Survivor’s Guilt

It’s been nearly a year since our lives all changed as a result of the CV-19 pandemic. We were warned something like this might happen; did we listen? We saw it coming over the horizon; did we react? Lot’s of lessons will be learnt from this experience by many, perhaps all – from individuals, education, businesses to government. What have you learnt, lost and gained? When this is all over, what will you do differently and how will life change – indeed, will it?

For me, there has been minimal work, so I have had to ‘do things’. When permitted and within national guidelines I have run, cycled, rock and ice climbed, skied, paddled and swam. I have DIY’d (is that a word?), gardened, cooked, re-organised and bought a dog! If this is what retirement looks like, I am not ready. I need contact with a wider population. I love meeting new people and I love supporting people in the development of their skills and knowledge be that mountaineering, biking or first aid. I still need the ‘kick’!

On a personal level my relationship with my two university age son could not be stronger, I have loved having them around. My wife has been an inspiration – and continues to be so. I have been blown away by the spirit within this country, by the togetherness and the friendliness. I have loved meeting my neighbours and others who live near me. It has been great getting in touch with many who I had lost touch with. I have also been frustrated and saddened by those who abuse the countryside as if it is wasteland which has no value.

I have had some fabulous adventures in the hills and mountains in Scotland, latterly only a short distance from home. The winter conditions have allowed me to continue to practice and enjoy the skills of the winter mountaineer such as snow and ice climbing, winter walking and ski touring. How much will you travel from home – when you are allowed? Overseas? Short-haul, long-haul?

So much of the last eleven months I have enjoyed, and for that I feel slightly guilty! I have offered help where I can and supported some through these tough times as best as I can. For now though I am looking forward to a time when we can collectively reflect on our experiences, tell our stories and share our plans for the future. What will be different for me? I will not take health, wealth and happiness for granted. I will enjoy my work in the training rooms and in the mountains – in my happy place. Join me there on the other side 🙂

Radiators and Drains …………

I love benefiting from other people’s experience!  This concept, ‘radiators and drains’ I have unashamedly pinched from my dear wife, who in turn heard it from another colleague.  Actually, it turns out to be a fairly well known concept which appears to have been conceived in or around 2012; I stand to be corrected though. 

What is it all about?  Well, people can broadly be divided into two categories, radiators or drains.  Radiators are people that give off positivity in some way; they make you feel good, positive, energised, they inspire you, you want to be part of their team, be in their company – perhaps something may rub off onto you.  No guesses as to what the person that is a drain does is there?  They are often negative, perhaps they have little positive to say, their lot is worse than yours, they slept worse than you, if you have challenges, theirs are bigger, their interest is in their lives and their challenges.  Familiar?  They are often pessimistic about the outcome of ‘stuff’. 

Now of course, we are all pessimistic at times.  Suppose you are the sole earner in the family, and you lose your job, how can you possibly be an optimist and not be a drain to others despite your best efforts?  When down, it is important to not open yourself up to negativity, in whatever form and people that can drain you further.  Expanding the concept then, ‘things’ can be radiators and drains.  When I am in the mountains, I feel alive, the environment – even if the weather is not good 😉 makes me feel good.  Zipping across the hills on my bike, in my hill running shoes or on my skis makes me positive and optimistic.  Frankly, a walk in the sunshine often makes me feel good – I’m easily pleased!  Having a nice glass of red wine or a good malt in front of the fire provides me with feelings of wellbeing too.  For me and for many, in moderation this is a good thing. 

We are in very strange times; Brexit, COVID-19, US elections etc.  The fallout from this ‘era’ we are in may last for a great many years.  For some, the rest of their lives.  I do not have a solution, a cure or the magic bullet.  What I have (as a risk manager!) is mitigation measures, those things that allow me to manage, as best as I can, my own mental health.  I do my best to engage with people and ‘things’ that are radiators.  I do things that make me happy, I get into the hills, I climb and I get out on my bike, sometimes with others and sometimes alone.  Sometimes I am with those that are draining me – but they are close to me in one way or another and they need my support as they may be challenged by the circumstances of the world they are in.  It is wrong to jettison those that drain you as they may need to off load, just be aware that you need to stand next to the radiator at times!  Help them to see the light at the end of the tunnel, to see some positivity in things.  Help them to find their radiators.

I have pretty much stopped watching the news.  My head is not stuck in the sand, but I have found that much of the news was negative and pessimistic.  The journalism appeared too regularly to be seeking to highlight failings, weakness and a negative (sensational) outcome – almost celebrating it.  I listen to Radio 4 a little, but not too much.  For me it is often BBC 6 Music and its eclectic mix of music tastes and the brief news summaries.  The reporting in 2020 has been extraordinarily alarmist at times – in the spring of 2020 I will never forget hearing on the radio that up to eight million people in the UK could die!  That was the only time during this pandemic I have been afraid.  Now, I manage my negative media intake.  If something is negative, I chose not to read it or listen to it.  If someone in my social media network is negative I ‘defriend’ them or stop following them.    

