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20 March, 2004

Backpacking? Not me, mate

As I write this, Jason and Hedley will be on the train to Inverness, a trip of eight hours from Lancaster, to begin a walk from Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh i.e. across the entire width of Scotland, covering 70 miles in a week.  Good luck, and have fun, gents, but I'm staying here!

I don't often walk with J, because we seek rather different objectives from the experience. J prefers to go to rather bleak, anonymous wilderness areas, specifically to get as far from 'civilisation' as possible. He also tends to walk at times of the year when there are few people about, mainly because the weather is so unreliable or downright bad. J receives pleasure from 'pitting man against nature'; he seems to positively enjoy walking and camping in bad weather, but I don't see the fun of wandering along in driving rain, wet and miserable, spending a cold night in a damp tent then - worst of all - putting wet clothes back on for a second or third day of walking. J also tends to go on backpacking trips over a full weekend, travelling to, say, Ennerdale in the Lake District on a Friday night, walking for a couple of hours, and camping somewhere remote. He'll then do a reasonably long walk on the Saturday (walking for the experience of walking, without going anywhere specific, such as a particular peak or remarkable viewpoint), camp again that night, and return to Lancaster on the Sunday.

I'm very much a day walker. I prefer to pick a day when good weather is expected, travel to, say, Langdale, also in the Lake District, do a decent walk to a dramatic peak with stunning views, then return home the same day. My lifestyle is such that I rather begrudge surrendering an entire weekend, but a single day out is great.

I do enjoy camping, very much, but social camping is very different to backpacking. I prefer to reach a campsite (typically offering toilets and running water) by car, erect tents, and primarily relax, talking around a barbeque or fire; it's quality time with friends, not the hardship of surviving with minimal resources. On a typical trip, A. and A. are kind enough to give me a lift, and their little car is totally filled by three people, tents, sleeping bags, inflatable mattress (theirs), sleeping mat (mine), folding chairs, a lot of food and cooking gear, alcohol, and clothes, all for one night out. In contrast, J and Hedley have one heavy rucksack each, containing absolutely everything for a week away.

It's certainly not that I walk less than them: the last time I was out with them, I'm slightly embarrassed to say I became annoyed by their slow pace and frequent rest stops, so I abandoned them and reached the top of Glaramara (781m) a full half hour before them. J visits a gym a few times each week, but I suspect he concentrates on weights rather than leg strength and aerobic capacity. Hedley is wiry and lives on nervous energy - he walks in bursts but can't maintain that pace. I cycle everywhere, at a decent speed. Medical advice recommends 20 mins of vigorous exercise three times each week; I manage about 30 mins per day! This means that, boasting aside, J and Hedley can't match my sustained pace. I tire, and struggle on long, steep ascents, but the difference is that I keep going.

During my PhD research, I more-or-less lived on an open moor for much of a five-year period. I won't go into detail about laying literally three tonnes of hand-mixed concrete underwater in January, nor having to repeatedly cycle seven miles in thigh waders to work in the middle of the night, but it's sufficient to say I had my fill of tramping across bleak moorland. I've served my time struggling against the conditions of upland Britain, and I no longer feel any desire to endure hardship simply for recreation. It's a lack of inclination, not inability.

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