Wisdom from the saddle

Readers of this blog will be familiar with the fact that in an average year, I hike a hell of a lot in spring, summer and autumn and not so much, if at all in winter. This then leaves me spending spring trying to remember what hill fitness feels like as I slog up the side of a mountain somewhere, wondering vaguely at the back of my mind what on earth I’m doing.

But not this year. Because this year, I’ve bought a bike! Yes, that’s right, I’ve now joined the countless legions of speed demons on two wheels, and I have no idea how I’ve survived all these years without one! Besides being a self-evidently civilised mode of transport and a whole new way of getting out and about in the great outdoors, it has the added bonus that every time I head out on it I get a decent cardio and leg workout, and the benefits for my hillwalking are already paying dividends, as a recent hike into Bwlch Nant Yr Arian demonstrated.

As with hiking though, I find cycling allows my mind to wander and I inevitably end up pondering the meaning of life. What life is actually about has been a subject that’s occupied my mind more than usual of late (and I freely admit I’m someone that spends a lot of time pondering it anyway). But what spurred this recent soul searching was happening upon a fragment of poetry as I cycled along the Ystwyth Valley Trail earlier today:

Hold fast to dreams, for if they die,

Life is a broken-wingéd thing, that cannot fly.

Rather than dreams I think it’s probably better to re-phrase the above (though it would butcher the poetry!) as ‘things to work toward.’ Without things to work toward you do become a bit listless in life, and, after events in August last year I’ve realised that I need new challenges to press on towards achieving. These will probably present themselves in time, but what is key for me is not to go off the boil, but also not to get too hung up on the detail. Let me explain.

A Catholic saint (I don’t know which one, but I probably ought to) once explained the difficulty in finding ‘the meaning of life’ as he described corporeal existence as essentially looking at the back of a tapestry. What we see around us in the confusion of life, particularly when we endure difficult or painful experiences, are the knots and loose threads, and only a semblance of the true image. In experiencing the rougher parts of life, the bits that don’t go according to our plan or our perception of ‘how it ought to be’ we traverse the knots, bumps and rough cuttings of the tapestry, but we don’t really ever get a full appreciation of the overall picture, in this life at least.

In the end, to my mind trying to work out the meaning of life stuck at home is rather pointless, as is trying to measure my life against anyone else’s. Doing so causes you to get lost in the detail, and lose focus on reality. I’ve seen my fair share of disappointment and my fair share of joy. I’ve got my health, a fantastic group of friends and colleagues, a great family and a beautiful place in which to live. I’ve already achieved one of my things to work toward this year just in having finally bought a bike, and hence not being a lumbering, wheezy wreck on the hill at the close of winter this year. The nights are now firmly drawing out, spring is approaching and though I’ve hit my thirties very differently to how I was expecting to, I hope I’m now a little wiser than I was at twenty. Most importantly of all, wherever I’ve been in life and wherever I go, I have good people around me, really sound and inspiring people. In that sense and in so many other ways, as I belt along through the scenery, slog up the hills and hammer down the drops, I’m a rich man.

So as the year goes on I’ll update this blog with the things I’m working toward, because it’s important not to go off the boil. At the same time I’ll be out in the wild places again, hitting the trail on foot or two wheels (or four hooves if I can get round to booking some horseriding lessons again!) and continuing to count my blessings, because to be honest, I’m a pretty lucky bloke. If I manage to find any more wisdom from the saddle on my travels I’ll post it here.

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