Scary Nights of Stealth Camping!!

It has occurred to me that any wild or stealth camper, can become frightened during a night alone at their chosen spot, and it is not often spoken about.

However it is important to be honest, because there is much to be gained from a tough experience. Wild camping/sleeping can be the absolute best and most wonderful tonic for every conceivable malaise. The morning after a challenge, reminds one of how wonderful the daylight is and how good it is to be alive!

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Over many years I have spent numerous nights as a lone wild camper, and only experienced around four or five memorably terrifying nights. These have mostly been due to making the mistake of not choosing a site well. Being under pressure from tiredness and hunger along with fading light, is often not a good time to be looking for the best spot to lay ones head down.

My first never to be forgotten ‘night out’ though not alone, was as a naive 21-year-old. Hitch hiking around America with a friend, we literally slept anywhere to save money, including Greyhound bus station loos. It became a trip never to be forgotten!

One night, we decided to camp behind the hotel of the time at Crater Lake, Oregon…….this was absolutely not allowed…..so we giggled in nervous excitement, whilst putting up our very flimsy tent in a hollow, not far from the garbage bins at the back of the complex. Those giggles fast disappeared a few hours later, as we realised our obvious mistake.

Bears like rubbish bins, they mean tasty food…..and even better for Mr Brown Bear……here was a sagging nylon tent with two rucksacks full of aromatic provisions, and I suppose we were another form of a food source too. Apparently these particular brown bears are quite small, someone told me later……in an attempt to soothe our shattered nerves.

Well they sounded ‘HUGE’ to me, whilst snuffling and sniffing at our tent flaps and crashing around in the nearby bins. My friend descended into absolute terror, I almost had to use a gag to stop her screams, and tie her down to keep her from bursting out of the tent! It was a horrible, horrible night the bears were around for hours.

Luckily we survived, intact, exhausted and a little embarrassed.

The very best thing I learnt from that experience, apart from making a bad decision, was that I could be a strong person in a crisis. At the time it was incredibly frightening, but I felt good that we had survived and I’d managed to keep my fear under control.

The second night never to be repeated, was while cycling in the off-season, across the Isle of Arran on my way to Islay.

I wanted to get the early ferry from Lochranza over to Claonaig on Islay, there is a campsite at Lochranza which I decided not to use…….to save money.

At dusk I tucked my little dark green Acto tent into the straggly undergrowth, under a rock face, off the main road close to a gravel path. I knew it was a little dodgy, but decided the hours of darkness would hide me and the road had been deserted for ages. After scoffing some food, I snuggled down into my sleeping bag, switched off the torch and fell fast asleep. Only to be woken about three hours later by the loud roaring of car engines and squealing of numerous tyres.

I sat bolt upright….boy racers! It sounded like all the young men of Arran were outside, racing their cars in circles and skidding on the gravel close to my tent. My first thought was, I am going to be flattened along with the tent. Then came the dilemma of whether to get my torch, reveal the tent and myself, or whether to stay put. I felt very vulnerable and petrified. The ear-splitting noise of engines, smell of fumes and raucous shouting seemingly went on for hours. At one point I thought, this is becoming deliberate they know I’m here, as their cars came closer and closer to my tent.

Finally, I couldn’t cope with any more torture, just as I got to the point of emerging from my tent it went quiet and the tuned up engine noise faded away into the distance. I nearly cried with relief.

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My one other haunting night in the north-west, was on my very favourite Hebridean Isle of Mull.

Circumstances and a lower level of fitness found me scrabbling around for a place to pitch, close to the village of Bunessan on my way to Iona. The light was leaving and each hill beginning to feel like an Everest.

Spotting a little track on the right hand side at the top of a hill I made a spontaneous quick detour, it was the side road to a small walled graveyard! However there was a nice flat grassy spot close to the surrounding wall well off the main road. It was sure to be a quiet safe night!

The well-kept graveyard was special with some very ancient gravestones, which were interesting to read. I like to find the most long-lived persons grave, but it’s always sad to find the graves of young children, especially more than one child from the same family.

I went through my usual routine of securely pitching the tent, making hot food and then retiring to my cosy sleeping bag as darkness fell. Sleeping next to a graveyard was fine, any ghosts are going to be friendly I decided while drifting into a deep sleep.

Suddenly I was jerked awake by a loud thud, the far end of the tent momentarily flattened, guy ropes twanged and then all was silent.

