November 6, 2017 by Jason Phillips
I was used to roughing it in Europe, where the summers were baking, in my £9 asda tent, or sleeping in Albergues, squats and hostels. But in Wales in November with no tent, and no knowledge or experience of bushcraft, other than the hours I had spent watching Ray Mears from under my duvet, I was a little nervous.
I crossed many fields, the grass getting damper as the sun sank, wetting my trousers up to my knees. The glue Kris had applied to my old boots yesterday had started to crack and my socks were soaking through to my feet.
I come across a basher in the woods someone had made from slanted corrugated sheets which looked like a pretty damn good place to crash. Clouds were coming in, my guide had gone, the gloominess began to hang heavy. I noted on the map the basher in case I had to run back for cover, and ploughed through huge puddles on farm tracks due East. The sun sank suddenly at not even 5pm.
The threat of rain hung heavy, quickening my pace. Darkness quickly enveloped me. How far was I from home? Can’t have been more than eight miles. Should I battle on. Or should I stay in the woods and the fields and settle down for the night? I lost myself on the map, again. After a few hours of being lost in endless woods and then a huge empty golf course, I stood on a busy road. I could see a footpath sign and a stile, but there was never a gap in the traffic. It sped passed me at monstrous speeds like metal death machines forcing me to go north. I crossed at a roundabout and slung myself down a lane heading east, followed some footpath signs through some fields and ended up on a large run down farm. There were animals, rusty tractors, dirty hay and mud. Everything was falling apart. It stunk of medieval shit and failure. There were lorries parked next to the dilapidated barns, I could here voices.
“Are you looking for the footpath?” asked a couple of eyes from the dark beneath a truck.
He slid out. Bowed legged, he rose up, coming up to my nipples. His head was round, like a gobstopper, his brow furrowed, above his lug holes he had managed to hold on to three hairs each side. He wiped his brow with a stinking rag that just mixed the filth with his sweat.
“It’s gone,” he said.
“Yeh, the council kept moving it, there was flooding, and now I don’t know where it is.”
“Do you live here?” I asked.
“No but I’ve been working here a long time. We always find lost hikers. Bern? Bernie?!”
“Hello?” Bernie shuffled out of a barn also rubbing a dirty rag in his hands. He was egg shaped in blue overalls with a young friendly simple face, and a lovely beard. I thought I could nest in that beard for the night, no probs. They pointed me off into a field, told me to cross the following field and then out of the gate and follow the road right. From there it was either keep going to Dinas Powys or try and find the way across the mountains.
“Err, what about those two fucking huge bulls?” I asked.
“Ohhh they’re fine, don’t worry about those,” said the beard.
“They won’t charge at me?”
“Soft as shit,” said the little guy.
“They’ll come up to you, for sure. But when they do just stroke their nose.”
The one huge bull flung his front legs in the air and straddled the others shoulders, his schlong dangling into his friend’s face.
“Sixty niner!” laughed the Egg in the overalls.
“About to be a threesome!” I said climbing over the gate.
I minced along the edge of the field saying fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck under my breath. The men had gone, and the bulls had stopped and were facing me, just looking directly at me. I reached a gate and cartwheeled over into the next field heart beating in my ears. The long grass drenched my trousers up to my crotch and I finally found a way out onto a pitch dark narrow road. Cars were flying in both directions. This was not meant for pedestrians. Especially in the dark. If I walked I was risking getting clunked by a vehicle and dragged up the road, If I stayed I had no shelter. I could always go back passed the sixty-nining bulls and get my head down in a barn at the freaky shitty farm.
I followed the road for a few minutes, cars skimming my left love handle, pushing myself into the thorny bushes every time one passed. I crossed and looked around for some where to get my head down. I was failing. It was still early but the heavy darkness made it impossible to see even a few feet in front. I lost my bottle and texted my ex:
Come save me. Pick me up and I’ll take you out for some food tonight?
My battery was about to go. I turned the phone off, put my dim cheap torch on and marched down the road continuing to dive in the hedge when ever a vehicle roared by. I spotted a left turning onto a long dark lane. I checked the map, if I was correct, at the top of this lane there was another footpath, in the right direction of home. Up hill, winding up and up. One car flew down, I pushed my shoulder into the bushes. I turned the phone on, my ex said she was busy, she couldn’t. I asked again, saying I was stuck and alone. I just couldn’t imagine staying out here right now.
