Weekend Escapism: Running Away
It’s been said all too often, to me and I’m sure to many others, that you mustn’t run from your problems, you’ve got to stand and face them head on. I’d like to edit this: you shouldn’t perpetually run from the same problem, at some point you must deal with it, but by all means, step aside, take a breath and deal with it in your own time. My purpose for travelling isn’t purely an escape, but escapism does play a small part in it. When you’re from the daily grind, be it work or study or family Christmases/feuds, focusing on anything that isn’t immediately relevant, but is enjoyable, is an escape. So this new project for LeftRight Repeat is trying to get away as much as sensibility allows.
Volume 1. Machrihanish
Joe: What are you up to tomorrow?
Me: Sleeping off this hangover I’m creating. You?
Joe: Wanna come surfing in Machrihanish?
Me: I’ve never surfed before
That is how I got into surfing. Earlier in 2016 Joe went from friend to person-that-I-envy (but still my friend) when he bought an old Ford Transit van and made it into his home. With three seats up front and a kitchen, bed and sink in the back (and room for Jenetta on the floor), it was the perfect weekend getaway vehicle for Joe, Jenetta and myself.
We left pretty late on Friday – around 5pm. But being the end of September, it didn’t get dark for another hour. This did mean that the incredible views of Scotland you get were hidden for the most part by the darkness. Driving through the valleys, between the hills and the lochs, we would only catch glimpses of the scenery in the illuminations of what is now a ‘retro-yellow’ headlight. Having driven ninety minutes north, we turned and drove for another ninety south thanks the Scottish geography and a lack of ferries anything past August, and finally found the end of the road in all directions. On this little tongue of sand and rock, Machrihanish faces Ireland, and then the Atlantic. It was dark and we were parked on the side of a road reclaimed by the dirt, if you looked out to sea, there was nothing until you reached the horizon, when you reached the horizon, the Earth gave way to the universe, and if you followed the holes of light up the sky, you travelled back to the galaxy, with us spinning beneath it. Scotland is one of the best places in the world for stargazing, cold nights this far north often result in clear skies, and it’s easy enough to escape the penetrating lights of the cities.
We woke the next morning and opened the doors of Joe’s home to a stunning sunrise and some company in the form of seals! Either chilling out on rocks nearby or floating upright on the surface spinning like periscopes. After a well-cooked breakfast (the joy of having a mobile kitchen isn’t to be overlooked), we headed towards the beach to see what the sea had in store for us that day. The answer was lots of walking and not much surfing. The wind was knocking down the waves before they had time to grow, but the sun made the beach the perfect place to chill and read or draw, run around, and even do a spot of yoga and drink wine.
After finally giving up on the waves we dragged our salty, and now slightly cold bodies towards the van for some lunch and to find a spot to set up a slackline. We drove the van up to the top of a hill and found two posts the balance between as the sun floated ever closer to the sea again, silhouetting our wobbling bodies against the sky.
The night gave us the perfect canvas to sit, contemplate, and converse under. The stars again making us realise how insurmountably small we are. How insignificant we are, and yet at the same time, how amazing our consciousness is in being able to experience the universe. Our conversation was often interrupted with the howling of seals from their rocks nearby.
We woke again to another stunning sky, and this time some slightly bigger waves, enough for me to spend a few hours floating amongst the seals and trying in earnest to catch one-a wave, not a seal. After a few hours in the cold I was happy to watch Jenetta and Joe floating in the surf while meeting Zak, the most energetic dog you could meet. Once Joe and Jenetta had had enough of the cold water we made a bit of beach art with our toes and some rocks and went to meet Iona, my replacement. I had to head home for Monday morning while the others had little to do with the first day of the week.
Somehow feeling sun-kissed in Scotland, I boarded a bus from neighbouring Cambletown. This time I the landscape swept past in the light of day, up across the sea, and then along the Lochs that gather around the Trossachs.
Volume 2. The Isle of Mull
It was the week after I got home from visiting Isabella in New York. British Immigration had decided it best that the two of us have a long-distance relationship, and thus she lives in the Big Apple forging her way into the Broadway scene. Needless to say, the following week wasn’t the happiest of my life, and I had a load of reading to catch up on for university. So the best thing to? Remove myself from society and the internet. I love reading on trains, and the train up to Oban is perfectly slow enough for this purpose. Again rattling through the countryside of Scotland, along the sides of mountains and passed great bodies of water until I reached the sea, onto a ferry and then to hitch a ride as far as I could before sundown. It’s now November so that means around 4pm it’s lights out up on this side of the globe.
I managed to get two rides, which got me as far as Tobermory – any millennials who may have watched Balarmory in their early days, this is the place – before my ratio of thumb-waves to lifts became rather desperate. So I settled for walking into the nearby woods. I was provided with flat dry ground and a waterfall next to me. The early sunset gave me plenty of time to read before I was actually tired, about four hours later I fell into a gratefully comfortable sleep, having spent the last few days on planes and trains, listening to the incessant crashing of the waterfall helped send me right off.
I woke up early and watched the sunrise from in between the leaves of the forest, packed up my tent and wandered back to town, hopped on a bus and was back home by the afternoon. Although a very short weekend away, getting away alone was the best thing I could do for my headspace, some time to think, to read, and to have peace.
Volume 3. London – RGS Explore
London may not be the first place that you think of when you think of a man who likes tents and getting away for the weekend. However the Royal Geographical Society’s Explore conference is the exception. I used to go to the RGS with my school, but this was the first time I’d heard of Explore, even though 2016 marked their 40th birthday. Explore is a three day event that brings mostly British adventurers, scientists, photographers, videographers, and budding explorers together in London for a host of lectures and workshops ranging from risk assessments, to gourmet cooking from a tent.
On the first night, an open lecture on the future of exploration, I realised I was to be surrounded by people like me. People who chose a tent over a hotel and a mountain over a beach, hundreds of us in one room. The first person I saw was Leon McCarron, totally aware that no one on my contact list would recognise the man I was now following around fanboying, I couldn’t gloat to anyone. My Leon was one of the first figures I saw in the adventure community, as someone to look up to. In 2011 I watched in awe as he and a friend walked 3,000miles from Mongolia, through the Gobi desert, to Hong Kong. What struck me then, but I soon forgot as he walked 1,000 miles through the UAE desert, cycled across the USA and down Iran’s longest river, was that he looked normal enough. He didn’t look like Bear Grylls post make-up, he looked like a twenty something guy who liked walking places. Five years later when I saw him in the RGS, that thought hit me again, after placing him on a well deserved plinth, he and all these other incredible adventurers looked pretty much like me.
The weekend came to an end with me handing out dozens of business cards and receiving plenty more. I was exhausted, but connected. Both to the community and to my goals.
Until next time