Tag Archives: hiking

beating anxiety

Anxiety and dealing with it has been on my mind a lot recently. A recent event really annoyed me and then I read Reg Spittle’s book “Camino Sunrise”. I reviewed it a little while back but essentially he writes about walking the Camino and dealing with significant anxiety issues before and during the walk. He describes a lifetime of anxiety and how it affected his life, his interactions with others and how it prevented him taking part in many social events and activities.

His story really made me think. I’ve had a few issues with anxiety over the last number of years but thought it was a recent thing. However, a number of his memories made me look again at events when I was younger. I was always shy and socially awkward as a teenager and a young adult. I found it difficult to make friends (still do to a certain extent) and found new and unfamiliar people and events difficult to navigate. I would worry about what could or might happen, would be concerned about being unliked or doing something embarrassing that would leave me open to ridicule.

I vividly remember one event in my first year at college when I made arrangements to go to a student night club with a group. One of the girls was on my course and the others shared a house with her. We arranged for them to pick me up on the way as we were all walking and they passed my digs. I remember hiding in the house with the lights off, pretending not to hear them at the door and claiming the next day that I wasn’t feeling well and went to bed early. All of this was caused by an intense fear that I wouldn’t fit in with them.

Other small events come to mind over the years, usually to do with social events and you can imagine how difficult it was to start dating! I cringe now when I look back at the first few times I met girls that I liked but was frozen by a fear of rejection and humiliation.

In the last few years I’ve had episodes of anxiety linked to big events but also for surprisingly minor undertakings. I remember binning at least one Audax cycle due to a fear of not being able to complete the route and worry about getting stranded with no way home. In the last couple of weeks I had a similar experience that really annoyed me.

I’ve done a few short and reasonably easy hikes in the last year or so and I have been developing a hunger for more challenging mountain hikes again. I’ve rooted out all my old books and rediscovered a circuit of the Sruell Valley that goes into the heart of the Bluestack Mountains and includes the highest point along the way. I made plans and pencilled it in for one of my days off. I was really looking forward to this hike for the best part of a week and had everything lined up days in advance and even the weather looked good.

The day before this all changed. I started worrying about all the things that could go wrong. My fitness is shot to hell, I’m carrying 10kg more than I should and it’s been 10-15 years since I attempted a hike with this kind of challenge. I was worried about the remoteness of the walk and my total inexperience of an area I hadn’t walked in before.

The morning of the hike I had an early appointment and I also had to be finished and back home by a certain time. My early morning anxiety manifested itself in an upset stomach and when the morning appointment went on longer than expected I was in a high state of anxiety. I somehow managed to convince myself to go anyway but the whole way to the starting point I was running through reasons to call it off. One of my ingenious excuses was to lie and say it was too cloudy as I could see a lowish cloud base on the drive over. By the time I arrived at the start this actually was the case. A weather system had creeped in that consisted of steady, heavy drizzle and a very thick, dark and low bank of cloud over the whole range. I couldn’t see anything above 200m and it was foolish to contemplate the hike in those conditions.

Within 10min of making the decision to abandon the hike and on my way home I could physically feel the anxiety lifting. It was like someone opened a valve and let it all drain out. The knots in my stomach that had been there all morning unravelled and I felt like I was floating with the decision made for me. It brought a sense of relief but also huge anger. I was furious and felt that I’d let the anxiety beat me and simply used the weather as an easy escape. I’m still not sure if I did or not but it certainly opened my eyes to how anxiety could and had prevented me from doing something I should have enjoyed. Reading Reg’s book a few days later really brought it all home to me but also gave me an urge to beat it.

