I don’t know about you, but I am absolutely loving the outdoor blogger interview series! I have learned so much and the inspiration I get each week is immense!
This week I am joined by In Which I, Jonathan. The fact that we both have a fondness (that could be too mild of a word) of tea and food makes him a perfect person to include in the interview series. Not that I am biased at all! Not only that, Jonathan is also a fan of long distance walking, microadventures, playing, learning and traveling. He also has a PhD! This year he is taking a very enviable trip to Australia with his partner, but I’ll leave him to tell you more about that! Oh and did I mention he loves tea?!
Hi Jonathan and thank you for taking part in my interview series. Let’s grab a flask of tea and get right to it. Where in the world are you and please describe yourself in just one sentence.
I’m in East Sussex, UK, and I like learning things, doing stuff, creating bits and pieces . . . and eating.
Haha, great answer! Simple and from what I know about you; very you. Now that I ave warmed you up with the simple questions, let’s get a bit more into it. What is your first memory of being a lover of the great outdoors?
I grew up in the bush in southeastern Australia (country stolen from the Krowathunkooloong/GunaiKurnai people), so my earliest memories often feature that landscape. I remember the taste of the clay on our property, which I used to eat when I was a toddler, and the wonderful petrichor smell of thunderstorms in summer. I remember mucking around in the Snowy River at the bottom of my parents’ place, on the beaches at Cape Conran and in the Yeerung River. But probably the first time I thought of myself as someone who “loved” the outdoors was when I was about eight or nine years old and had my first argument with a classmate about the ethics of logging. (I was a baby environmentalist in a town where many families’ livelihoods were based on the destruction of said environment – I got into a lot of arguments!)
What a fantastic image of you as the baby environmentalist. Gosh, what an exciting and varied place to have grown up. I can picture the experience from your description. East Sussex is a far throw from the bush of Australia what brought you this way? And while you’re at it, when did you really get into the great outdoors?
Well, I hated sports as a teenager and resented being forced to take part in them. I wasn’t a great fan of the bushwalks my parents dragged us out on, either: I would have preferred to read a book. It wasn’t until my mid-20s, travelling around Europe with my partner, that I discovered the joys of walking, of seeing places you can only get to on foot. We ended our trip in the UK, and I was amazed by the rights of way network here – thanks especially to the Ramblers for keeping them open and the Ordnance Survey for mapping them. This access to the countryside played a part in us moving here about five years ago and I still get a thrill being able to wander around the countryside, through fields and woods, past farms and houses, along canals and coastlines, past ruins and over mountains . . .
It is amazing how long it takes us to find that appreciation of being both active and the great outdoors! I think most people discover it in their 20s too. What a great way to discover that passion too – especially the rights of way network. I really enjoy that it was among your reasons for staying in the UK. I can certainly agree with the thrill of the variety of places to explore and wander too. What is it that you enjoy so much about spending time outdoors?
So many things! Generally, spending time outside helps me feel connected to place and happier in myself. Going on mulit-day walks feels a bit like recalibrating. Also, I’m a stickybeak, so I enjoy poking my nose in places and finding out what’s going on.
Nothing wrong with being a stickybeak! It is being curious and nosy that helps discover fun new places and often overlooked things. I’m the same. Other than having a jolly good nose around, what other activities do you do?
I like to see new places so I tend to enjoy activities that help with that. I love walking, particularly long distance walks, and especially journeys that are structured around some kind of theme (walking across Wales, or following a river from source to sea). Over the last couple of years, I’ve got more into wild camping (inspired by Alastair Humphreys) and wild swimming (inspired by Roger Deakin’s book Waterlog). I also like the process of documenting time spent outdoors – whether that’s writing, photography, drawing, video or audio.
Walking really does help you to discover more of a place whether in the city or the countryside. I love the idea of having a theme too, I have never really looked at it that way and will certainly be adding it into our adventures in the future, thanks! I’m also going to check out Alastair and Roger too. I think the documenting is also quite and important part of the journey too as you pay attention to the small things. It is one of the things that I particularly like about your blog posts.
Now Jonathan, are there any activities that you enjoy but are not so good at? Go on, dig the dirt!
