I went shopping today. I decided that it gets pretty fucking cold here at night, and this is referred to as 'nothing' by the locals, therefore I shall take some notice of all this talk of "around -20 celcius is the coldest. It can get down to -30, but not normally for more than a week"....
It's pretty windy here, so wind chill is very much a real issue. When I walk back after dark, anytime from 6pm really, I normally need to wear my fleecy hat and have my (pretty good thickness) coat done up to, and over, my chin leaving me with not much Brock poking out; about eyebrows to nose-worth. Admittedly, due to my hatred of being hot when I get to places, I only have a T-shirt on under my coat, but even so, it has surprised me that the nominal 2-3 degrees that it is at present in the day can feel so much colder at night. England is pretty mild when that sort of thing is demonstrated. So I don't have enough warm clothes. I am going to get a few of my other coats from England (and warm socks and the like) when I go back in a week or so, but I will still be left fairly short on actual warm clothing. I think I will be ok for wandering around the city in my current jacket, as long as I get something warm in a layer or two underneath, but should I decide to go for decent walks (as is likely), or if we do more testing at cold circuits like the other week, I will need something more substantial. So I went off looking for an outdoor type store to get an idea of some prices.
Just down the road from where I am staying is where most of them are situated. So I go wandering in. Now, I normally hate shopping; I just can't be arsed. I usually end up wearing clothes until they either die or someone buys me something else. I just don't care about clothes, really. Too much hassle. But I have always loved outdoor/expedition kit. I can poke for hours at tiny little cool stoves, clever knives and multi-tools and the like. I even get interested in these freeze dried packs of food and the ridiculously small towels. Something I have always loved is sleeping bags. The idea of being toasty warm and cut off from the outside has always appealed to me since I was a kid. I used to love sitting in my tent when I was young, all curled up and cosy, and watching thunderstorms through a gap in the tent flap. Being that close to serious weather and being protected/separated appealed to me. That feeling started to come back as I kept squeezing sleeping bags. Then as I was looking at the coats, I noticed (for the first time) that I had much the same reaction, and kept getting drawn to the biggest and most impressive coats and trying them on and marveling at how bloody warm they were. I was literally getting too hot and sweating as I was pulling the second sleeve all the way on, they were incredible with their goose feather filling, quilted lining and numerous flaps, velcro and poppers to keep the elements out. I was talking to the woman behind the desk about one jacket (reduced to $500... It was a proper arctic explorer type one) and we were both trying to work out what all the flaps and stuff did, when I caught myself saying "I wish I was somewhere cold enough to justify this sort of jacket". We laughed about it; that and the massive price.
Then I wandered off and realised I'd meant it. I did want to know what it was like to be somewhere proper cold and be wrapped up and safe from it, yet still able to wander about and be nosey. I wanted to be able to explore. Be somewhere new and remote. I had never thought about it too much - understanding myself has never been a priority with me, and it is a hell of a fucking challenge, to be honest, so I haven't bothered - but as I started to look around at the things I was drawn to to start poking, there was very much a trend. The idea of being self-sufficient. Being self reliant. Having the kit that meant nothing could get to me. That meant I could disappear off into the middle of nowhere and just cope.
Then all the other things started to add up. I've always loved tents and camping, and having a light tent that was totally functional and had no extra weight or frills, just did the job and weighed nothing. Bags and rucksacks, too. I always liked bags that had the right amount of pockets and loops to carry the things I needed - fit for purpose, if you will, like my fascination with Swiss Army knives and multi-tools. The ability to have all you need with you and accessible with the minimum of fuss. This particular obsession has served me particularly well in my various jobs, as packing a race team into a truck is a skill that if done wrong can mean either you can't carry enough kit, or that unloading and loading takes an age. I'd invest the time, each new truck I had to work with, to make brackets, shelves, tie down points and straps, cubby holes and gadgets that meant that everything was packed easily, quickly, in the right order and with the minimum of fuss. I'd try to make the team (usually by necessity) completely self sufficient when on the road away from the workshop. I alway assumed it was from my inherent logical nature borne of the fact that without it, we just took too bloody long to get anything done, but now I see it is rooted much further back. This is something I have had with me since I was younger than I can remember, this desire to be totally efficient and be able to cope with anything.
I have always wanted to pack a canoe and just paddle down a river to see whr it goes (it was always Canadian in my imagination, as it happens) and stop and camp wherever I liked on the way. The challenge of packing the right kit and making it work appeals very much. I saw a programme some time ago of a guy that paddled from source to sea, as well as the canoeing programmes of Ray Mears (both filmed in Canada) and they really made me want to do something similar. Ray Mears also fascinates me generally with his programmes. I'm starting to see that this 'self reliance' and learning to survive/function with the bare minimum hugely appeals to me. Of overcoming. I've always enjoyed camping, but have perhaps allowed my own comfort zones to hold me back. I have recently become even more restless, if that is possible, with the idea of making some sort of camper van style vehicle that is as energy efficient as possible and working out how much income I would need to be able to just go. And keep going. To just explore and not have to give a fuck where I end up at the end of each month. If I had any sort of non-geographically dependent income, I would be in it right now, I am quite sure of it.
So what's going on? I am fascinated and very good at the whole packing efficiently and intelligently. The idea of having to rely on my ingenuity and kit appeals to me. I'm also drawn to being on my own out in the country - although I have been fucking abysmal at actually doing it, very often through work pressures, but mostly through pure laziness or apathy at actually organising it. When I have done it (my camping trip in Cornwall, for instance) I have really enjoyed it. I felt so relaxed and very much enjoyed wandering the cliffs and just...looking. I'm glad I went so late in the season, as bumping into other people annoyed the shit out of me. It felt like they were spoiling it.
So what does all this tell me? I'm not sure I am in any physical shape to be an 'explorer' as such. But it is chewing at me, and the fascination is clearly deeply ingrained. This has been so blindingly obvious in hindsight that I almost find myself assuming that I had convinced myself in the past that it was a pipe dream/daft to try and realise any of this, but I'm not sure I have even consciously considered it. I was planning a long walking trip across the north of England (along Hadrian's wall) for this summer just gone if I had still been in the UK, so maybe I should keep the momentum up on that concept, even if the location needs to change to somewhere in Canada. No Roman remains to look at here, but it's a hell of a country.
This is weird, and maybe it's not obvious why this has been so important to me to talk about. But I do, genuinely, know very little about what I actually want from anything, including me or my life. It is all a big haze for me, borne of repressed emotions from very young that pretty much means I have little or no feedback to things. An entirely well timed text exchange this afternoon demonstrated that from my (again) reflex comment:
"So are you excited about your trip?" (to Spain and back to England).
Me: "Nah. When have you ever known me be excited about anything. It's only another trip."
Hmmmm. It's true. I have been to all these places - lived in Italy, driven all over Europe, some of the US and now Canada and it just doesn't get a reaction. Not an emotional one anyway. I like seeing new things, but I never sit back and say "Wow, that was cool. I got to see all of (insert area of the world here)". I just don't get excited.
I think I need to try. Maybe force the issue. Get off my arse and try and find a way of exploring my current country a bit and push my safety net a bit. See what happens.
Knowing my luck, I'll get eaten by a fucking bear.