Archive for May, 2009

Bliss Within Agony

Despite the fact that I recently lectured a friend on just how difficult hiking really is and how heroic our efforts really are, little could have prepared me for what I faced in Scotland. Here’s a few glimpses.

 

The pain, all things considering, wasn’t all that bad. Don’t get me wrong, I never had to bite down before as much as I did then, but it had very little psychological effect on me. One thing that I did feel however, was disappointment with myself.
I performed much poorer than I thought I would. How much of that was caused by the way I sat and how much was actually physical shortcoming, I still don’t know. I did know that I was the weakest link on several occasions, and that frustrated me to no end.

The rucksack in particular is really what killed me. I could have ran the whole way and hardly break a sweat (such a hero), but the twenty kilos of equipment on my back was too much for my legs. I conquered mountains considered “challenging” by experienced climbers without taking the time to have breakfast, but when it comes to strength,… I fail.

I broke down emotionally at one point too, when I found myself forced to take little baby steps during a steep descent. The humiliation suddenly boiled up, and before I knew it I had launched my hat into the bushes and screamed to no one in particular. I was stuck, in the middle of an everyday road, incapable of moving on. I couldn’t even quit: going uphill would only lead me into the forest. Three of us were there, and the strongest eventually kept us going. I should thank him some time for that…

 

Despite very unsettling forecasts, the weather was very manageable. We had interpreted “showers” as constant rain as we tend to have here In Belgium, while in reality it meant ten minute alternations between sunshine and pouring rain. Predicting the weather was all but impossible because of the hills and random intervals between clouds, making preparation very hard. Since I am quite warm-blooded, I usually walked around in little more than a tee shirt, even when the others had their vests on. I figured I’d be drying up in a few minutes anyway, and usually I was quite right.

Camping wasn’t as much misery as I had expected. Mornings were –thank god– generally fairly dry and all in all, our gear didn’t get overly wet. The five of us in two tents worked out rather well, and nothing tore or broke, no water came into the tent and we didn’t get eaten. The only major frustration came with the horde of ticks we encountered, and those goddamn motherfucking widgets out to avenge their dozens of murdered brethren.

There’s little I can say about the company, which were four men. We clicked easily and despite a few moments of light tension, discussions were open and healthy, and agreements found. Our minds were on the same level, which is a big relief for me. I was afraid there might be major differences that would lead to unnecessary arguments, which so often happens with more heterogenous groups.
One small side of me was left unsatisfied however, and that is my tendency to dig for stereotypes. We did have a rather obvious leader, but other than that it was hard to define each individual as, other than “one of the guys”.

I noticed I didn’t get lost into thought as often as I used to. Maybe it was the pain calling me back to reality, the conversation, or the view. I hope it was an external factor because I am quite fond of my little world, they know me here. It helps fight boredom and reach important conclusions on irrelevant but important matters, at least to me.
That doesn’t mean I didn’t have much to think about. The annoying thing is, was that I didn’t have a conclusion to reach. There was no problem to work out. No issue that could be resolved by pondering alone. I eventually got stuck in vicious circles, going back to the same thought pattern again and again.

 

There is mental one condition that has the same effect, and hopeless romantic that you are, I’m sure you can guess it. And the fucked up thing is, you are probably right. The very morning of our departure I spent waking up next to a very lovable creature, one that appears to think the same way.
I usually have sufficient control over my thoughts to keep my moods in check, but there are exceptions. In this particular case, it seems I walked around with my head in the clouds figuratively at least as much as literally.

Talk about poor timing. While I spent the last few months looking forward to heading out, I spent most of my journey longing for home.

But now I’m here, and I feel… strengthened. Confident. My limits may not be where I would want them to be, but I know them a little better now.

I think I’m done travelling for a while. Yeah.
It’s good to be finally home.
It’s finally good to be home.

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The Great Glen Way

I thought I knew, but I really had no idea.

The Great Glen Way was officially opened on the 30th of April 2002 by H.R.H. Prince Andrew, Earl of Inverness.

