When looking for inspiration, what better muse than the great outdoors? I had recently finished reading A Walk in the Woods when I decided it would be as good a time as any to go on an adventure of my own. If it’s good enough for Bill Bryson, it’s good enough for me. However, I am not what one would call a woodsman. I once had a panic attack in Essex because I had no phone signal. Ray Mears I am not.
It was with this in mind that I decided I would start off with a conservative goal of walking 50 miles. After all, Bryson walked 2,200 miles on the Appalachian Trail. Compared to that, 50 miles seemed a doddle.
Bright eyed and full of a heady mixture of enthusiasm and porridge, I gathered my things and had a friend drop me roughly 50 miles away from home in the direction that looked the most green on Google Maps.
I left the car and passed beneath an underpass that served as both a literal and figurative barrier between town and nature and entered my first wood. The leaves hung low and the ground was soft beneath my feet. It was at this point that I realised my mistake in wearing bright white trainers. Within two minutes of setting off I had given up trying to tip-toe around the muddy puddles and resigned myself to buying new footwear when I got home.
Five minutes in to my epic journey, I considered myself somewhat of an expert. It was easy. One foot after the other, take in some scenery. Repeat. However, ten minutes in, when my legs started to ache and I started to feel the cold in my hands and face my mind was preoccupied with the following three revelations:
- It is impossible to regulate your body temperature when walking. Conventional winter clothing becomes hot and sticky whilst your extremities freeze.
- 50 miles suddenly seemed a lot longer than I originally thought.
- I should’ve charged my iPod.
I trudged on. Eventually the woodland cleared and I entered a vast area of sweeping hillside. Beautiful to look at from the tree-line but ultimately a nightmare to traverse. The wind ferociously and relentlessly battered me from all angles. If I had hair it would’ve been a nightmare to control.
I reached the top of one the wind-swept peaks and took in the view. It was stunning. I was surrounded by the most verdant landscape that I had no idea was right on my door-step. Everywhere I looked were lazy hillsides, brooding woods and epic crests. Still, wouldn’t have hurt to drive there.
The land levelled out and I was soon faced with the option of skirting around some farmer’s fields or carving my own way through another woodland. I chose the latter. Partly because I wanted to get out of the wind but mainly because I like to pretend I’m Robin Hood.
The wood was beautiful. Autumnal colours highlighted by the sun peaking through the cloud; the horizon masked by a lingering fog. The silence was only punctured by a slight buzzing in the distance. I put it to the back of my mind and carried on with my journey. Several minutes later the sound had steadily grown in volume and I saw a sign pinned to an young oak. ‘DANGER, Tree Felling In Progress’. The sound I’d heard was chainsaws. Men were cutting trees down around me.
It had been almost four hours since I started my journey and my enthusiasm had worn thin. I was hungry, cold and achey, and now in danger of being comically squashed by an errant elm.
However, I ploughed on like the plucky hero I am and soon the noise of the chainsaws subsided. Despite the temperature, the wind, my ruined trainers, and the perils of deforestation, I actually started to enjoy myself. The space occupied by the noise of workmen and gale-force wind had been filled with utter serenity. Leaves crumpled under my feet and branches whispered in the trees as I strolled on past.
As I neared home, my initial skepticism had been replaced and I could now understand why people do it. The journey makes the ends all that more sweet. The fact that you’ve earned that view, or that pint, or pie, whatever it is you’re working towards. You’ve earned it, and it never tasted so good.
Ultimately, I am a convert. I still love cities and towns but I have a new appreciation and understanding for those that walk, or run, those that embrace nature. I will definitely be venturing out again, maybe even farther away from home this time, and I recommend you do too.
Or you could just drive a convertible to the top of a mountain in GTA V. Same thing, really.