Into The Wild…

Sitting in a Merseyside camping ground watching the world go by may be a million miles away from The Stampede Trail (well four thousand and fifty six air miles to be exact), but the word-smithing of Jon Krakauer can transport anyone from anywhere indirectly into the mind of Christopher McCandless itself (sort of).

I have waxed lyrical over the years of how great the film “Into The Wild” is. I have lyrically waxed over the years on how great the soundtrack is by Eddie Vedder too.

After recently finishing “A Walk in the Woods” by Bill Bryson, I thought it was about time that I picked up a second-hand copy of Jon Krakauer’s book, which, as one would expect, paints a very different picture than that of Hollywood (and Seattle).

Whether it be painting or prose, poetry or prog-rock, beauty is in the eye (and ear) of the beholder and everyone perceives things in a different way, until in the grand scheme of things polarised views are formed (and everything else that lies in between).

None more so than the story of Christopher McCandless and the investigative telling of his journey, motives and idiosyncrasies by Jon Krakauer.

Whilst Hollywood painted a picture of a headstrong and ultimately tragic adventurer, the truth behind both the young man and the film becomes much more complex after reading the book.

In short, boy is born, boy goes to school, boy goes on outdoor adventures, boy reads, boy finishes college, boy reads, boy goes on solo road trip, boy reads, boy goes to university, boy reads, boy graduates, boy gets angry with world and parents, boy goes on two year road trip, boy walks into the wilderness, boy reads, boy dies.

OK it’s a ridiculously simplistic view of a complex story but for me the real emphasis on the rather silly synopsis above is the word “boy”.

From my perspective, the book really is a cautionary tale, and perhaps goes so way to explain the fundamental difference of worldly experience between a boy and a man (or equally girl and woman).

It was clear that Christopher McCandless was well read. It was clear that at the start of his journey he was of sound mind. It was clear that he had the strong will, stubbornness and arrogance of his father, but in essence he was still a boy, immature and not risk-averse in any way, a boy who may have been an academic genius but a boy nonetheless who lacked a common-sense approach to life and longevity.

What was also abundantly clear as I progressed through the pages was that his inexperience of life thus far posed significant risks and mortal dangers, dangers and risks that ultimately proved to be his downfall.

The reason why I loved the movie was the drive and apparent bravery that McCandless had to put a middle finger up to a world of conformity, to declare to the world that this boy was not for churning, that a life of freedom in the great outdoors outweighed the expectations of a modern man living in a material world.

His on screen declaration of a life less ordinary personally helped me to take more opportunities to read more, to write more, to experience more, to get out into the wilderness more – albeit for short periods of time, ever-returning back to materialism and “churnism” and the daily duties of husband, father, brother, friend, neighbour and colleague.

The silver screen does that for me. I adore watching certain films over and over again, looking for meaning which was perhaps overlooked in previous runs, analysing what is presented before me, internalising scenes, themes and dialogue until I have reflected and concluded on my own life and set of ideals, changing my views and actions in accordance to any new-found principles. This is not in a Clockwork Orange brain-washing type way of course, just proactive pondering whilst observing works of art through the cinematic experience.

Whilst Hollywood invariably does a reasonable job (most of the time) of storytelling via screen adaptations of works of non-fiction, their business model is to ultimately get as many bums on cinema seats as they can. As such, one expects there to be over-egged dramatisations of specific events and individuals to enhance the user experience. We all get that. We all know that.

Books, however, always reveal much more complexity and depth, especially when it comes to character and detail.

After reading Krakauer’s book, I reflected on my own life and the events that have led up to this point in much more depth than countless replays of the film ever did.

Emile Hirsch was brilliant in the movie, his performance and portrayal of McCandless really hit a chord with me. There is a very small part of me that wants the bravery to resign from the corporate world immediately (a world that he refused to join in the first place), a part of me that wants to leave the urban sprawl behind, exchanging scenes of concrete and steel to mountains and leaves, to seek adventure and meaning in nature away from the chaotic cancer of society, never to return.

Even if that remote possibility ever came to pass, I would never do it in the same juvenile and reckless way that McCandless did. Maybe it is the wisdom of my fifty years on Planet Earth that has taught me that longevity requires planning and preparation, that simply leaving everything you have ever known for a life in the wild with only a modest and woefully stocked backpack would only lead to disaster.

Or maybe it is because I have watched the film, read the book and concluded that “Into The Wild” was a lesson in what not to do.

It was in the depths of the books pages that I found more similarities with McCandless than I had done whilst watching the film. Whilst he came from a well-to-do family and I did not, whilst he was an intelligent academic and an athlete and I was not, whilst he was well-read and I was not, what we shared as youths were self-righteousness, stubbornness and a father figure whose transgressions would spur us both into action (more reaction – leaving the family home and excommunication).

Clearly one of the catalysts for Chris’s decision to decouple himself from his family was the duplicitous behaviour of his father, living a double life by having two families on the go at the same time. For Chris, it appears the lies and deceit of the family mirrored the lies and deceit of society as a whole, and as such, close relationships with either were a commodity he could well do without. I for one get that.

For him, nature was pure, free from sin, righteous and holy. I for one get that.

I have not spoken to my father for over ten years now. By the time I had reached my fourties’, I had used up most (not all) of my life’s supply of sex, drugs and rock n roll, and at forty-two took a more spiritual approach to life.

Conversely, rather than forgiving a father for the many transgressions of the past (some which continue to this day), I stood even more resolute to the principals I had gained over the years, ceding once again perhaps to my inner stubbornness and self-righteousness.