Within a day or so I’d come up with an alternative plan, to complete a different challenging hike of a similar level but one I had done before. In fact on the way home that first day I actually scouted out the start point for parking as I hadn’t been there for almost 15 years. On Sunday I did that hike.

barnesmore hike

It’s a hike up Barnesmore Gap climbing Croaghonagh from the steep side and descending by a very steep gully. The first few kilometres follow the track of the decommissioned Donegal Railways line that ran from Stranorlar through the Gap to Donegal Town from 1889 to 1959. Walking this track there is ample evidence of the old railway. There are many of the original telegraph poles still standing, there are stone retaining walls on the hill to protect from landslides as well as stone culverts to divert streams under the tracks. The ground is clearly modified to provide a flat surface for the railway and the gravel used to grade the line is still visible on many sections. There is a subtle feel underfoot of the regular humps where the sleepers would have sat to support the rails.

barnes gap c.1890 © wikipedia

1959 photo shoot © flickr

After approximately 3.5km a convenient sheep trail provides a reasonably easy location to cross the old stone wall and get access to the hill. This is where the hard work begins. The next 45min was a slog through deep grass and heather, dry and brittle from the winter winds and the last week of dry weather. This is trackless terrain that is best traversed using vague sheep trails to avoid the worst of the boggy ground and hidden holes that could easily result in a broken leg or twisted ankle. Around and between craggy outcrops, crossing a couple of small streams and climbing a steep, grassy ramp eventually gives you your first clear view of the summit having climbed approximately 280m in 2km. The final push to the summit dips and climbs across a mixture of peat hags, boggy grassland and eventually a short steep climb up an enjoyable rocky outcrop.

The rocky summit is spoiled by 3 masts surrounded by fences and support cables but the views are amazing. Despite the haze there were great views out over Lough Eske and Donegal Bay to St John’s Point and Slieve League just about visible in the far distance with the Dartry Mountains to the Southwest and Benwiskin and Benbulben clearly visible. Eastwards you are looking out over Lough Mourne and the bleak expanse of bogland stretching into Co. Tyrone as well as down the Finn Valley with the Sperrins clearly visible and the mountains of Inishowen in the far distance. Close by the craggy hulk of Croaghconnellagh looms just across Barnesmore Gap.

looking west

looking east

Lunch was had in the shelter of a large boulder with the wind thrumming through the mast cables sounding like a jet engine readying for take off. Out of the wind it was warm in the strong sunshine and I sat for almost 45min enjoying the view.

It’s possible to descend from the summit using the access track for the masts and forest tracks for approximately 5km. However, I opted for the much more direct option that follows a gully just below the summit that drops over the edge and the very steep drop back to the earlier approach trail. This is an incredibly steep and demanding descent that requires great care to choose the best line. Rushing here and a resulting trip or fall could have disastrous consequences. After the dry spell I probably had the best possible conditions for attempting it. Reaching the bottom my thighs and calves were throbbing with the effort and my knees were aching but looking back up I had an intense feeling of satisfaction for having done it.

The last 1.5km trace the original path in through the forest and back to the parking spot. A difficult, challenging but very rewarding hike.

interesting elevation profile

click here to view on strava

Update: 28th April

Video of my walk can be found here:

camino sunrise – walking with my shadows

Camino Sunrise – Walking With My Shadows by Reginald Spittle

From Goodreads:

Walk? 500 miles? Across Spain? We can’t do that!
And so began the journey of a lifetime for Reg Spittle.

An outwardly well-adjusted professional and family man, Reg was a master of disguising a lifetime of debilitating anxiety that undermined his self-confidence.

Recently retired, he never dreamed he’d soon find himself chasing distant boundaries across a foreign land, sleeping in dorm bunks and sharing bathrooms as if he were a teenager experiencing his gap year.

When tragedy strikes, Reg reluctantly accepts his wife’s challenge to carry his red backpack on the historic Camino de Santiago, confronting past fears and humiliations, while packing weighty new worries.

Self-reflection, humor, and a recurring cast of characters create the backdrop for a story of hope in Camino Sunrise: Walking With My Shadows.

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

This is the first book written by the author but I have already read his second book that details his later treks. This is the story of how it all began.

