Putting yourself out there is always a positive even if you end up back where you started, says Peter Sherwood. Focus on the journey not the destination
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My Left Foot is the 1954 autobiography of author, poet and artist Christy Brown. One of 13 surviving children born into poverty in Ireland, cerebral palsy restricted his movement to only his left foot. Typing an award-winning book with just a toe was a staggering achievement. It reminds me of my left leg – and there the comparison comes to a juddering halt.
But I can still discuss my lower limb which I persuaded, with permission of the opposing extremity, to hike thousands of kilometres without their total rebellion. The right mechanism is a work of athletic art and would probably go alone were it possible, while the left appendage is medically quirky, constantly asserting itself by way of irritating injuries. No clean break like the snapping of a dry branch, but enough to seek the indignity of treatment.
And it conspires to get me lost, sometimes driving me back to the start in a perfect circle, legs acting like a protractor in a kid’s geometry class. A 30-kilometre mountain hike in France with friend Carina was more an embarrassment than a life-threatening mistake, leaving us back at square one after a delightful morning.
Left leg wounds have been the result of stupidity or lack of focus. Like Roger Federer (I love the comparison) who twisted his knee and spent six months in rehab after removing his twins from the bathtub. My own impairments are nothing if not varied: broken ankle, fractured ankle, an annihilated ACL, massacred meniscus, DVT twice and a shin splint.
It would be easy to blame my directional woes on the offending limb. It would be, it is, and I just did. What else can I hold responsible for my ambulatory inadequacies? I made getting lost a virtue by insisting it is only then that we discover unexpected people and places. I get to be viewed as wildly contrarian – and mad.
I once walked three people up a hill into dense cloud having convinced them I was the terrestrial version of Henry the Navigator. I blurted out the old chestnut, “If I don’t know where I am, I change where I want to be,” and added as an aside, “I’m not lost in the traditional sense, but exploring new opportunities.” After they threatened to push my folksy rear off a cliff, I harangued them with a sermon, explaining that if they weren’t shivering with cold and in danger, they’d have no interesting after-dinner conversation.
In the Italian mountains I got more lost than Percy Fawcett in the Amazon. I convinced the girl with me to aim for a village 10 kilometres distant. It was the wrong way but turned out to have been voted the prettiest village in the country, not too shabby for a random choice. Being lost I’ve met people who invited me home to stay. (The 14th century meaning of lost was ‘wasted, ruined, spent in vain.’ I’m more the 16th century version, ‘no longer to be found, gone astray.’)
As for the wonderful three-hour mountain circuit with Carina, I remain torn: Was it a waste of time, or a memorable 180-minute chunk of life? It was both, the difference is a hike forever etched on my memory. My advice? Get lost!
Peter Sherwood has lived in DB for 20+ years. The former head of an international public relations firm, he is the author of 15 books and has written around 400 satirical columns for the South China Morning Post.