Sorry just had a haircut and now going out to a movie with a friend. You cant just expect me to drop plans.
I was on a pitch black lane with no where to sleep, I was soaking wet and getting very cold, what the fuck was I doing. I started imagining that actually she wasn’t going out with her friend at all. I imagined her on a date with a smooth bastard in a big car, laughing, having a great time. Finally moving on, on the night that I passed through our Tinkinswood memory. I had lost her now, for real, and I was about to sleep in a fucking bush while she had the time of her life with her new man, kissing and laughing and playing with each other’s genitals in a big cosy bed. I was utterly alone in the night. I had lost all. Something was telling me this was surely it. I had made my bed, now I just had to lay in it. If I could find it. I was losing my marbles. I passed some houses and spotted a sign and a stile. I hopped over and trod over snapping branches in an eerie wood. Distant dogs barked at the smell of my fear.
The woods opened up and I was in a field, making out dim silhouettes of trees and bushes. At the end of the second field there were a small thick patch of woods and I climbed though a thorny gap and found a small clearing. I thought I’ll come back here if there’s nothing better by the end of the next field. I walked up and the city came to life in the distance, street lights and fireworks, a good few hours walk, impossible to make it in the thick black of this November night. I could make out six or so dim blobs up ahead. I wasn’t sure if they were animals or bails of hay. I clapped and they all seemed to run two steps and then stop and look back at me. I quickly got back down to the clearing I found in the last field, and stood wondering if it was any good as a camp, I had no idea. I tied the tarp up between two trees to hide me from view and protect from wind. I collected some big stones from the field next to me, and made a fire pit. I set out my sleeping gear on the edge of the tarp, that folded onto the muddy thorny floor.
An almighty turd had been brewing for the last few hours, I could no longer ignore him, he was trying to nudge his way out. I was a city boy, not really accustomed to defecating in the wild. I had no toilet paper and no idea what to do. I was walking around the adjoining field trying to work out how to shit. Then it poked out again, it was coming, whether I liked it or not. I flung my trousers and pants down squatted and a huge shit pushed its way out in one clean go. The full white moon peeked from the clouds and the world seemed so much clearer. I stood up. It was the crispest cleanest break off of a shit I had ever had. Thank the lord! I didn’t even wipe, or need to, not that I had anything to wipe with, but it was perfect, one of the most perfect. Do Bears shit in the woods? Bare Jason does, yes. I went back to my camp feeling elated and alive and ready to take on this survival challenge.
I collected wood and kindling, all of it damp with the night air. I was dreading the rain coming in. I tried to light the fire with the small fire kit Randy had left me. Failed. Five, six times. Then I realised my phoned had gone from that little pocket in my jeans where it always lived. I headed back to the field and went in search of it. Ten minutes later I located the big beautiful perfect turd, glistening in the pure full moon light. And sure enough, one foot away lay my phone in the wet grass.
Three hours I spent at the fire pit. Managing to text Randy for fire building tips on my minuscule bit of battery, in between turning it off. Three hours, the fire would not light. I was exasperated. My feet were so wet and cold at this point I decided to give up and get changed and into bed. My phone had died. I put all of my dry clothes on, including my long johns and jim jams, and massaged my wrinkled white feet to life. My toes looked like ten soggy monkey nuts. I put two pairs of socks on, got into the sleeping bag, into the bivvy bag and onto my roll matt. I stuck my dim torch into my bobble hat, pulled out my kindle, as in the book, not the wood, and opened up Knut Hamsen’s ‘Hunger’. It was quiet all around. I wondered if animals would come up to me in the night, to investigate the strange new lump. I read the first chapter. So brilliantly written. I had a long way to go. But one day I would write good. I could get there. I just had to keep doing it. An owl twit twooed from the thick nothingness of the wild. I felt utterly alone, but somehow safe and sound. There were no people out here at the perimeter. Just me and the moon and the sleeping animals. I was fine, happy even. The kindle slapped me on the nose. And I pulled the bedding over my head. I was gone.
