I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently. If there’s one thing a long walk gives you, it’s plenty of time to think
Part of the problem is doubt, not really feeling as if I ever know what I’m doing or deserve anything good to happen to me. But why not? Maybe I have no idea how strong I am and I need to start appreciating myself.
The thing is, I’m far from perfect because nobody is and I kind of enjoy the honesty of sharing that, especially in our modern social media world where people can curate their images, blurring them to unreality. But perhaps I’m always focusing on the wrong thing and it allows people to believe less of me, and for me to believe less of myself.
I’m not making a hero’s journey. I’m not trying to appear capable. My Instagram will not show a selection of summit pictures and glorious selfies. I am a person of glorious variation, sometimes I push myself for miles and sometimes I want to do nothing more than lie in a field. Sometimes I navigate myself precisely using contour and compass, sometimes I find myself climbing fences where I’d expected a stile.
I rarely fall over but I often stumble. My clothes are all xl, my hair never looks great. My tents are rarely perfectly taut.
And yet I realise I may be selling myself short.
People are very quick to warn me of the dangers, to tell me that I shouldn’t be afraid to change my plans.
Don’t go to the mountains, they say.
Don’t camp in the cold.
There are wolves, they say.
There are robbers and thieves.
If I listened to everyone I would never leave home. I have to choose who to pay attention to, judge their knowledge and how it informs their level of fear. Where is their belief that I am capable of doing this? Perhaps in my desire to appear human I am failing to show my abilities. If I keep claiming to be crap at everything then why should anyone appreciate my strength?
I’m just saying that something is hard. Do other adventurers not do that? Patrick Leigh Fermor skipped across Europe. Dervla Murphy always has a wry tale of yet another broken bone. Rosie Swale Pope is made of pure steel. Don’t even get me started on the polar explorers or all those smug Victorians, conquerors all. Did they feel no self doubt or did they just not make that part of their stories?
I don’t want to do that. I am human, I am weak and foolish and fallible. Yet I think this isn’t all that I am.
If I don’t look like I believe in myself then how can I expect others to believe in me.
As I looked back at my 2018, the realisation has grown that I’m pretty stressed all the time, no matter what’s actually happening around me.
I’m not much of a one for new years resolutions, the changing of the date has always seemed like a pretty arbitrary night out to me. The final filip of celebration after the build up and subsequent food coma of Christmas. A night where the pubs are packed, it’s impossible to get served, any major event involves more queuing and waiting than celebration. And for what, to count down from 10 and carry on drinking. Maybe that says more about my boozy youth than the importance of a New Year. These days I’m happy to miss it, go to bed early, it just doesn’t bother me.
I went to bed in Bucharest but I definitely couldn’t sleep – huge booms, window rattling fireworks exploded regularly from 10pm and the streets filled with tangy smoke at midnight as the pop pop sparkles rattled throughout the city. A 20 minute explosion of sound and fire, I imagined Bucharest at war, replaced terror with glamour and glitter.
This is a long way of saying that I don’t really care about New Year. But I’m thinking about change. As I finish out my 2018 I’m feeling tired. I’m also realising that I’m really hard on myself. I’ve seen it, as I walked across Ukraine, seen how I’m always ready to tip into stress and sadness. When do I just relax and enjoy this? 2018 should be a sequence of proud events – my first book was published to, not rapturous acclaim but a good reception, Nobody said anything horrible (well, just one amazon review but he’s clearly a miserable git anyway). I appeared at Hay Festival, I saved up enough money to leave the country on a 2 year journey (which took months of hard work and van living), I left the country! Packed everything up, hitchiked to Kiev. I pushed through all the reasons not to do such a ridiculously difficult thing and I did it anyway. I walked 600 miles in two strange countries where I understood very little of the language.
Yet the moments of actually considering and appreciating how great my situation is, of feeling proud of all I’ve achieved, are few and far between. Mostly I’m in a miasma of self doubt, worrying about something, there’s always something.
And that’s the problem really, how good does life have to be before I start enjoying it, why aren’t I letting myself enjoy it right now?
I’m not saying I’m going to be able to change myself but at least seeing the problem is the beginning of working on it. Stop doing myself down, stop selling myself short.
I’ve just arrived in Cluj-Napoca train station. I’m going to take another train to Bratca and I’m going to continue walking south. There’s snow on the ground here in the city, there’s a bite in the air that had faded from Bucharest. I don’t know what I’ll find out there, I don’t know what route I’ll be able to take, whether I’ll have to stick to roads or be able to take smaller tracks. Someone offered me snowshoes but I don’t have them right now. I don’t know if I’ll need them, what it’s really like to walk in snow. This isn’t Wales, this is way way more difficult than anything I’ve faced before.
And yet, I need to grasp hold of it, to accept what comes my way, whether it’s road walking and a hotel every night or climbing peaks and camping out. I have the possibility to do either and I have to accept both as acceptable, not peaks as success and hotels as failure. It’s as if I push myself to my limits and then only focus on the tiny step back I take at the last minute. No more, I tell you, no more. Lets have some bloody positivity shall we please.
Oh crikey, and now I’ve started worrying about publishing this, whether it’s too intense and miserable. Lord Ursula, just get it out and stop worrying. I’m here now, I’m doing it, it’s time to focus on enjoyment