TGO Challenge 2021 preparations part 3 [click here for part 2]
Every now and then I read French philosophers. It makes me feel intelligent, after only a single paragraph. Last week I read Roland Barthes. He’s brilliant when talking about signs and language. He said of Jules Verne – the 19th century writer of adventures – that it’s not the adventures that are so appealing to the reader, it’s the compatibility with childhood. Let’s elaborate on that. Verne delights in the finite, on a ship’s deck, aboard a submarine, watching the wild world. I remember treating any piece of wasteland, like a building site in preparation, or the fringes of my granddad’s farm, as a world in itself, however small. My world. Indoors, any child builds huts and tents using chairs and bedlinen. The man-child walking the Highlands likes to hide in a tent, snug inside the sleeping bag while the storm (the infinite) batters the flysheet. From all this, I deduce that the TGO Challenge is not an adventure (almost everything is under control), it is rather a very nice celebration of things boys and girls like.*
Prospect and Refuge
25 years ago I read Yi Fu Tuan (a China-born American geographer) about the experience of landscape. He reduces the experience of landscape to two words: Prospect and Refuge. To rest, to plot the next move, man seeks refuge. To hunt and to conquer, man seeks prospect. You want the hilltop, and for that you go out on a limb, into the open. When tired, you seek the glen or the woods. Every lover of mountains recognises the relief when the tree line is reached. In Scotland, prospect and refuge are conveniently close together.
While summits are precisely located points, known to everyone, the camping spot doesn’t exist, you have to create it. I like that, the strictly private action that is the placement of a tent. On the TGO Challenge Route Sheet you have to fill in camp coordinates. But pinpointing a camping spot is a bridge too far: I need to see for myself where I make my home. I select an area, where I expect to find a good spot. I’m not ashamed to tell you I spend quite some time walking up and down the area, not necessarily because I cannot find a flat spot, but because I have to get used to the place, it has to feel right. Don’t ask me what that is, for who selects the camping spot? The child. Don’t expect it to be a rational thing.
Once you recognize what wild camping does for you, you can optimize it. The high camp unites prospect and refuge: safely inside the tent, looking down into the night between the hills, the lights of roads and ships on the horizon. And in the morning, you’re on top of the world right from the start. The low route disappoints: after resting and planning inside the shelter, no prospect is gained, because the safety of the glen is chosen over the ridges. Many Challengers complain of boredom on their low routes. For a reason. The child likes the snug tent, but its snugness is greatly enhanced by venturing out, and returning to it. I’d like to put it stronger: not venturing out eventually kills the tent’s attraction. Feeling vulnerable out on the hill? The lightweight tent is the perfect solution: whenever you feel you’ve had too much openness, you can turn prospect into refuge by just pitching it. Magic.
*an important condition: free will. There’s many children and adults living in tents involuntarily, in refugee camps or on the run. This kind of tent still provides refuge, but it’s anything but a celebration. Awfully privileged, wild camping in the hills…