The route, which spans 73 miles/117km between Fort William and Inverness, can be walked in 5-6 days, staying overnight in the various communities within the Glen. The Great Glen Way suits all levels of walker. For the less experienced it is the perfect introduction to long distance walking, being for the most part low-level and following mainly towpaths and woodland tracks. There are some challenging sections though, and the more experienced may wish to tackle a few Munros or Corbetts within reach from the route

The route can be walked in either direction, however, walking from Fort William to Inverness you have the prevailing wind behind you and begin with the easier sections of the Way. See a description of the route here.

http://www.greatglenway.com/introduction.htm

Because we wanted to climb the Ben Nevis at the end of our journey, we decided (that is, I just tagged along) to do the route backwards and in 4 days, starting off with the harder half of the trail first and covering 30km per day. The fifth day was for the mountain, the sixth for relocation and we’d be home exactly one week and a few hours after departure.

Or at least, that was the plan.

 

We got lucky on the day of arrival, and circumstances allowed us to get a head start. Trial by fire, it turned out, as we headed into the mountains from Inverness. We needed a place to camp for the night before it got dark so we set off at a fast pace, gaining a decent head start before the first morning. Tasks and weight were distributed fairly evenly, leaving me responsible for 3 camping gas containers and most of the cooking gear. A chef was born. Ironic, no?

Despite a rather sleepless night, we woke up in high spirits the next day and set off singing, talking and imitating bagpipes. It took us until noon before we realized the kind of challenge we were up against. Two of us, including me, got treated to the merry company of blisters, while I had the additional problem that my shoes still weren’t sufficiently walked in and my big toe was getting squeezed painfully with each step.

By nightfall, a few facts were established.
One, two of us were having major issues with their feet, and I was one of them.
Two, a few of us had their size working against them. Again, I was among them.
Three, my rucksack fucking rocks. After it was properly fitted with weight inside, I have no issues whatsoever with it for the rest of the hike, as opposed to the others, who often had to grasp their shoulder straps to relieve their shoulders.

Again, I did the cooking while the others set up camp.
And that is where I made my first major mistake.

I have something off in my lower back. It usually doesn’t bother me, but it keeps me from angling my hips in ways others easily can. As a result, sitting on the floor is something I can’t keep up for more than 2 minutes before I start to twist my legs in all kinds of strange ways in an attempt to get comfortable. And with the lumps of grass underneath, I thought I had succeeded. In reality, I found a very effective way to twist my knee and create a pocket of lactic acid inside, that sent a jolt of pain through my leg when I finally got up. Little did I know, I had just fucked up my ligaments.

Throughout the next day, the problem quickly worsened. My feet were better but after about 30 minutes of walking I rolled my eyes and grumbled sarcastically, “Issue of the day: the knees.” Even then, I had no clue what was to follow. With the very next descent, my knee basically just… gave up on me. From that moment on, I would be limping heavily and groaning in pain every downhill step.

In the mean time, the others were having their own problems. One in particular, I blame his shoes, quickly went from bad to worse. While I had treated my blisters and had little to no pain from them, he could hardly even get up on his feet. It took him several agonizing minutes each time to work up the endorphins to numb the pain. His cries after each much appreciated, hourly break were quickly becoming a very common sound.

Terrain was frustratingly hard to scale, with height differences that busted the knees of every one of us, with one particular peak that left us stranded in the next town, broken. At this point, we had about 75km to go. I was okay as long as the path went up or straight, but my friend was… dead. Imagine the idea of the distance ahead. At this point, we seriously considered quitting. I never knew how much of a fighter my friend really was until the moment he got up and walked again, screaming like a bitch.

Little did we know however, the original intent of the path was to become gradually more challenging. Since we walked it in the opposite direction, our road gradually became more easy. I had made walking sticks and from the third day on, the path was just about horizontal. Feet were healing, painkillers discovered- although I strongly opposed them. I guess he earned it.

The smooth walking lead to an increase in pace however, which left me in the back of the group. I could keep up if I concentrated, but now my other leg was starting to suffer from my crooked walk, and the constant sting drained me of energy I dearly needed to compensate for my shorter legs. I’m not that short, those assholes are just freakishly tall. They don’t walk, they stride. Where I limped.

Thanks to our early start and the fact that we rounded up our efforts, we had 25km to cover on the last two days, instead of 30. However, failing to find a good spot to set up camp and wanting to play it –needlessly, in my opinion- safe, we made that 31/19, instead. Near snapping in half, we chose our spot without much consideration and threw our packs down in a marsh infested with bugs.
The “widgets” (terribly obnoxious little fruit flies that sting) eventually drove us away by charging by the hundreds. This might just have saved our lives, as it suddenly appeared as we settled down again, that our equipment, clothes and selves, were covered in ticks. I checked myself in places no man should ever have to check himself. All in all, I got four. One of us, particularly careless, got over twenty.