Crikey, what an earth was that?

Immediately thoughts of unworldly beings flooded into my mind. I mentally shook myself. Ghosts do not exist!

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Plucking up courage I unzipped the tent doors, and shone my torch around…….nothing but black dense mist and drizzle. The silence that comes with low mist and drizzle now seemed rather ominous…….was there someone close by wandering around, had they tripped over my tent guy ropes? A tramp? To a rational mind in the broad daylight this may seem a little farcical, especially when one is miles away from the nearest dwellings or public services

However in the middle of the night anything goes…….as monkey mind takes over! Clutching my Leatherman knife tightly in one hand I dozed in and out of sleep, until the early grey light seeped into the tent.

Venturing outside in the light was a relief and almost immediately I realised what had happened. Obvious prints in the muddy grass, two bent tent pegs along with several stones displaced from the wall.

A deer had leapt from the graveyard over the wall, taken evasive action, dislodged the stones and fortunately landed on the very end of my tent, becoming temporarily tangled in the guy ropes.

A lucky escape…….it could have been the middle of the tent. Amazingly my invincible Acto wasn’t damaged……..and neither was I!

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The above tales of scary wild camping are not usual.

An odd tough night can however serve a larger purpose, imbibing extra confidence, self-control and self-reliance, along with an enormous sense of satisfaction at overcoming and coping with fear.

Also it is important to remember that it is rare to have such experiences. For most people stealth or wild camping in the british hills or countryside is well away from people, cars and bears.

My solo nights out in the natural world, have in general been some of the best times in my life so far………….explore the archives of this blog, and read all about the other fantastic wild cycling sleeps!

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Cold Water Swimming Tips.

My post today is a little different to the usual ramblings and musings, but still related to the outdoors.

I’ve witnessed some extraordinary reactions from people, when my swimming exploits in the local lake pop up into conversation. It’s probably quite natural for the other person, to explore the possibility in their mind, that a crazy women is standing before them!

I’ve decided that particular judgement is perhaps due to a lack of understanding, about how to swim in cold water and be safe.

Which brings me to the next section of this post……….

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Here are some of my personal tips about swimming in cold water, during the British autumn/winter.

Start swimming regularly from the late spring or early summer  onwards, when the water is warming up, this then gives you the opportunity to feel confident and relaxed about being in a large body of open water. Importantly starting at this time of year, usually gives the opportunity to become acclimatised to the dropping temperatures, later in the year.

In my experience the key to getting into cold water is very slow immersion, so the body and in particular heart and lungs, can adjust to the huge change in temperature. The blood will rush away from the extremities to protect the body core, and this can be an initial stress on the system.

I personally swim off slowly, after taking a few moments to adjust to the cold, this is when the water really bites and stings the skin, but is followed by an endorphin rush which is hugely uplifting. Then comes the obvious…….swim, float, swirl, stare at the sky, trees, ducks, swans, bats and enjoy, enjoy, enjoy the benefits of wild open water.

The water temperature is the most important consideration, along with whether wearing a wet suit, in determining how long to swim for. It is crucially important to listen to your body, and be aware of how you are reacting to the cold. Any breathing difficulties, signs of cramp or heavy limbs means, get out straight away, don’t delay. Hypothermia usually takes from around 30 minutes to start to affect the body, depending on the water temperature and the individual. Hypothermia is a gradual process of inner core cooling, which is why it is so important to be knowledgeable and understand the signs.

I am not wearing a wet suit, but have resorted to a 200 weight merino short sleeve T-shirt, (as I felt the cold was impacting my heart and sternum area)……..and a pair of merino briefs. There is something so freeing and natural in being a ‘skin swimmer’……it does mean less time in cold water though, unless you are hugely acclimatised and very experienced.

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After-care when leaving the water is also absolutely crucial.

As a person with a long history of outdoor and physical activities, after-care in any activity comes as second nature to me. However after scouring Google, I was reminded that many people probably aren’t aware of the fact, that they are still cooling down on leaving the water, and this too is a time of hypothermia risk. Meaning that ones actions and use of clothing on leaving the water, will make an important difference to regaining crucial body warmth.

Emerging from the lake, is crossing a threshold back into the world of earth and solidity, it is tempting to dilly-dally in the dream, because surprisingly the air does not feel cold…….an illusion of course!

