At the start of the year, I set myself the challenge of walking 1,500 miles. Here is a photographic study of the first 100. A few things have surprised me.
My new routine
My daily morning hike generates the bulk of the mileage – a five-mile circuit that I walk five days a week, between 8am and 9.30am, before I start work. It’s a simple countryside walk, with a variety of (muddy) paths and plenty of scenic views.
After a hundred miles, I have already noticed tangible benefits.
- I was not unfit before, but my fitness has improved.
- Getting out in the fresh air every morning improves my mood throughout the day.
- There are probably other factors too1, but my productivity at work has increased. I’m more focused, less distracted, and more enthusiastic about the tasks I have to perform2.
- There are now photographic opportunities I can take advantage of every single day!
My perception of this challenge has changed subtly over the course of the month. At first, I thought of it in terms of a five-mile walk that I completed each day, but I gradually came to see it as a single long-distance trail. Instead of walking fifteen or twenty miles a day, like I would in the Highlands, I’m only walking five.
And it doesn’t really feel like I’m covering the same ground every morning, because things change all the time.
For the first few days, it was dark when I started each morning. Now I have to hurry to make sure I’m at the right viewpoint to get the sun as it rises. Sometimes the weather is calm, clear and frosty; sometimes it rains; sometimes fog shrouds the trees. Sometimes I see the muntjac charge across the field. One morning I even saw a white egret calmly standing by the side of the road in Bratoft.
It’s different every day. It doesn’t matter that I’m covering the same ground – in a very real sense, it feels like the changes you see over the course of a long-distance hike.
Like on any other long route, I’ve fallen into a rhythm. Sections on tarmac fall quickly, and I know I have to keep up the pace because the muddy areas always slow me down. And some areas are very muddy. The entrance to a particular paddock in Bratoft is an abomination of soft, calf-deep mud. The farmer chucked some rubble in last year in an attempt to make it a bit more solid, but most of it has sunk deep into the mud, leaving only a few areas where it’s safe to stand.
I relish the frosty mornings. Frost brings sharpness and clarity to the landscape, and – perhaps more importantly – it firms up the mud, making progress over the quagmires a breeze.
Other than a couple of intense sunrises, January has been a colourless and calm month. My photographic inspiration has come from the shapes of the trees, the scratchings they make against the sky, the silent potential that comes before spring. It has been wonderful to see this slow change realise itself over the course of the first hundred miles. Now I am looking forward to the return of more light, warmth, and the first spring shoots bursting through the earth.
Because this is not a photographic challenge, I’ve been keeping my gear simple. One body, one lens every day, and absolutely nothing else – but I’ve been switching combos all the time, selecting from the following stash of gear:
- Fujifilm X-T1. I’ve mostly been using this camera, because it’s just easier and faster to shoot with most of the time. It’s weather-resistant too, which is one less thing to worry about.
- Fujifilm X-E1. Although the X-T1 is faster and has more features, I still really like shooting with the X-E1. It’s lighter and has a lower profile. The buttons also feel nicer under the fingers (a small thing, I know!).
- Fujinon XF 35mm f/2. My go-to lens in most circumstances.
- Fujinon XF 18mm f/2. I’ve carried this lens maybe 30% of the time, and it unlocked a few new compositions for me. I am still not as comfortable with wide-angle photography as I am using a normal lens, and I’ve been using this month as an opportunity to experiment more.
- Samyang 12mm f.2. Although I love using this lens in the mountains, I haven’t found it very useful on my #walk2017 route so far. I’ll continue to challenge myself by carrying it every now and again, though.
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- For example, I have made the full switch from a Mac workstation to an iOS setup involving an iPad Pro. This is quite a focused computing environment. Also, I’ve switched to a completely different task-management system. With these changes to my working environment, it’s impossible to attribute my productivity boost to any one factor. ↩
- Except book formatting, but that’s a subject for another essay… ↩