On the fourth day, arrival was… salvation. We fell into each others arms and congratulated each other, but the bad weather and dizzying pain kept us from celebrating too long. Instead, we barged into the nearest restaurant, which happened to be a McDonald’s, and spent several hours there. Rather than set up camp again, we opted for a youth hostel so we could finally have some well-deserved rest and a shower, free of stinging, biting and bloodsucking companions.

That night, we had a lengthy discussion under a large framed picture of the Ben Nevis. Me personally, I had joined on this trip with the mountain in mind. Rather than heavy backpacking, this is my knack: light climbing; short, intense challenge, preferably under terrible weather conditions. But… I was outvoted. I was alone in my opinion, and the others deemed it “unwise” to go and climb the UK’s highest mountain in our crippled condition, despite the positive weather forecasts. I had to admit they had a good point, but I still had a very hard time getting the mountain out of my head. It was what I had been living up to for months.

The next two days were spent in towns, buses, air planes. Shopping, joking around, moaning at night while our limbs healed. I could have gone without them, I was ready to go home.

 

So this is what happened, in case you were wondering. But what does it mean? What effect did it have, and still has? What occurred underneath the surface (insert Loch Ness pun here)? Tune in next time, as we indulge in our tendency to look deeper, overanalyze, overgeneralize, and uncover things that aren’t there.

Seriously though. I’ll get to that, in due time.
I apologize for the uninspiring babbling. It’s a little much to contain, at the moment.


Little evils

I think I figured out why I used to hate being hugged. Yes, used to, because after a long hiatus I suddenly found myself not minding it all that much. That doesn’t mean you are allowed to hug-attack me though, mind you. Keep it to yourself if you don’t want to lose it.

Risking the chance of sounding very tacky, I think it’s because I am better attuned to the purpose of a hug. Before you start making faces, allow me to elaborate: I used to put my hands on my ex for one purpose only, and that was sex. Whether it was just to tease, to publicly claim, or both and more, it always had a sexual undertone. She quickly got a reputation as a nympho, but I was responsible for that as much, if not more, as she was.

Back when things were difficult at home (not that that has changed but at least I’m not there anymore), my sister and myself had to often stick up for each other, and often approached each other for venting alone. We didn’t get along all that well either, but at least we were in the same shit and had each other to talk to.
However, we never figured out how to hug each other. I only remember two instances, one of which she kissed me on the cheek as if I were some good friend of hers and another, when circumstances looked particularly bleak, where a hug was simply what she really needed.
And here’s the funny part: Not even four seconds after I put my arms around her, I caught my hand descending towards he ass. I caught it before she noticed, obviously, but it confused the fuck out of me. It was just a reflex! Here she was, pouring her heart out, while I was doing my best to both listen and not grope her. My goddamn sister. That’s how deep it went.

Fending off hugs soon became a habit. If I was caught off guard by a particularly social person, they wouldn’t get away without a cynical remark and the friendly though urgent hint to let go after a brief touch. They all soon learned to avoid me in their little cuddle spree. I had a girlfriend, and I was –very- strictly monogamous, emotions like that weren’t welcome. It’s just a little something that appears to have gotten hardwired in my head throughout the years.

So yeah, lately I’ve been getting hugged again here and there and though it was weird at first, I learned to go through the motions. Where to put arms, how not to press my thigh between theirs (I actually had that happen with a guy, I hope he didn’t notice) and so on. However, one thing that has hardly faded is that… spark, that is triggered. Perhaps that’s the point to begin with? If you’d look up through the process, you would see that little devil still there, grinning on my shoulder while colorfully describing to me what my arms are missing. I suppose it will fade in due time, but please, not too soon. I am allowed to have my personal pleasures, no?
Besides, I’m not the one insisting on a freaking hug. Live with it.

 

Just years ago I swore I would shoot myself if I ever owned more than 1 pair of shoes. Today I broke that promise once again by buying a third pair. And they’re wicked cool. They’re fucking black, and they’re fucking massive. I could walk into a bar wearing nothing but these and still look hardcore. I’m saving up, actually. I’m going to have an attachment built on the outside of my second floor to use as a walk-in closet for the pairs I’ll have, one for each outfit and/or crew shirt.

