I'd been checking the Tuesday weather forecast for a few weeks. I needed a bit of warmth, clear skies, no thunder risk, no rain and a light breeze. Not too much to ask, right? The plan was to fastpack in the Peaks somewhere not far from home, between my last client on Tuesday and my first on Wednesday.
For those who haven't tried it, fastpacking is a combination of backpacking and running. The aim is to travel light, and run - sleep - run. How many sleeps you slot in are up to you, but I only had a 'microadventure' amount of time at my disposal.
The weather of my wishing arrived yesterday; Day 5 of '30DaysWild' and World Environment Day. An auspicious day then, to run up a hill, bed down amongst the sheep, and give my silent thanks to the Earth.
The run itself was unremarkable. I went up hills, I went down hills. You know how it goes by now.
What this was really about was getting out alone and pushing my limits. I haven't fastpacked before (and Bosnia is essentially a LONG fastpack) and I haven't slept out alone without a shelter before. I won't be doing this in Bosnia of course - I'll have a tent - but by shaking up my comfort zone I'm trying to train my brain into tolerating discomfort. I can't simulate the conditions of Bosnia in England, I can only create analogous challenges that require me to Step Up.
What I remembered is that sleeping without a shelter is a whole different ball game to wild camping. For me, these are the key differences:
- The wind (weather) directly on your face as you try to sleep
- the proximity of unfamiliar sounds
- the variable experience of temperature changes
- The felt-sense of exposure, and everything anxious that flows from that.
Whilst a tent is only a thin skin, the psychological difference is huge. A tent is a home. It's a safe place. It's a boundary. And I wanted to feel the anxiety of no-skin because there will be anxious moments in Bosnia, when I will feel extremely thin skinned and will have to just get on with things.
So, last night was a chance to shake myself awake metaphorically, though also literally at 1am when three times I experienced sleep paralysis and woke to the terrifying sense of falling off the edge of my bivvy into the 'abyss' unable to move my arms or make a sound. Of course, I wasn't actually falling; I was very safe and sound, but on the third time of trying to sleep after each episode, I rolled onto my front and slept face down in my bag. Undignified.
I woke several times in the night. Had I heard a sheep? Was a sheep eating my apple rings? Had I heard a person? Was a person eating my apple rings? Oh, the anticipated sleepy trauma of losing my apple rings. I also woke with a cold face multiple times. I'm a cold sleeper anyway but I left my 4-season at home given that this was 'fastpacking' so it was just down to my 2-season RAB, my merino baselayers, my 3/4 thermarest and Alpkit bivvy-bag to keep me warm.
That and the residual warmth of my posh pot noodle.
The evening was great - I didn't read as I expected, but simply lay there soaking up the darkening night, watching the bats until they were gone, inwardly tracking owl sounds, snorting openly at the melodramatic sheep wailing their way into sleep, lamenting the ever-present barking farm dog, following the lights of aircraft on their Manchester flight-path and... breathing. I'm easy to please like that. Drifting in and out of sleep, I dreamt multiple times that I had packed up and gone home, so it was a genuine surprise to wake at 4am still lying on the west side of the hill, chilled and ready to move.
Gratified to have slept at all, I hefted my sleeping gear under my arm, slung my pack over my shoulder, and ran to the top of the hill to find a top perch facing the east, from where I could watch the sunrise with tea. Too eager to move, I slipped on the limestone and briefly went over on my ankle sending 'SHIIIIT' echoing into the valley below. No damage was done, but I can certainly feel 'it' as I type.
But in fact the morning was more beautiful than the night. I 'Live' instagrammed the sunrise for the crazy 9 people who were also awake at that time, and I sipped on my chamomile, vanilla and honey tea. Milk for Yorkshire Tea was one luxury too far. I watched the haze disperse, the crows rejoin the air, and the half-moon who had been my friend, disappear.
Die hard fastpackers will snort that I took luxuries with me at all, even on this short trip. But a travel pillow was so worthwhile as there isn't enough of my down-jacket to maintain any loft for the job, and a supply of gourmet wine gums by Wally and Whiz felt life-or-death.
(After a chance conversation on Twitter about eating wine gums (my current go-to comfort food), these guys suggested I try theirs instead. I cheekily said I would if they'd send me some; which to their credit they did and whoa, these gums are game changers! Vegan. Gluten Free. Eco Friendly. They are virtuous with a capital Y U M M Y, and the stash of teeny bags they sent me means basically calorie free right? Certainly, they are light enough for fastpacking...and ergo Bosnia...ahem...nudge...)
I was also thrilled to test my new phone out on a bonafide sunrise, and discover that it was more than up to the job of capturing everything I asked of it. Everything above is from my phone. I've been trying to work out how I can justify taking my Nikon DSLR to Bosnia with me, but frankly it's just too much weight. Perhaps then, I will just take my phone and make sure I have the ability to charge it. Excellent. More wine gum space.
Finally - importantly - I passed another of my tests. This was the first run (albeit short) where I had carried a pack weighing just under 8kg. I deliberately loaded it to get it close to 'Bosnia Weight', and whilst acknowledging that Yes, my back will hurt at the end, it was manageable. More than manageable actually. It was particularly enlightening to stumble across the following formula:
me + bag = the same weight I was two years ago.
If I could carry me then, I can certainly carry me and the bag now.
Every run I choose to do - to craft, shape and execute - I get a little closer to fitting my dream, and this morning, maybe for the first time, I felt pretty sure that I would definitely Run Bosnia.