A Journeys End is an article that I wrote about Rosie Swale Pope, whose endless effort to raise money for prostrate cancer, after losing her husband to the illness, inspired and amazed me. Based In Pembrokeshire Rosie set off to travel the world on 2nd October 2003 with just a small sledge as a source of shelter, food and drink and communication to the outside world. During that time she raised and continues to raise money for many charities.
I would like to state that the following article contains my own views and interpretation of Rosie Swale-Pope’s journey around the world and is not necessarily a reflection of the thoughts and experiences of Rosie herself.
A Journey’s End
When she left home on that grey October morning, to begin her adventure, she took very little with her. From experience, she had learned to take only what she needed. Travelling light was the only option for the journey that she was about to undertake. There would be times when she would struggle and any extra weight behind her would only slow her down. She had always enjoyed travelling, the excitement of seeing new places, the adrenaline rush that comes with meeting new people and exploring new cultures.
It was something that she had always wanted to do, to travel the world in one complete circle. She had deliberately chosen this particular route because she knew that it was the toughest. It was cold and it was hard and it would push her to her limits. This way she could explore those unknown places, those barely worn tracks that pressed into the wilderness, where beauty was partially hidden from civilisation. She could give something back for the time they had had together.
People asked her afterwards if she found it hard, having to depend on herself to keep going; to push on despite feelings of pain or fatigue. But she had never been alone. She was constantly surrounded by friends and family, by images taken and stored from home. Pictures of the trees lining the fields outside her house, the church where she was married on a cold November day; the chicken run in the garden that her husband had made, it’s only flaw a small hole in the corner that the smaller birds managed to squeeze through. In the evenings when the sunlight would gradually slide down the side of her tent, suddenly withdrawing it’s warmth with such a shock that it took her breath away, she thought of the sun setting over their little house. She felt the warmth flow through each room as the sun lowered in the sky, leaving its mark long after it had disappeared below the horizon. These things comforted her when she was close to tears, when the journey seemed monstrous, never ending paths stretching into the distance before her, peppered with rocks or covered in snow. When her body struggled to bear the strain of the journey and she could only run a few miles a day.
He was with her always. He was with her when the dark nights drew in, when the rainand wind threatened to tear her shelter down, when the air stood so still and so cold around her that she daren’t move for fear that time itself had frozen around her. When her aching limbs begged to give in and frostbite threatened to seize her journey. He was always with her, pushing her on, reminding her of her reasons. Sometimes when you are weakest, you can feel things the most strongly.
A gentle fascination had grown inside of her with each step she took, with each new country she crossed into. She was treading gently into someone else’s land. Sometimes she went miles and miles without seeing any evidence of civilisation. It was quite liberating, to imagine that she was the only person on this land, maybe the first to have crossed it in this way. It was difficult to imagine a life without people, but out here it seemed possible. For miles around there was often nothing except vast stretches of land before her, sun, moon and stars. When night fell, the silence hung in the air. Sometimes, when in the wilderness of Alaska and Canada she heard the call of coyotes and wolves in the distance, she often imagined she saw eyes watching her deep in the forests and the mountains. She knew that these isolated areas spoke of unknown dangers, things that she could only imagine until she was confronted with the reality of her situation. One morning, when running through miles of forests in Canada, she found herself face to face with a wild bear. Her intuition immediately told her to keep still. Her heart thudded in her chest as she waited, silently, for it to pass by her. Relieved when it did, having lost interest in the stranger in its territory and spotted something of far more interest in the distance.
On another occasion whilst travelling through a particularly remote stretch of Russia, she was startled by the appearance of a naked man, running towards her brandishing a gun and shouting in a language she did not understand. Her only thoughts had been to keep moving, to try not to openly display her fear at the fact that she was miles from anywhere, that she could not explain herself to the stranger who was clearly angered by her presence. She felt relief wash over her like the surf on a beach, when after some miles, she eventually saw smoke rising from a valley in the distance, then the red tilted roofs of houses and small white dots of people moving slowly across the land. She had not seen the stranger again but she would not forget the moment he had appeared as if from nowhere, how his presence had seemed so threatening, casting a dark shadow over an otherwise amazing day of her journey.
The weather was a constant threat to her progress. She often had to wait for days until floods eased and swollen rivers lowered so that she was able to cross them safely. At times she had waded through raging rivers over fifty feet wide, the threat of being dragged down stream very real as the cold water rushed against her body. She could still feel the numbness in her hands as they held tightly to what little natural shelter and stability she could find. She could still feel the heavy weight of her limbs in the water as she struggled to move forward against the current, towards the rise of land in the distance.
She had felt the searing heat beating down on her as she had travelled through Europe and America, were there was a real risk of dehydration and exhaustion. These places were densely populated and it was easy to become distracted by the people as she passed through bustling towns and cities. She was stunned by the beautiful scenery of northern Holland, the dykes and lakes and skies, which she thought was like running through an artist’s canvas. She had slept with the deer in the forests of Germany, camped beside emerald lakes that stretched for miles between the mountains.