Seriously though: Steel-tipped work shoes, worn “all-round” shoes and brand new hiking boots that cost me a fucking million and some change. My old ones didn’t cut it anymore, as my four minute tumble down “the horseshoe” in west-Ireland proved to me. Dead shame though, they fit like a glove and they withstood a damn lot of mistreatment. Technically they’re still under warranty but I lost the ticket and in all honesty… I destroyed them. I wore them at work, and there’s no quicker way to demolish shoes than kick at rubber mats, floor boards, iron screws sticking out that won’t! fucking! break! and near squashing your toes in them, twice.

So I’m walking in my new pair right now, something that I didn’t have to do with my old ones; those just fit me like a glove. Despite an hour of pain, I must say these are pretty nicely adjusted, as well. It’s something I noticed with my newly acquired rucksack, as well: technologies and design has changed so much in little more than a year, it’s as if we’re talking about different products entirely.

This is what I love so much about such things, built for practically use in mind. It shows perfectly how, when a team of designers in the know put their heads together, they can come up with utterly amazing feats that appear so simple that you have to wonder why they haven’t thought of it before. Subtle changes in the grip layer of the shoes, for example. The inside literally molds to your foot in the first 5 minutes you wear them, and then fix in place. Or the fact that you can open my rucksack from the front. You can actually take the top off and make it into a day pack.

If only this equipment knew who they’re dealing with. They would weep if they could.

 

We all have our pet peeves, and most often they come and go without us noticing. That’s because we are who we are and tend not to overthink ourselves too much.
Heh yeah. So here’s one of mine:

Arrogance. To me, it’s like a thorn on a rose; a tiny protrusion in each personality that defines the persona itself. It comes in little faults in human reasoning, and in most cases (haven’t found any exceptions yet) it comes down to the confusing of luck with justice. People born with a silver spoon up their ass, who look down on those who didn’t. Those with good looks, who think that earns them anything more than beauty.

Not unlike the thorns on a rose, arrogance triggers a certain attraction. It adds that edge to an otherwise plain personality, because it suggests towards something… more, than can be perceived. It assumes that its own existence has a valid reason and the visible beauty, wealth or luck is merely an effect of so much more underlying.
The fallacy of this reasoning is that, in fact, there isn’t. Luck is luck and no matter how much wishful thinking you manage to bloat up underneath it, it’s a bubble that’s so easily burst. Since there is no proof of it, a single remark can reveal its true nature. The only thing you need to do is that their assumptions are based on arrogance and their exterior superiority is non-existent. They will have nothing rational to say to that. Another way is simply prove its lack of it, by trial. Danger for the graceful, challenge for the loud.

Which brings us to one final, small category: justified arrogance. There is one person that I know of that falls under this description, and I have to admit, I didn’t like him in the least when I first knew him. He is a true macho type, overconfident, loud, egocentric. But then I got to work with him, and saw each and every unspoken claim towards superiority come true. He would do anything you could ask, he did it well, fast and with a smug grin on the face. I found that working with him had an inspiring effect, and together (in all honesty, with me imitating him half of the time) we got shit done in record time.
It didn’t’ last long before he got bored (!) and moved on, and I look up to him ever since. Not in particular because he was arrogant, but because he was what he promised himself to be.

So all in all, I don’t mind arrogance itself. But the lack of character to support it, all the more.


Taking a hike

It’s a game I used to play at boyscouts camp (holy shit Maarten was in the boyscouts) and it goes like this:

I am going on holiday and I am taking with:

Stuff

Obvious

2 sweaters rucksack
3 shirts sleeping bag
3 pants  
5 pairs of socks  
hat, cap  
coat  
   
straps  
gamel, cutlery, drinking stuff  
plastic bags  
peanut butter (seriously)  
   

 

Shit to do

  • Get decent shoes.

 

This list will change as preperations progress.


Piglets

And clenching your fist for the ones like us
who are oppressed by the figures of beauty,
you fixed yourself, you said, "Well never mind,
we are ugly but we have the music."

Leonard Cohen

Preparations are being made, research is being done. It has started and with each passing day, I am preparing for a 5 day hike through Scotland. Already I am €330 lighter, and that only covered my rucksack (backpack for the Americans) and sleeping bag.
With every purchase, every step of the way, I wish, from the bottom of my heart, that the motherfucker who stole my gear, tripped over it while dragging it, impaled himself on my GPS and went into shock, choking in his own vomit. After having yoghurt and lasagna for lunch.