The book is an enjoyable account of the Camino experience. It’s very different from the PCT and AT endurance treks I’ve enjoyed in lots of other books but it’s most certainly a challenge in its own right. I found that the book captured a sense of sharing and camaraderie that seems more personal on the Camino compared to the other treks. The author describes his Camino “Family” and the spirit of this definitely comes across. This subtle difference may be due to the kind of trekker that is attracted to the different trails. The people Reg and Sue met were older in general while the PCT and AT seemed to be predominantly younger trekkers.

The book is also a very personal and private struggle for the author as the Camino experience brings his life-long struggles with anxiety to the fore. Even contemplating and agreeing to attempt the trek is a massive challenge for him. Throughout the book he describes events through his childhood that led to anxiety in his adult life and how he hopes that post-Camino Reg will be a different person to pre-Camino Reg.

At times I felt the personal stories uncomfortable. I was lucky to have a much happier childhood but many of the struggles he describes were very familiar. At the time I simply put it down to shyness and social awkwardness but it made me realise that anxiety that I sometimes struggle with in adulthood was there during my childhood too. Recognising this shook me a bit. Maybe this was my own Camino journey in a very small way.

Header image by Kaboompics .com from Pexels

wild winter

Wild Winter by John D Burns and read by Stewart Crank.

From Audible:

In Wild Winter, John D. Burns, best-selling author of The Last Hillwalker and Bothy Tales, sets out to rediscover Scotland’s mountains, remote places and wildlife in the darkest and stormiest months. He traverses the country from the mouth of the River Ness to the Isle of Mull, from remote Sutherland to the Cairngorms, in search of rutting red deer, pupping seals, minke whales, beavers, pine martens, mountain hares, and otters. In the midst of the fierce weather, John’s travels reveal a habitat in crisis, and many of these wild creatures prove elusive as they cling on to life in the challenging Highland landscape.

As John heads deeper into the winter, he notices the land fighting back with signs of regeneration. He finds lost bothies, old friendships and innovative rewilding projects, and – as Covid locks down the nation – reflects on what the outdoors means to hillwalkers, naturalists and the folk who make their home in the Highlands.

Wild Winter is a reminder of the wonder of nature and the importance of caring for our environment. In his winter journey through the mountains and bothies of the Highlands, John finds adventure, humour and a deep sense of connection with this wild land.

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

This is a beautifully written and really well narrated book. I absolutely loved listening to it and it felt way too short.

The author has an amazing talent for describing outdoor scenes and environments. His skill takes you away from your current location and firmly plants you in the spot he is describing. His love of the outdoor life and his passion for the Scottish Highlands is evident all the way through and is inspiring.

Not only does he take us to the Highlands but he allows us a glimpse of the strong friendships he has built since childhood and the struggle he had coping with the lockdown at the start of Covid.

This is a hugely positive and uplifting book and definitely my favourite audiobook so far.

Header image source: fossbytes.com

the longest walk

20miles, 32 kilometres, it doesn’t sound like an awful lot but that was my target for Wednesday. Back in 2012 I did my longest ever walk at 30.5km on The Bluestack Challenge along part of the Bluestack Way from Glenties to Lough Eske. That was an organised walk and over some hilly terrain. Since then I’ve done some longish walks in the 15-20km area and last year walked a half marathon for the first time since 2012. A few weeks ago I repeated that same walk and pushed it out to 25km.

Since then it’s been rattling around in my head to push on and beat my personal best. I’ve been walking a bit extra this month as part of the fundraiser for the Irish Community Air Ambulance and I wanted to finish March with a big one. I’ve also been listening to a few audiobooks recently on the Pacific Crest Trail and Appalachian Trail and was inspired to put in one of their days. One of the big milestones for those thru-hikers is their first 20mile day so 32km became my new target, albeit without the 15kg backpack!

I walked a very similar route to the other two days linked above but with variations to increase the distance. It was all on roads, some of which were very familiar but I also managed to find roads I’ve never been on before and yet so close to home. I was surprised by the variety of landscapes that I saw and just how quickly they changed. I had great weather, cold and breezy at times but dry all day. I had a great time and despite the throbbing knees and ankles had a massive sense of achievement at the end.

beautiful birch at lunch stop

(For some reason this video has uploaded in a low resolution version and I can’t work out why, yet another thing to learn.)