I try to be optimistic and positive since the opposite of this is pessimism and negativity!  So, life and emotions are not binary, we know that, but on this sliding scale of emotion I try and keep the balance weighted on the side of optimism and positivity.  The outdoors for me is a positive and optimistic place, it is my ‘happy place’.  When I am in it, I say hello to people.  I feel good when they smile and say hello back.  Try saying hello to a stranger or at least smile, rather than passing head down, averting eye contact and ignoring fellow humans. How good does it feel to make someone smile, or to help someone, friend or stranger?  Call it unsolicited niceness.

So, in these extraordinary and challenging times, seek out the people and ‘things’ that are radiators and that help you to feel good.  Those things and perhaps those people that drain the life out of you, chose to manage them, be conscious of them and for some – avoid them.  Be warned though the top of the bottle and the first few kettle crisps are awesome and make us feel good, over consumption and the bottom of the bottle /crisp bag are less likely to make us feel quite so good!  Join me in my happy place in the mountains for a positive and uplifting learning experience, or at least say hello in passing 😉.

Developing the Head Game

Whether your passion is summer, winter, climbing or walking you may have to decide how far you step towards your perceived limit of skills, knowledge and experience.  One thing is for sure, you can, if need be and you desire it, push yourself a little further than you realise.  This is not only good for your confidence in the chosen activity, but it is really good for your mental health.  Talking about how you feel about walking alone in the mountains in bad visibility or at the sharp end of the rope when the protection is less than perfect – or the last bit fell out! ……… is again very good for you.  I love sharing experiences and talking with walkers, climbers and mountaineers about how they handle situations.  In opening up and arguably demonstrating a level of ‘vulnerability’ e.g. ‘I was pooping myself and it was an easy route‘, we increase our resilience not just to mountain pursuits, but to other life challenges.  Dare to challenge yourself this winter and join me for a liberating experience in the mountains.  I can’t guarantee the weather, but I can guarantee a memorable, exciting and positive experience.  Go on, take the plunge.  

COVID-19 Victims

Was climbing today with some very nice people.  Initially with just a friend and mountaineering instructor colleague and fellow Association of Mountaineering Instructors (AMI) member.  We have very little work at present, this year has been tough.  The next year is looking very lean.  COVID-19 in many respects is Darwinian and many will not survive.  Many businesses will fold, many outdoors professionals will have to look elsewhere for work.  We met two others, both outdoor professionals.  Whilst we are all of an age where we have a degree of financial security two things stood out from our appropriately socially distanced conversation.  The first is that we are not ready to retire from work and whilst we are not panicking about the income too much, it appears that a list of trivial tasks on the work and home jobs list have the ability to cause stress – personally I did not see that one coming!  Secondly, it is utterly heartbreaking thinking of the young mountain guides, instructors, leaders and indeed the wider outdoor training and education workers workless.  They will be worrying about the future.  Government and local authorities see outdoor education as unimportant – expendable.  The public are afraid of unwittingly passing on a virus that may not bother them too much, but may have a devastating affect on the elderly and vulnerable.  As we head in the direction of a recession, the depth and duration at present we know not, we should all be moneywise.  I fear for the health and wellbeing of fellow outdoors professionals; so please support us.  We love what we do and want to share that with as many folk as we can in our utterly stunning country.  Government guidance permitting let us guide, instruct and lead through the next few years.  See you on the hill 🙂

Mountain Marathon – Mountain Madness

At the end of October (most years!) the OMM – Original Mountain Marathon is run.  This is a two day mountain orienteering competition where teams consist of two people – hopefully of similar ability if they are super competitive.  Many of the skills needed for and developed on these events are those needed by hill walkers and mountaineers.  Join me (a long time AMI member) at Freewill Outdoors for training, coaching or guiding that will give you the skills and confidence to tackle more – and importantly get further off the beaten tourist track.

So back to the OMM!  All equipment for the two days and the overnight is carried in a backpack which, for the top Elite class racers is unfeasibly small.  I have managed 4.4kg on one event – much less is carried by some.  Less weight equals faster more comfortable movement when scampering over the hills and mountains (yup Munros too) but ….. more expense and less comfort at the overnight stop.  Hardship though is relative and it ends on the Sunday afternoon.  I have taken part in 15 of these events and five other mountain marathons, but the most memorable was the 2008 event; not because it was my wife’s introduction to mountain marathons, but there was a little bad weather!  For the first time ever the OMM was cancelled mid flow.  This year for the first time it is completely cancelled 😦  The OMM is strangely addictive due to the incredible atmosphere, camaraderie and stunning parts of the British mountain environment it visits.  Be warned, the last weekend of October attracts one, sometimes two really nasty weather days …………..


Chest Pains – Heart Attack?