I love the idea of cycle touring, but I’m not a particularly good cyclist and I don’t have a bike. When I do cycle, I find it all very uncomfortable. I have a great time kayaking and canoeing, but I’m definitely no expert. And while I enjoy taking photos and am OK with composition, I don’t know much about the technical side of things. The list goes on . . . I’d love to try so many things – like kite surfing, paragliding, SUPing, via ferrata, rock climbing, whitewater rafting, dancing, coasteering, caving – most of which I’m sure I’d be terrible at! For one thing, I’m scared of heights (or rather, of falling). Plus I have no interest in doing training/exercise in any context other than practicing the actual thing I want to do (I still hate playing team sports, going to gyms and swimming pools). Oh, and it all costs money. But probably the main thing stopping me from doing a lot of things is that I don’t want to do them by myself and I can’t always find someone to join me.
Cycle touring does have a good feeling to it, I often think about it. Like you I no longer have a bike (well, I don’t think a beach cruiser is quite the right kind!) You’d only be terrible when you start. We’re all beginners until we’re not any more. It sounds to me like a lot of adventures or bucket list items to be ticked off in the future. (maybe you could recruit for people to try them with you? A challenge for the year perhaps? I know I’d be up for some if I’m down your way)
On the topic of challenges, what has been your greatest challenge?
Recently? Finding a pair of good walking shoes! I wear custom orthotics and it is such a pain trying to find a pair of boots that fit properly. Good grief! Less flippantly, I’m not sure what my biggest outdoorsy challenge has been. Personally, I’m proudest of completing my PhD – most other things seem less difficult in comparison!
I have to say that both your boot challenge and your PhD are certainly good enough answers for me. (boot buying is not as easy as it might seem!) My sister has a PhD so I know the craziness that goes with it. I see why everything else pales in comparison. Now that you’re all Doctor’d up, do you have any more challenges for 2017 and beyond?
Yes! In March-April, my partner and I are heading to Australia to attempt to walk down the Snowy River. We’ll start at the river’s source on Australia’s highest mountain, head out through some pretty remote farm, bush and gorge country and eventually make our way down to the sea. The river’s a bit under 450km long, but we’ll end up walking further than that, with detours and whatnot. A lot of the walk won’t be on paths or trails, as there are none; instead, we’ll be scrambling down the river bed, bushbashing along the hillsides and probably wading through the water in places. There are only a couple of small towns at the start and a couple at the end of the river, so there’ll be quite a few nights under the stars (or rather under the ultralight ripstop nylon of our fancy new tent). We’ve been plotting this trip for a while, and it’ll definitely be the most adventurous thing I’ve attempted so far.
Oh my gosh, that sounds absolutely amazing! That is certainly going to be an incredible adventure and one that will be perfect to share on your blog too. What an opportunity to get your documenting skills on the go too. I am feeling rather jealous, I have to say! Maybe on a bit less adventurous note, what three tips could you give someone starting out in long distance walking?
- Look after your feet. If you’re just starting out, then comfy sneakers will do (no point spending loads of money if you’re not sure you’ll continue). But when you’re ready to step up a notch and do longer walks on more difficult terrain with a heavier pack, then walk a few miles to a good outdoors shop (your feet will swell a bit) and get some boots properly fitted. Cotswold Outdoors is pretty reliable in the UK. Wear good socks (I prefer a wool blend for a less-stinky experience). Rub and stretch your feet when you get the chance – even a few minutes at lunch time or the end of the day will make a difference. If you think you’re getting a blister, for goodness sakes, stop and put a plaster on it!
- It’s not a competition. Admire the view, have a cup of tea, stop to take photos, swing on the rope swing, eat, have an other cup of tea, visit the gallery/church/market/historic site, dangle your feet in a stream, more food, more tea. There’ll always be someone walking faster and further than you – so if you must make it a competition, make it one to see who can enjoy it the most!
- Prepare. Practice walking a similar distance in a day, practice walking with your pack, practice walking two days in a row. Even doing this once or twice before you set off on a longer walk will help you figure things out: which bits of you get sore and might need extra stretching, what you don’t need to take “just in case”, if your coat really is waterproof, whether you are prone to a post-lunch slump and how to get through it . . . how much tea you can actually put away in a day . . .