I am equally excited and worried about this trip. After boot camp, going solo through Norway and my last 2-month escape, I am still far from confident in my skills. Not only did I have something to fall back on each time, but all in all I never spent more than 2 successive nights in a tent like this, and I did make a few crucial mistakes here and there. This, ignoring yearly music festivals and group camping, of course.

The thing I fear most is the weather. Scotland has an extremely wet climate (I’ve been told their weather sucks because they’re so fucking close to England) and if I’m not mistaken, we’re headed out smack in the middle of the rainy season. I expect to get soaked. There are plenty of ways to keep your gear dry but in the end, we are screwed. Tents and rucksacks are one thing, but having to crawl into a wet sleeping bag is a plain nightmare. Not to mention the fact that goose fluff, although the best material available to my outdated knowledge, no longer insulates when wet. Wet socks kill your feet, humid clothes suck the warmth out of you and make your pack weigh several kilo’s more.

As much as I am hesitant, I am excited to go. There will be 5 of us, all guys. I can see the movie trailer before me:

Five men.
”Scotland. Are you up for it?”
Five days.
”We go by plane, get dropped of… here. And walk up to here.”
One challenge.
”Scared yet?”
-”Of flying, yes.”
Will they make it?
Don’t worry Vince, we can zip up bags and spoon if you get cold". *chuckles all around*
Will their friendship last?
No FUCK YOU! You’ve had it so easy all your fucking life!”
Inspired by the award-winning novel, “Five men and a piglet”…
”It’s sacrilege, is what it is. All this will be gone soon.”
Comes the story of an epic journey…
”I can’t do this anymore…”
Into the unknown.
”I love you, man.”
-“You would.”
Scotland.
Now that… Is beautiful…”

Heh. I enjoyed that.

Seriously though, this could make for some rather nice movie material. The five of us probably couldn’t come from a more different background. In fact, it were our girlfriends (or ex, in my case) who brought us together, bringing their man to the occasional playdate they had. Most of us have various kinds of experience, while others hardly ever slept in a tent before. Although I am the only laborer, we are all quite fit and strong young men, at least physically. So what this will mostly be, is a mental challenge. We’ll clash, without a doubt. But I’m hoping that we can also complete each other, and find our way inside the group.

The reason why I so eagerly agreed to join was that I’ve become rather addicted to this kind of challenge. I also know exactly why that is: Because I’m good at them. In fact, mentally and physically I have much more to offer than socially, and I can only shine in situations where the latter is kept to a minimum.
Let me rephrase: It doesn’t matter how slick you are, how articulate, or how easy you are with the ladies. If you don’t know how to fit a rucksack, you will break. If your strengths can’t contribute to the group, you are useless. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying anyone should be left behind or that only the fittest matter, but they won’t get the chance to stand out, just like I will fade in a social environment.

This is what I’m good at, so this is what I love. I wish there was more, like anyone will, but it’s a start.

 

With a new found attitude towards life, interpretations of its facets shift. One of those is music, the aggression within, and the impulse to vent it physically.

Power beyond containing
Are you going to remain a slave for
The rest of your life
Give in to the night

Lyrics in the music I prefer seldomly have actual meaning. What makes them so powerful is the fact that they are barked. The thing David Draiman, Maynard James Keenan, James Hetfield and so many others have in common is the power to project anger, or at least the image of it, straight into the listeners’ minds. In other words, accompanied by distorted guitar, double bass drum and spewing the anger they do, they make me want to break shit.

With my feet upon the ground I move myself between the sounds and open wide to suck it in.
I feel it move across my skin.
I’m reaching up and reaching out. I’m reaching for the random or what ever will bewilder me.
what ever will bewilder me.
And following our will and wind we may just go where no one’s been.
We’ll ride the spiral to the end and may just go where no one’s been.

Anyone who loves music will agree that it only takes the right words and the right notes to make you feel indestructible and overconfident. Music unites us that way, and it seems that for a few moments, our self images and the strength within is combined to a thread that runs through all of us.

Hoppe hoppe Reiter
Eine Melodie im Wind
Mein Herz schlägt nicht mehr weiter
Und aus der Erde singt das Kind

I miss the parties I used to go to when I was still finding my way. I never belonged there (my taste of music is broad but an unusual mix) but at least I could, for that night, join in with the others and charge myself a whiplash through the constant, deafening music. Now that this particular, raging confidence has returned, there is little more for me to do but to thank heavens for music each passing day, and hope that I run into a decent fucking metal gig soon.