Towel dry gently, clothes on…..starting from the top layers, long sleeve merino, quilted insulated top, down gilet, 750 fill down jacket, close-fitting merino hat and merino neck……power stretch thick leggings, short wool socks (long ones too fiddly) and finally insulated Bog boots.

If it is raining, I take a huge umbrella and get changed under that!

Then it’s a quick warm drink from my flask a couple of oatcakes and time to get walking through the beautiful woodland. About two weeks ago I decided to take along my hottie (hot water bottle!), with its furry jacket……what a pleasure to put my feet inside the warm furry cover whilst dressing, and even better I can cuddle up to it on my 10 minute walk back to the car!

On arriving back at the car……heater on full blast.

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Another point of safety; it is not recommended to swim solo and many swimmers take along a tow float as an extra safety measure.

Your local swim shop or the Internet are an invaluable source of information.

The Outdoor Swimming Society……..have lots of sensible available information about equipment, safety, groups to join and excellent features about the world of outdoor swimming. The Outdoor Swimmer magazine is also full of great articles, photos and features to tempt you into the water.

If anyone has any questions, feel free to leave a comment or contact me…….and thank you for reading!

 

 

 

 

Travels, Myths and Stories.

Cycling and travelling through various countries of the world, is always going to be a rich, varied and adventurous experience. Different cultures have so much to offer to the traveller who is willing to be immersed, soaking up all the available delights, with an open mind.

Personally I find so much to enrich ……… sometimes my head spins and mind whirs in excitement at all the stimulus. So much to record on camera, both literally and metaphorically.

 

Writing a daily diary is of a great help to me, I can record the vivid colours, sounds, sights, smells, tastes in as much detail as I like. My diary then becomes an absolutely invaluable tool for writing this blog, for public talk preparation both a form of storytelling.

Before we had the luxury of pen and paper, oral story telling was the main form of preserving history, travels and events. To this day ancient stories, myths and legends abound. Stories range from the personal to the global and bring nourishment, fascination, wonder and awe into so many lives.

While travelling, reading a good book about the local legends and stories which are usually inextricably linked to the people and culture, is an excellent way to understand the history and traditions of the place you are visiting.

Having worked with children, I am absolutely certain of the value of stories particularly ones retold in the oral tradition.

Which brings me to the point of this post!

Here is a lovely Maori legend I came across in New Zealand, it is close to my heart as I spent a lot of time in the Wellington area. Cycling across the Hutt river each morning, on my way to greet the kindergarten children.

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At the end of each day I would tell the children a simple story in the oral tradition, no picture books. They would sit spell bound, their dreamy faces filled with wonder, awe and fascination.

Ngake and Whātaitai the taniwha of Wellington harbour

Once upon a time, when Te Ika-a-Māui was just fished from the depths of the ocean, there lived two taniwha, Ngake and Whātaitai.

In those times, Wellington Harbour, Te Whanganui-a-Tara, was a lake cut off from the sea, and abundant in fresh water fish and native bird life. Ngake and Whātaitai lived here in the lake at the head of the fish of Māui (Te Ika-a-Māui).

Ngake and Whātaitai had a great life in their special lake, with all the time in the world to do as they pleased. Ngake was a taniwha with lots of energy. He liked to race around the shores, chasing fish and eels and leaping after birds that came too close. Whātaitai was the opposite, he preferred to laze on the lake’s shores, sunbathing and dreaming taniwha dreams.

When Ngake and Whātaitai were close to the south side of the lake, where the cliffs came down to the waters edge, they could hear the crashing waves of the ocean falling on the shores nearby so when sea birds flew overhead, Ngake and Whātaitai often yelled to them, “Tell us, sea birds, what is so special about the sea?”

And the birds would always reply, “The sea is deep, it’s vast, it’s wide, it’s where many different fishes hide. The sea is the home of Tangaroa, of Hinemoana and many others.”

Whātaitai and Ngake could only imagine what secrets the sea held. Whātaitai would loll on his back in the middle of the lake dreaming, imitating the sea noises in his throat. Ngake would swish his tail furiously, making huge waves that crashed against the lake’s shore.

As the years went by the two taniwha grew bigger, and the boundaries of their lake seemed to grow smaller.

Ngake was adamant he had outgrown his home and soon convinced Whātaitai that they both needed to break free from the lake that imprisoned them.