Wisdom and time do not always lend themselves to absolution, sometimes an unwavering moral code must be adhered too, and that includes bondage by blood.

Whilst we know that Walt McCandless did much to find his lost son and bring him home to reconnect with the family, my own father knows exactly where I am but has never tried.

There is a sense of bittersweet irony however, in that my father has been one of the best teachers I have ever had, and just like Jon Krakauer’s book and I guess McCandless himself, he has taught me exactly what not to do…

A Walk in the Woods…

Sitting in a Dubrovnik watering hole watching the world go by may be a million miles away from the Appalachian Trail (well seven and a half thousand miles to be exact), but the expert word-smithing of Bill Bryson can transport anyone from anywhere directly to the trail itself.

I’ve always been a slow reader, but at every opportunity last weekend (between the sightseeing tours, Game of Thrones scene recalls and wonderful food), I picked up A Walk in the Woods and found it difficult to put down.

I’ve not read Bryson before, but the neo-Anglo-American sure has a way to keep the reader hooked, arguably it’s the time he spent in the UK that turned him into the cynical, dry, sarcastic and humour-filled grumpy old man that he is today, all core traits that us Brits are famed for the world over.

It catalogues a two-thousand mile journey traversing the Appalachian Trail (AT) on the east coast of America, a hike that he himself attempts to take (and fails) with a rather out of shape and reformed alcoholic friend, equally as dry, and well, British.

The book not only navigates the reader through the physical highs and lows of the trail, but the metaphysical highs and lows of the human spirit and condition, and I think that is why it is so relatable and so unputdownable.

So after just three days spent in the jewel of Croatia, the book was done and I was looking forward to this weekend with even more rigour.

It’s not often one gets to spend time alone, truly alone, and this weekend reminded me that self-isolation and solitude is good for the soul.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my family, friends, colleagues and dog, but for the first time I can remember (and I don’t think I have ever done it before), I went on a “holiday for one”.

As my wife was throwing a boozy doo for all of her friends at our house, I devised up a plan to abscond for a couple of days to North Wales, on the basis that I would stand a significant chance of getting a weekend pass out, and it worked.

So Friday came, I gathered my things and headed off to pick up the van and take the short drive to Llandegla, a small camping ground situated in the heart of the Clywdian mountain range (although in truth they are more hills).

Through the wind and the rain, I got to my destination safely, happy that I experienced more difficult transit conditions whist pulling a small home behind.

The site was beautiful, Llandegla Forest on one side, Clywdian hills on the other, and all around me, trout fishing lakes.

I settled down quickly and went for a tour of the site which was in super condition, with optional shepherds huts and bell tents for hire, it really was a gem.

My intent for the weekend was to click back and whittle some, and begin work on my second Lovecraftian horror novella, merging local folklore with cosmic horror.

To get myself somewhat in the mood, I put on a horror movie, turned out all of the lights and abruptly fell asleep.

The working week was certainly one to forget, and my frustrations with the ineptitudes of senior management nearly ended up in a career limiting/ending conversation, so my parasympathetic nervous system decided to take over and put me in a coma for twelve hours rather than carry on the chaos (albeit in a creative way).

So I woke up to the sound of bird song from the tree I had parked under, as well as the spooling of fly fishing reels as the anglers outside attempted (and succeeded) in catching their supper.

I was not expecting the weather to be good at this time of year, but the big man upstairs must have looked down upon me with pity and sympathy after the week I had had and parted the gloom to reveal a cloudless day ahead.

It was my original intent to just go for a short walk in the woods and focus on my writing upon my return, but after reading Bryson’s book of the same name and not having to be anywhere or do anything, I scanned my Ordinance Survey map to see what was a little further afield, and saw an unequalateral triangle present itself.

From the camping grounds, there was a line which went from the far end of the forest to a place called Worlds End, and from there a wobbly line that went to the Ponderosa Cafe, a place we had been to a few weeks earlier by car, a place that sold the best steak pie and gravy on Planet Earth, and possibly the entire cosmos.

I had no idea how many miles it was, what the elevation was like or the type of terrain I would be traversing, but with all the time in the world and no commitments to anybody other than myself, I hydrated, took an Aeropress coffee, packed my bag and headed for the woods.

Llandegla Forest is beautiful, deep within its core are hiking trails, running trails and mountain bike trails (all at various skill levels), so with the sun shining early morning beams through the tall pines, I took to the Moorland Trail, as I believed it would take me out of the woods and over to Worlds End, my first destination.

Much in the same way as the AT, the forest was awash with blazes (markers as they are called here), signposting bikers, runners and bimblers to well designated paths through the woodland.

I was the only one to be bimbling, and found the isolation wonderful. Here I was, completely disconnected from the chaos, no news, no war, no corporations, no commitments, no accountabilities, just me, nature and nothing else.

Negative feelings purge so quickly when surrounded by such a rich tableau of flora and fauna, the stresses and strains of everyday life had evaporated within the first mile and I was peace, real peace for the first time in a long while.

Although I had skipped breakfast, nature provided some in the form of blackberries, and at this time of the year they just fell from the bush into my hand and equally as easy into my mouth, bursting with flavour and moisture.

It struck me half way round the forest that the sign at the visitor centre which declared “nukeproof” trails and my first destination of Worlds End could be an ominous portent given the current geopolitical climate and goading from the West, so I was half expecting to see a mushroom cloud appear on the horizon towards the direction of Liverpool or Manchester.

Thankfully that didn’t happen, but my door of perception to making such a connection was clearly open. So it was no surprise that I walked a little further to see a collection of magic mushrooms in the undergrowth; Psilocybe Cubensis (Golden Caps), Psilocybe Semilanceata (Liberty Caps) and the unmistakable and Disney-esque Amanita Muscaria (Fly Agaric).

