Thursday 23 October 2014

Walking in the rain -- being miserable is all part of the fun

Walking in the rain
Walking in the rain

Another year, another Operation Transformation, but it won't be the same. Life without Dr Eva is going to take some getting used to. Okay, so Operation Transformation isn't life; I'm not that sad. But it's a little slice of what makes life interesting; which for the most part is people. I love landscapes and cars, but only people make me shout.

If dieting, health and weight loss were really just about numbers, the way some would have you believe, there wouldn't be much to talk about, let alone make a TV series from. Armed with the digital facts of height, calories, energy expenditure and a few conversion factors, we could compute our way to perfect bodies and lifestyles. Maybe even American teeth.

But, of course, the real thing is psychology. It's where craving, dependence, motivation, addiction, compulsion and emotion come into play. And personality, of course.

I have only one maxim in life and it's this: anything involving people is more complicated than it looks. And while I don't make any great claims for its depth of insight or profundity, I do know that it's true. It's the only way Operation Transformation makes sense as entertainment.

It's also the reason walking works; as sport, entertainment and way of life. It's activity on a human scale, with a human richness and deceptive simplicity.

Earlier this month I took a walk in the Slieve Bloom, but I was barely out of the car before it started raining; that lacerating, wind-driven spray that amounts to nothing in terms of millimetres of precipitation, but starts by freezing your nose, just to get your attention, then insinuates itself past whatever barriers you put up against it.

I had all the gear on, so there was no real excuse for turning back, but I couldn't honestly say I was enjoying the walk; what with visibility being limited to the front of my glasses.

So why, when a similarly suffering couple of hillwalkers approached from out of the mist, were we all smiling as though life really didn't get much better?

You know the answer, because you'd probably have done the same; knowing as we all do that sometimes, being miserable is part of the fun -- the experience.

I wouldn't try to sell hillwalking to a novice on the basis that sometimes it's so awful that you just have to laugh, but that's how it is. Whether it's down to Catholic guilt, the no-pain-no-gain fallacy, bravado or some kind of nervous reaction to threat; it's complicated and rewarding -- even when it's rubbish.

Every walk has value, and the complexity that makes it an experience fit for a human. Not all are memorable in the way that a sodden trudge in the Slieve Bloom or a tongue-lashing from Eva 'the fat-busting' Finn may be, but neither will do you any harm, and you will inevitably learn something; most likely about yourself.

At worst it will raise questions like: why am I smiling? Walking speaks to the parts of us that numbers don't reach, and because we are essentially analogue devices, its message is complicated and comprehensible.

As to making a choice between watching Operation Transformation and going for a walk; that has been made easier. Bring back Dr Eva.

Conor O'Hagan is editor of the bi-monthly Walking World Ireland magazine. www.walkingworldireland.com

Irish Independent

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