep. Today I feel only a bit stiff and my knee is still showing no signs of distress. Also, I still have the whole of tomorrow off work, which is quite unbelievable luxury.

Sunset in Swindale

After a lazy day, I did decide to go walk over to Swindale just to have a sit down and think. It is one of my most favourite places in the the world. There’s something about sitting on the verge of that valley and looking around that just cuddles my soul. It’s both calming and it also stirs up plenty of emotions.

I had a great and much needed chat with a friend on Facebook yesterday and it gave me plenty of ideas to chew through. One of the drawback of stepping away from social media has been no longer being in touch with goes on in my friends’ lives. But a beautiful thing that has emerged is that in the last couple of weeks, a few people, whom I haven’t really been in touch with for a while, have messaged me because they haven’t seen me online and asking if I’m alright. It really means a lot to me. One of the reasons I felt I needed to step back from Facebook and Instagram was that it made me feel so alone and isolated. So to have people notice my absence has been a huge surprise to me, but in a very good way.

Anyway, at 7pm last night I packed my notebook, book, some wine, my badass wine glass and a few snacks in my backpack and headed towards my spot. There wasn’t a soul about except grazing sheep. I found a spot that gave a good view of the whole valley and settled in with my book and a glass of wine. As it had been an overcast day, I didn’t expect an amazing sunset but in the end I think I got what I came for.

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I got back home just before 11 pm. Straight to bed and enjoyed a good night’s sleep. With all the thoughts that ran through my head as I was sitting there, one certain decision that I made was to buy a new camera to take better photos and transfer them in a better fashion.

What’s real anymore

I’ve been away from Facebook and Instagram for a fortnight now. It doesn’t mean I haven’t opened either of them, I have. It has been either for work or just to quickly check my notifications. But all this has been just a quick check. I haven’t scrolled through any feeds or posted anything.

On the one hand, it has been a bit hard. I am so used to still killing time by scrolling and finding what else to do with this time has been a strugglr. I went for a walk and got some nice photos but couldn’t share them. I still feel like maybe I’m missing something important. On the other hand, it has been incredibly easy. In fact, I feel like I have proved my point that I can step away but at the same time I don’t want to go back because nothing has actually changed.

I also realised that one of the reasons I have stayed away is the lack of authenticity. It dawned on me when I was speaking to someone. They had been out snow boarding just a few miles away from here when we still had snow. They showed me a video of them throwing a wobble after face planting in the snow. What made me realise why I wanted to stay away from social media was what was said next. They said, “I was upset because I had had the longest run of the afternoon before falling down but that wasn’t on the video. And I felt, what’s the point, the video wasn’t even on!”

Suddenly the alarm bells started ringing. The experience didn’t have a point for them because it wasn’t caught video and therefore it couldn’t be shared on social media. Wow. Maybe it wasn’t meant so bluntly but it certainly came out like that.

That moment I realised why I no longer wanted to do things that I used to like such as going for a walk or a run. Normally, I would share my experience by way of photos on social media. I wouldn’t go for a walk just to get an Instagram post out of it, rather I would just want to share the beauty of nature and the amazing feeling it gave me (garnished with a healthy amount of showing off). However, I have noticed with certain people around me that the reason for going out lies in getting a great post out of it that would make their lives seems so awesome. And I don’t want to play that game. What’s the point of complaining the whole walk uphill about the weather and how hard if is just to then post a dreamy picture of looking into the distance at the summit. #blessed #somerandommotivationalquote #NOTREAL

I genuinely used to love being outdoors. I could go and just get a rest from my brain and I wanted to celebrate that because getting simple joy out of nature was such a healing sensation. Now I feel like that experience has been soiled by the Instagram hikers who go out to create an illusion of an outdoorsy life. I feel like the things I used to love are not real anymore. They’ve become the “cool thing” to do and I’ve never been cool in my life. I feel that if I were to post a photo of a walk it would be classed together with those highly thought through Pinterest worthy compositions and it would just make the experience not real. Summiting a hill wasn’t about the photo oportunity for me, it was about the experience of doing it and about that moment of sitting down, sweating and out of breath, and feeling like I had achieved something. I now feel like a liar if I were to do it. I also feel like if I can’t have an amazing photo out of the walk, I have failed in the eyes of the society.

It sounds stupid and full of bullshit, but I feel like there’s so little that’s authentic in the life around me and that people have become fake too. When you struggle with self-confidence and trying to fit in/belong somewhere, this fakeness is so difficult to stomach. It makes me feel incredibly lonely because I don’t trust anything or anyone to be real. I can’t really feel any connection with anyone around me.

Worst of all, it makes me feel fake and I hate it.

