Featured

Breathless

13244847_10153631245818733_7294429087279916366_n

We take our bodies so for granted. At full health, what it is capable of doing is astounding; it can climb mountains, swim amongst the tides, sprint through fields of long grass… but what about those who never possessed a body at full health, those people who never had the option? When menial everyday tasks are more difficult, every outing is preplanned and climbing a stairs is an arduous task. How would you live your life if your lungs were your enemy? And your days were made up of physio, medication and hospital visits. When you had to consume 12 to 22 tablets a day just to keep you ticking over. How would you live if you were born with an illness that as of yet has no cure? Would you allow it to define you or would you rally against it in defiance?

Chris stops and sits on an outcropped rock to catch his breath on our 2km walk up to the hut were we will camp tonight. I hear his laboured breath, the painful drag in and out. Around us are dirt tracks and a brutally deforested area of Coillte. It is a muggy evening with a heavy grey sky that hints at an oncoming downpour. Chris pulls his backpack up and we walk on, heading into the trees. After about half an hour we reach our destination, a little green hut perched on a small cliff face overlooking rolling green hills. It is truly an idyllic setting to set up camp for a night’s microadventure, anything to liven up the week. We quickly unburden ourselves from our backpacks and lay down our mats and bags to gather sticks for a fire.

When I was in fifth year of secondary school my friend died from Cystic Fibrosis, he was sick his whole life, obviously sick, wheelchair and oxygen tank kind of sick. He died and we were heartbroken. We his friends continued to maintain contact with his family; his father James, mother Fiona and little brother Chris. We struck up a routine of sorts, dinners, drinks and a chat about the good times. The years passed by and one by one the friends slipped away, caught up with their own lives, their own worries and hardships but somehow I remained. I found his family liberating, strong and inspiring. They taught me so much about life and as I grew up they became my friends too. This family is different than any I’ve ever known. They are a joy to be around because they don’t suffer fools. They let you away with nothing; there is no such thing as I can’t and over the years we have lived a life less ordinary. We have kayaked the Slaney together, made it into the Guinness Book of Records for participating in the world’s longest swim, gone clay pigeon shooting, done countless Rubberman challenges and a few weeks ago we went camping for a night in the Wicklow mountains while Chris who also has Cystic Fibrosis was on IVs.

James throws some jacket potatoes into the ash to cook and we set about boiling water over the open flames. He plucks a bbq rack from those DIY bbq kits and perches it precariously between the rocks and logs to cook the sausages and pork chops on while the beans boil away contently in their tin. It’s a feast by my usual camping standards! Meanwhile Chris sits on a picnic table and lays out his syringes; one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine… all glittering in the sunset on the pristine silver tray. He begins the slow process, filling them up from the glass vials one by one, lifting his t-shirt to expose the various contraptions attached to his body. He doesn’t skip a beat as he slowly injects the meds into his body, continuing the conversation as if this was totally the norm.

The risks are very real for a person with CF to camp while on IV’s; the lack of a sterile environment, the risk of hemoptysis with no easy escape route and a night spent lying on the cold hard ground is not the most comfortable. Three days ago Chris’s lungs were at 46%, the equivalent of me walking with one lung, yet he doesn’t complain. At 19 almost 20 years old, Chris is a breath of fresh air with his no bullshit attitude. CF does not define him or stop him experiencing all the simple pleasures that others his age have. Yes there are risks, but you have to live your life; “A lot of people with CF get caught up with all the treatments. It’s ok to once in a while to skip it. It’s not going to catapult you back,” he says, adding defiantly “Don’t let your treatments dictate your life. There is some leeway. A massive amount is mindset. If your health takes a small hit for a better life, its worth it.”

The sun lowers gradually but the moon is particularly bright tonight. We stare into the orange flames licking the firewood, prodding the embers occasionally. We sip tumblers of vodka and coke and red wine and we just sit and talk. A cold night ensues on hard ground, wrapped tightly in our sleeping bags to stave off the cold. Bedding down, Chris warns us of his coughing; he needn’t have, after a while he falls into a quiet slumber, unlike his father who will scare any potential predators away with his snores.

It is not an easy night and none of us sleep well, we wake the moment light returns, weary, sore and totally spent but exhilarated all the same. We get up groggily and stretch out our aching bodies. The air is crisp and damp and the birds greet us with their dawn chorus. We stuff everything into our backpacks, pull them on and walk briskly out of the woods. Time to go back to reality. A time out every so often is necessary to make you appreciate your cozy bed, the roof over your head, your life and to put those worries that seem so big into perspective. A little midweek adventure to wake us up, shake us up, anything to feel alive to feel normal. If Chris can do it, surely you have no excuse?

13239451_10153631245788733_3579024930672013046_n

#microadventure on the Saltee Islands

An opportunity seized. A bag quickly packed. A boat taken. Me and my big sister, all grown up and off on a little adventure together.

