I am braver than I thought, it seems. Yesterday, I packed the camping gear I'll be taking on my big run and went on a solo campout. I left the house without any money or bank card in the morning so my original plan, to go to Oxshott Woods was scuppered. I needed to do something free. I mulled over what was within reach. I also needed to be able to get home for free in the morning.
I left work at 7.15pm and headed for Hammersmith using the bike hire scheme I'm signed up to then headed towards my old university, Roehampton. At uni, I went through a phase of waking up early and cycling around Richmond Park to watch the sunrise then heading back to shower and go to lectures. I also ran in Richmond Park a lot when I first started running so I am familiar with suitable hiding spots where one might stealthily camp without being spotted.
It was about 7.45pm by the time I started running from Hammersmith and I knew I needed to cover about five miles to get to the park. I then had to find a good camping spot, eat dinner and set up camp, all before this threatening grey cloud and insistent wind turned into darkness and rain.
One thing that came as a shock was how much heavier it is to carry camping gear than the normal stuff I take with me to work. Although there's a waist strap which moves most of the weight down onto my hips, I'm still strapped fairly tightly to the bag via my shoulders and there is this inevitable squashing down of one's back that gets very tiring, very quickly. I just kept saying to myself, "You need to do these few miles. This is the first run where it will feel this heavy. You'll be stronger next time and it will feel easier."
I ploughed on, stopping to walk sometimes and try to stretch my back and shoulders to stop the squashy feeling. As the clouds started to race faster through the sky, making it feel dark, I reached the gate to the park and immediately cut across the grass, away from the road. As I looked ahead, there was a pleasing little copse of trees at the top of a gradual hill. They looked quite dense and I was sure I could tuck in somewhere and be unseen for the night.
After a twenty minute walk, crossing two small streams and getting whacked in the face by a tree, I happened across a little clearing, flanked on one side by a massive tree and the other by little stacks of logs and twigs. There were loads of leaves on the ground that I figured would make things quite comfy. Sitting on my bag, I addressed the main issue - food. I had a tasty dinner in my bag and I hardly need to walk down the road before I'm thinking about how to replace those used calories. I sat eating, looking down from my little hidden spot in the trees and the sky was an amazing pink colour with silvery grey clouds rushing along it. The deer hung around having a look while I made a phone call to a friend, in which I excitedly announced that I was basically Tarzan.
"Jane," he corrected me.
"But why Jane! I want to be Tarzan. I don't know what Jane does. What does she do?"
"Ok, you can be Tarzan. But he's the man in the story. You should really be Jane."
"I don't care if he's the man. My bravery and heroicism knows no gender! I am like some kind of man-woman."
"You are ManWoman," he agreed, humouring me. I was, after all, only in Richmond Park, doing something plenty of people have done before in a very civilised part of the country.
"I am ManWoman!" I announced to the deer, after getting off the phone. "Don't mess with me."
Once I'd eaten, I set up camp, got in and zipped up, peeping out of the little window panel in my bivy bag. Opening the flask of ginger tea I'd brought, I heard the rain start, lightly at first, then quite heavy and insistent.
And, for reasons unknown to me, I lay there calm, comforted by the rain sounds and drifting pleasingly off to sleep. I only had slight nerves when I heard a car nearby but other than that, it was a rather enjoyable night. I woke just after sunrise to continuing sounds of rain so packed up most stuff and put on a rain jacket before getting out of the bivy. I nibbled breakfast while packing away, at which point my phone broke, then hauled the bag onto my back and made my (free) way home.
My body aches today from carrying the bag but I'm feeling good. I had expected to feel scared and thought I'd need to address that before going on my run but it turns out, I'm quite pragmatic. I remember thinking that being scared would be no good at all so I guess I just forced myself to be at ease.
I am ManWoman.