And then there were the coldest, most isolated places she had ever been to. Places where even wearing many layers you could still feel the ice creeping between your clothes.Where day and night they had the most terrible snow storms and blizzards, where sometimes you couldn’t see a foot in front of you. Here temperatures of – 50 degrees were not uncommon and the glare off the ice could damage your eyes if you were outside too long. At night the temperature dropped dramatically that she was afraid to sleep. At meal times she ate a diet of seal fat to help fight off the cold. It tasted like as a cross between cod liver oil and dried fish. It was in this cold, isolated environment that she lost her footing and fell hard onto the ice below her, cracking two ribs. But she forced herself to push on through the pain, not wanting to lose anymore time or ground, already set back by a stay in Alaska due to frostbite.
Time moved so slowly that it was as if she had been away for hundreds of years and she imagined that when she returned, she would find her country on the verge of a new ice age. Any signs or hopes of humanity long washed away. It was only what little contact that she had with her family that led her to believe time had not passed as she thought. It helped her to hear their voices, to know that they were out there somewhere, waiting for her, supporting her every step of the way.
She was grateful for the generosity of the people, for the openness and selflessness with which they helped her. For what they gave her in return for her stories, for her memory of her husband and the distance she had come. She had shared cold nights and restful hours with strangers who gave her hot food, warm beds and clothes and equipment to face the elements. Strangers who had told her their secrets, how the same dark shadow that had crept into her family had touched their lives too. How with each step she took, she was making a difference not only to them but to many others too. School children sat cross legged and listened quietly to her story, their faces full of excitement, questions spilling uncontrollably from their lips. They were unable to hide their fascination with the day’s visitor, the Welsh lady who had travelled across the world to see them.
She would never get used to seeing her face on the front page of the newspaper, to hearing her name being called in a strange land, to having people know who she was and what she was doing. She had been given far more then she could have hoped for, far more than she had expected. The journey had allowed her to forge new friendships and discover distant countries. She had travelled across the world in the most basic of conditions, with very little for survival. She couldn’t help but feel that she was meant to succeed, to believe that some kind of magic had protected her on her journey, in order to bring her home safely.
It all seemed very much like a dream as she drifted back into familiar lands. As she sensed those unknown countries, those stretches of vast wilderness and unbeaten pathways begin to disappear. She imagined she may have to pinch the skin on her arm to remind herself of her existence in the world; to store her memories deep, so as not to let them slip away with the years. These moments were when she felt most alive. People who knew her had already begun to speculate where her next journey may take her. They knew it was in her nature. Just as a dancer must dance, she must explore. She liked to think that it wasn’t to forget, but simply to remember.
She was taking slow steps now, towards a place that she had dreamed of every night when she went to sleep. A place that her thoughts had returned to when things had been tough, when she missed home and the people she loved. She looked up at the faces before her. People lined up along the roadside, children up later than their bedtime, waving and smiling at her. She listened to the cheers, to the echoes of her name and the words of encouragement. She let her eyes take in painted slogans on homemade banners, bobbing to and fro in the sea air.
She felt the emotion pushing inside of her and struggled to keep tears from spilling onto her cheeks. ‘Thank you’ she shouted, raising a long arm into the air, ‘Thank you so much.’ She planted careful feet, leaned into the slope. The last mile of her journey, the road that would finally lead Rosie home.
Information and some quotes were taken from Rosie’s website
Published in Pembrokeshire Life, December 2008.
Kindle Versus Paperback
With more kindles being sold than ever before, what does the future hold for the humble paperback book?
Nothing can beat opening a new book. The shiny cover, the smell of ink on paper, the glide of the paper stock between your fingers. That excitement of turning the first page. As an avid reader and writer, books are up there with food and water. I keep them in pristine condition, rarely lend them out and cringe at the thought of the ‘page turners’ I know. This inevitably means that my bookshelves are stacked high. So high, in fact, I fear one day I will be buried alive. Although literary snobbery would request it be under Thomas Hardy rather than Sophie Kinsella. In case I haven’t made it clear already, space has long been an issue. This is the reason I have been forced to consider other options.
In 2010, Amazon launched the Kindle in the UK. The first e reader purely for reading. Critics were immediately saying it would never take off, while technology enthusiasts were hailing it the new dawn for literature.
In 2012 Amazon were selling more e books than print books and kindle owners were buying 4 times as many books than before they owned a kindle. At first, I took little notice of the controversy surrounding the kindle. Then, to my absolute horror, my sister bought one!
It’s for space she insisted, as I quizzed her emphatically. Months later, she whipped it out of nowhere. Uh oh. It looked shinier than I imagined. She dropped it into my hands. It was light too. I opened it. The screen wasn’t too bright. It’s so easy to use. She was pressing buttons and finding my favourite titles. They download in seconds. I was impressed. But I felt like I was cheating on my paperbacks. Those glossy beauties and worn darlings, alphabetised and waiting on my bookshelves at home.
To me, the idea of having one, is like wearing an odd pair of socks. Yes it saves space, it’s portable and you can download books in seconds. It’s also cheaper. But why choose that over a real book? What will happen to libraries and book shops, if we become a nation of kindle owners? How will we share books? Sending a file to someone is not the same as giving them a dog eared book with your name inside. I love hunting for first editions. Somehow a first edition on kindle doesn’t hold the same enticement.
What I must mention, is what Amazon have done for self publishing. Although you have to do all of the editing and formatting yourself, you receive 60% royalties. Far more than a traditional publisher would offer. I must confess, I have published e books with Amazon. Sometimes you have to keep up with technology. But I still find the idea of owning a kindle quite daunting. Someone has to stand up for the good old paperback. So if you ever see me with a kindle in my hand, please remind me why I wrote this column.