One summer morning when Whātaitai was enjoying the morning sunshine at the north end of the lake, Ngake began circling around at high speeds yelling, “Today is the day that I will break free of this lake and swim in the endless sea!”

Ngake crossed to the north side of the lake and coiled his tail into a huge spring shape. He focused his sights on the cliffs to the south and suddenly let his tail go. With a mighty roar Ngake was thrust across the lake up over the shore and smashed into the cliff face.

Ngake hit the cliffs with such force that he shattered them into huge hunks of rock and earth, effectively creating a pathway through to Te Moana o Raukawa (Cook Strait). Ngake, cut and bruised, slipped into the sea, finally free to explore as he had dreamed.

Whātaitai retreated from the north side of the lake to wind his tail into a spring as he had seen his brother do. He said a prayer to the taniwha gods, then let his tail go. But he wasn’t as strong or as fit as Ngake, his take-off was so much slower than his brother’s.

Whātaitai entered the gap forged by Ngake he didn’t realise the tide was out. His stomach dragged on the ground, eventually slowing him to a stop. Whātaitai was stranded, stuck between the sea and the lake, desperately lashing his tail and trying to move, but to no avail.

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Whātaitai could do nothing but lie there hoping that the incoming tide would lift him high enough to carry him across to the other side. But when the tide finally came in, it only helped to dampen his scaly skin and provide fish to sustain his hunger. Whātaitai was stuck without a hope of ever moving.

As the years passed Whātaitai became accustomed to his life stranded between the lake and the open sea. The tides would come and go providing him with food and keeping his skin healthy and moist. Whātaitai made many friends with birds and sea creatures, and these companions helped him deal with his fate.

One morning there was a dreadful shudder beneath the ocean floor. A huge earthquake erupted. Whātaitai was lifted out of the shallow water and high above sea level. Whātaitai could do nothing, he was stranded high above the water and he knew his life would end. Whātaitai bade farewell to his many bird friends and animals and soon after gasped his final breath.

As he died, Whātaitai’s spirit transformed into a bird, Te Keo, and flew to the closest mountain, Matairangi (Mount Victoria). Te Keo looked down on the huge taniwha body that stretched across the raised sea bed and cried. She cried for the great friendships Whātaitai had made, shown by the huge numbers of birds and sea life that had gathered around, and for the freedom of the sea which Whātaitai would never experience. When Te Keo had completed her lament, she bade farewell to Whātaitai, then set off to the taniwha spirit world.

Over the years Whātaitai’s body turned to stone, earth and rock and is known to this day as Haitaitai. Matairangi still looks down on the body of Whātaitai and the very top of Matairangi is still known as Tangi te Keo.

When Ngake let the spring in his tail loose he used so much force that he created a great gash in the earth and a river was formed. This river is now called Teawakairangi or the Hutt River.

The remnants of rock smashed aside when Ngake exited into the sea are visible today and Te Aroaro o Kupe (Steeple Rock) and Te Tangihanga o Kupe (Barrett’s Reef) have long been known as dangerous rock formations to mariners entering the Wellington harbour.

Although Ngake was never seen again it is still believed that he resides in the turbulent waters of the Te Moana o Raukawa (Cook Strait). When the sea is calm Ngake is off exploring Te Moana Nui a Kiwa (the Pacific Ocean). When the sea is turbulent and rough, Ngake is at home chasing sea life to satisfy his taniwha appetite.

 

Anybody out there also come across a favourite, myth, story or legend they would like to share? I would love to hear about it!

 

Song for Autumn

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In the deep fall
don’t you imagine the leaves think how
comfortable it will be to touch
the earth instead of the
nothingness of air and the endless
freshets of wind? And don’t you think
the trees themselves, especially those with mossy,
warm caves, begin to think

of the birds that will come — six, a dozen — to sleep
inside their bodies? And don’t you hear
the goldenrod whispering goodbye,
the everlasting being crowned with the first
tuffets of snow? The pond
vanishes, and the white field over which
the fox runs so quickly brings out
its blue shadows. And the wind pumps its
bellows. And at evening especially,
the piled firewood shifts a little,
longing to be on its way.

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Poem by; Mary Oliver.

Love, Nature and Adventure.

In 2009 adventurer and lecturer Colin Mortlock, published a very interesting book; ‘The Spirit Of Adventure, towards a better world.’