So what is the next challenge? I guess the next logical step is to walk the full marathon distance which is 42km. I already have a route pencilled out for that and I’m investigating a 50km route also. That one will require a long dry day in summer and it’s probably the absolute maximum limit for me for a single day walk. I’m going to enjoy the current achievement for a while but also enjoy making plans…

Header image by Pixabay from Pexels

where’s the next shelter?

Where’s the Next Shelter? written and read by Gary Sizer

From Audible:

Where’s the Next Shelter? is the true story of three travelers on the Appalachian Trail, a 2,000-mile hike that stretches from Georgia to Maine, told from the perspective of Gary Sizer, a seasoned backpacker and former marine who quickly finds himself humbled by the endeavor. He teams up with Megan, a sassy college grad whose indomitable spirit eclipses her lack of experience; and Lemmy, a cartoonist from overseas whose off-kilter commentary on the wonders and frustrations of the trail keeps everyone laughing.

Sprawling through the woods and towns of the Appalachian Mountains, the trail carries the trio through real and fanciful ups and downs ranging from hilarious to perilous. Much more than an orderly account of mountaintops and meals, this book is an adventure about friends figuring things out as they go. It’s about screwups and solutions, awe and inspiration.

If you long for the horizon or to sleep under the stars, then come along for the hike of a lifetime. All you have to do is take the first step.

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Yes, yet another audiobook on long distance hiking and my second in a row on the AT! This one took a bit of getting used to. The author reads his own story and he reads at a speed that is slightly too fast for comfortable listening. He also has a slightly irreverent attitude that while novel means quite a lot of swearing. Hearing fuck in an audiobook conversation while not shocking is kind of jarring and I was nearly at the end before I was getting used to it.

A consistent element of the story style is the author recounting conversations as they happen and verbatim. I find it difficult to believe that he was able to recall so many conversations over such a long period of time and almost a year after finishing the trail.

Sizer himself is an interesting character and I found his friendship and relationship with other hikers and trail angels really well written and described. In particular his special relationship with Voldemort (Megan) and Lemmy is particularly enjoyable.

Another good depiction of the AT and I found it particularly interesting how Sizer’s description was different to that of David Miller’s while still staying so similar in many ways.

Header image source: fossbytes.com

awol on the appalachian trail

Awol on the Appalachian Trail written by David Miller and read by Christopher Lane

From Audible:

In 2003, software engineer David Miller left his job, family, and friends to hike 2,172 miles of the Appalachian Trail. AWOL on the Appalachian Trail is Miller’s account of this thru-hike from Georgia to Maine. Listeners are treated to rich descriptions of the Appalachian Mountains, the isolation and reverie, the inspiration that fueled his quest, and the rewards of taking a less conventional path through life. While this book abounds with introspection and perseverance, it also provides useful passages about hiking gear and planning. This is not merely a travel guide; it is a beautifully written and highly personal view into one man’s journey and the insights gained by abandoning what is comfortable and routine.

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

I listened to this straight after “Journeys North” and I think it would have been more enjoyable with a gap between the two. It’s also the very first AT based audiobook for me and it seems that the PCT is a much more diverse adventure and also seems to attract a more interesting participant. This means that while the author is interesting and has his own good back story those around him seem less so. Again this could be due to comparing everyone to Journeys North.

I did enjoy the writing style of the story which kept it tipping along at a steady pace. He also provided a lot of information about the AT itself and I felt that I knew it much better at the end compared to Bill Bryson’s book which was more about his experience than the actual trail.

At a similar age to the author I found great admiration for how he was able to recognise the way his career was affecting his mental health and happiness and was able to change the script of his life with the incredible support of his wife. I was really glad he filled us in at the end on how he returned to real life once again.

My only regret with this book is that I should have listened to it before Journeys North.

