REFLECTIONS: GAIL MULLER
I’ve been surrounded by green and blue since I was born. They’re my foundation. My roots. I live in a Cornish seaside town, a few miles from the countryside where I grew up. Being in a town for the past few years has been brilliant, but I’m ready to remove myself from the hubbub of people and traffic – minimal though it is – and enjoy even more natural space in my day-to-day.
As I begin to understand that I’m not neurotypical (I’m very likely ADHD), it makes even more sense to me why I crave natural spaces and sounds to help deal with overstimulation and too much sensory input. Being outdoors is a perfect balm for my brain.
In 2019, I was working at full tilt – giving every ounce of myself to my students, travelling back and forth between London and Cornwall every week on the sleeper train, with a diary full of commitments. One day, I realised that the busy diary, the city streets, and the ‘achievements’ weren’t the answer. It was less I needed, not more. So I let go of all I had believed my life should be and refocused on what my heart was longing for – green spaces, solitude, and a return to myself by trying something completely different.
My first book, Unlost, is a memoir of my journey through chronic illness, pain, recovery and then taking myself for a wild adventure through 2,200 miles of the Appalachian Trail in the USA. It’s the book I wanted to find and read when I was in my lowest moments – stuck and lost, needing inspiration and hope. It’s a testament to hope itself, the power of the wild outdoors and the ability of the human spirit to overcome and find joy even in the darkest times. It winds across mountains and through wild forests, so there’s plenty of action, fun and characters along the way!
I hope that readers will feel inspired by the book and also ‘seen’– because I talk about some big, tricky topics that many people feel they suffer with alone. I also hope it’ll make people laugh and give them a renewed belief that anything is possible, even against the odds. If it makes people step outdoors to move towards happiness, then I will be utterly delighted.
A perfect day for me would be combining a long coastal hike with some cold-water sea dips along the way.
Being out in the elements gives me a feeling of resetting, of coming back to what’s important, and being in touch with the tides of myself and my life. When I reach overwhelm, it’s humbling and comforting to be embraced by the rain, the breeze or the sunshine. Even when life’s good and I’m not feeling busy or stressed, getting out in the elements every day is a way to boost my creativity and get into a ‘flow’ state. The elements also always remind me that things change and that’s just how it’s supposed to be, which is a great lesson.
I’ve always wrestled with which I love to explore more – the mountains or the coast. The sea is in my blood. It’s where I grew up. So I always feel the most like myself near water, especially salt water. The sea humbles me and reminds me of my place, and it’s also great at either reflecting or calming my moods. It’s absolutely a soul tonic for me. The mountains feel less like home, but they awaken a different kind of wonder and creativity in me. I love the elevation, the feeling of awe at the views and the quiet stillness of being between trees climbing towards a summit. Getting to the top of a mountain is a real journey, but at the same time, that can limit its accessibility! So, for me, it probably always comes back to water as a place I can feel most reflective and in tune with myself.
Walking the whole South West Coast Path last summer, it was incredible to see just how much the coastline changed when I got outside of my home county of Cornwall. Devon, Somerset, and Dorset are absolutely beautiful, and I was especially awed by the Jurassic Coast. I’ve hiked, strolled and run much of the Cornish coast path in my life, and it was brilliant to put all the pieces together in one stretch. It helped me to understand each section in context. Also, after hiking the Appalachian Trail, known as the ‘green tunnel’ for all its trees, it was a breath of fresh air to hike 600+ miles with the open expanse of the sea giving me its energy.
I know that long-distance expeditions are hard to achieve when you have other things in life to consider. I’ve shaped my life around being able to take these trips because they’re what makes me happy and are part of my work, but it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. The benefits of adventure and an adventurous mindset can be achieved in smaller pockets of time and can be accessible to all.
One great way to feel adventurous locally is to treat your hometown or area as if you were a tourist visiting for the first time – I bet you haven’t been to all the places you’d recommend to others, at least not for a while. How lovely to see your home turf with fresh eyes, especially in the off-season. Or, if that doesn’t appeal, then do something ‘usual’ in ‘unusual’ weather – do the local walk in the pouring rain and feel invigorated. Get up early and swim as the sun comes up if you live by the water. Research a different route to work every day this week and stick to it. Back roads, bicycle or by foot! You never know what you’ll find when you get off the beaten track.
You’ve got to have some pick-me-ups stowed in your hiking bag. I like a lemon and ginger teabag for the evening, or a little hip flask with some nice whiskey!
I’m a recent convert to cold water swimming, finally taking the plunge this winter after years of finding it intimidating. It soothes my physical pain and is a great reset for my mind too. I like to keep it local, meeting up with a friend for an early morning swim. I don’t like crowds and don’t mind getting up with the sun! So, my favourite spot for a dip is usually somewhere on the Helford in Cornwall, or if I want to go super close, I head to Castle Beach in Falmouth. I spent much of my childhood there with my mum and grandmother, so it has lovely memories for me.
Last month, I walked the West Highland Way with my friend Kris Hallenga to raise money for her incredible breast cancer charity CoppaFeel. Each evening, I used the land&water body oil for a little leg massage. It felt like the perfect thing for the end of a tough day because it has such a warming and soothing fragrance. It’s made with all-natural ingredients, which is perfect because I didn’t want to put something ‘chemical’ on my body after a beautiful day in the outdoors.
The little ‘ritual’ of leg massage is important because I often get calf and leg cramps after long hikes.These can hurt and keep me awake at night when I need some well-earned sleep! So, using the land&water oil made what can be a nightly chore much more enjoyable. The warm orange and ginger scent, with wafts of lavender and cedarwood, made me feel calm as well – setting me up for a good night’s sleep.
Unlost is available for pre-order now and will be released on 7thSeptember