With my bike packed, I head for a little bothy out on the Pennine way near Hadrian’s wall. The reason: for me to finally see some of this famous wall. Having been on a handful of hikes (one specifically on the Hadrian’s wall trail) during the 3 years that I had lived in Newcastle, I had yet to see any evidence of the wall.
So, I packed up the homemade frame-
There were a few little reasons for this:
Firstly, I needed a bit of space to myself. I’ve been studying in the north for three years, finishing a marine engineering qualification, and I live with other people. Although this is fine when you're 20, when you are 30 you want your own space.
Secondly, I needed a bit of time to go through the various things I had floating around in my head about my future. It's normal to think about the future (so I am told), but my only plan was to, ''finish the course, buy a van, go and do some trips!''.
Finally, I wanted to see whether, based on the many adventure books I'd been reading over the years, this life was still something I craved and wanted.
Oh and did I mention, I chose (as my weapon of choice) my single speed. Why? Well, as I'm always saying to people when they call my ideas, ''Crazy!'' Why not?
So, I joined the river, just on the outskirts of Newcastle, and followed the river east inland. You are initially aware of the bridges -
The next thing you notice is the speed at which you move away from the hustle and bustle of city life, even on a weekend.
After heading away from the river and road hopping, you're soon out of the city and you're on your way through the green of the north. It really didn’t take long at all. In fact it happened to me so quickly that I was completely taken by surprise. I soon realised that the life I'd craved for so long -
Now, when I say escapism, it's not that I want to get away from people, it's more that I'm so very eager to explore and experience life. I want to test myself, I want to find things hard, and then I want to overcome them and let the effort, and the experience help me grow.
Obviously, I realise a little over night trip to a bothy does not make me an adventurer, but I have plans that will push me, challenge me and allow me to grow and I realised very early in this little trip that the life path that most people follow really isn't for me. I need to really live, not just exist.
The thing about travelling by yourself at a slow speed, is that you are experiencing all of the country as you pass through it; not simply viewing it as you head to somewhere. By travelling by bike or foot, you are immersed in the journey and not simply focused upon the destination.
I realise this is not a story of my trip, but is more musings made during the trip itself. I could give you a story of the trip, however you wouldn't view it the same way as I would, you wouldn’t see the things I saw, you wouldn’t feel the way I felt -
...I know why I have chosen this for my life, and unlike the people who view my life as crazy, I can’t understand settling in a small place in the massive world we live in without ever really experiencing the rest of it.
Ok, so I'm off my soap box now and the route followed the river for about 1/3 of my journey before leaving it behind for the beautifully quiet country roads followed by the most incredible fields of poppies (they truly were everywhere). There is something magical about a field of poppies, almost as though, and I am by no means spiritual, the people we have lost are with us. It’s the only way I can describe it to you; it’s difficult to describe it in any other way.
As I continued, the roads wound into the hills of the Pennines and, lost in my thoughts, it wasn’t long until I had made my way to the end of the ride. Now, I always thought that the hardest section for me would be the walk (with packed bike over my shoulder) to find the bothy as I was relying on good old memory map (my memory not the program) to get me there. The travel part of it wasn’t so bad, I’d made a mental note of the directions to follow and the paths were obvious enough as it was the well walked on Pennine way I was following. The boggy sections were as you can imagine, but lucky enough I avoided the worst and I only suffered wet feet.
Despite my level of insanity in talking to a bull -
There is nothing much to tell you about the evening. I enjoyed some thinking time as well as reading and writing a bit whilst thinking over my desired lifestyle.
Based on the fact that the small amount of kit I'd brought could easily be adapted for longer trips (although next time I will sacrifice a little weight for my longer inflatable airbed and not my super lightweight one) I think the trip was a resounding success. The lack of comfort from a super light mat is fine when you are snatching a few hours on a mountain marathon, exhausted after a full day hiking in the lakes, but seriously on a trip like this a little comfort wouldn't weigh you down that much! Also next time I could treat myself to the fantastic inflatable pillow I've been eyeing up. Sadly a hoody will have to do for the next couple of trips.
The night was only slightly disturbed by the ballsiest mouse you have ever seen. I shined a torch on him to scare him away and he simply looked straight back, it was as if he was thinking, ''what are you going to do, it’s not a lightsaber'', eventually after much scurrying around he found what he was looking for (I'd checked the gas, I didn't leave that on!) And slinked back to his hole.
A good night's sleep was had, although I can safely say next time I'll be bivying, I think you get a little more comfort from the ground, although I can totally understand the reasons for the raised beds in a bothy. Added to that I really should get myself a 1-
After a small breakfast I made the move back (taking a slightly different route that I’d eyed the previous night) all was going fine until heading across a boggy field of cows for the ''wall'' crossing, I was walking across the stones laid out to cross the boggiest section, a momentary lapse in concentration and one leg all the way up to the thigh was in the bog. At the moment I went in I couldn't help but laugh, mainly as I'd been trying to be so careful, but partly because I really didn’t mind, it didn’t bother me at all. It's an odd feeling, ok so I had a boggy leg and had to clean it off, but nothing bad happened, and in that tiny little moment I realised how much we blow things out of all proportion in our daily lives. I came to postulate on the way back it is because we aren't truly happy with the situation we have put ourselves in, the only way to change it could mean changing everything. It’s not that we aren’t happy as people it’s that things aren’t the way we would choose to have them we don't have the control over our lives that we would like. It’s funny really when you think about it, we don’t actually have full control over our own lives, and yet the adventurers that go out and cycle the world or cross oceans, are in much greater control of their destiny, certainly in more ways than someone who conforms to the expected ever is. It seems to me that those of us who don’t conform feel freer than people who do, who go to school, university, get the job, marry, have 2.4 children, and then have the middle life crisis, because they are dissatisfied with the way things turned out, could it be that conforming to what society expects is actually what is destroying peoples spirit?
The route back, being as it was identical to the way there, was mostly spent pondering these thoughts. The fact that I am seen as crazy, and many people think that some of the things I do (marathons, Ironman, challenges self set, etc) are crazy, this confuses me. Why is that crazy? I’m not the fastest by any means, I’m no winner of my age group, I’m simply average at the sports I do, but the feeling from doing these things is a better feeling than anything else is the world, even the achievement during the event is immeasurable and I’m just an ordinary person who like to push themselves nothing special.
I'll leave you with this, as Alastair Humphreys has proved with his micro-