I’ll neither confirm nor deny that said hallucinogens were harvested for future use, only through the power of observation could one be certain, and you were not there, Schroedinger’s Mushrooms if you will.

A little further on down this magical path, I saw the carving of a wide eyed owl, clearly dining from natures larder and talking a trip of its own!

A short while (after observing a rather curios cloud formation and not Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds), I came across a marker and the turn off for Offa’s Dyke which would take me over the moorland to Worlds End.

I have it in mind to hike the one hundred and seventy seven mile stretch of Offa’s Dyke one day, estimating that it should take around two weeks.

At one tenth of the length and height of the AT and with the possibility of not being mauled to death by big-bollocked bears, I think my chance of success is quite high.

Offa’s Dyke is a large linear earthwork that roughly follows the border between England and Wales. The structure is named after Offa, the Anglo-Saxon king of Mercia from AD 757 until 796, who is believed to have ordered its construction.

Although its precise original purpose is debated, it delineated the border between Anglian Mercia and the Welsh kingdom of Powys.

The path was very well kept, so with ease I made it over to Worlds End, which itself is a small vale, but overlooked by some impressive cliffs.

One could imagine the cliffs being a worlds end for those who take their own life, a precarious precipice, and perhaps that is how it obtained its monicker.

After taking a wrong turn, I came across two things that made me serendipitously smile. The first was my favourite cow (yes I do have one). A field of Scottish Highland cows were clearly more lost than I was, and a tree with the largest Chicken of the Woods mushroom I had ever seen. Sadly there was too much fungus on the fungus for me to harvest it, so there it stayed in all of its diminishing glory.

After realising the error of my ways, I turned back down the trail and found the correct path to take to make it over to the Ponderosa Cafe, situated above the wonderful Horseshoe Pass, a bikers dream road and one my eldest son rides through often on his motorcycle.

After a short while on the right path, I could see the cafe in the far distance. No matter how many times I put one foot in front of the other, the cafe seemed to stay exactly the same distance away, very reminiscent of the scene from Month Python’s Holy Grail were Sir Lancelot runs across the field ten times in the same position. Classic.

I was getting tired and low on energy, and I had no idea how many miles I had gone, but this last slog running on empty was tough. As with all things, a dogged determination and British “Keep Calm And Cary On” mantra always wins in the end, so the final and rather pathetic baby steps took me inside the cafe.

Not to worry I thought, steak pie dinner was on the way. Imagine the Lovecraftian look of horror on my face when the hot food line had closed just three minutes before I got to the cafe!

I pleaded with the nice lady to pull together whatever scraps she had left from the kitchen by taking pity on the broken bimbler that stood before her. The cuisine goddess kindly placed three sausage rolls on the last clean plate and doused it with the worlds best gravy. Lady of the Plate, whoever you are, I am forever In your debt!

Piling other consumables onto the tray, I ate the plate (porcelain included) at biker speed, and washed them down with several cans of pop.

I know now how Bryson and Katz felt upon reaching diners and eateries after a hard slog on the trail.

Curious to see how many miles I had done and calories I had burned, I was surprised to see thirteen miles and seventeen hundred calories. No wonder I was fucked on an empty stomach.

With only water and a handful of berries inside me, I had forgotten the fundamentals of preserving energy and life.

After thirty minutes of rest and a belly full of meat products and sugary drinks, I took up my heavy pack (and heavy it was, with drone, gimbal, gas canister, Aeropress and stove inside, none of which were used!) and headed back to base camp which stood five miles away, thankfully this time down and not up.

By the time I got back to base, I had managed eighteen miles, eighteen hundred feet of elevation and one hundred and eighty eight flights of stairs climbed.

Finishing off my tuck from the cafe, I watched the full moon rise majestically over the forest, and woke exactly twelve hours later as the white-faced ball in the sky was replaced by the burning ball of life giving sun in the exact same location.

So thanks to Messes Bryson and Katz for inspiring me to get out on my feet this weekend, I just need to suggest to my wife that she has a lot more boozy doo’s with her friends in the near and continued future…

Van Life…

Leo Tolstoy scribed a novella in 1859 entitled Family Happiness, which is, in short, a story of a polarised married couple, polarised in that the older man likes to be still and quiet, longing for a peaceful existence in the country, and his younger wife who seeks the hustle and bustle of city living and a want to explore and discover more and more about life.

I have not yet read the book as it is still on its way here from a second hand bookshop, but it’s existence was revealed to me a few weeks back whilst rewatching my favourite film “Into The Wild”, an amazing dramatisation of the adventure segment of the life of Christopher McCandless.

I have been thinking far too much of late on the potentiality of an early retirement from the corporate treadmill, even going to the lengths of installing a countdown clock on my iPhone, which reads out how many seconds I have left in one of the worlds biggest companies.

So after dusting off several dusty tomes from the philosophy shelf on my even dustier bookcase, it was the sage advice of Alan Watts who convinced to live more in the moment, the present, the now.

After fully contemplating this for a few days, I decided to stop thinking about my end of days scenario in work and focus on the here and now. I stopped projecting my financial position in the long term future. I stopped counting down the years, weeks, months, days and hours until my release date (sounds like a prison sentence, and some days it feels like one). Almost instantly I felt better, I felt like I wasn’t wishing the next few years away so I could get to the end quicker and enjoy the last and final chapter of my life.