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How one “should” look at the summit

(Source http://pinterest.com/pin/387942955383280331/?source_app=android)

How I look at the summit (or in this case, half way up to the summit)

How I didn’t go to Mosedale

For a few days I have been planning to come here and write about my sorry state. Today is my one real day off (i.e. I only spent an hour replying to emails…) and I was planning to spend it on whinging and asking for cyber sympathy. But then instead I decided to get over myself a bit and go out.

I considered going for a run but with hindsight I am glad I didn’t. Instead I decided to walk down to Mosedale, sit on a bridge that goes over the beck there and have a good think. So I packed my hydration pack with only a map, some water and a thermos cup of hot tea, put on my boots and headed out. I slid my way down to Keld and on to the concrete road and headed up towards the hills. As I was walking up the track I saw a herd of deer in running away in the distance. There must have been about 15 of them. I have never seen deer in this part of hills and never such a big herd. It was easy enough to see them thanks to the overwhelming whiteness of the surroundings.

The sky in the distance looked ominous, it really looked like the weather was coming in. Good, I thought, it goes well with my general mood.

One thing I hadn’t taken into account was how difficult the walking over the moor would be in the snow. I couldn’t see anyone else’s footprints going the way I was going. Even without the snow, there really isn’t a visible path despite one marked on the map. So what I normally do is to make a beeline to the dry stone wall I am supposed to follow for a few miles where there is a track that makes walking easier. The ground is bog central at the best of times. Today it was also covered with plenty of snow. It is hard work trudging through the snow up to your ankles, it’s even harder when every other step you sink knee deep into the snow and the underlying bog. It felt like a metaphor of my recent days: I can walk through my days like nothing’s wrong and the bang! Suddenly I sink knee deep into self-pity that leaves me sitting on my arse looking stupid.

After what felt like hours I finally made it to the wall but the track I was hoping to find had also disappeared. The walking didn’t become any easier. I gave up on the plans of going to Mosedale. It would be too much of a trek in these conditions. Instead, I revised the route to drop down to Wet Sleddale and make my way home from there.

Hardly anyone walks that route, especially in the snow like we are having. It’s a bleak part of the Lake District, even the names on the map suggest that: Bleak Dod, Peat Hill, Bleak Hill, Wet Sleddale. I have yet to meet a more descriptive place name than the latter. However, in the untouched whiteness it looked less miserable and more just completely removed from civilization. The wind was coming from the west which meant that that it didn’t bring with it the noise of the M6 behind me and kept my crackling of snow from the herd of deer I could still see in the distance.

I kept trudging on, falling every now and again and getting my feet soaked in bogs. It didn’t matter. I wasn’t going to get my moment on the bridge in Mosedale but it was actually okay. At least I was out, which is more than I can say about the last few months.

By the time I reached the reservoir at Wet Sleddale, I realised that the sky had cleared and the sun was out. The nasty wind that has been blowing for about a week was gone. The surface of the water looked like a huge mirror reflecting the snow-covered hills. I have never seen Wet Sleddale looking so beautiful. I have been there a number of times and it’s not a spot you’d consider classically picturesque. Its charm lies in its bleakness. But today I don’t think anyone can argue how gorgeous this valley looked. And that made me feel better. It gave me a tiny glimmer of something resembling hope.

The clear skies also seemed to clear the dark thoughts that clouded my brain this morning. No, I’m not saying that I am suddenly okay and happy and cured. No. But this walk managed to save the day which would have otherwise been spent sulking on the sofa. The very least, it helped to pass the hours quicker.

Altogether I walked 13.4K over 3 hours 45 minutes.

Estonia – a flying visit

We had another week at the guesthouse this August booked by a group for sole use and since I had been “on call” for the previous one, it was my time to go away. Since my last visit to homeland had been in January, it was time to show my face again and save the real travelling for after the season ends.

It must be a sign of getting older but travelling is no longer as exciting as it used to be. I used to love airports, how simple and straightforward they are. I now find them annoying. Especially if you are trying to be frugal and spend the night there for an early morning flight. Glasgow airport is especially annoying because their benches have armrests between every seat so you can’t even have a sneaky nap. It’s also getting quite exhausting that I can’t get a direct flight to Estonia from this end of the country. So when you land in Riga, it’s still a long way from home. Previously I have flown to Tallinn, but since the flights were super expensive, I decided not to this time. So by the time I landed, I was not only bursting for a wee (I’ve never used the toilet in an airplane and refused to do it when it was only half an hour before landing), I was also sleep deprived and exhausted before I even reached home.

My mum and dad volunteered to pick me up and we had a roadtrip back home with a compulsory sea break near Salacgriva and a booze shop just off the border (alcohol is much cheaper in Latvia). I only nodded off a few times on the back seat and kept the parents company most of the way.

