Trust your feet

by Rhubarbaby (Jo Chan)

Date: September 2010
Location: Norway, some glacier mountain & lake

Either some time before or after taking these photos, we put on crampon boots, with ice axes in hand and hiked across parts of the glacier, as well as kayaked across the turquoise glacier lake.

Despite having left home on my own some 14 years prior and relatively well travelled, this trip was in fact the first which I actually backpacked, and exposed myself to outdoor activities. This was part of a six-week trip making my way to Hong Kong from London, via Scandinavia, the Baltics, Siberia & Mongolia.

It was sometime after the financial crisis in London. I had just qualified as a solicitor. Rounds of redundancies, it all seemed gloomy. Most of my friends from Asia started to leave, including my flatmate and also my then boyfriend.  I decided to give it a try to apply for jobs in Hong Kong. I was offered one quite quickly at an international law firm as a commercial litigator after some referrals and a couple of rather easy going video conference style interview.

Back to the glacier, I had never camped nor put up a tent up to the that point in my life. I felt a lot more comfortable in my Prada heels (well, not physically that comfortable), sipping Daiquiris (or sometimes more like Converse &  Vodka Lemonade)  and staggering home tipsy when the sun started to rise over Waterloo Bridge or St Pancras train station. But definitely not in some ugly, but practical, Quechua waterproof hiking boots bought reluctantly at Decathlon. I resented having to wear style-less sturdy shoes, regardless of how practical they were. I resented that everything sold at Decathlon seems to be made of synthetic material of some sort, mostly in either shockingly bright or khaki colour and always ill-fitting. The utter lack of glamour and style in most outdoor clothing continues to baffle me. Moreover, I felt rather uncomfortable exposed to the elements.

I was really shit with going downhill, especially on steep and/or icy surfaces. In fact, I still am shit and slow. If you want to practise the virtual of patience, then come hiking with me, downhill.

Two things really struck me that day. Our guide of the glacier tour, whose name I think was Andreas (an outdoor guide/mountaineer from Chile/Argentina Patagonia), upon seeing how unsteady and fearful I was going down steeper gradients, gave me the following instructions: “Trust your feet, don’t lean back, and step forward each step with confidence“.

I tried it out. I stopped leaning backwards which I was doing due to fear of falling. Counter-intuitively, I leant forward instead, gathering up all the trust (which wasn’t that much really) I had in my feet. It seemed to help.

Fear is a funny thing. Have you ever tried to investigate what fear is ? When I did over the years, it seems to be nothing more but fleeting noises and stories in my mind, along side with some unpleasant bodily sensations that normally go away or change after a while (especially if the nature of the thoughts change).

I seem to be more afraid of my imagined worst case scenarios in mind more than anything. What actually takes place during my fearful moments are often is not so bad. Like walking downhill. Ever since Andreas’ words, every time I struggle downhill, a voice would appear in my mind: “Trust your feet” (which I somewhat interpret to “Trust yourself“).

We sat down at some point and had lunch sitting on some rocks overlooking the glacier and the lake, in the middle of nowhere, with some of the most breathtaking views I have seen. As we were eating our packed lunch, I looked over at Andreas. He looked so effortless and at ease in that environment. It dawned on me that he was actually getting paid to be there. I exclaimed: “I can’t believe you do this for a living!“, to which he responded in a rather content manner, and perhaps even a little smug, as he looked at the wilderness around us with a sandwich in his hand : “Yes this is my office and this is my lunch break. I wouldn’t do anything else in the world.

Perspective. Possibilities. It struck me that the notion of work doesn’t have to involve some kind of professional career in an office which you dread every Monday morning, wear a swanky suit (although I did quite enjoyed this part), sit in front of a computer (whilst having lunch) and confined to artifical air-conditioned space.

This is the kind of social conditioning that I, and most of my contemporaries in my circle, have been subject to :- that we all are to be lawyers, architects, accountants, doctors, engineers, entreprenuers and bankers in some big city, in order to be considered successful. I still buy into that story every now and then, especially when my parents and family members question my current choice of lifestyle.

I’d just have to remember Andreas, the look of his contented face, and of course, to trust myself and each & every seemingly ridiculous step I make.

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