I have always enjoyed travelling and after reading “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” by Robert Pirsig several decades ago, I had it in mind that I’d do Route 66 upon retirement, albeit in an open-caged Jeep rather than a motorbike. Although I may still do that one day, future plans have been put in mothballs, as what happens in the present has immediate importance, significance and attention.

So it was the older man in me from the Tolstoy novella wanting a “peaceful rural existence” and the “live in the now” wiser man in me from the many Watts postulates that encouraged me to buy a van, a caravan to be more precise, and to buy one in the present moment and not in the future.

Last year I sold the boat that I lived on in London for a while, and with the proceeds I paid off a sizeable chunk of the mortgage on the family home, leaving behind a rainy day fund I would purposely drain every August going forward to pay off an extra ten percent of the mortgage each year, until at the ripe old age of fifty five, I was debt free, free from the bondage of the banking system.

So with my new found wanting to live more in the moment, I decided that paying off a multi-national financial institution early was perhaps neither the best fiscal nor most satisfying decision to make.

Instead, I would start looking around for a touring caravan, one small enough for me and the wife to travel and explore the length and breadth of the UK and Northern Europe / Scandinavia, all without the company of our three children, who are all pretty much grown up now and have their own ideas about life, the universe and vacations.

The looking lasted all of thirty six minutes. We went to a local caravan dealership near to our home and saw a fifteen year old, two berth caravan with full bathroom in mint condition. The fund I had in my account was the exact amount the dealer was asking for, so after a brief moment to think (during which time I received a posthumous and rather esoteric nudge from Messrs Tolstoy and Watts), I told the dealer that he had a deal. So thirty seven minutes into our hunt for a home on wheels, we were the proud owners of a Swift Challenger 480.

I have never towed anything in my life so the first weekend away was a little scary. Thankfully the site we went to was just a few miles up the road and I only had to navigate my way around four roundabouts which I did with relative ease (beads of sweat a plenty though), and settle down for the weekend we did.

We tested everything, everything worked a treat at the first time of asking. We invited the kids over for a barbecue which was also nice, and perhaps even nicer were the words “this ain’t for us, Dad”, confirming the right choice we made in getting a two berth and not something bigger.

It didn’t feel like a holiday though and we never expected it to be, just a planned user acceptance test for the weekends cutover and go-live, using work parlance.

This weekend saw our second trip out, this time with our bricks-and-mortar neighbours back home, a beautiful site in Wales just outside of Wrexham, and a mere stones throw from the picturesque town of Llangollen, where we spent most of Saturday.

Sadly, it turned out that our neighbours saw this opportunity to carry on their alcohol-fuelled urban living on a quiet campsite, ignoring rules and etiquette by partying until the early hours, completely missing the point of a weekend on a rural retreat.

Needless to say it made me re-evaluate the reason why I bought the van in the first place, the type of trips I wanted to do and who I wanted to share them with.

Corporate life is chaotic, energetic, loud, urban and surrounding by technology.

Van life should, and has to be for me at least, the polar opposite of that, for if it is more of the same, then one may as well just stay at home.

And it is for that exact reason that I booked a solo trip in a few weeks to a secluded rural idyll in the Welsh Clwydian hills, with only books, an Aeropress and a fly fishing rod for company.

There is a passage from Tolstoy’s Family Happiness which goes:

“I have lived through much, and now I think I have found what is needed for happiness.

A quiet secluded life in the country, with the possibility of being useful to people to whom it is easy to do good, and who are not accustomed to have it done to them; then work which one hopes may be of some use; then rest, nature, books, music, love for one’s neighbour, such is my idea of happiness.

What more can the heart of man desire?”

I have felt that these words were (and perhaps are) the prologue for the final chapter of my life, but I’m also mindful of the last written words of McCandless too:

“Happiness is only real when shared”.

If I have another twenty to thirty years left after I retire, I can’t do it in total isolation, as not sharing wisdom, experiences and laughter with my family and friends during those twilight years would be a missed opportunity…

The Wainwrights (Part 1)…

Either I’m going slightly senile or I’m not well read (probably both), but in good faith I believed that it was Wainwright who wrote “I wandered lonely as a cloud”, a poem penned centuries ago amongst the rolling fells of the Lake District in Cumbria, arguably the most majestic of all landscapes in England.

It was during a review of Aldous Huxley’s “Doors of Perception” last time out that revealed that it was in fact Wordsworth and not (Alfred) Wainwright that surfed the stratosphere between Coniston and Keswick.

Then the recall kicked in, one of my friends had turned sixty in July and informed me (in our semi-inebriated state), that a friend of his had bought him a set of seven Wainwright books, and gentleman who I had never heard of before, so clearly my ageing brain had mixed up the two.

To the uninitiated, myself included, Alfred Wainwright was a British fellwalker, guidebook author and illustrator. His seven volume “Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells” was published between 1955 and 1966 and consisted entirely of reproductions from his manuscript and associated etchings, an output that went on to become the bible on how to navigate and bimble over the not-so insignificant amount of two hundred and fourteen fells of Cumbria’s Lake District.

At sixty and having no walking experience, my friend’s mid-life crisis (sixty is the new forty!) was to attempt to cross off all Wainwrights by the time he meets our maker.

He started that journey in June with just a few chalked off, and as part of his birthday celebrations (he had six different events!), he suggested that I accompany him and his friends on a mission to bag several more this weekend.

Never willing to let a friend down or refuse a physical challenge, I willingly accepted his invitation to join his bimbling ensemble (after securing the mandatory pass out from the significant other) and subsequently did the needful by booking a small cottage in Witherslack, not too far from our challenging walk known as The Greater Kentmere Horseshoe, a hike that would attempt to reduce his remaining tally by nine.

