2019 in review: long-distance trails, avoiding burnout, and planting seeds for the future

Towards fresh beginnings

While 2018 was a year of triumph and tragedy, 2019 has been a steadier year with fewer crazy peaks and troughs. It hasn’t been without its challenges, though – and it’s been a year of major change for me.

The outdoors

Where to start? 2019 has been, by far, my biggest year yet for wanderings in the mountains and wild places. I spent a total of 67 nights under canvas this year, of which 47 were ‘wild’ camps, and climbed 14 Munros, of which 6 were new to me.

I’ve kept up my regular hiking in the Lincolnshire Wolds. This year I’ve developed a greater appreciation for the pockets of wildness and biodiversity that exist here. As a consequence, I’ve started taking my wildlife photography a little more seriously, especially in the local area. I haven’t kept track of total distance hiked but I’d estimate it to be in the region of 3,000-3,500km.

Here are a few highlights from the hills.

February: Cape Wrath Trail

In February I completed my second Cape Wrath Trail (481km) from Ardnamurchan Point to Cape Wrath. This was meant to be a winter journey, but although I enjoyed some great snow travel on the southern portion of the trail, all traces of winter vanished north of Knoydart. I’ve written extensively about this trip for The Great Outdoors and am currently writing a book about it for Vertebrate Publishing.

Surveying the next 50 miles through Knoydart, 11th of February 2019
Image © Alex Roddie

April: a family trip to Haworth

In between visits to relatives and paying our respects at the family grave above Haworth, Hannah, James, Nicole and I enjoyed a great walk out over the moors to Top Withens, which was once home to generations of Roddies and Sunderlands. I’ve written up this trip as a Wild Walk for The Great Outdoors magazine, and it’s due appear in print soon.

The remains of Castle Roddie a.k.a. Top Withens a.k.a. Wuthering Heights
Image © Alex Roddie

May: traverse of the Blackmount Munros

I took advantage of the hot and dry weather to complete another crossing of the Munros west of Stob Ghabhar – this time taking in a couple of the summits I missed on my first visit in 2008. A piece about this trip was recently published by UKHillwalking.

View from the summit of Stob Ghabhar, 15th of May 2019
Image © Alex Roddie

June: a quick trip to Edale, and a backpacking weekend in the Lincolnshire Wolds

A meeting in Edale sounded like a great opportunity for some hills, so I took my hiking gear along. After camping up on the Kinder Plateau I ran up Mam Tor, an old favourite, in sunny weather.

Heading back down to Edale after a night on the plateau
Image © Alex Roddie

Also in June I finally managed to hike the section of the Viking Way (my local long-distance trail) between Market Rasen and Horncastle. This was a very good walk, and opened my eyes to some of the quality walking to be found in the northern part of Lincolnshire.

Somewhere in rural Lincolnshire
Image © Alex Roddie

July and August: the Pyrenean Haute Route

Between July and August I hiked 832km along the spine of the Pyrenees – a life-changing journey. My HRP was both the best and the hardest long-distance walk I’ve ever done. A number of pieces about this very special trip are due to be published over the coming months.

I’ve also described my top five wild camps from the Pyrenees in this blog post.

Another sunny day on the HRP
Image © Alex Roddie

September: a day in the West Highlands

In September, I travelled to Fort William to speak at the book launch of Sky Dance by John Burns, and while I was there I went for a wander in the mountains. My walk took me over Stob Ban and Mullach nan Coirean. It was good to be walking in the Mamores again after several years away.

Dramatic autumn light in the Mamores
Image © Alex Roddie

November: Beinn Eighe, Slioch, Sgorr Ruadh

Tempted by an excellent weather forecast, I headed up to Inverness to stay with my brother James and his partner Nicole for a few days. James and I climbed Beinn Eighe on the first day, then all three of us climbed Slioch on the second; on the third, I got the train to the Achnashellach area to climb Sgorr Ruadh by myself. There’s a piece about the first two walks due in an upcoming issue of The Great Outdoors.

