Mountain Writing,  Running,  Running Writing,  Writing

Solo Self-supported; my take

“Never go into the hills alone”, so say the sages.  Now, I think a sage is best taken with a pinch of salt(especially good on tomatoes and new potatoes).  I also think solo, self-supported is the best way to play in the hills.  Ooh, such a rebel am I. 

A side note here.  These are my considered reasons for adventuring solo, self-supported.  There is no avoiding the reality that this style can carry higher risks than adventuring as a pair or group.  I’ve built my skills and approach over decades, I know where I can safely push, and where not to.  By all means choose this approach.  But choose not because of fashion, but mindfully. 

So: why?  And what do I mean by “solo, self-supported”?  Surely I’m old enough to know better? Hmm, think about that last bit.  That age has let me develop the experience to travel safely alone in the fells. 

Well, there are a bunch of reasons why, some simple, others less so.  There’s a trigger  warning for discussion of depression, bullying and addiction before the not so simple paragraph.  I’ll start with definitions though; “What do I mean by solo, self-supported?”  This bit isn’t rebel me; this is a legacy of my BSc, first define the subject and terms. 

This maybe?

Erm, no, not really.  It doesn’t mean having absolutely every gramme of food and drink on your back as you set off on a ten day adventure. 

So, first define solo.  This bit is easy. When I set off from a start point, I’m on my own, unaccompanied.  Until I get to the end point.  The navigation, carrying or finding food, water and shelter is all down to me.  Just me.  I may have cadged a lift, because UK rural public transport is dire.  Usually though, I’ll be stepping off, or waiting for, some of that public transport.  What was that?  No I can’t drive, and yes, it is bloody hindering awkward.    

And define self-supported?  The earlier sentence “All the navigation, carrying/finding food, water, shelter is all down to me.” sums it up.  I’ll add that staying safe, and not inconveniencing the local MRT is entirely my responsibility(trips are much more fun that way) too.  There’ll be no-one meeting me with fresh shoes, socks and rice pudding at a midway road crossing.  There’ll be no cheery greetings and a warm flask in the shelter of a tent on a windswept summit.  Everything I need will be in my brain and on my back.  And nowadays, yes that does include an iPhone and a Polar watch.  If tech is available, and helpful to me, I’ll use it.  I live in the present, not some rose-tinted past. 

Of course, part of the self-supported idea is living off the land.  Knowing where to find potable water, what wild foods are good.  If Richard Mabey’s Food For Free isn’t on your bookshelf, go shopping.  Fresh bilberries are one of the joys of a peak district summer; cloudberries are even better (no, find them yourself).  We live in a populous land though, so there’s another side to “living off the land”.  Do you know where the cafés and pubs are, where burger or ice cream vans park up?  Or village/farm shops?  All legitimate restock sources for a self-supported excursion by my lights.  Part of carrying everything I need includes some cash and a debit card. 

There’s another part of living off the land too.  Accommodation on long trips.  A tent or tarp and bivi bag are great. But so is a bothy, or a bed and breakfast.  Live off the land as it is now, not as it never was in that aforementioned rose-tinted past. 

There is an argument for dropping a food/kit stash somewhere on the route.  Lug it up there yourself, yeah that falls into self supported.  But, and it’s a big but; thievery both by wildlife and by human.  Stashes may work in remote areas, but peak, lakes, wales?  I wouldn’t.  The only time I’ve done it I found an emptied box and a very rude note.  Discussions suggest this is not an uncommon occurrence.  Aside from the irritation factor, such thievery could really put you at risk.  Think carefully before you chance leaving a stash; I’m told NATO pattern ammo boxes are good.  

Of course, this doesn’t make my approach any better than yours or anyone else’s.  It’s just what works for me.  If you want to have support at every road crossing, pacers and porters; go for it.   Just remember we’re all doing this for fun. 

Ah yes, the why I choose solo self-supported for my adventures …

A few reasons.  First off, I came to fell running from a mountaineering background.  A background that, at it’s roots, promotes going with the simplest approach possible.  The logical outcome of this is solo, self-supported adventures.  I feel somehow having people carry my gear, do my nav(no, I don’t keep a route on my Suunto either) and feed me at road crossings is cheating.  These are my reasonings, not yours; hush. 

Second, I’ve done a couple of long supported adventures.  Organising it all was a drag, crushing any spontaneity out of the adventure.  You’re also date committed, whatever the weather.  Going solo, self-supported means It’s easier to bale if say one of those hurricanes we don’t have hits again.  Then there’s the hassle of arriving early at a support point to find an empty lay-by, or being delayed and finding cold tea.  Not good; this was pre mobile phone days, but signal isn’t perfect even nowadays so … 

Thirdly, environmental impact.  Me, alone on public transport, even with my galumphing great feet and liking for cake, is relatively low impact.  Vehicles getting to remote roadsides and parking on verges, pacers and porters running alongside all increase wear and tear on fragile landscapes.  The commandment “Thou shalt not wreck the place” applies. 

Warning for discussion of depression, bullying and addiction, skip the next paragraph to avoid.

Fourthly; my brain is a bit miswired.  Nothing massively serious; I live with ADHD, dyslexia, fibromyalgia and the inevitable depression.  Which is type 2 fun, but I’ve learned to manage it, so meh.  As a child though, I stuck out, introverted and quiet, uninterested in football, a swot and a boss’ son.  So, yeah, I got bullied at school and by my mother and nan(her mother).  I became addicted to drugs, both legal and otherwise.  I’ve been sober for over thirty years.  

Okay, safe again. 

The net result is I find interacting with people difficult; I’m more comfortable with books, Bach and cats.  I’m an introvert, and that is okay.  However, our society is almost compulsorily extrovert.  To interact “normally”, even with all my training, even with people I know well, requires my complete concentration.  The thought of someone I’d never met before turning up to support me is terrifying.  The actual event would cause a panic attack.  And too, when I get weary, I don’t have concentration to spare.  Then my ability to cope with peopling gets even lower.  A pacer telling me to eat could find themselves breathing through a food bar for a while.  I’d be truly sorry later, but …

In short, it is often better that I am where others are not.  To go alone into the fells and forests is a joy, my escape and my therapy.  To steal from Faithless, this is my church, this is where I heal my hurts.  A few hours play, I can face the world again.  For a while. 

So, my whys and wherefores about choosing solo, self-supported for playing in the fells and forest.  Some may apply to you, some may not.  I truly hope the fourth “why” is one that does not.  

Whether you choose solo self-supported, fully supported or anywhere between; I wish you joy in your adventuring.  

Oh yeah, I almost forgot the most important reason; I enjoy it.  

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