We safely arrived at the old and rustic cottage, decanted the car and packed in the twenty bottles of real ale at the epicentre and coldest part of the fridge. I was delighted to see a secluded garden with a natural seating area where I would take my morning yoga and Wim Hof practices whilst we were there.

As is customary, once everything was in it’s right place (to quote Thom Yorke), we took to the tracks and found the local pub, The Derby Arms, and loaded up on carbs, fats and a little beer to ready us for our journey into Wainwright County.

Leaving early so that we could guarantee a car parking space due to the limited availability in the hamlet of Kentmere, we took a light breakfast and arrived at seven, loading up our backpacks with sandwiches, coffee, jelly snakes and blister patches and headed for the hills.

The last serious walk I had taken was the Wirral Way, a thirteen mile hike up an old disused railway line several years ago, and I went into the weekend with no training as such, just a dogged British spirit of stubbornness and arrogance.

It was clear from the outset that the arrogance was going to dissipate quicker than a fart in a jacuzzi as we started our first incline, with most if not all of the group struggling for a steady pace, with weak legs and a puffing chest, but we made it to the top of the first ridge successfully and then started for the first of the nine peaks.

As we did, a few things happened. Firstly, I realised that the Wim Hof breathing techniques I have semi-mastered over the last twelve months have more benefits, out on the hills inclines are easier if the mind is set to calm and the belly, chest and head are synchronised with leg movement.

Secondly, I realised that the significant effort I had put in over the last three weeks in mind, body and soul control had paid off, as I found the walk relatively easy.

Lastly, it was clear why Alfred Wainwright was compelled to travel from Leeds to the Lake District every weekend to document and catalog each crag, nook and vale, and why Wordsworth felt compelled to scribe poetry and palatable prose.

With the exception of Scafell Pike which I climbed in the twilight, fog and drizzle back in 2010, I had only ever seen the Lake District from terra firma, mostly around the tourist honey pots of Bowness and Windermere. Whilst I knew it was an area of outstanding natural beauty, the view of Cumbria from the ridge and the horseshoe of fells around Kentmere gave me an insight to inside the heads of Messrs Wainwright and Wordsworth. Here we had vivid vistas and luscious landscapes, inspiring writers and artists alike to put pen and pencil to paper to share with those less fortunate to not experience the sights first hand, and what sights they were.

We took the route in our stride and no one fell behind or took ill, quite remarkable really with no real preparation and two hundred and sixteen years of age spread across just four ageing/aged bodies.

We took our lunch and I was glad to fire up my trust Coleman stove which had not been used for several years, it’s beauty personified in the roar of its flame in abject silence atop peak number four.

What was more disappointing was the fact that I had left the freshly ground coffee beans in the cottage, so the inaugural cup of “Aeropress at Altitude” would have to wait another twenty four hours.

With lunch safely tucked away inside of us rather than outside of us, we headed over the connecting ridge to bag peaks five to nine, a tremendous achievement for our new rambling posse, clocking up thirty seven thousand steps over twenty five kilometres and spinning the Apple health circles faster than a Catherine Wheel on bonfire night.

It is, apparently, customary to document evidence of the successful bagging of a Wainwright, so we decided to do that via the medium of selfies and fingers:

W1: Yoke
W2: Ill Bell
W3: Froswick
W4: Thornethwaite Crag
W5: High Street
W6: Mardale Ill Bell
W7: Harter Fell
W8: Kentmere Pike
W9: Shipman Knotts

Technology does have a tendency to kick you in the nuts from time to time and it did that at the end of day one. The OS map decided to give up the ghost and there were no markers to get us through what is now known as “Bracken Jungle”, chest high foliage at the end of a nine-hour hike. We found the exit point (eventually) and the sight of a Mazda CX-5 never was so good as we collapsed and drifted back to the cottage and the Derby Arms for beers and a well earned pizza.

Needless to say the gang started to flag around eight thirty so we took ourselves back to the cottage, finished off the remaining ale and took in a late showing of Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Day two started off with a bang(ers), with me knocking out the mother of all Full English breakfasts for the gang, and after packing up and waving a fond farewell to the cottage, we took to the road and Troutbeck for a quick three hour trek, to bag our final Wainwright of the weekend, Wansfell.

W10: Wansfell

With the disappointment on the lack of Aeropress Altitude weighing heavily on my mind still from the previous day, I quickly set up my tropospheric barista to try and regain some respect from party members and I did not disappoint, the Smoking Hot Java coffee oozing through the press with an air of aristocracy about it, with the end product fit for kings and queens.

And with that, our journey was over, a whirlwind tour of the Far Eastern Fells was done and we had bagged ten Wainwrights in the first weekend.

So there we have it, first weekend, which roughly translates as “I’m going to bag all two hundred and fourteen Wainwrights, only two hundred and three to go”…

The Reducing Valve

In 1954, Aldous Huxley wrote an autobiographical piece entitled The Doors of Perception, which was (and still is of course) a memoir into the human experience whilst under the influence of psychedelics, in his case mescalin.

It was during this four-hour journey, that he experienced both minor aesthetic distortions to the dimensions of our consensual reality and major sacramental revelations thereof.

As my one of my older posts revealed (Instrumental Communication), our main senses of sight and sound are mapped to frequencies on the electro magnetic spectrum. Within certain ranges, we can see things with our eyes (shapes, forms, colours) and hear things emitted at certain frequencies.

In essence, anything beyond the boundaries of these two critical senses may well be there (for example the sonar capabilities of bats), but the limitations of our biological design restrict what we perceive.