Yay! Plentiful mentions of tea! You really are a guy after my own heart. I have to add to the last statement an awareness of how much tea you can hold when far from a suitable toilet or bush! Great tips though, Jonathan, perfect for a starter to get out there without having to spend a fortune on kit or travelling to new locations. A great start for those with an interest, but what would you say to someone new or reluctant to spending some time outdoors?
One great way to get out and about is to incorporate outdoors time into something you already enjoy. If you like history, go on a walking tour of an historic town or city. If you’re a foodie, design a weekend tour where you walk or cycle from breakfast to lunch to dinner at great cafes and restaurants. Follow the footsteps of a much loved writer or artist. Visit the locations of your favourite films or TV shows. Have a picnic somewhere new. If you support a particular charity, challenge yourself as part of your fundraising. If you like your adventures a little more cerebral or abstract, try a walk in the style of Richard Long.
Having said that, I know there are valid reasons for not feeling comfortable taking part in outdoors activities. Some people may have experienced (or fear they will experience) negative reactions like fatphobia, sexism, homophobia, transphobia or racism; they may have an illness or disability that makes it harder to access the outdoors (or harder to do so safely); they may not have much disposable income for travelling. I have found it helpful to (a) read accounts of other people in similar situations to mine who have done (or are doing) interesting outdoorsy things and (b) go out with people who I know and trust to look out for me.
What great tips and some that love doing too – especially on an urban wander or two. I hadn’t heard of walking in the style or Richard Long, but it is right up my street – I think there may be some blog posts from my side on that note! Thanks!
On a more serious note though, you make a very good point about other reasons holding people back from enjoying the outdoors. It is one of the reasons I personally like to share cheap and free ways to enjoy it in your own locality and also for sharing other bloggers, like you, who can share different experiences and tips. Definitely great tips for working through those issues, too.
On the note of things holding us back from getting out there, how do you stay motivated to get some outside adventures in during the colder darker months?
With difficulty! It’s not so much the cold as the mud and short days that put me off. But a few things help motivate me to get outside. If I’m training for a long trek, like I am meant to be doing now, I tell myself that this is good practice for the days when it’s windy, cold, wet, dreary. I won’t be able to avoid it when I’m “on the trail” so I might as well get used to it now. More generally, socialising and food are two great motivators. We do a short walk with a local LGBT group once a month, which I always enjoy – not least because we always end up at a pub for lunch. And, like with many things, the hardest bit is starting, so I know that once I trick myself into going outside I’ll probably want to stay out for a while!
It is good to see that even the most outdoorsy of us find it a bit of a challenge in the winter too. I do love a bit of rain and mud myself – but I am a Northern girl! Using your upcoming Australian adventure as a motivator along with food and socialising is a great idea too. (so long as the latter doesn’t take the lead!)
Going walking with your local LGBT group is a great idea and one that helps with our talking in the previous question too. (for those of you in Manchester do a google as there are LOADS! The Gay Outdoor Club look like fab place to start)
And finally, before I let you go, what was it that motivated you to start your blog?
I actually started my blog mainly as a place to archive the articles I was writing for local papers while freelancing and volunteering a couple of years ago. But gradually the outdoorsy content took over. I still occasionally post other things – recipes and suchlike. It’s been great to find a bunch of other people who are into similar things through the Outdoor Bloggers network.
What a great start to your blog and a lovely evolution too. I have to agree that it is great finding other outdoor bloggers as it can be a challenge at times to find something that is more down to earth – literally! Journalist too?! Jonathan, how many strings do you have to your bow?
I am so pleased to have been able to include you in my interview series and have loved getting to know you better, hearing your brilliant tips and learning about your amazing (still jealous!) adventure to Aus this year. I really hope that I will be able to interview you again in the future and can’t wait to read about your adventures and challenges this year. Thank you!
To find out more about In Which I, Jonathan, you can find him here:
Aaaaand, as always you can find the other interview in my series by following this link!