It is hugely interesting and seemingly provides many psychological, philosophical, spiritual questions and answers, as to why we humans instinctively yearn for a journey, either into ones self and or into challenging adventurous pursuits.

Fairly recently, I have found myself struggling to defend my own adventures and to provide an explanation of  ‘the nub of the matter’ to friends and family alike.

Why I swim in a cold lake alone at dusk?

Why spending days on end cycling in solitude, is absolutely fulfilling.

Why is solo wild camping that can appear risky, is rewarding?

No other human company is necessary for me in those moments, hours and days. However this does not mean that women such as I, do not need anyone else in their lives, as more than one person has implied.

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Colin Mortlock writes, ” Those who solo know that psychologically the experiences are a great deal more intense than if with other people. Awareness tends to be considerably heightened…….Love and nature and adventure are all part of a majestic unity.”

I remember cycling around the remote East Cape in New Zealand. As I cycled I sang and hummed to myself, slowing down I stopped under a scarlet pohutakawa tree to admire the view, but still singing happily. Suddenly I realised in the space between my words, that a Tui bird was sitting above me in the branches singing his own song. We took it in turn to sing songs to each other………..I call that a transcendental moment. It’s likely that if anyone else had been travelling with me, I would have missed singing with the Tui, and been poorer for it.

Personally I have found that journeying into natures solitude, becomes a uniting experience. I have found my Self. What could be better in these moments than becoming united or feeling totally at one, with all that nature has to offer, surely we are joined with nature already and all we need to do is accept the gift?

Recently in Norway for example, I experienced such feelings of euphoria, calmness, peace and total unity, that there was no opportunity or reason to truly feel lonely. The mountains, lakes, sea, grass, trees, flowers, birds were with me, as I was with them, filling me up from the inside.

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“The ultimate thought, the thought which holds the clue to life’s meaning and mystery, must be the simplest thought conceivable, the most natural, the most elemental, and therefore also the most profound. To find it one needs to be an explorer.” George Seaver.

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I would love to hear your comments or any personal experiences of ‘being at one with nature.’

 

 

 

Breaking Free.

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Life just seem to keep on turning………ying and yang, ups and downs, positive and negative. The older one gets,the easier it is to understand and cope with the variety of experiences in one’s life……..sometimes!

It’s been a bad week.

It culminated with the drowning of my car in yesterdays floodwaters. No point in berating myself with if, why and what? I can’t go back to yesterday morning and start again…….lesson learned the hard way.

However, what I can do is work with the wreckage so to speak, and re-balance my thoughts. The best way I know of doing this is to go out and have some form of exercise.

Swimming works so well for my mind. It soothes, cocoons and calms all those headlong thoughts, that almost continuously and dizzily race around the inside of my head.

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Mid-October is rather a chilly time to be wild swimming……..Aargh no, it must be freezing, is the usual comment.

In reassurance to other people’s worries and questions, I tell them that I am acclimatised to the changing temperatures and  I am safe.

No, I don’t wear a wet suit!……..They then look aghast, as if I have lost my mind in a small way.

Maybe I have.

However when I tell the sceptics, about the silver fish who come to play, the wide winged bats dodging and swooping around my head, the two elegant swans shining like bright beacons, against the darkening waters………the hunting slippery otter and the flashing kingfisher calling to it’s young……their response turns to open-mouthed, wonder and awe.

When the wind is wild and whirling through my hair, the foam flecks dancing, I feel protected by the dark depths below. Cutting through the biting cold, limbs pale and ghost like gleaming below the surface, kicking out in frog style. An absolute flood of incredible bliss seeps into my mind all other thoughts dispelled……I need no one, nothing else matters anymore, I have become the lake and the lake has entered me.

Swimming on gliding, turning onto my back the sky is sometimes still, clouds shrouding the distant fells……as dusk creeps in four ducks fly low, their ungainly landings make me smile. I’ve noticed that the ducks favour a particular patch of the lake. I swim over. They hold me in a long sideways suspicious stare, and sure enough their evening meeting is being held in warmer waters!

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The water temperature is around 13 degrees centigrade at the moment and will dip to around 7 or 8 degrees through the winter months.

I’m aiming to keep swimming through the winter.

At the moment I spend almost 15 minutes in the water……..it will be less in December and January……..but well worth it……

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