View from the summit of Beinn Eighe, 6th of November 2019
Image © Alex Roddie

Work

Pinnacle Editorial HQ: where the magic happens
Image © Alex Roddie

It’s been a year of teetering towards burnout, taking action to avoid it, and finding a more sustainable balance with margin and room to grow. Overall it’s been an even more successful year than 2018.

Writing

I’ve had a strong year for outdoor writing, but it has begun to pivot from ‘adventure’ to something subtly different. My writing has taken on a stronger environmental consciousness, and I’ve also begun to focus on the experience and character of solitude in wild places. Most of the non-fiction books I’ve read this year have, broadly, fallen into these categories too.

My first major writing job was the winter Cape Wrath Trail project with TGO magazine, which I completed in partnership with SPOT. This was the first time I’d created any sponsored content for a brand, and the project involved a range of online pieces in addition to a major storytelling feature in print and a slew of gear content. With hindsight there are some things I’d do differently – the SPOT X device I had on loan, for example, had some reliability and usability issues. However, I’m pleased with the written material I created. Even though it’s advertorial content, the commercial touch is very light. It’s tricky to find the right balance with this kind of content. I think that TGO has the right approach – you’ll find some more sensitively done advertorial features in the latest (February 2020) issue.

Other writing work for TGO this year included a comparative review of smart watches, a piece (created with Mark Waring) on outdoor bloggers who go backpacking in Scandinavia, and a feature called ‘A Test of Mettel’ comparing two visits to Mettelhorn in the Swiss Alps ten years apart. This piece is the most personally significant I’ve written this year, and it prompted much thought about my own impact on the mountains.

In October, I was delighted to learn that my TGO feature ‘Summits & Skylarks’ had been awarded the OWPG Award for Excellence (Outdoor/Travel Feature). This is my first writing award, and it means a lot to me – I think ‘Summits & Skylarks’ is the best piece of work I created in 2018.

I signed a book deal with Vertebrate Publishing in the same month. Work on The Farthest Shore, which tells the story of my winter Cape Wrath Trail and my journey from grief towards an attentive silence, is now well underway.

At the Vertebrate Publishing office, talking through my ideas for The Farthest Shore. My wife’s cakes helped seal the deal…
Image © Jon Barton

In December I started work on a secret project that I can’t tell anyone about just yet. All I can tell you is that it will occupy a good deal of my time between now and next summer, I’m very excited about it, and all will be revealed at the proper time.

Editing

My editorial work has undergone a significant shift this year. After returning from the Pyrenean Haute Route, I made the decision to step down as Online Editor of TGO – a pre-emptive measure to stave off burnout. I was doing too much, working too hard on too many fronts, and something had to give.

I’m glad to say that, two months later, things are a lot calmer and I’ve made room for some exciting new projects I never would have found the capacity for otherwise. It was the right move at the right time.

Nevertheless, it’s been a year I can be proud of from an editorial standpoint at TGO. After Emily Rodway’s departure as editor, I stepped in to manage the magazine for a month or so, and was responsible for creating the August issue. I also edited this year’s Scandinavian supplement. Editorial operations are now in the capable hands of Carey Davies and Chiara Bullen, and I’ve returned to my previous role as a feature writer, walks writer, and reviewer of books and gear.

This year I have edited books from established clients Mark Horrell and John Burns. In the spring I worked on Mark’s engaging and funny Feet and Wheels to Chimborazo, and in early summer I completed the edit of John’s Sky Dance with Vertebrate Publishing. You can read more about my experience with Sky Dance in this blog post. Towards the end of the year I started work on John’s latest book, Wild Winter, also with Vertebrate Publishing. This will be an ongoing project over the next few months. John’s books have become incredibly successful; Bothy Tales, which I edited in 2018, has recently sold out and is having to be reprinted. The Last Hillwalker is also a bestseller.

Pinnacle Editorial client John Burns at the launch of Sky Dance, 5th of September 2019, at the Highland Bookshop in Fort William
Image © Alex Roddie

Work for Sidetracked magazine has continued as usual. I’ve sub-edited volumes 14, 15 and 16, along with numerous web features.

