5.07.2009

TGO, better late than never.......




Together with the BBC TGO magazine forms an umbilical link to my home country. The BBC bring things both welcome and unwelcome into my home. A strange mix of the finest documentaries made (think of Yellowstone, and Galapagos) and increasingly shoddy journalism (for example the recent over emphasis of the credit crunch and shiny overpaid breakfast presenters who provide me with unwanted opinions at the time of day when I'm least open to them). TGO on the other hand delivers a monthly dose of what I still consider to be MY Britain. Sketching in pictures and words the places, activities and gear that I would rather be at or doing or using, for a small but significant portion of my time.

Not surprisingly I eagerly await each new issue and when it arrives, read it cover to cover, forwards and backwards, until it's dogeared and coffee-stained. The anticipation is amplified by the fact that my overseas sub is unpredictable. Occasionally I receive my copy just after they appear on the shelves in the UK. At other times the content has been the subject of forum and blog for so long that I've virtually read the issue before it hits my doormat. Its not unusual to get two issues within a week of each other.

The May issue was very late. There's not much point in blogging opinion of much of the content. Others have already done so, and better than I can: Andy Howel has already expressed my sentiments regarding the Jeffrey Archer interview and an inspirational piece by Chris Townsend on his love of backpacking. Although Eddy Meecham's piece explaining is ultralight philosophy and his intention to extend it into his everyday life has also received much attention I would still like to add something here.
I've had mixed feelings about Eddy Meechams writing since he first appeared in TGO. I've always found it entertaining but much of what he presents is so alien to me that I'm unlikey ever to adopt it (water pistols, face masks?). Nevetheless, whatever the content, Eddy's stance challenges me to think about and re-assess my appraoch to backpacking. Eddy isn't the first to do this. TGO has a history of providing me with new motivation. Andrew Terril was single-handedly responsible for my move from traditional to lightweight backpacking and got me back in a bivvy bag (more on that another time). However, Eddy certainly does it in the most radical way.

In his May article, Eddy has provided me with real food for tought (a four course meal, coffee and mints!). He refers to a lively exchange on the TGO forum which centred on the rights and wrongs of going without map and compass. He expresses an opinion that the action of leaving map and compass behind is an embodiment of his ultra-light philosophy since it entails pushing the boundaries of skill and physiology. His comments land close to home. I was personally involved in the debate and expressed a strong belief that navigational aids and the ability to use them effectively are essential for any trip into wild country. They should never be left at home right? But wait a minute is that just what I was taught all those years ago? Perhaps there are circumstances under which it is acceptable to travel without navigational aids?

On balance, after long hours of self-searching, I still insist that it is not sensible to leave map and compass (or GPS/satmap) at home. My personal assessment of the risk associated with wilderness travel dictates that I will always have basic navigational aids to hand. For me it remains non-negotiable. However, the Forum debate and Eddy's article are two fine examples of what I consider to be the best of TGO. The magazine, it's writers and readers continue to challenge me, to make me re-consider opinions long since fossilised and to reassess. In some small way TGO is, perhaps, helping me to be a better person? It is at least, almost certainly, helping me to be a better backpacker.

I wish Eddy all the best in his future life as a 24/7 Ultralighter, long may he inspire thoughtful debate.

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