And to the lakes I went, to lose my mind and find my soul.
In 1988, Joyce leaves to never return. Thirty years later a stranger rings the phone: 'I am sorry for your loss, four months ago she was diagnosed with a brain tumor and she passed away.' It's hard to know how to feel or to process the loss of an estranged parent.
I begin to accept the finality. I grief for her but how do I mourn a mother I barely knew?
Keeping perspective. A year later a lump the size of a tangerine makes its appearance on my shoulder. Since that dreadful phone call, I brace myself for a short life wondering if four months was all there was left, how would I live
each of those days?
But overthinking situations beyond our control makes us powerless, I choose optimism.
The doctors remove the lump successfully and I begin to have closure.
The experience has changed me. Isn't it amazing how one can go through such torment yet come out of it a stronger person with a better perspective on life?
I need to lose my mind and find my soul. That weekend I head out to the Lakes, just like animals use nature to heal themselves, I need time outdoors.
-'Martyn, fancy three days of sleeping rough and trekking across the Lakes in treacherous conditions?' I text.
-'Say no more, I'm game. See you in Penrith' he responds.
I'm the type who likes to pack a little extra during my winter adventures. Apart from the obvious, my list for the weekend includes a foam mat, a handsaw, a small hot water bottle, a four-season tent, a Kelly-Kettle, freshly chopped wood, food, headlights and spare batteries, a RAB sleeping bag and the We Drifters anti-insect sleepwear.
Martyn’s shortcuts are a match to my navigation choices. He suggests a shortcut up a steep and slippery rocky route. Our rucksacks draw us backward and it’s a tight squeeze through the rocks. We hold on to tree roots and branches and we wedge our fingers in the crannies. When we reach the top we begin to descend nearly all the way down, a distance on the road equating to 100 meters.
My ambitious bushcraft plans involve a flint instead of a lighter and matches. Wood from home, cardboard and cotton soaked in oil to use as kindling. Surely a fire will be easy going? (I've always been a dreamer.)
Situated in an open area without any nearby trees, right when the water begins to bubble, a gust of wind blows and knocks the kettle down. We lose all the water and the fire becomes extinguished. The scraping tool that came with the flint is lost in the dark and I haven’t got a pocket knife to use as a scraper. We spend a lot of time searching for a tiny accessory that I recall had an orange handle, but we can’t find it (as it turns out, it was black.) Meanwhile, the stick pile reduces fast, naughty little pooch might have something to do with that. During a ‘Eureka’ moment I use the kitchen knife and it creates enough sparks to light another fire. Half an hour we have a cuppa.
'Want to see my party-trick?' I ask. Martyn raises an eyebrow, nothing I say or do surprises him. He's easy going, with a dry sense of humour and the same appreciation for endurance challenges and winter adventures.
Did you know Andean healers do a little dance to heal the sick using maracas in their healing rites? I ask. After a little theatrical performance, dancing around the fire, shaking the corn seeds like maracas it's time for the magic. I empty the corn in a small pot with a spoonful of coconut oil and onto the fire it goes. Here comes the wonderful sound of pop-corn popping.
The wind blows at around 25mph. It feels like -2. I love the simplicity and the self-sufficiency of sleeping outdoors in the heart of winter. I put on my We Drifters bamboo vest, long-johns and socks. After a long day of trekking I like to change into something dry and clean. The breathable fabric controls the moisture and my body temperature inside the sleeping bag but after an hour my buttocks are still cold as gravestone. I tie a fleece jumper around my waste and cuddle pooch. She's not only a great travel companion but makes an excellent water-bottle and a ferocious guard dog.
Words to describe the weather aren't repeatable in writing. Let’s say it was a noisy night. The poles resisting the wind, trying not to snap sound like trees breaking. The heavy rain and the flapping of the outer layer never cease and I often find the tent 'stroking' me on the face. When the wind howls in the distance we know it is heading our way and that it will soon hit our tents. Martyn sleeps inside a sleeping bag designed for ultra-running races. He looks like he's trapped inside a tight sock. His tent pole breaks through the stormy night and we are in disbelief that the top layers of our tents still stand to the ground.
Packing and unpacking is boring but in torrential weather, it's much more fun. The cheap plastic waterproof snaps within seconds, half of it covers my face, blocking any visibility and the other half trapped around my knees. At that moment, my tent flies off my hands and begins to roll down the hills. I try to run towards it blind-folded with the top tent layer wrapped around my foot. What a laugh we have, because growing up doesn't mean we should lose our fun gene.
Out here there is time. Time to observe nature, the moving water, the clouds. From the top of the hill, we look down on Ullswater, it's a raw winter’s day. The wet weather is part of the sensation, a pleasure in itself. The sunlight appears from behind the hillside, this is our reward. My lungs fill with fresh air and my soul with gratitude, nature has come to my rescue.
The rain is bitter cold. It’s the kind that makes the side of your face and eyebrows go numb. There’s no one out there but us. A beautiful solitude. The higher we climb, the colder it gets. And through the heavy mist, Pooch is too soaked to continue. ‘Pick me up human, I'm tired now’ she says by gently tapping on my calf. We wrap her up in a fleece jacket and take turns in carrying her, while we jog down the summit to warm up.
They say the deepest pleasure comes from the simplest things. For me, time in nature is happiness, it connects me to life and in all its fullness.