Gather's Creation Myth
Have you ever noticed that ex-smokers are the most vociferous about passive smoking? I’m like that with the outdoors. It meant everything to me for a long time growing up, until I lost my way. Now I’m back, at somewhere past 40, and I’m gutted at what I missed out on. It drives my passion for helping others find happiness and contentment in the outdoors.
One of my earliest memories is of asking to walk to the river one balmy summer evening. I must have been about 3 or 4. The river was a good mile away, there was no way I could have walked all the way there and back. But I set out along the road past the cricket pitch in the determined stomp of a toddler on a mission, making it barely to the footpath across the fields before needing a carry on Dad’s shoulders.
As an only child living in a South Yorkshire hamlet with no friends nearby, it’s hardly surprising that the outdoors was my thing. Green was my favourite colour. My favourite bodywarmer had a special pocket which housed a homemade survival kit: a bent paperclip and a bit of string. As I hit my teenage years I did all the outdoor rites of passage: mountain biking, kayaking and rock climbing (that's me below, belaying for my best mate in Ilkley's Cow & Calf quarry) my way across the north of England. It was all set to continue when I moved to the mecca of the climbing fraternity, Sheffield, to study Geography at University.
Fast forward 5 years and you find me spending my #weekendings chasing the next shirtless high in a sweaty nightclub. The outdoors little more than the occasional place to recover my senses, the morning after a night that never ended.
Stupidly I had slacked my way through A-Levels, failing them with style. My higher education options dwindled to the only place that would accept me: Coventry Polytechnic. I could hardly have been further from decent climbing or mountain biking. I was however on Birmingham’s doorstep, home of one of the best Techno scenes in the world. I can’t lie, I had a blast.
Life progressed, and eventually I got the chance to move back Oop Norf. It wasn’t the delights of the Peaks or the Lakes which excited me, it was the thought of living in a city with a thriving nightlife, Leeds: the perfect place to launch the audio-visual club night I’d sketched out in my mind as my clubbing mellowed.
Again, I can’t deny I had a great time and met some incredible people. My rocksteady reggae reworking of Withnail and I is still something I’m hugely proud of.
Tick. Tick. Tick. Marriage. Career. Kids. Student, then teacher, of Taekwondo. All good stuff, no regrets.
But I wasn't getting outdoors. I wasn’t climbing. Not even walking. I’d never made it to the Alps, nevermind the Himalayas. I could count the number of big multi-pitch routes I’d climbed on the fingers of one hand. A winter ascent of a Scottish couloir, still a mythical fantasy. My busy life meant that these unfulfilled youthful dreams never troubled me one bit.
And then I hit 40. You’ve heard this bit countless times. Yes, midlife crisis in full flow, tattoos and everything. I even seriously pondered selling my classic VW camper to buy a vintage Porsche.
One month later my Dad died.
This steadfast companion who had driven me the length and breath, who had spent hours “Enjoying the view”, whilst catching a breather as I raced ahead up yet another hill, would accompany me no more.
He would have been much happier walking along, fishing in or boating on a canal, but I now know he could see a fire burning inside me and was determined both to stoke it, and made it the thing that cemented our bond. He never openly expressed disappointment with my life choices, but thinking back over the occasional comment, I could see it confused him. How had the fire gone out?
As he caught his last breath in a ward of Carlisle Infirmary, I looked out the window, over the Solway Firth to the hills of Dumfries and Galloway and knew it was time for a change.
Gather is a big part of that change. I'm only sad that Dad never got to see the fire rekindled.
And the campervan? I still sold it, businesses don't run on fresh air you know!