No hay mal que por bien no venga, we say in Spanish. Good stuff comes out of shit times, I translate, loosely.
I hate not being able to travel abroad. I’ve lost money on trips planned to Mexico, the Balkans and Greece. And yet I’m grateful for the opportunity of rediscovering my hometown, my region, my local hills.
Take Colmenar Viejo, a neighboring town. Took me years to discover fantastic walking and running so nearby. I’ve written about it here.
Slightly further afield, it was the Sierra de Guadarrama that provided the greatest joys. The same mountains that I’d see through my bedroom window when I was a kid, and which I always thought looked blue. I still see them from my apartment, always familiar yet strangely remote during lockdown. It still looked like Guadarrama, but it felt like I was looking at the Karakoram range in Pakistan. We’re still here, they beckoned. You shall be back.
And so I was: in the Spring, Summer and Fall. Escaping the crowds by traveling on weekdays or picking smaller hills. Skinny dipping with the little ‘uns in Navalmedio, a lesser known valley in Cercedilla. Taking my dad up to Fuenfría pass following the remains of a Roman road. Hitting some of the usual suspects with friends or alone. I always felt thankful, even swarmed by flies in September, or under a drizzle on a cold November day.
And then the snow came in early December and there we were, enjoying laps of skimo in our secret forest.
There is a classic mountaineering book entitled Mountaineering, the Freedom of the Hills. The first line of the first edition ran thus: “The quest of the mountaineer, in simple terms, is for the freedom of the hills.”
For many, access to mountains and mountain activities provides what is perhaps the greatest experience of freedom in our lives. The COVID pandemic has taught as that, like so many other things, this privilege should not be taken for granted.