New clients this year include Dr. Marion Dresner and Graeme Harvey. Marion is a professor at Portland State University who has written a fascinating book about ecology, rewilding, and human prehistory, bringing together numerous ideas from subjects as diverse as cave paintings and farmers’ markets. Working on this book was a real pleasure. Graeme is an ultrarunner and author, and I started working on his books this summer after meeting up with him and his wife Kirsty in York. I’m really enjoying the process of editing his lively and humorous tales of running, cycling and walking on the trails of Europe.

Towards the end of the year, thanks to my calendar filling up much more quickly than anticipated, I made the unusual decision to declare myself fully booked well into next summer. It’s been a successful year, and I’ve laid the foundations for 2020 to be more successful still.

Personal

I’ll keep this brief. In June I blogged about a milestone in my weight-loss journey: 20kg in two years. Although a couple of kilos have snuck back on, as they always do in the winter, this has been one of the most positive changes I’ve made for myself in a long time. I’m still running two or three times a week alongside my regular hiking.

It has been a year of experimentation in how I deal with social media. I started the year in a deeply negative frame of mind about it, finished my winter CWT feeling a lot more positive, then had a Twitter burnout in June. My social media hiatus lasted until September, when I returned cautiously. Over the last couple of months my involvement has increased again, but I remain acutely aware of its impact on my thought processes and mental well-being. I’ll be taking another break of a few weeks before too long. Overall, I’ve learned a great deal about how to live with social media – most of all that in my line of work I can’t ignore it or quit entirely, and I’ve got to learn to be ok with that. I’ve learned to value its positive sides, too, rather than focusing exclusively on the negative aspects.

2019 has been my first full year married to the wonderful and talented Mrs Hannah Roddie. Marriage is awesome – I recommend it. Even though we’d been a couple for almost eight years when we got married, it’s brought us even closer together and enriched our lives in ways I never would have expected.

‘You’re pointing that camera at me again, mister…’
© Alex Roddie

Areas for change in 2020

At the end of 2018, I set myself a few goals. Let’s see how I did, and where I’m heading next.

The outdoors

Last year, I wrote that I wanted to hike the CWT in winter, plus a ‘greater number of shorter trips’. I also said that I was unlikely to go abroad unless something specific came up. It’s fair to say that something did!

In 2020, the only trip I have planned so far is the TGO Challenge, which I’ll be hiking in May. More here. I’d like to do a few more short trips to the hills, hopefully a bit of winter mountaineering – and I’ll again state that I’m unlikely to go abroad next year. If I do, I won’t be flying. I’ve made up my mind that I want to avoid flying at all costs from now on. If that means a longer and more expensive journey by rail, so be it.

Work

At the end of 2018 I wrote that ‘The main thing I need to achieve in 2019 is a steadier work schedule’. I have done that, but it took over half the year to get there. Things are going in the right direction.

I already have half of next year mapped out – and I have enough margin built in to my schedule to cope with unforeseen issues. I’m feeling confident about editorial and writing work for next year.

I haven’t done as much public speaking this year as I’d expected, mostly because I haven’t had time. I don’t know if I’ll do any more talks next year, but I certainly will from 2021 after The Farthest Shore is published.


I think that just about covers everything. I hope all my friends, colleagues, clients and readers have a wonderful Christmas and a happy new year.

Header image © James Roddie Photography; All Rights Reserved. Please don’t reproduce the images on this page without permission.

10 Comments

Thanks for taking us along on your trips this year.. Really enjoyed your ‘angle’. Some brilliant photos too. Wishing you a merry Christmas & a happy hiking new year!

Thanks for taking us along with you on your journeys this year. Some brilliant photos too. Wishing you a merry Christmas & a happy hiking 2020!

Thanks for taking us along on your journeys. Some brilliant photos too. Wishing you a Merry Christmas & a happy hiking 2020!

Hi Alex, nice work nice hikes, nice site. I stumbled into your work after looking up something about Sasseneire. You climbed it; i am reading a novel about it by the Swiss Author Charles Ferdinand Ramuz. Published in 1924. Dont know if it has been translated in English. Big fear in the mountains. And it is just that. I relive my fearful moments in the Alps, falling into crevasses, sliding down gullies and losing a mitten while climbing breithorn nf….
looking forward to your book! Keep me posted.
Cheers
Kenneth vanZyl

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