A good friend recently challenged me to get lost. I know, I took it that way too at first. Turns out she was trying to help me out. The challenge posed was once a month to get myself lost, alone, and to document what I find. The reasoning is simple. It is to discover new experiences, new locations (be it wild or not), and find oneself in situations that do not usually occur in day to day working life.
On a low following my return from India, I decided today would be a good day to start. Still jet lagged and with a cool 2 degrees recording on the thermometer, something not too strenuous may make for a fitting activity. My local hills are not usually a place I associate with feeling lost. They are well mapped, very populated, and so easy to navigate it would make the challenge more about trying to get lost than finding my way back.
That was until I began thinking about the challenge. It is not to push oneself to the limit – to climb the highest peak, or walk the longest distance – but to take time to discover something new by the act of feeling lost. I usually just romp up these hills to one or two of the three main peaks, take in a nice sunset and head back to the car with a feeling of warm familiarity that comes with a well known place. Today I decided to summit none of these peaks. Instead, a trough towards the north is considerably less interesting, far easier to walk, yet a place I had never really focussed on before. So that would be the task.
It was murky, breezy, and decidedly cold but after the limbs began to stretch out and warm up I found myself pounding through the forests beneath the hills with ease, a sense of anticipation underlying a fatigued body and mind. Stumbling across a disused mine, the first new experience enveloped me. A thin film of ice shimmered on the surface of the lake, beneath which the water plants rippled in unusual patterns as they were encapsulated by the cold winter day. Pushing forward I left the path and began to wonder through the trees. Older than me, the crippled and twisted branches of the forest were certainly a feature I had previously failed to experience in my endeavours to achieve instant gratification by climbing higher. Taking time to just listen, the flitter of birdsong and the creaking of branches made for a medicinal backdrop to a quiet and peaceful scene.
I realised I no longer could see the populous of dog walkers and hikers sticking to the well trodden paths. Nor could I hear them. Wondering further I hit a dead end in the bracken and could not push through, turning up to try and cut around the dense and thorn-rich undergrowth. This became decidedly steeper and the dense deciduous leaf bed made for heavy going until a cliff in front mark this as a closed route too. Questioning my next route out, I realised that this was the achievement.
I was lost.
Not massively, I knew roughly where I was and turning back would bring me to a major path in less than five minutes. However, taking time to explore an overlooked area of these hills had given me what I was challenged to find. I sat for a moment and felt a warmth grow over me realising that this task was going to push me to look further than I usually do. Either that or it was the flicker of a weak sun breaking through the seemingly impenetrable morning mist. Nodding at the dog-walkers on my descent, I grinned at the thought of finding a new area of the hills next time, and winking at the unclimbed summit above me I turned back down from where I came.