• Josh Valentine: 'The Majesty of the Midge' (Part 1 of 6)

  • My life is the wild. Quite literally in fact, which I feel privileged to be able to say with such sincerity. I make my living teaching and guiding a variety of  outdoor programs and adventure sports, from mountaineering and climbing, to wilderness survival, to adventure film and writing, and so on. It is an ever-changing and an often unpredictable existence, to the point that I have forsaken a physical address and residence in favor of an old, gutted out minivan that has been converted into a gear closet on wheels. Weighed down to the wells with whitewater and climbing gear, it is a cozy little home, despite being one that often smells quite vividly of running shoe and wet dog. Sadly, there is no dog I can blame this upon. I achieve it regularly all on my own. If anyone out there has tricks for keeping the smell out of regularly used neoprene and climbing shoes, I'm all ears.

    portable kit store

    All that aside, I am comfortable saying that I have spent a good deal of my life training and thinking within a mindset that could be fairly described as “wild fitness”, long before I’d ever realised that there was actually a company out there by that very name.

    Rock Climbing Headtorch

    It's fair to say that no small amount of fireworks went off in my head once I’d been exposed to Wildfitness. Being exposed to what they do, I came to realise that there was a whole body of theory, knowledge, and practice to several concepts that had always been inherent, albeit undeveloped aspects of things I already thought and did. This world of wild movement even had its own subculture, one that connected so much from so many different fields, with more interwoven thought than I could have ever imagined.

    Coming down from climbing a glacier on the largest mountain in the Pacific Northwestern US, I was unhappy with my performance and convinced that there is a better nutritional approach to mountaineering. This led my good friend and climbing partner to share a book with me on movement. The contents unexpectedly become the conceptual linchpin to a series of ideas that I’d first been exposed to while drinking a beer with a group of complete strangers, at a pub along the River Thames in London.

    I had only met these strangers because by chance encounter with one of them in the middle of nowhere, while teaching an extreme survival course in the Scottish Highlands and enduring the onslaught of their local insect swarms, warmly referred to as midges. And now, as I write these words, I am on a Chinese Airline to Nepal to test all of these concepts out atop one of the world's grander stages: the Himalayan Mountains.

    Rock Climbing Scotland

    My Himalaylan story will come later on in my series of blogs, so for now, let's jump back in time about a year.

    Sitting in the middle of a cloudy glen on a massive wildlife reserve known as Alladale, I am doing my best to give my clients on the Bear Grylls Survival Academy 5 Day Extreme Survival Course my full attention. I am teaching them to build fire, and they are struggling. Not so much because of the damp and oft-unforgiving wilderness of north Scotland, but more specifically because they are being swarmed by countless thousands of tiny, biting, gnat like creatures that literally cover their bodies and heads in patches large enough to obscure the colour of their outer garments.

    For this reason, I too am struggling. The onslaught of the midge has gone on in varying intensity the last several days, and when they weren’t out, some form of disagreeable weather generally was. Yet this was a 5-Day Extreme Survival Course in the Scottish Highlands, offered by the Bear Grylls Survival Academy. So they as clients, and myself as one of three instructors (the other two currently taking refuge in a small stone shack called the Badger Hide, dreading their turn to teach their own lesson) knew what we were getting into when we signed on the line.

    Trail Running Scottish Highlands

    In fairness, I have dealt with plenty voracious insect swarms in my life, yet I couldn't deny that few, if any had rivaled the sheer capacity of the Scottish midge. Even our blackflies back home in the Northeastern US were certainly capable of this, but only a few times had I experienced them to this level.

    Needless to say, the last thing I expected to come across out in this barren setting was a well-dressed lady from London named Sara, scouting the preserve for some sort of fitness retreat.

    It made a fair bit more sense once I thought about it. The Alladale Lodge was massive and beautiful, just as the reserve was. Visit at the right time of year, and you’ll see a pristine image of a gorgeous landscape almost otherworldly, and free of the swarms of microscopic hellhounds currently feasting on my person. It seemed the perfect balance for what she was describing, and, (mostly because it had wild in the title), I presented myself as a viable candidate for the job.

    About six months later, I was sitting around that pub table on the Thames with a group of enthusiastic strangers, drinking in beer and as much as I could about this company and what it delivered before I was shipped back to Alladale a month or so later (albeit under vastly more luxurious and midge-free conditions) to assist in delivering it.

    In some ways, it was a bit of a jump. The Bear Grylls Academy slogan is “It may hurt a little,” whereas by contrast, the ethos of WildFitness, from what I could gather, seemed to be teaching you wild ways to move and live designed to reduce pain. Since the vast majority of what I do for a living focused on enduring some sort of suffering or discomfort, a part of me was admittedly excited to see what came along with this new transition.

    Highlands Camping Alladale

    Since the company was new to me, I was brought on board for my wilderness background and specific knowledge of the reserve. The other instructors, led by a lively coach Nala (to this day I still think of the Lion King), would handle the bulk of the brand delivery, while I would deliver the wilderness aspects and assist and learn with everything else.

    There was even discussion that if things progressed, and progressed well, then perhaps I would be able to act as a key piece of bringing Wildfitness over to the United States, a goal the company had held for some time. My mind flashed immediately to my home turf of the Northeast.

    You can trust me when I say I've gone along with far worse ideas.

    If nothing else, it was a new adventure with new people that promised plenty new to learn and experience. Before I knew it, I was on a plane bound for the U.K.

    Scottish Highlands Vista

    Standing in front of the Alladale Lodge, I watched the red stags graze across the lawn, and greedily drew in breath after breath of pleasant, midge-free highland air. And then, in need of a haircut, but otherwise fresh and ready in my new Wildfitness uniform, I set off from Alladale in one of two Land Rovers, bound for Inverness Airport to pick up our first batch of clients and see what this whole thing was all about.