I was listening to an account (second hand but from a very reliable source!) of an 80 year old man who was suffering from chest pains and tingling in his left arm. His wife let NHS 24 know that her husband is taking warfarin (a blood thinner).  He was recommended to rest and take paracetamol.  Fortunately the gentleman’s wife contacted a relation in the NHS and was advised to visit the hospital.  The gentleman’s heart attack was not serious; he was very lucky.  So, the NHS in my opinion and experience do a simply outstanding job,.  Every member of my family have worked there for some of their lives – some for all their working lives.  We the public can help by being as prepared as we can be and recognising some symptoms and knowing what to do.  Here’s the thing; a first aid course is a great way to do that.  To save a life is something very special, you can’t put a price on it.  Make a difference with a first aid course.

Mid-summer mid-way?

We were blessed with a lovely midsummer evening.  A few of us took a short swim on the Cocksburn reservoir.  A lovely spot with fabulous views north to the Highlands and the receding sun.    There is something that feels very ‘free’ about open water swimming, one also has to consider that ‘what ifs’, especially since I consider a lot of ‘what ifs’ for a living!  We then headed up Dumyat Hill, a modest 418 metres, but a great position and a walk from home.  The sunset was a stunning evolving picture.  It was good to be able to reflect on the first half of the year, a half …….. of two halfs!   We are over the half way part of the year; the half way point of COVID 19?  I think not!  These things are a steep uphill and then a very long and gradual downhill.  It maybe many years before the pandemic is not impacting on our lives.  But the good news is that the hazard and the risks are reducing.  Keep safe, keep positive.


Time for a little reflection …..

Covid 19 has offered all sorts of challenges and opportunities.  For me there has been plenty of time to be somewhere quiet and think about where my journey has taken me, where I am now and where I would like to journey next.  It is not too self indulgent to take time to reflect on life.  So far as I know I only get one,so enjoying the journey, having a positive impact on others and the environment – without causing too much damage en route is my philosophy.  Enjoy the journey 🙂


COVID-19 ….. where is the light?

2020 will be an extraordinary year for many of us for many reasons.  Many have suffered the loss of friends, family financial or all three.  Others might not have suffered to any great extent and must be grateful for that and understanding of others, their predicaments and their (sometimes odd) responses to situations.

There is light at the end of the tunnel and there is hope that we will adapt to the virus and contain it.  I hasten to use the term ‘defeat’.  I have climbed many mountains, but defeated none.  I don’t think we defeat or win.  COVID-19 has already accounted for probably over 50,000 deaths in the UK alone.  That does not sound like a ‘win’.

For Freewill Outdoors?  Well, time stands still for no one, and being the optimist that I am I see folks re-engaging with their local outdoor activities whilst being mindful of social distancing restrictions.  We all just need to make sure the level of challenge we undertake is appropriate, shall we say ‘modest’ in order to not occupy a valuable hospital bed space.

Phase two, from an outdoor activities perspective, offers little change as activities will need to remain local, for good reason.  At this stage we could be into late June or even July, dependent on the R value.    Phase three offers the most optimism for those working in the outdoors, as this is the first opportunity for the lifting of the ‘local’ travel restriction and an opportunity for accommodation providers to re-open.  All of these subject to social distancing measures – 2 metres for the UK or will we revert to the WHO advice of 1 metre by then?  When will phase three start?  My guess is sometime in July – tourism needs this and the government is well aware of that.  By then we may all have a better appreciation of what social distancing looks like.  Many (as I write) are reveling on English beaches and simply not getting it.

As for Freewill Outdoors, we hope to be working again in the hills, potentially from late July.  Fingers crossed, if not then, then soon after.  Join me to walk, bike, run or climb in our wonderful and much missed mountains.

Keep safe.

Covid 19 Optimist or Pessimist?

The pandemic has has a huge effect on societies throughout the world and will continue to do so for quite some time.  Eventually there will be less infection, perhaps even the beginning of a vaccine roll out later this year – at least in developed countries …..  For outdoors professionals, those who rely on training, coaching and guiding for a living times are tough.  Some will leave the sector, others will have to change their ‘work balance’; is the sector a serious option in this unpredictable world?  The pessimist in me fears the worst; the continuing restrictions on movement, contact and activity,  a reluctant public to engage with instructors in the outdoors and the effect the forthcoming recession will have on the nation and its population.  The optimist in me gives thanks for my family and my health.  The optimist in me has faith in the great British public and their love of our fantastic wild spaces, lochs, crags and mountains.  The optimist in me has faith in the knowledge that Great Britain has faced many challenges in its history and it can and is facing the current one.  It’s easy to be negative, but far nicer and more healthy to be optimistic and look forward to better times.  The optimist in me is looking forward to working with fantastic and inspiring clients in the hills sharing my knowledge and passion.

Outdoors with Freewill Outdoors
All but three negotiated the boom ……..

This swan yesterday became separated from three signets by a boom.  I am sure that eventually ……… they will be reunited.  The solution is out of my hands and worrying for them benefits no one.  Go be positive and have an awesome day 🙂