Header image source: fossbytes.com

welcome break

With a big Sale event at work to launch the new store it’s been a pretty busy few weeks. Wednesday was my first day off after working nine straight through and nine very busy days at that. As you may imagine a day off was very welcome.

I’d been keeping an eye on the weather and with a dry and sunny forecast I decided it was a perfect day for a longer walk and wanting something different I decided to walk to a small wooded area approximately 6km from home and to cook some lunch while sitting and enjoying the woods.

I packed a bag with a frying pan, some bacon and eggs and my Trangia stove. Not preparing the evening before I ended up doing everything in a bit of a rush and managed to forget a few things. The biggest thing I forgot was my fuel bottle so I only had what was remaining from my last time out. This was only half what I needed so I had to make a choice between a full lunch or skipping a cup of tea. In the end the tea won out.

The frying pan was too big for the stove and with the ground being more uneven than expected it was quite unwieldy and cumbersome. The uneven ground also resulted in mishaps with my water boiling and I managed to spill it twice! Despite all the things that went wrong I still learned some valuable lessons, had a really good time and enjoyed a great day for a walk. I initially expected a 13km walk but coming home by a slightly different route it ended up as 16.5km.

click here to view on strava

I’ve recently upgraded my cheapo Akaso action camera to a fancy new GoPro Hero 10 and Wednesday was my first real opportunity to try that out too. I didn’t know what to expect so was very impressed with the quality of the video compared to the old one. The sound quality was also superb but this was more expected. I put together a video of the day and it’s live on YouTube if you want to have a look at the link below. I’m looking forward to seeing exactly what the GoPro is capable of on outings over the next few months.

Header image by Pixabay from Pexels

evening daylight

Today was that special day when I get home from work and I’m able to go for a walk in the woods before it gets dark for the first time this year. I managed to get home just in time to make the most of that unique period just as the sun is setting and the moon is rising.

With a massive relaunch sale at work the last two weeks have been long hours, very little time off and demanding days so this evening was very much needed to clear my head and leave me feeling rejuvenated.

It was brilliant to hear so many birds singing vocally as soon as I got out of the van. It put a real pep in my step and I could have sat for hours and listened to them.

The last 10min or so were in under the taller trees which brought an earlier darkness but I had enough moonlight to boost my night vision just enough to still be comfortable. I really do love the woods at dusk.

It wasn’t quite Venge Day but it was damn close…

Header image by Pixabay from Pexels

journeys north: the pacific crest trail

Journeys North: The Pacific Crest Trail by Barney Scout Mann

From Audible:

In Journeys North, legendary trail angel, thru hiker, and former PCTA board member Barney Scout Mann spins a compelling tale of six hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail in 2007 as they walk from Mexico to Canada. This ensemble story unfolds as these half-dozen hikers – including Barney and his wife, Sandy – trod north, slowly forming relationships and revealing their deepest secrets and aspirations. They face a once-in-a-generation drought and early severe winter storms that test their will in this bare-knuckled adventure. In fact, only a third of all the hikers who set out on the trail that year would finish.

As the group approaches Canada, a storm rages. How will these very different hikers, ranging in age, gender, and background, respond to the hardship and suffering ahead of them? Can they all make the final 60-mile push through freezing temperatures, sleet, and snow, or will some reach their breaking point?

Journeys North is a story of grit, compassion, and the relationships people forge when they strive toward a common goal.

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

I absolutely loved this, easily the best  audiobook I’ve listened to so far. Really well written and excellently narrated but it’s the story that makes it special.

Most thru-hike stories focus on the author, their personal story and the people they meet along the way. This one gives the other five stories equal merit and this makes it unique.

Scout seems to be a very special person and I really enjoyed his take on the PCT but also his insights into the lives of the friends he made along the way. It’s obvious that much of the information was provided by them, rather than just observations, which points to the close relationship he had with each one.

A truly inspirational story of resilience, determination and the strength of humanity.

Header image source: fossbytes.com