Friday, 14 September 2012

We Are.

As the blade cuts through my chest, two words appear from nowhere, echoes from a memory of days just gone.

'We are.'

As the surgeon inserts his fingers inside the wound and pulls at my skin with controlled, but forceful, tugs, separating it from the muscle beneath, the mantra I recite to control my fear are two words repeated over and over.

'We are.'

As the electrical leads are guided into my heart - when the giddy rush of nausea rolls over me like a spent wave in the shore-break - it's the image two words contain that I cling to.

'We are.'

As I'm pushed on the hospital bed back to Ward C, freshly 'enabled' and feeling sore, into a bay in which Tammy waits nervously, it's the truth of two words that makes us both tearful.

'We are.'

As I leave Seathwaite, walk through the farm and head steadily along the track to Stockley Bridge, it seems strange to be carrying such a large pack. Recent years in the Lakes have consisted of a certain kind of adventure - long days running across ridges and through valleys - fast and light - enough gear and food for several hours, but little more. This trip, however, is different. The Berghaus on my back is a proper walker's sack, laden with tent, sleeping bags and provisions for two.

I walk beside Grains Gill, look down to the little man next to me, and can't help but feel proud. Lightning's got his own sack - doesn't like to feel left out - and together we're heading for the mountains. I'd promised a night out like this a while ago, but the summer had almost slipped by. The confirmed date of an impending heart operation, however, had squared me up. Tam and I had abandoned existing plans for the last weekend in August and we'd driven up to Keswick with the superheroes on the Friday night, hoping the foul weather would clear so that I could keep the promise I'd made so many months ago.

And now we're heading for the hills, leaving everyone behind, to spend a night together in a one-man tent in the heart of nowhere. Excited beyond belief.

As we stroll down the valley, the day reveals its beauty. The previous night had been horrendous - cold, wet, depressing. The morning had shrouded itself in low-lying mist and dense hill-side fog, but by mid-afternoon the world had come alive.

Crossing Stockley Bridge, we're reminded of what's been before. Water rushes between rocks, agitated, forceful and threatening. We take a moment to look back on where we've been and press on with the steep climb beside Taylorgill Force. We talk about where we're heading and memorable days we've spent in this magical part of the North-West. We talk about getting up early the next morning and heading towards Wasdale to see a friend pass through on his Bob Graham. We talk about everything and nothing. Freed from the distractions of the everyday - television, computers, i-pods, kindles, people - our conversations go everywhere and nowhere, rambling, insightful, stupid. We walk side by side, sitting on the occasional boulder for a rest or a drink, before heading steadily upwards towards Styhead Tarn.

It's a buzz to be going in the opposite direction. All the walkers we pass are heading off the hills, back to their cars, their tents, their B and B's - their day's adventure near an end. But not us. Ours is just beginning.

The sun continues its slow descent, and soon we're at the stretcher box at the top of Styhead Pass. It won't be long before we reach our destination for the night.

Bearing left, we start up the path that rises towards Esk Hause. The indomitable bulk of Great End bears upon us to our right as we make steady progress. I watch, wilting a bit under the unfamiliar weight of my pack, as Lightning zips ahead. He's a good lad, I think, they're both good kids. Lightning takes after me - quiet, thoughtful, with a love of the outdoors. Whirlwind's more like her mum - a blur of energy and attitude. They're both full of life, filled with wonder.

Whilst struggling to catch up, I imagine the days we'll spend together. All our tomorrows. Long days in the mountains, just the four of us. I can't help but smile.

Further up the path, we crest a slight rise and Sprinkling Tarn comes into view for the first time. Although a popular wild camping spot, I'm chuffed that there's no one else there. We look for a good place to pitch the tent and it doesn't take long to choose a broad, flat piece of ground on the far side of the water. Ten minutes later, our home for the night is ready.

I busy myself sorting out the mats and bags while Lightning legs it to the base of a nearby crag. Like a mountain goat, he scrambles up on all fours until he's at the top, standing tall, arms out wide and shouting for my attention. I wave up to him, sit on the grass and just watch him clambering around for ages and ages.

The sun sinks lower. Lightning returns to the tent. We chat for a bit, share a couple of sausage rolls, and he fishes in his sack for his Nintendo.

Meanwhile, I sit in the foyer of the tent and watch the world turn.

Mist rises from the Wasdale valley and the sun starts to disappear. For the next twenty minutes, I sit, enthralled, as the mist rises and falls, one minute dense and thick, one minute will o' the wisp. The fading light paints faint rainbows on the surface of the clouds. I look at Lightning, the Nintendo on his lap, still switched off.

'Wow, Dad!' he says to me. 'That was ace!'

I nod my head and laugh.

'Dad, was that the best thing in the world or what?' he goes on.

I laugh again. 'Yeah,' I say and then copy his current favourite phrase, 'That was ace!'

Sitting together, lost in this, rarely before has a moment been so special.

I awake in the small hours and stare at the roof of the tent. It takes a good time for my eyes to adjust to the darkness. Lightning's fast asleep. His long legs are draped over mine, his whole body out of his sleeping bag and curled in a way which means I'm left with a space that's barely a foot wide. Finding it impossible to sleep and without wanting to wake the little man beside me, I lie awake and think of the day we've spent together. My mind wanders, too, towards the other half of who we are, back in the big tent together in Keswick. Whirlwind will be tucked up with Tam in our side of the tent. No doubt she'll have complained all evening about Lightning spending the night out with me - 'It's Not Fair!- but she's still young and her time will come. She'll have stomped her feet and stuck out her bottom lip until Tam would have told her to stop being a little madame. Then she would have cried a couple of tears, before going over, saying, 'Sorry, Mummy,' and giving her a big kiss. I think of my special girls, just a few miles and a world away from where we are. Then, through the darkness, I look at the sleeping boy beside me, his body stretched out, his hair over his face - our little blond boy.

I remember his words from earlier and I smile and shake my head. 'No, mister - you were wrong there,' I say to myself.

The best thing in the world?

We are.

1 comment:

  1. Magic mate. My daughter is 9 months old. She's already trekked with me, asleep in the running stroller or sling, through a few bits of Oxfordshire. Can't wait to take her on some serious rambles.