Sunday, 17 February 2013

Enjoy yourself - It's later than you think.

Today I turned 40. Today is also the day I started planning - planning, not daydreaming about - a big challenge that has been knocking around in my mind for a number of years. The two may not be entirely unconnected!

I plan to indulge, as never before, the greatest obsession that has stayed with me throughout most of my life: hills and mountains, in particular Scottish ones. If this obsession was a pet dog, the RSPCA would have confiscated it years ago due to neglect. Brought up in Scotland until my mid 20s, for most of the last 12 years I've lived in London. I work full-time, I'm married and have a two-year-old toddler. Trips to the Scottish hills are few and precious. Whilst hillwalking friends resident in Scotland casually look forward to their weekend climb, I'll endure weeks and weeks of anticipation, praying that the weather lottery will come up at least vaguely in my favour. Still, over the years I've managed to chalk up 192 Munros and 50 Corbetts to date, plus numerous other hills.

One unintended consequence of this situation, though, is that I've developed a strictly no-nonsense approach to planning and executing my stravaigs that I never had when I was young. Nowadays, routes are carefully picked to allow for the weather, the amount of daylight, and the company, and ensure that at least a summit or two can be achieved. The rucksack is packed the night before, the alarm set for 5am. If public transport is involved, train and/or bus times are checked and double-checked. These days I don't crash into bed at 2am, hoping for the best the next day. Maybe it's a mid-life thing: wasting time now is almost physically painful!

As I've approached 40 I've also taken my physical fitness firmly into my own hands. Instead of forcing myself to go running - which I hate, and is of little use anyway for building the functional strength required for trekking up and down mountains with a heavy pack - I do free weights, bodyweight exercises (e.g. pull-ups and press-ups), and conditioning exercises like sprints, skipping and hitting a punch bag. As a consequence I'm leaner, fitter and stronger than probably any time in my life. Climbing mountains is certainly easier now. On this topic I would highly recommend an e-book called Hillfit by fitness blogger and hillwalking enthusiast Chris Highcock, which sets out the importance of strength training in getting fit for the hills (and more generally), and includes a programme of simple exercises to improve strength.

Anyway, that's all well and good, but... I'm still 40. I'm still in the pink, but it's later than you think.

So, it's time to stop wishing life away. With my family onside, as well as time and fitness, the plan is, in May and June 2014, to walk the entire length of the watershed of the River Tay; in other words, to walk the whole boundary of the biggest river catchment area in Scotland - the biggest river in Britain in terms of volume of water discharged into the sea.

Today I went into Stanford's map emporium in Long Acre and bought all  (well, almost... the route crosses the corner of OS sheet 53, which I realised when I got home and started laying the maps out) the relevant 1:50,000 maps, and spent the evening tracing the route out in red felt tip pen. It's a daydream no longer: as I drew the line, I started to see it in terms of a myriad of problems to be solved. But zoom out and the big picture is still there, in all its glory and simplicity.

The big picture: Looking south from Beinn Dubhchraig to Loch Lomond, June 2012  

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