For some people the idea of spending the night alone in the woods is probably not very high on their ‘to-do’ lists. It probably falls off all together if you were to stipulate it needed to be on a near-freezing night in February.
A case of calendar confusion on my part had unfortunately dashed mine and Andy’s original, grander plans for February, and, with only one weekend left in the month to do anything, we couldn’t make things work to get out together. A real shame all round since we were hoping for bigger and better in 2016. Sometimes, though, just finding a gap in a busy schedule and taking time out is all that matters so, to avoid February vanishing without so much as a whiff of adventure, I headed out alone to a local haunt where I knew I could get set up with ease and in the dark if it came to it.
Being left alone with your thoughts and imagination in the middle of a dark wood is a dangerous thing; it is for me anyway. I wouldn’t say I’m freaked out by the dark, but it’s also fair to say that I’m not entirely comfortable with the prospect. I’m sure I’m not the only one. It only takes a snapping stick to set you on edge for a few seconds until you work it through in your brain that it was probably a fox or badger.
Having set up and gathered some firewood by about six, I was struggling to eek out the time before going to bed! I strung things out until about seven before I started dinner – my usual favourite Thai curry – and got a small fire going. It was an effort just big enough to provide some warmth, but small enough so as not to attract any unwanted attention.
By nine I’d burnt through the drier stuff and was really struggling to rationalise being out of bed. So I made the fire safe to be left alone and settled down for the night. I must have been tired as the next time I checked my phone it was nearly 4am. After that I didn’t really sleep properly again and dosed on and off until my alarm at 6.30.
With no rain overnight and temperatures a couple of degrees above freezing, I was fortunate enough to be packing up a virtually dry tarp in the morning. I was also pleased that my more permanent repair to the slashed Thermarest had seemed to hold as I was still a full inch off the floor when I woke up! I opted to make breakfast at a nearby viewpoint, sacrificing shelter from the increasing wind for gaining a better view of the surrounding hills.
Sitting on the bench with porridge and tea gave me some time to appreciate my local patch. Sometimes it’s all to easy to overlook what’s on my doorstep as I race through it to work. I guess it’s a complacency we all experience. It was just interesting to sit and watch the cars below, work out where tracks went on the hills opposite or where the houses I could see were in relation to where I cycle. For example, I’d never before realised you could see the tower on Box Hill from there. Mainly because I’ve never just been up there and sat and looked before.
As much as just sitting there was pleasurable it was also bloody freezing in the increasingly biting wind. I packed my mug and stove back into my Stem Cell, threw the porridge pot in my bag and headed for home, back to the relative mayhem of swimming lessons, supermarkets and kids’ birthday parties. That afternoon, while kids screams echoed all around me at ‘fun in the foam’, I closed my eyes and was once again looking at those hills for a few fleeting seconds at least.