Phil Geng

Researcher, Climber, Mountaineer


Adventurous solitude

Solitude is something we are no longer used to these days. Most of us experience daily interactions with others either face-to-face or through the various media and communication channels around us. Personally I can only take so much of this constant connectivity before my "bucket of interactions" is full to the brim and I almost feel trapped in the hustle and bustle around me. It's in times like these that I crave the outdoors and the space it offers me the most. A space where I can be free and reconnect with myself as opposed to reading about X's new baby, Y getting married and Z presenting the latest figures on the bottom line margin.

Some of my most rewarding experiences in the outdoors have to be the ones where I ventured out by myself. Alone, just me, nature and my thoughts to keep me company. After a while all the chatter and noise from my everyday life disappears and gradually my head clears and my focus shifts to the countryside around me. Be it soloing in the evening sun on Stanage Edge or journeying through the Brecons with no real destination in mind, waiting for that "home sweet home for the night" feeling to strike. Solo journeys have taught me a lot about myself, my limits, my strengths and coping with the not so good times in the outdoors.

Many people never experience this true solitude and the accompanying benefits to their own well-being and skills. Admittedly until a few years ago I only ever ventured outdoors with someone else in fear of getting bored on my own. I find however that when on my own I am far more able to cope with silence than when a conversation runs dry with a friend - albeit only for a moment until one of us does or says something stupid again. When alone nobody judges me for singing, for trying to remember poems I thought I'd forgotten or debating the ins and outs of walking uphill backwards. When on my own pausing and taking in the view or lying down in the grass and watching the clouds is all possible whenever I want and wherever I want. In not having to consider anybody else other than myself in my plans I can go out without any real plan other than a time I want to be back by, be it that same day or some days ahead.

To some not having a plan may seem scary, but I find it liberating. Rekindling a sense of adventure and the unknown through not having a fixed plan is quite possibly one of the most exciting factors of being out on my own. Let's face it - the rush of adrenalin when woken up at 3am because something is repeatedly punching the side of your tent somewhere high up in the moors only to find a sheep staring at you as you stick your head out of the tent porch will stay with you for a while. If you have never seen sheep eyes reflecting in a head torch then you haven't lived. A growing trend seems to be to brand anything that is sightly out of the ordinary as an adventure. The 3 Peaks challenge is an adventure, ascending Snowdon on a sunny summer bank holiday is an adventure, completing a marked cycle route is an adventure and so on. While I accept that these are adventurous achievements and for many the only sense of adventure they dare to explore I also feel that the true meaning of adventure has been lost.

To some of us going out alone is reasonably normal despite being an adventure and we don't really think twice about it. To others it seems dangerous and careless as there is no backup around and nobody to help if things go wrong. While this is a valid point, part of the exercise of going out alone is to hone the skills required to keep ourselves safe. The aforementioned focus that develops after a short while is a natural instinct of ours that thankfully hasn't been fully lost yet. I like to think that this is a natural will to survive that lives in everyone of us, but until we have to rely on it and no longer come to (more or less) democratic decisions with others we like to park it at the back of our minds and not use it to its full potential. It is ultimately this survival instinct that keeps us safe, but like any skill it needs practise and the occasional well managed failure to learn from. When things do go wrong make sure you told somebody about your "plans" and at least have some rough idea of what you're going to do. I usually tell somebody where I plan to leave my car and roughly where I'm heading and when I'm expecting to return. While not tying myself to concrete plans at least this way somebody knows where to pick up a free car if I don't return.

So go on and rekindle your sense of adventure and venture out into the wonderful solitude that is the world around you. Of course if the mountains and moors are a bit too extreme and remote for your liking there are plenty of spaces in our countryside where an adventure can be found. After all you never know what's around the next corner until you've gone around it.

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Categories: Opinion

Tags: Adventure, Skills, Outdoors, Solitude

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