10408068_10152259491138733_8070281148214043592_n

Just eighteen months separate us, yet we have grown up to be two completely different people. Her, twenty four, beautiful and stubborn. Me, twenty two, ragged and determined.

We plied off a motorised pack raft onto the edge of the beach, totally alone for one night on the empty Saltee Islands to spend a night amongst the seabirds.

We walk, we explore, so long it’s been since we were alone in each other’s company, we eat the filled rolls prepurchased from a garage deli on the shores of Kilmore. We wander over the cliffs, caged in by a colony of gannets, jeering the silly ways of the puffins and seals. We gather whale bones strewn across the beaches floor, vertebrates to be used as future paperweights, light a fire in the empty grate of our little shed and roll out our sleeping mats for the night ahead, basking in the sheer simplicity and beauty of it all.

Look how far we have come, since those days a lifetime ago playing push off the bed with our Da, screaming at each other as teenagers and now full circle, coming to rest at a lilting easiness between us.

Both of us currently stand on the threshold of real life, when this summer comes to a close, our time will come to leave home for good and continue the dreaded search to figure out who we are, on our own. She’s looking at Canada, me at Australia. Worlds apart.

But for one more night, we sit on the cliff, side by side in an easy silence, watching the world from our patch of isolated paradise.

 

My First Time Wild Camping Alone.

10313374_10152135717118733_5796290883556023658_n (2)

I picked a spot to head towards. Roughly ten minutes away. All uphill. But the trees deceived me, they looked a lot nearer then they were. Half an hour later I gave up, here will do. The sound of the wind kept tipping me over, the power of it mocking my unsteady feet. I sheltered from it as best as I could. People have this perception that away from the city everything is silent, but between the birds, the animals, the branches and the winds,the noise roared relentlessly around me. Apparently if the weather is nice in Edinburgh, it does not automatically mean it is nice up here. I pulled the contents from my red rug sack and began assembling my tent. I forgot my sleeping mat. I groan inwardly.

But alas, this is the life I have chosen. Now I must practise it.

Up in the Pentland hills I lie. Cold and lonely, I wait for the darkness to creep in, for sleep to drag me under, to take me away. I have given up on entertaining myself, and it is too windy to venture further and explore my surroundings. So I lie on my back and imagine what my family are doing right now, sitting around the fire, watching a movie? I laugh tentatively at the thought of telling my Ma what I did last night. She will kill me. Although if she knew what other 22 year old girls got up to, she would be delighted I am so into the outdoors. She’s a worrier though, which makes me worry. And when people unconsciously instil this unfounded fear into you, it can hold you back and make you doubt yourself. My flatmates are probably drinking beer, cooking dinner and watching reality TV. I laugh out loud again, I live with three boys yet I am probably the most macho of them all.

I think about who else is on top of a hill or in a field, cradled in a sleeping bag somewhere in the world right now? I salute them.

I zip up my tent waiting for the fear to come, but it doesn’t, I feel safe. I was scared of what the night ahead would bring, but deep down I know, there is nothing to fear but fear itself. I want to to shake the cobwebs off, to stop dreaming and start moving. Step by step, little by little, I will get there. Darkness has become my friend, hiding me from the outside world.
In my day to day life, as I have grown and worked and lived. I have become increasingly self concious. I have wasted so many hours stressing about my weight, my height, my face, my accent. I never wanted to be that person, and out here alone in the wild I am no longer. What does any of that stuff matter. My looks, my insecurities do not affect how well I pitch a tent, my ability to light a fire, how I read and write. The freedom to just be, is quite liberating.

I am braver and more capable than I think.
Next stop, a small expedition.
Little by little eh.

10378949_10152135717188733_3979980999053032682_n (2)

WHAT TO BRING WITH YOU ON YOUR FIRST WILD CAMPING TRIP ALONE:

Travel light, take only the essentials.

  • A mat
  • A tent/bivvy
  • Sleeping bag
  • Flashlight/torch
  • water/food
  • towl
  • cooking utensils
  • matches
  • extra clothes for warmth – leggings, jumpers, hoodies, extra socks, buff, wooly hat
  • first aid kit
  • book/notebook to entertain
  • phone – just in case something goes wrong.
  • a map

10336833_10152135717473733_7330557351560869342_n (2)

#microadventure with Al Humphreys

Credit: Alastair Humphreys
Credit: Alastair Humphreys

In my years stumbling awkwardly around this planet, I have met many whom I admire. Some became heroes in my eyes. But I have always had a flaw in my way of thinking, I tend to put people on top of a pedestal so high up that even in all their apparent brilliance, they could not possibly live up to my high ideals. Alas, one such individual has succeeded in capturing my imagination with his normality, his humour and his enthusiasm.  His ideas have provided me with a path to freedom and the possibilities I hold. All of it spawns from a concept of his; the microadventure.

