“This complicated, maze-like reality will soon be behind me and I will survive, yes I’m going forward”

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A miserable spring has suddenly switched to a bright, hot summer in the UK. I decided to venture out for a walk on Sunday – I figured that since I am now living in Yorkshire, I should make a start on exploring it. I decided to head to the Ilkley Moor, as I had heard it was very pretty and not too tough for a novice (and thus, someone so out of practice as I.)

I was a little nervous about a sudden turn in the weather (I mean, with the way things have been it’s not unreasonable to expect sudden snow) and nervous because it would be only my second solo walk. My first, I got lost, and I slipped and fell and gave myself a dodgy hip that still seizes up to this day. Thankfully, I would have GPS for this walk. I had planned out my route on the map. I packed my bag with items for sudden weather changes, lots of food, minor first aid items and change to buy something icy later. Then I set out.

I had one bus to take. I was not optimistic when this bus took fifty minutes to turn up. In the classic anxiety mind frame this was a sign, that something bad happening I’m always afraid of was going to come true.

I texted my sister. Be positive, she told me, with not, nor two or even three exclamation marks- but a good five. Stern and confident. OK, I said. It’s gorgeous out here. How’s that for positivity?

Honestly, the Yorkshire countryside, of the tiny amount I’ve seen, is really too pretty.

After a long and tedious bus ride I finally reached Ilkley. I meandered around seeking toilets. Found none. Faced the inevitable and started on my walk. Almost immediately I got lost. Nearly. I caught it quickly, thanks to the moving dot on my digital map, and got on the right path. My first milestone was The Tarn and I reached it easily enough after my initial slip. The route was mostly flat. The tarn did not look as big as it did on the map but the wild flowers and birds made up for its size. I settled down for a light lunch, not wanting to linger too long or eat everything at once, then set out again. The next part of the route was a steep, hot climb. The sun was strong and it had been a while since I’ve pushed my body in that way, my muscles burned with the sudden, unexpected activity. Behind me Ilkley was stretched out in its valley, more hills in the distance, and around me was sparse, dry moor interspersed with great rock formations. I climbed more. And more. Heart racing. Chest tight. I can’t do this I thought. I want to go back. I really want to pee. Then, a shining light. A small cafe- and toilets. I stopped off, checked my map then clambered on. The small rest had felt good but could do nothing in the face of months of inactivity. The path evened out and I could only feel relieved for a moment because then there was a big hill to climb ahead, jagged stone steps to heave myself up, to stop on, feeling awkward and in the way of everyone else who looked so relaxed…my racing heart may not have been purely the exertion, but also a certain anxiety, a keen self consciousness and embarrassment. I slogged on, and couldn’t help grin when I reached the top.

There’s a cheesy metaphor for life here, I thought. Once you are in the thick of it, it’s just as difficult to turn back as it is to go forward, and everything exciting and rewarding lies ahead, so you may as well brave it. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other and instead of thinking look how much more to go think look how far I’ve come. It’s such a great feeling to make it. So much better of the regret of never finding out what you could have had, what could have been if only…

I sat down to admire the views, snack more and send a panicky text to my sister. Then I carried on. I must not have been paying much attention, too relieved at reaching my destination, that I took the wrong turn and ended up walking more of the moor than I intended. I can’t complain- the moor was stunning, the sun bright and warm, a cool breeze blowing, birds singing and a grouse, there in the distance, making its own distinct chatter. I wandered on, enjoying the flat, springy ground, the fresh air, the peace. And I got back to my path. My walk had turned more figure of eight than circular, and I missed having someone else to read the map for me, but my little moving dot reassured me everything would be OK.

I felt a bit embarrassed for being glued to my phone whilst walking. What must others think. I know serious walkers do not like GPS (the look on this one guys face at my uni walking club when I suggested it) and I know we all judge others for being stuck to their phones. I needed my dot though, more than I needed to worry about their scrutiny.

I walked on, and for a while it was good, but then it got boggy and I stepped off the path briefly to avoid a particularly wet, quick sand looking section only to find myself slogging through waist high grass, dry and sharp, thick enough to hide the soft ground so I couldn’t tell with every step how I’d be landing. I had gotten myself got lost. I was going in vaguely the right direction but I was off the path and it was hard going, not to mention I was conscious of what I could be disturbing with my big, clumsy steps. I was fairly certain grouse nest in shorter grasses, but not certain enough. Even though there were no signs, it’s the respectful thing to do to stay on the path when the grouse are nesting. I wasn’t sure if they were nesting, but you can see how my panic was growing, can’t you? And it’s funny, there were so many people around until I needed them as a path marker, something to go to.

Thankfully I escaped the long grass to a flatter, less wild section of moor and could slog up that back to the path, following my dot faithfully. And of course it would be upwards back to the path. I was feeling grumpy and tired again. I sat down to munch and rest, then carried on, keeping hold of my phone in my hand, so the dot was right there. What did I do before the smartphone? Got lost. Wandered around, almost in tears from frustration and helplessness, and struggled. That’s why I love the smartphone. And envy those who can live without them. Now I have GPS, you won’t take it away from me.

I do hope that one day, I won’t have to be led around by my dot quite so much. I wonder what it’s like to have a sense of direction and if it can be fostered, or if I’m just doomed to a dot lead life. ;)

Safely back on the path my mood lightened again. I was still too tired, too unfit for the twists and turns of the day, but had new determination to make it to the end.

I did make it. Going downhill was, of course, awkward and rough on the ankles, but far less tiring. I found an ice cream van, bought an ice lolly, sat down on a bench and texted my sister -“I made it! Second solo walk, success!”

I felt so proud of myself. I felt effing elated. Adrenalin coursing through me, it felt like I could go back and run up that hill. Of course, I didn’t. I just went back to town and got the bus home.

I watched the scenery outside the window and thought about where to go next.