This weekend was one of outdoorsy firsts for me.
On Saturday morning, when most sensible people are still in bed or enjoying a leisurely breakfast, I found myself running through some incredibly boggy woods in Derbyshire, the taste of metal in my mouth, lungs straining, calf muscles screaming at me to stop, mud spattering my face. Memories of detested school cross-country PE lessons flashed through my head as I leapt puddles and splashed through marshy grass.
However, there were a few notable differences from those hellish sessions of my youth:
- I had chosen, and indeed paid, to be here.
- My co-runners tended to support heavy beards rather than acne.
- Navy PE knickers and pale blue aertex polo-shirts were replaced by a mind-boggling array of lurid lycra.
- I was enjoying myself.
Furthermore, this wasn’t just any running (I sound like the M&S advert), this was running whilst clutching the intriguing combination of a colourful map, a thumb compass (literally a compass attached to my thumb) and a ‘divver’ (technical term I’m sure) attached to a finger. And at certain points my running partner and myself would give a victorious shout and dive off the path to insert the divver into a little box peeping out of the undergrowth that then beeped in a friendly way. Certain geeky types amongst you may now be nodding wisely as you recognise the paraphernalia associated with the strange sport of, yes, I confess, competitive orienteering. I had been wanting to try this much-maligned activity for a while, being an irrepressible map geek who loves any excuse to get outdoors and get muddy, and this introductory session didn’t disappoint.
We did the intermediate circuit, which took us around 45 minutes – we probably could have shaved off, or rather hacked off, ten minutes had it not been for an initial nube-error of following the ‘as the crow flies’ map route between boxes literally rather than taking the forest paths, which saw us wading through dense bramble scrub and weaving through thick tree cover. D’oh. I then made a slight map-reading error, *ahem*, which was rather embarrassing after my confident proclamations of cartographic proficiency. At the end of the circuit, with my cheeks glowing under the thin winter sun and steam rising into the cold air, I felt a brilliant rush of endorphins and the familiar feeling of being in love with the world that lungfuls of fresh air taken amidst the great outdoors unfailingly engenders within me.
My second outdoors first (if that makes sense) saw me balancing precariously on a large gritstone boulder at Robin Hood’s Stride in the south Peak District on Sunday afternoon, wondering with frustration how I could be making such a leg-shaking meal out of something that others had made look so effortless. I was only about 60cm off the ground, yet was acting as though there was a yawning abyss at my feet. It was my first outdoor bouldering experience and I was attempting an entry-level traverse across a boulder which, to be fair, would appear rather featureless to the non-initiated. Yet I was learning that the tiniest dink or depression in the rock can become your best friend as you tip-toe across its face, or at least try to. Bouldering routes are called problems and, at this stage, I am in full agreement with the appropriateness of this term – yep, I’ve been learning all the lingo so at least I can talk the talk even if my ‘walk’ is still mostly at ground-level. Anyway, this particular problem is all about delicate precision and balance and, crucially, trusting your feet. From umpteen smeary falls back to earth, it appeared that my feet and I are not yet on particularly trusting terms. However, although I didn’t complete the problem, with each attempt I definitely felt slightly more at ease and slightly more in tune with the rock. Like surfing, I love the fact that bouldering requires you to tune into and almost submit to one of the earth’s elements in order to ‘ride’ it and find your flow. I can also see how it would be easy to become hooked – defeated by a boulder? No way! I’ll show it… next time…
By the time we wandered back to the car (actually I ran, as I had a rendez-vous with a kind, faith-in-humanity-restoring soul who had found my phone at the side of the road, oops) the evening sun was dipping low across the hills. Long, frosty-blue shadows stretched out from a network of low stone walls, probing the final orange-tipped remnants of the day into submission. As I awaited my good Samaritan I gazed out across the misty concertina of peaks and valleys and mused how comforting it felt to be enveloped by these soft undulations. For me, I am at my happiest when outdoors somewhere beautiful, with no prescription on what can constitute beautiful. So really, all these outdoor activities are just more excuses to put some kind of ridiculous geeky ‘technical’ clothing/footwear on and get out there and take it all in, using all the senses. Natural remedy indeed.
This is the boulder that defeated me. I’ll be back…