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A little indulgence in Paisley before the uncomfortable night at Glasgow Airport

After a good night’s sleep and a slow morning, I was off to Viljandi to meet up with my adopted family. J, who now lives in California, and I overlapped in our visits to homeland and as we hadn’t seen each other for a good few years, a reunion was mandatory. Especially, since she had got engaged a few days before we met and I was in for a chance to meet the lucky man for the first time. Before I stepped on the train, J asked if I’d be willing to do a kind of engagement photoshoot for them. I reluctantly agreed, mainly because they (and I mean, she) wanted to do it in the wetlands and I was dying to go there.

I was reluctant because I am not a photographer. I have a DSLR that I can barely use (it’s not even mine) and my photo editing skills end with moving the scales for light and colour settings on Google Photos. Luckily it was a beautiful evening and the setting sun created a gorgeous light. J & C were naturals at posing, so I just needed to point and shoot. In the end, I’m really pleased with the photos that I took.

Dips in to the marsh pool and a sauna later made for a perfect finish to the night. After a leisurely breakfast I went to see my aunt who lives just outside the town. I never told her I was coming as she is always home, so it was nice to surprise her. It meant a lot for me to go and see her, as I am never sure when will be the last time I see her. So whenever I’m in Estonia, I make sure to visit her. It warmed my heart to see her in good form and spirits and it gave me hope that I’ll see her again Christmas time.

Friday night was booked for a meet up with the girls from uni. I met K and K at the airport as they landed from their trip to London as well as S who had come straight from the office in Tartu just to hang out with us. We had a quick meal and then took a bottle of wine to the roof of the now empty concert hall Linnahall to watch the sunset. We ended our night in Telliskivi and after copious amount of wine, I was in bed by 4am.

Saturday was Estonian Night Run and in the morning I was really regretting signing up for it. Not just because of the headache and tiredness but also because due to various injuries, I had only been for a run a couple of times in months leading up to it. In fact, I remember the day I signed up for it, I went for a first big(gish) walk after injurying my foot at a wedding in May. I came back limping quite badly again. My foot seemed to be properly heal by the run. It was just my general physical fitness that had gone down the drain in the summer months and the five extra kilos I am carrying don’t necessarily help.

However, the run went much better than I expected. It had been really stuffy and scorching throughout the day but as I was standing in start among thousands of people, I could see the massive storm clouds gathering. I thought it would start raining before we’d be able to even set off, but it was only 10 minutes before I finished that the heavens opened up and the biggest thunder storm of the last few years took over. I crossed the finish line with a very pleasing result of 1:02:40 absolutely soaked. Very ladylike, I just used my mum’s rain poncho to give some cover while I changed every item of clothing in the middle of a parking lot in town center. I had felt really good and strong throughout the run and even my dodgy knee kept it together. (It could be that my knee was just so pleased about running on flat ground that it forgot to give me grief!)

On Monday, I my dad insisted on going for a road trip and we headed out towards Lake Peipus on the roads less travelled. I had only one request for the trip: I really wanted some pelmeens (a kind of dumplings). We stopped in Äksi Motel, which according the the placard by the church, was opened in 1989 and I don’t think much of it’s interior has changed since them. However, they had pelmeens on their menu and that satisfied my cravings. It was almost nostalgic eating there, reminded me the simple lunch canteens of my hometown where we used to have occasional lunches when I was growing up.

The weather didn’t exactly feel like going for a swim, so our main attraction by Lake Peipus was cruising through the villages and buying some local onions (the region is famous for their onions!) and smoked walleye as well as some pickled cucumbers to go with the fish. It was a real feast that night for dinner at home!

On Tuesday, it was time to pack my bag and head to Tallinn, to spend the last night with my sister and her kids. I got us some chanterelles from the new market at the train station and after we’d put the kids to bed, we tasted some wonderful craft beers and stayed up on the couch till way past midnight. The bus that took me back to Riga left at 6 o’clock the next morning and I landed back in Shap about 15 hours later.

I noticed a few things during my visit this time. Firstly, the first day or so, I slightly struggled with speaking Estonian. More than once, I found myself automatically saying yes or no in English in answer to the question. Secondly, I’ve really got used to the code of politeness here according to which you say generally greet the people you meet, say thank you if someone holds a door open or let you cross the road. Out of habit, I said hello to few people I didn’t know in my hometown and got a very stunned reaction from them. I’m no longer comfortable with not saying hello to people although I know it’s not about being rude. Finally, as I was on the train back from Glasgow towards Cumbria, I found comfort in the hills that defined the landscape. The vast and empty flatness of Estonia had felt a bit alien for me; I couldn’t grasp it. I am forever bragging to guests about how beautiful the wilderness of Estonia is and I truly believe it. But it seems that I need hills and fells and mountains to make me feel comfortable.

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It was an emotional trip being back, I found myself fighting with tears more than once. A tiny part of me had hoped that maybe it would bring me clarity about what to do next, but the truth is, I’m even more confused. I’m unsure where is home: is it here or is it in Estonia? Maybe it’s somewhere else all together?