In his book, Huxley introduced his readers to the concept of the reducing valve, a premise that there is a certain brain function that blocks out information in order for the mind to create an external reality and one that allows us to navigate the physical realm as we know it, safely. For if it was not in place, then we would have complete sensory overload, and we would not be able to function properly.

Under the influence of psychedelics, however, it appears on face value that the manipulation of the reducing value allows us to perceive things very differently, perhaps extending the range of the electro magnetic spectrum to see things in a much greater level of detail.

Using mescalin, Huxley saw mundane objects in a totally different way, from chair legs, to the creases in his checked trousers to the inner light/energy flow generated from three flowers in a vase. Imagine if you will a world where you could see not only the flower, but see the life force that flowed through it, what he was seeing was the source of everything, the divine, energy in its purest form and the interconnectivity of everything in the cosmos.

I have waxed lyrical over the year on this blog, but once again the relevance and importance of The Matrix comes up again. Whilst one could concede that only the first movie in the franchise is worth watching, there are snippets from some of the other films that give evidence to the case.

Films are very much like books, poems, song lyrics, art and life itself. We all have a subjective experience of reality, so what a film means to me could radically differ to you, for example, and that is the beauty and the beast right there.

There are many references (I believe) to Huxley’s 1954 missive across The Matrix, one of the opening lines (“Mescalin, the only way to fly”), the many “Doors on the Wall” which lead to a completely different part of reality and of course the end scene in the third movie where Neo who no longer has eyes to see, sees reality for what it is, pure energy.

For Huxley, his internal reality was somewhat of a disappointment, with eyes closed he didn’t fly through the Milky Way on the back of a dragon or astral travel to Carcosa to meet with the King In Yellow, he only witnessed minor distortions to colours and shapes.

I struggle myself with visualisations, much in the same way Huxley did (except for my “trip” to Light Eye Mind in London, whose light salon now sadly extinguished). I can read a poem, a novel, a lyric yet cannot seem to daydream myself a visual representation of what the piece means to me. I wish I could close my eyes and transport myself to the realms of Wordsworth or Rael just to “see” what it is like to “wander lonely as a cloud”. When I have been on mystical retreats over the years (a lot of them), what I experience at times is pure energy, regressions in thought only, but with a blank screen of closed eyelids.

There are occasions (for some) that the reducing valve opens without the use of psychedelics or mystical practices, sometimes the brilliance of nature shines through, very well described in the passage below (from Huxley’s follow up essay Heaven and Hell):

Huxley’s external reality (what we term consensual reality) changed dramatically on mescalin, both living and non-living objects changed, more radiant and energetic than before, more vivid and significant, confirming what Bill Hick’s would later cite, in that “all matter is merely energy condensed to a slow vibration, that we are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively, there is no such thing as death, life is only a dream, and we are the imagination of ourselves. Here’s Tom with the weather”. OK, maybe not the last bit.

Whilst still under the influence, space and time and everything in it no longer held any real significance for Huxley, any interest in materialism was replaced by the wanting for being in the moment (a perpetual present that exists outside of time as we know it), and the search for meaning in everything.

Simply put, during those four hours he could perceive, and was part of, the very fabric of the universe, the ether that binds and penetrates all things, and it is this very concept that gave him the notion of connectivity with the divine beauty, so far away from the chaos and entropic state of the material world we live in.

And perhaps that is what the reducing valve is, it is a brain function which blocks out the divine so that it is not overloaded with information, information it could not process without errors occurring.

Huxley also found that material world didn’t hold too much of his attention whilst under the influence, it was the inner workings of the mystical world that consumed his attention.

The Tale of Two Amazons…

  • Amazon (Jeff Bezos): Jeff Bezos, chief capitalist and head of the 1%ers. Jeff in all likelihood cares not a jot for spirituality and the inner workings of cosmos (even though he wants to explore more of it using an extension of his penis), Jeff only cares about materialism, the self and the power and the glory he can acquire to the misery of others. For Jeff, the reducing value is permanently set to off, he only exists in the physical realm and is driven by the needs of the self and the ego.
  • Amazon (Asháninka Tribe): Take the mystics and shamans of Peru. They, in all likelihood, care not too much for the physical realm (or when they do, it is in complete symbiosis with it), they care for the community and the inner workings of the cosmos. For them, the reality valve is set to on (especially so when using psychedelics for healing, cleansing and channelling), they see things how they really are and are not driven by the needs of the self and the ego.

So, just where did humanity go wrong? One could argue that it was the dawn of the agricultural revolution when the concepts of power, greed, control, religion and warfare first took hold. One could also argue that it is only through the inauguration of language and concepts that power, greed, control, religion and warfare took hold (and we could look to blame the likes of Plato and Socrates for introspection – as before that, modern consciousness as we know it did not exist, and was that spark from the ergot cups found recently from ancient times, ergot being the source material for LSD). Things were much simpler in the good old days…

I guess if there is a point to this post, it is this. The more we open the reducing valve and experience the cosmos for what it is, by letting in realms currently closed in, the less likely it would be that we threaten our own existence on this planet.

We do not have to take psychedelics to understand the true nature of reality (although no doubt it helps). We just need to understand the root cause of where things are going wrong and get back to nature and tribes, much in the same way the Asháninka tribe of Peru do every single day. So why not experiment and to paraphrase the godfather of LSD Timothy Leary; turn off (the TV), tune in (to inner reality) and drop out (of external reality)…

ADDENDUM: You may be interested in a brand-new series to hit Netflix called “How To Change Your Mind” by Michael Pollan (yes, I’m aware I’m consuming products from capitalist organisation and the hypocrisy therein), which is a four-part miniseries exploring the origins of psychedelics and how their use in clinical environments is helping some to combat mental disorders.