I opened my eyes. I was half naked. I had been too hot in the night and had been pulling off clothes. The phone gave a millisecond of power, enough to see the time, I had slept eight hours straight, something I cannot achieve at home in comfort, in my own bed, ever. I peeked out of the hood of my bivvy, I lay in the thick of a grey silent mist. The bare trees around me poked up like old twisted rheumatoid ridden black fingers. What looked like a python peered down at me from a branch, which was actually one of my soggy socks I had draped there.
I packed up, tidied up, left no trace. I stayed in my jim jams and long johns and squeezed on the wet boots. Dim greens and browns slowly crystallized onto the grey world and birds began to twitter. I headed up the misty mountain.
I found the path and followed it up hill and down dale. My jim jams were those chugger trousers, Russian style, with the crotch that hangs down. The crotch was picking up all the morning dew of the quiet enchanting fields I crossed. Up forests, down muddy banks, through empty farms and along babbling rivers. Hours without seeing a single person. And then there stood another hefty bull. These fucking bulls. It just stood there staring at me, just ten feet away. Loads of cows stood behind him, he was protecting them from me. I clapped and roared. The cows all scarpered, but not the bull. I was ready to dive back over the gate head first into the pile of watery manure if he charged at me.
I took two steps forward, he backed off. He turned around and came back slowly at me, he didn’t want to lose face in front of his ladies. He snorted steam and snot and lowered his head and stared at me below fierce eyebrows. Randy had told me not to look into the eyes of an animal, as that was fighting talk! I shuffled up the edge of the field, eyeing up the barbed wire fence for places to launch myself over if he came at me. He never took his eyes off me all the way up, until I crossed the next stile. His ladies must of been impressed. He probably got his end away with all of them, thanks to me.
Hours passed and I finally hit a road, managed to suss where I was on the map, and decided to leave the footpath and head straight up a road which seemed to join the outskirts of Cardiff, near Ninian Park stadium. It was about 9am when I hit the road and people going to work where gawking at me from inside their warm cars. Capital FM, Rod Stewart, C&A suit, routine… what the fuck is that that just came out of the bushes.
I went into asda and all the staff stopped stacking shelves and looked at me, one of them spoke on his radio. I found the caf and ordered a cuppa tea. I sat in the warm, hugging my tea and devouring more Hamsen on my kindle.
A few tables were occupied. Next to me a family of four sat on a small round table. Two chubby parents with tiny eyes, like dead flies in their specs, and two identical but smaller kids. In between their elbows were plates with the remnants of breakfast, and in their hands each of them clutched a smart phone. They were all scrolling and tapping away. The top edge of their phones all forming a square above the centre of the table.
They never said a word. Just swipe, tap, scroll. Then the mum with her tiny mouth asked the gerbil of a son to her left,
“What was that lego set you wanted?”
“Where?” he raised his eyes from his screen.
“Tut, Never mind where! Just what set was it??”
She had lost all patience instantly,
“GOD! Never mind! Forget it!” she snapped
They all went back to their phones.
I walked though the city coming to a stop outside an old friend’s house, who had died a few years ago. I stood outside a while, remembering when the house was full of life, full of stories and madness. Full of the lost and the wild people of the city, now it just seemed cold and empty.
I finally got home by midday, threw my boots in the bin and sunk into a boiling hot bath.
Randy phoned for a debrief. He was relieved to hear from me. After my battery had died, he was worried, and was contemplating coming back to follow my steps if he had not heard anything soon.
We decided to go out again soon, this time with just fire building skills being the mission – build ten fires in various ways, so I was never in danger again. Also his hammock had arrived and he was keen to take it out for a test run. We talked of our journey, and things to improve and things we were happy with.
Then he brought up PMA again. And asked whether I could see how it had helped us on the way. I couldn’t help thinking of Tony Robbins with his massive freaky head and huge fake Amercian smile, telling me Posidive Adidood was the answer to everything. Absolutely terrifying. I stopped him. “Can we change this PMA shit? It’s really bothering me.”
We agreed upon ‘Comfort From Knowledge’. Because the so-called positive state of mind comes from knowing, knowing we can survive if a situation presents itself, because we have the knowledge and experience of dealing with it, or trusting ourselves to use our knowledge to improvise a solution. It’s not simply thinking positive, what does that even mean? We needed to learn to survive not just wish it into existence.
So knowledge is where it’s at. And the next trip is planned.
Comfort From Knowledge.
It’s got a ring to it.