Up the Campsie Fells we scrambled on a Tuesday evening, backpacks on our back. Me inappropriately dressed for the activity as always in my trusty Doc Martens and jeans. Climbing over a barbed wire fence, I typically lose my footing and get two pretty gashes across the palm of my right hand. Onwards we climb, the weather could not be more perfect. We source a suitable spot to set up camp, protected from the brunt of the wind and lay out the sleeping bags and bivvy bags, pee, layer up and then tuck ourselves  in our blankets and try take it all in; the madness, the simplicity of it all, the thoughts of the people tucked up in their beds below, the possibilities…

Credit: Alastair Humphreys
Credit: Alastair Humphreys

The night swept in bringing the cold, the rain but also the stars. I toss and turn but eventually I fall asleep. At 4.30am, the birds begin their song, the sky turns pink and seeps through the hole in the top of our sleeping bags, coaxing me and another from sleep and leading us out of our bivvys and over the hills to watch the sun rise. Two hours later the boys rise, we gather up our stuff and scramble down a different route towards home. Me sliding on my backside for the majority of the descent.

I open the door of my flat at 10.30 am, one flatmate still in bed, the other hears me and gets up to greet me, she whips up some pancakes for us to share. It is as if I was here all night, nothing on the outside has changed but if you look closely you might notice the spark in my eye that was not there before. Inside I am buzzing. The key has finally been turned, the door pushed open. I am free, the doubt erased and I know what I need to do.

#microadventure in Scotland

cam

I write this on the train as I speed away from  the freedom and the magic of the countryside, hurtling back to Edinburgh, back to the comfort zone. I’m acutely aware that my eyes might be glazed over as I think back on the weekend but I reckon for the moment I still remain far enough away from the city that the other passengers will realise that it is merely the look of a person reflecting rather than a person high on narcotics.

Images dance behind my eyes; the pissing rain, the  tins of baked beans, jelly babies, ham butties and cans of Strongbow, pulling on soaking wet jumper over soaking jumper, and a useless sleeveless jacket to seal it all in, and remembering the feeling of my limbs aching pleasantly from the dampness that ensued. A paddle down the River Tay, and a night camping in Grandtully, then up through Oban to the River Awe, a hike, followed by camping at the foot of Ben Nevis. This was my microadventure.

Activity number one: Kayaking. First time back in a kayak after a year or two meant I was swimming within the first fifteen minutes after a dodgy attempt to eddy in. To give up is not an option, and slowly my body remembered how to move with the boat and down the rapids we soared

Activity number two: the Hike. A melancholic mood tinged the air as the three of us shuffled in silence across the moors, dispersing the flocks of sheep, trudging through puddles, each layer of clothing soaked, clinging to the goosebumps lining our skin. We walk in silence seemingly miserable from an onlookers perspective. But in our heads we are utterly content. Our mind making the switch back to its simplest setting – a slideshow of questions; what to eat, where to camp, what rivers to run. It was not a time for me to figure out the issues of home, they will still be waiting when I return. It is time instead to revert back to living in the moment, worrying less, experiencing more. Enjoying it all.

Activity three: Camping. I must buy good quality gear, because I suffered without it. Needing to pee in the middle of the night but the wind and rain that is attempting to break the tent poles beside your head makes sure you hold it to the point that you are experiencing physical pain. That pain also helped as a distraction from the cold that was invading my borrowed sleeping bag and wearing me down second by second.

camp

I have only stepped onto the train in Fort William and already the bad bits are blurring and the good bits are becoming amplified. These small adventures make you stop and think like nothing else does. They make you a better person, a kinder one who appreciates the life they have and the people they left at home because life moves at a much slower pace in the woods, there are no lists to be ticked,  no deadlines to be met. When the distractions are taken away from you, happiness and humanity slides in to take its place.

I am interrupted from my reverie by a few kids jumping on a trampoline waving at the people on the train that passes straight through their backyard. My eyes return to focus and soon I am boarding  train two – Glasgow to Edinburgh – I slowly become aware of my appearance ; dark purple rims encircle my eyes, a scabby graze sits on my cheek, I have no bra on, my hair is one huge knot and I’m sure I smell. My general colour is a blotchy red, grey and purple combination.  The result of lack of sleep, a rogue branch and bad circulation in a shitty climate. All evidence of the blissful misery I have stumbled through over the last few days as we camped and kayaked our way around Scotland. A boy with  a particularly strong brow sits facing me on the train two rows down drinking a bottle of Buckfast. He stares blatantly at me for the duration of the journey. Ah hello city folk, it seems I have returned to ‘civilisation.’

I throw my rucksack over my shoulders and head towards the flat, to a shower, to a bed, to an easy life.

Perhaps one day I will leave with a bivvy bag and torch and never come back.

Perhaps.

249022_10151434146798733_914438571_n