Branch Theory…

Depending on your cosmic-view, there is either one Universe or infinite. The concept of the multiverse is not a new one developed by Stan Lee and those at Marvel Studios, it dates back to 1954 Hugh Everett and his MWI (Many World Interpretation) which postulates that quantum effects constantly cause the Universe to split or branch.

Therefore, every decision we make creates a new universe, so that all possible outcomes are played out, somewhere and somewhen.

If the MWI theory view is correct, then our actions in this Universe, our consensual reality, shapes that of our cosmic doppelgängers in parallel universes, then linking this to the Newtonian thought that every action has a positive and negative reaction, would mean that the inversion of our actions materialise somewhere else.

So the question could be, if we do bad things in this Universe, does that mean good things happen to our counterparts in other universes, and does that effectively mean that there is an evil serial killer version of Mother Theresa?

Clearly we’ll likely never know the answer to that question as our abilities (for the vast majority of us) are confined to three dimensional time and space, but the reason I call this out (very early on a Saturday morning) is that I watched a film twice at the cinema this week, “Everything, Everywhere, All At Once”, which had a profound impact on me (why else would I see I twice in two days).

Whilst I have a rudimentary understanding of scientific concepts, is quite often through the arts that messaging truly resonates with me. A film, a song lyric, a play, a book, a poem, an artwork, all have the ability to poke around inside my head and turn on light bulbs in a way that complicated cosmic or consciousness theory cannot. For me, it’s so important that we keep funding media and arts for the young, failure to do so really would result in a boring and meaningless Universe.

“Everything Everywhere…” could be likened to watching The Matrix on LSD, and director Dan Kwan has said as much.

Without giving too much away for those who have not seen it (yet, a must-see in my opinion), it centres around a character who appears at first glance to be living her worst life possible, a laundromat worker with failed ambitions filing her taxes, totally disconnected from her husband and daughter.

The next two hours is a visual and hilarious journey through time, space and the multiverse, giving insights into the other versions of herself that dwell in parallel universes, one’s that on the face of it are clearly more successful than her. The end scene still makes me tear-up just thinking about it, such a profound message to those who really have been paying attention.

And so to branch theory (if that is a thing). After the second sitting of the movie, I took it upon myself to walk back to my hotel through the magnificent parks of London, and it was during that two hour sun and shirt drenched bimble that I reflected on my own branch theory up until now.

It’s fair to say that we wouldn’t really influence the multiverse (should it exist) at an early age, as most of our decisions are made for us by our elders, whether it be parents, siblings, extended family members or teachers. When choice really kicks in is arguably around puberty where we become the ones that choose what to do, which paths to follow, and for me, that is when we become independent and our actions or inactions are on us (unless we are in very difficult circumstances, being controlled or abused etc).

Clearly most of us have done both good and bad things in our lives, things that we are proud of and things that we regret. Without having the benefit of a time machine to put right the wrongs, I’d argue that we should not, on the basis those inactions and things we should not have done inform who we are today and how we become more worldly and wiser as a consequence, passing these tenets and messages down to our children and comrades, eradicating that type of behaviour or poor decision making.

After cataloguing all of the positives and negatives that have come out of each branch decision that led me up until this morning, I came to the same conclusion that Michelle Yeoh came to in the film, that although nothing is perfect, in this very moment I can safely say that I am happy with the outcome of the first fifty years of my life, and go a step further by saying I’m living life like the best version of me.

Do I have the very best of things, a sports car, a super yacht, a supermodel wife, a rock star status, billions in the bank or a huge schlong, absolutely not (except perhaps for maybe for the last one!).

What I do have is an amazing wife, three incredible children, a small set of great friends and neighbours, a nice house, a modest mode of transport and enough money in the bank not to worry about where my next meal is coming from.

As a result, I can safely say I am happy and that happiness turns into kindness for others, and will do so even more after I retire and can spend more time on community projects.

I would also go on to say that I am truly sorry for anyone that I have hurt or offended in the past, immaturity doesn’t excuse poor choices.

And to all those other “me’s” out there beyond the barriers of my Universe, in the immortal words of Elvis Costello, I send you “peace, love and understanding”…

BioHack: Tracking…

As mentioned in my previous post, having access to our biological data is one thing, understanding it and tracking it is another.

With the advent of wearables (Apple Watch), bio-lab start ups like Forth (no not those bio-labs!) and the continued National Health Service checks (free upon request), accurate data on how our body is performing is available and relatively inexpensive.

It must also be said that once we have baselined our biology, we should not of course concern ourselves to often once any plans to remediate ailments are initiated, unless of course we are elite athletes or personal trainers, as too much attention may lead to a little paranoia and anxiety, certainly possible in my case!

To that end, I spend some time reviewing my Apple Watch data yesterday and also the results that came in from my NHS MOT the week before last, and went a step further to do a full body scan of the things that pain this man of five decades.

By and large the Apple Watch data is very useful:

Given my state of advancement in years, I’m quite happy with the data.

Clearly only we (or medically trained professionals) can know what pains and grumbles are taking place within the body, and only some of the data from devices and tests can reveal those (physical maladies and manifestations based on cause and effect), so to get a true bio-hacking baseline, I took it upon myself (validated by the wife who is a holistic therapy professional) to engineer a full set of diagnostics and advisories (the car MOT analogy really fits well here), the output of which is below:

So once the results come back from Forth and the NHS scans, I should be able to baseline my biology and put in place (in true project management parlance) a “return to green” plan to fix all of the issues I have, and identify any risks that may occur so I can put in place mitigation plans to, as Wim Hof would say, live a happy, strong and health life.

