Triumph and tragedy
They say that no plan survives contact with the enemy, and 2018 has not been a normal year. In some respects it has been the best year of my life; in others, the worst. Overall it’s been quite a ride, but there’s also been a lot of stress and I’d like to make sure that 2019 is a bit more steady.
I didn’t manage to fit in as many trips this year as I’d originally planned, but they were good ones.
March: the Fairfield-Helvellyn Traverse
Due to a family tragedy that hit hard (more on this shortly), I missed most of the winter season, but was able to return to the mountains in March. My target was the Fairfield-Helvellyn Traverse. Conditions were pretty good, balancing on that fine line between winter and spring, and it was a contemplative outing. Metaphors of snow patches and mortality were at the forefront of my mind as I crossed this classic ridge. You can read the story in the February 2019 issue of The Great Outdoors, which is in shops on January the 4th.
May: Lake District mini-moon
Hannah and I got married in May. We escaped to the Lake District for a few days afterwards, during the heatwave; although it wasn’t a hillwalking trip, we squeezed in sunny ascents of Nab Scar and Loughrigg.
July: Grande Traversée du Mercantour
My major long-distance trail for 2018 was the Mercantour Traverse. After starting in Saint-Étienne-de-Tinée in the South of France, the route followed the GR5 for a while before crossing a spectacular 40-mile alpine ridge, then following the GR52 through a rugged mountain landscape all the way to the Mediterranean. This trip was one of the best long-distance trails I’ve ever done. I published a digital feature on the Mercantour Traverse in Sidetracked magazine, and a TGO feature is upcoming.
August-September: Karwendel Höhenweg
This multi-day hut tour in the Austrian Alps was a delight. Despite some pretty poor weather, I enjoyed hiking through some of the most spectacular mountain landscapes I’ve ever seen. This was a chilled-out trip that opened my eyes to the value of a slower pace in big mountains. Read my trail guide to the Karwendel Höhenweg here.
September: East Highlands honeymoon
As autumn began to make its presence felt in the mountains, Hannah and I headed north once more for our honeymoon in the East Highlands. We managed plenty of low-level walking, and between rain showers climbed the Lomond Hills and Ben Vrackie.
December: Knoydart crossing
In preparation for my February 2019 Cape Wrath Trail, I decided to check out the Knoydart section (the hardest stage of the trail) to investigate an alternative avoiding the missing Carnoch bridge. The weather was benign and it felt more like autumn than winter.
2018 has been a year of consolidation for Pinnacle Editorial. The Great Outdoors (TGO) has, once again, been my biggest client by a long way this year. My duties as Online Editor continue to take up much of my time each week, but I’ve also been involved with an increasing amount of work on the print side too: gear and book reviews, skills guides, copy-editing and miscellaneous copywriting. I’ve published a couple of features, but fewer than the previous year.
I was heavily involved in the annual Great Outdoors Awards, from helping to set up the voting pages on the website to being a judge for the Gear Awards. Overall, I think the magazine has grown from strength to strength this year – it’s particularly great to see such a focus on quality mountain photography, and overseas trekking now features in almost every issue.
Sidetracked magazine continues to be one of my most important clients. In addition to the full range of editorial work on volumes 11, 12 and 13, I have worked on the ‘Uncover your Austria’ supplement and numerous digital pieces. My published writing in Sidetracked this year consists of a Single Moment in Vol.11 called ‘Bivouac’, and a digital feature on the Mercantour Traverse called ‘No Borders’.
Other magazine work has been sporadic this year, largely due to my packed schedule, but I managed to squeeze in a few issues of Wanderlust magazine. Similarly, I have not worked on a large number of books this year: four titles from established clients John Burns and Mark Horrell, The Travel Writer’s Field Guide by Phoebe Smith and Daniel Neilson, and Clanship to Capitalism by Richard Sidgwick (who is the only new client I worked with this year).
To an extent, writing has taken a back seat to all the other work I’ve had on. In 2018 I published a handful of stories for TGO and Sidetracked, and nothing elsewhere. I wrote no fiction this year either. On the plus side, I started a newsletter, which is steadily growing and has been the vehicle for some of my most important writing.
Overall, I’m satisfied with the quality of the work I’ve completed this year, but it has not felt balanced – too much of it has been low-level stuff, important in its way but with limited significance for my overall career. I would like to have written and published more. Scheduling has also been a pain point. Workplace stress has increased and I have spent much of the year feeling harried and overworked. This is not a complaint – to an extent, self-employed means self-inflicted – but it is something to learn from.
2018 began with my dad terminally ill in hospital. Hannah’s grandad had died just a couple of weeks earlier, and in the space of three months we lost my great aunt Mona (whom I’d always been very close to) and then my dad as well. Further tragedies followed on both sides of our family. Hannah lost both of her remaining grandparents and an uncle over twelve months. The emotional toll of multiple deaths packed so closely together, one after another, is impossible to describe – let’s just say that I’ve earned my first grey hairs this year, and I’ve learned to fear phone calls in the early hours of the morning.
On a happier note, Hannah and I got married in May, and the day was sheer perfection, despite absent family. Although we’ve lived together for several years now, the transformation into husband and wife has been an amazingly positive one. I recommend it!
My fitness has improved this year and I have lost some weight (and put some back on again over Christmas – oops). Initially this was thanks to giving a zero-carb diet a go for a couple of months. It worked incredibly well, and I certainly ended up eating a lot more fresh fruit and veg, but no diet this extreme is ever going to be sustainable in the long term. Besides, I soon realised that I can’t cope with stress without carbs, and such a diet is impossible to deal with on the trail…
Areas for change in 2019
Next year, in addition to my February Cape Wrath Trail, I hope to complete a greater number of shorter trips. Shorter trips are easier to fit in, have lower overall expenses, and are a better fit with more deliberate photography – especially if I avoid the temptation to pack in the miles. I have no advance plans for other trips yet, but I’m unlikely to go abroad in 2019 unless something specific comes up.
The main thing I need to achieve in 2019 is a steadier work schedule. This year I learned that over-planning too far in advance can lead to trouble. Delays not of my making resulted in pile-ups of work in several projects and 14-hour days. That isn’t healthy, and I’ll be avoiding it at all costs from now on.
The problem in an industry where a small pool of people all work on a diverse range of projects is that late work from one individual can create a far-reaching ripple effect. Most of us are just a bit overstretched all the time, and juggling multiple projects is becoming more challenging, so next year I’m setting myself a simple rule: no more than one major project at a time on top of my regular duties. Anything more than that can only work if nothing goes wrong. I need a bigger safety margin.
I want to return to writing and publishing much more widely – something I didn’t have the time or raw material to do in 2018. Ideally I would like to get to the point where around 50 per cent of my income is from writing (currently it’s nowhere near that).
Another area I will be further exploring in 2019 is public speaking. This year I did my first two paid talks, both on the subject of lightweight backpacking, and I already have a booking for a third.
To be honest, I’m hoping for a quieter year! I’d like to continue improving my fitness, and in my personal photography I am contemplating a complete switch to 35mm film.
That just about wraps up my 2018 review. Thank you all for reading my writing and supporting me, thanks to my clients for sending their brilliant work my way, and I look forward to the challenges that 2019 will bring.
Unless otherwise specified, all images © Alex Roddie & All Rights Reserved.