Ah yes, the great outdoors, everyones* favourite topic.
When you’ve gone, very suddenly, ‘full circle’, from enthusiastic football-crazy, basketball charging, mountain bike loving teenager, into a wheelchair bound teenager who’s nye on 100% reliable on others to get around, then gradually growing up into a lanky ‘lets run up that hill’, twenty something, your experience of the outdoors feels pretty different.
When recounting the ‘I fell off my bike story’, people usually tell me how lucky I am. To be alive, to have done, and do, what I do. Yeah fair enough.
Am I lucky that my helmet saved my life, that the 15% chance to survive odds got overturned (mostly thanks to the NHS), that therapy worked and I’m “normal people”, that I can now run/cycle/scramble/paddle to my hearts’ content? Yeah absolutely.
But I think what I’m most thankful for, is the way being without has now fostered a deeper understanding of the why.
Why it is so incredible, so enjoyable, so scarily wondrous.
Being able to move in and be mobile across landscapes that are bumpy, technical, exhausting and natural is actually quite something. Mobility is quite something. Being mobile enough to get up a hill is outright phenomenal.
Standing at the top of a hill, whatever the height, be it Arthur’s seat or Ben Nevis, pausing and appreciating what’s just happened, offers a profound sense of recognition.
A recognition that what you are capable of doing is quite extraordinary. Yeah fine, physically there will always be someone faster/fitter/stronger than you. But independent mobility, in whatever form that is for you, really should not be taken for granted. To have that ability to physically move up, across or down a stretch of land is wondrous.
I remember being out in my wheelchair (I’m sure we gave it a name but I cant remember), getting ‘some fresh air’, my mum pushing me round a local riverside walk and feeling an incredible sense of frustration, a horrible confinement.
But the sound of the rippling river that flowed next to us, eased anxieties of being different and of being disabled. Somehow my thoughts embodied that river that flowed freely. There is an inherent escapism that engulfs us when ‘out there’, it’s very difficult to put in to words but an innate sense of freedom overawes most of my time spent in our incredible natural environment. Nature is wonderful for me, because it never judges you.
It rarely invites, it just is. It is, what it is.
I lost the full use of my legs for what felt like quite a long time and I think now being able to lug my pasty spaghetti legs around has given me an, at times, overwhelming appreciation but also a fragility about how easily things can be taken away. A miss-placed steer of your bike and you’re off. There are no masculinised feelings of heroic domination, just a quiet inward appreciation of what is, what you have and what can so easily be lost.
I run up Arthurs seat several times each week, ascending on different footpaths and each time that sense of appreciation, of wonder at what has just been done, never quite goes away. There’s always a little inward nod of recognition and sensibility. An inward gratitude of what is actionable for my legs.
It is wondrous. I really feel that, I’m in awe when I’m in the mountains, cycling along a coastline or paddling along a loch. That magical wonder returns most times I’m ‘out’, but there is a fear. A vulnerability. A sense of uncontrollability, truly.
I think that is why it’s so special.
Wonder can be a grinning smile, a thrilling whoop or a leap of joy, or it can be a sinking feeling of angst, of feeling insufficient, that the journey is a step too far, that you’re not capable. Wonder is joy and fear at the same time.
Intermingling and overlapping.
Recently I’ve been riding my bike a bit more**, and this empowered feeling of independent mobility is there.
Pedalling is a simple act. It sounds trivial and obvious but it’s incredible how such a simple thing can give you so much confidence, enjoyment and freedom.
At a time of global confinement and a societal yearning to ‘get back out there’. Now is perhaps a nice time to reflect on the why.
Maybe after such reflection, an understanding of the why can help with the how.
How do we ensure the natural world thrives alongside us? How do we get people re-connected?
One cant be sure of all the answers.
But I imagine wonder might have something to do with it.
*by everyone I mean white, able-bodied, middle class males
** how great are quiet &/or closed city roads at the moment?!