BioHack …

We face many existential crises in our lifetime, the first as early as the day we appear from the womb, unless of course your father (or mother) allows his (or her) fetus to gestate in a box, in which case it’s a simple task of opening the lid. We face other risks as we proceed on with our life journey, from conflict situations to simply crossing the road, each a given set of variables and mortality probably factor, all of which are fed into the calculator of life and outcome decided.

Our cells replicate every seven years, during which process they carry with them any defects they pick up along the way, cycling and weakening. Imagine a scenario where you take a copy of a computer’s hard drive that already has bad data on it, and then take a copy of that, and a copy of that copy, and so on. Eventually some of the programs will stop working, eventually all of it will stop working. The hard drive is no more, it’s pushing up the daisies, it is an ex-computer.

And so it is with us, over time our bodies degenerate, our individual body parts start stopping and our overall system crashes as a result, resulting in the inevitable departure from our meat covered skeletons made of stardust and hair, to either oblivion or the never-after, depending on whether your glass is half-full or half-empty.

Whilst death is inevitable, the way in which we pass over may not have to be a painful one. Enter the concept of bio-hacking.

I had a health scare a couple of weeks back, the true results of which will only be known in the coming weeks, and it was during that process of discovering what was wrong with my system that I came across bio-hacking. In a nutshell, it sets in motion certain mechanics that allows practitioners to positively impact their own biology to provide (painless) longevity. Going a step further, they obtain real-time data on what biological processes are working well and what are not, and as a result they put practices and procedures in place to optimize the human experience, especially as the biological clock ticks on, and on, and on.

I live in the UK where one can request all personal medical data, all of which can be made available via a secure log in, and that information is now available to me. It revealed many things that I already knew and some I didn’t (or had simply forgotten), but for the first time I obtained some real insights and trends on my personal health and subsequent deterioration over the last three decades. Full blood counts and liver, kidney, heart, thyroid, cholesterol test results are there to see in full and glorious technicolor, big data.

Now in my fiftieth year on this little blue dot, my cholesterol is slightly higher than it should be and my kidneys are starting to function less well, but everything else (including vitamin and mineral levels) is doing remarkable well. Clearly the data doesn’t cover the metaphysical aspects of mental well-being (oh how I wish it would!), but it goes some way to validate that the diet and practices I have adopted over the last four decades have resulted in a decent set of results as I approach my twilight years. I now have a real plan to live life in complete symbiosis with the energetic carcass I haul around each day, and bio-hacking will help.

  • I was totally convinced that there was real science behind the Wim Hof Method (in term of cold therapy and breath work which lowered inflammation levels), this validates that
  • Intermittent fasting (especially during certain times of the day – using circadian cycles) initiates ketosis and is another method not uncommon to me either, an essential part of my periodic detoxification periods,
  • No one can ever underestimate the power of sleep for recharging the internal battery that charges us up for another day of activities
  • Blue light I was aware of, and whilst I won’t purchase the $100 glasses and sit in the living room watching TV looking like Bono’s Scouse doppelgänger, I have turned on the orange filters on my devices for any late night reading and viewing
  • And then, the three gratitudes…

There is so much chaos and disarray in the world just now and although it may appear that we are surrounded by darkness at all times, there are slithers of light that illuminate the good things that happen too. The process is very simple, document three (or more!) good things that happen during the day, even the seemingly insignificant ones, and reflect on those little moments at the end of the day, thankful that they took place (go a step further to use this time to kick start some pre-sleep meditation). It is incredible that such a simple and minute thing can yield such a significant impact on mental well-being and sleep.

So as my fiftieth birthday approaches, I go into it knowing that I have the mechanics in place to live out the second half of my life in a healthy and informed way. And if ancestral DNA challenges that status quo, then at least I will be able to tune in to the biological process quickly and put things right, whether that be via surgery or homeopathy (preferably the latter).

Eating and drinking the right things, exercising in the right way and surrounding ourselves with the right people is a real formula for success, and with that we can live to one hundred, just like the Okinawans, the Sardinians and the Adventists:

Of course I can’t plan for being hit by a car, but I’ll be sure to use the pelican, toucan and zebra crossings going forward 😊

Who owns the world…

Who owns the world? Who runs the world? Is there really an agenda behind COVID? Are we heading towards a New World Order? Are these questions posed by a tinfoil hat wearing conspiracy merchant?

I’d like to think your answer to the last question is no and like me, you are also truth seekers. And that’s the real hard part isn’t it, just what is real truth?

“There is truth and there is untruth”. The real truth lies somewhere in the middle of all of this chaos today, but the real real truth lies locked away, difficult, almost impossible to find.

I came across this documentary yesterday by Tim Gielen, which reveals how a small group of super rich individuals have been buying virtually everything on the planet, all from behind investment companies like Vanguard and Black Rock.

Whilst one could question the motives behind such documentaries and who publishes them (Zeitgeist – The Movies being another), what they provide is a window into an alternative view that you simply will not find in MSM (Main Stream Media). This visual missive suggests why that is. It also allows the viewer to look into who owns companies, who knew that Yahoo Finance website could uncover so much truth. Who knew that the Ofcom in the UK effectively owns the BBC and the not only is the head of Ofcom the Prime Minister, but the government install the board of BBC directors.

As Matrix Resurrections hits the silver screen in the UK, it’s time, like Neo, to follow the white rabbit…