Over the past four months I have been fortunate enough to complete two epic multi-day hikes. The first was the Tour du Mont Blanc, a 170km circumnavigation of the Mont Blanc massive that traverses the Alps of France, Switzerland and Italy. In a close-knit team of two, Chris and I carried everything with us, from tents, to cooking pots, espresso cups, wooly jumpers, swimsuits, red wine and cheese. We wild camped (illegally so in Italy - don’t tell!) all nights but one, and got an immensely privileged insight into Alpine communities, culinary delights and livelihood. The second hike spanned all of October during which I joined my brothers, sister-in-law, and aunt for a journey across the eastern corner of the Nepalese Himalayas. We took the approach trial to Makalu Peak, the 5th highest mountain in the world (soaring above 8400m), and reached 5300m to see Makalu base camp, before descending to warmer and more oxygenated mountains. We had an immensely over-qualified and talented team of Nepalese porters, sherpas and cooks. In both instances I was out of connectivity throughout and luxuriated in a feeling of freedom, of the heady awareness of how time takes on an alternate beat without app notifications. I read avidly in the evenings and thought a lot. I thought in particular about walking.
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When the moment of stress takes hold, the mind is at flight. I have come to measure and understand my level of stress in relation to my ability to sustain conscious awareness. Stress, for me is defined by a sense that I have lost a measured observance of my thoughts and how time passes. I often find that bad habit patterns that I may have under control - for the most part anyway - resurface in times of stress. I act by impulse. I act out of fear and I act unknowingly. Here is a podcast for you to listen to in moments of stress. I hope its useful.
American writer and poet, Donald Hall, wrote a melancholic, self-reflective essay in The New Yorker late last year titled, “Between Solitude and Loneliness”. He writes about his solitary life on an isolated farm he has inherited from his late grandmother. He is in his late eighties at the time, a widower with little contact to the outside world other than through his craft, and a weekly visit from a housekeeper. He is perfectly content. He looks back on his life in this essay to unearth and then ponder over a succession of circumstances in which he has cherished and sought solitariness.