On lying about being the outdoor type

Sunday Blog 127 – 17th March 2024

The incomparable Joan Didion wrote, “I’ve lost track of a few people I used to be.” It sounds witty and funny and kind of relatable until its profound truth smacked me in the face from my old journal. My words from August 2002 stare back at me from a journal I hand wrote. In it, I expressed “my urge to play golf.”

I have no idea what happened to the whimsy of golfing, have no recollection of wanting to play the time-honoured game, also known as “a good walk spoiled.” I know at the time I was half-crazed with the cabin fever of a solo mother with a three-year-old, and perhaps the concept of sauntering around a pleasant grassy hour for hours on end was the appeal.

The same diary entry indicates my similar urge to “camp.” That I do remember, and how my initial enthusiasm was curbed by the long walk to the ablution block at night. I would look longingly at the cabins in the campground, but what was the point of that? Darling husband insists (jokingly, of course) that I promised to camp in our wedding vows. I didn’t, but the celebrant who had carefully researched our shared interests and dreams, mentioned it in the ceremony, my interest in camping captured like a bug in amber. Each anniversary is an opportunity for him to remind me of my broken vow, my false promises.

Fast forward a decade or two and my self-knowledge still seems quite elusive. In 2022, I booked a weekend of creativity and walking months in advance. Sure that I’d spend the intervening months getting “match fit” with regular walks and even hikes, I clicked the button and leaned back in my chair, feeling confident and already a little hardier. What really happened was that on the way to the retreat, I screeched into the car park of a large shopping centre, then quickly (time was of the essence), I spent an eye-watering amount of money buying hiking boots and trousers, and “I’ll take the socks too thanks”. The assistant may have been on commission, and I greedily accepted all of her cross-selling and up-selling suggestions. She was beaming by the time I left.

There were three walks on that retreat, but I only did one of them, the least punishing one. But I looked mighty fine in my hiking boots and trousers.
And then there’s yesterday, Saturday morning, which I decided was the day I would finally start doing laps in the ocean. Having procrastinated away most of the Summer, just as the season is turning, I could deny the urge no longer. As I packed my swimmer’s bag, I visualised myself slicing through the calm ocean water. Sure, I would start small, just from the groyne to the pontoon and back. I should make that relatively short distance, there and back, without stopping.

What actually happened was that I managed a fairly brisk freestyle stroke for, oh, about 15 metres before stopping altogether, then, gasping, carrying on with breaststroke. There were many more stops between the pontoon, alternating between bursts of freestyle and lags of breaststroke, and a moment or two just floating and gasping. I made it there and back, emerging from the water heaving with the effort.

Will I do it again? It’s too early to call, although this morning I’d reverted to my short walk and a dip in the ocean before coffee. I left the goggles and racing bathers at home.

This chastening gap between who I really am and who I want to be is, well, chastening.
But even now, there’s a corner of me that thinks maybe it’s a bit late in the season for swimming but what if I just purchase me some walking poles to go with my hiking boots? Surely, I will automatically become a regular hiker, one that strides ahead, never complains, waits patiently for the ones lagging behind. Surely I won’t be the one sweating, cursing and bringing up the rear? Or the one staying at home reading a novel?

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