In early August 2022 I decided that, as a 50th birthday present to myself, I was going to walk across the whole of England, from the Cumbrian Village of St. Bees to Robin Hood’s Bay in North Yorkshire, following the path of Wainwright’s Coast to Coast. This is a journal of the preparation of that trip.
August 5, 2022: Recently, while I was in the UK on vacation, I started thinking about Wainwright’s Coast to Coast, which is a 192-mile walk between the west and east coasts of Northern England, traversing three national parks: The Lake District, The Yorkshire Dales, and The North York Moors. While I was in London I stopped at a bookstore and picked up both Wainwright’s original guide and a modern, updated, and more practical guide to the walk. Earlier this week I watched a six-part documentary about the Coast to Coast from about ten years ago. Then I read a bunch of travelogues of people who have done it and websites which talk about it. Then I thought. And then I thought some more.
And then I decided, yeah, I’m gonna do it.
The biggest reason to do it is that it looks like a hell of a lot of fun. It’s beautiful country. The sort of country that God Himself could not improve upon if He were trying to craft a place more suited to my particular aesthetic and climatic sensibilities.
The next biggest reason is that it suits my particular speed as an outdoorsman. As in: I’m a pretty good day-tripper in the outdoors, but I don’t really feel like carrying 30-35 pounds worth of crap my on my back and sleeping in a tent in the middle of nowhere at this point in my life. One of the key selling points of the Coast to Coast is that, while one can camp and while many do, it’s also possible to simply end up in a little village or town at the end of each day’s journey, check into a B&B, have dinner and a pint in a pub, sleep in a bed, and get a nice breakfast before taking off the next morning. There are even services which, for a little extra money, will deliver your luggage to the next B&B on your itinerary when you leave each day so it’ll be waiting for you when you’re done with that day’s walk, so a day pack and a little lunch is all you really need to schlep with you on the trail. I don’t get a sense of accomplishment from being all rugged and rustic. I just wanna look at the pretty things and spend several hours a day in that zen headspace in which one finds oneself when one walks a great distance. Having a shower, a clean pair of underwear, a warm meal, and a beer waiting for me each evening will make that all the better.
The walk itself seems pretty doable. Yes, 192 miles is a lot, but if you break it up over 14 or 15 days, as most people do, you only have one or two days worth of 20-mile walks with the rest being 15 miles or fewer. That’s still pretty strenuous stuff, but I’ve gone on 15 mile walks fairly often, including many in West Virginia or California where the elevation changes over the course of a single walk can be just as extreme, or more so, than they are in the Lake District or the Pennines.
The biggest issue, of course, is that these are not going to be walks with days off in between them. One 15-mile walk is doable for me now, but I need a day or two for my feet and legs to recover when I do it. If I were to do a couple of them back-to-back it’d be pretty rough. Doing 14 or 15 days of walks, averaging 13.7 miles a day, will take some real training. Which leads me to the next consideration: timing.
I have decided that the Coast to Coast will be a combination of a 50th birthday present to myself and a reward/balm for becoming an empty nester. My 50th birthday is July of next year. I will become an empty nester the following month when Carlo goes away to college. As such, I have pegged mid-to-late September 2023 as when I will take my walk. That should give me plenty of time to train for it and save for it and it will fall at what I reckon to be an ideal time for a person like me to take the walk. It won’t be too crowded with summer hikers and northern England won’t be as likely to be hit by a summer heatwave, but it won’t be so late that I’ll have to deal with much in the way of real cold. Yeah, the chance of getting rained on increases as summer turns to fall, but it’s England. There’s always a chance of getting rained on.
I don’t view the next year as merely training time, however. It’s also going to be focusing time and, to some extent, distracting time.
I’ve been feeling a bit adrift of late. Anna leaving for college in a couple of weeks is really starting to get to me, but it’s not a sadness in response to her leaving as such. She’s more than ready to go so I’m not worried about her. As it is I text with her more than I talk to her these days, so as far as day-to-day conversation goes it won’t necessarily be all that different. I’ll adjust to her absence, in and of itself, pretty well I figure.
But her impending departure is causing me to wonder who and what I’ll be once both the kids are out of the house in a year. I’ve spent the last 18+ years defining myself, first and foremost, as a father. I’ll always be a father, of course, but what that means is about to change in a pretty major way and I really am not sure how that change will go. I will still be a husband and a writer and both of those things are extraordinarily important to me but one’s relationship with one’s kids is different than one’s relationship with one’s spouse and I’ll never be someone who lets their career define them, even if I like my career a whole hell of a lot.
I think a lot of people who suffer from empty nest syndrome do so because, suddenly, they don’t have anything nearly as pressing to do as raising their kids on a day-to-day basis. At best that can lead to some ennui. In some it can probably also lead to no small amount of angst and panic. I think in my case it’ll cause me to be a little bit lost for a while. I’ll have to deal with all of that in time, but having some goal to which I can commit myself in the meantime is important. As Alfred Wainwright himself says in his book about the Coast to Coast walk, “an objective is an ambition, and life without ambition is, well, aimless wandering.” Walking 192 miles across the whole of England will not give me Great Purpose in Life or anything, and it will certainly not give me an identity. But for a year or so, starting now, it’ll give me an objective and an ambition and might help me be less aimless.
First up: shedding the bloat I accumulated over the summer from my little jaunts to Texas and the Blue Ridge Mountains and my big jaunt to the UK. As I do that I’ll get back in my regular workout routine, which consists of incline treadmill work, pushups, squats, and at least attempting not to eat like a pig and drink like a fish. Once I feel back in reasonable shape — and once it stops being 90 degrees and humid every damn day — I’ll begin working up my walking strength. And, because I’m old and I have crappy posture which causes my back to start hurting before my legs when I hike these days, I’ll probably be investing in some trekking poles which is a thing I swore I’d never do.
No one said ambition was pretty, man.
September 4, 2022: I was a chubby kid from the age of about 11 until I was 15 or 16 or so. I played a lot of video games, watched a lot of TV, ate a lot of junk food, and, apart from football practice, which wasn’t exactly strenuous, I did’t get a lot of exercise. It wasn’t extreme. I was not teased about it or called names or anything, but it was something I was conscious of and which caused me a decent amount of self-loathing. When I was in the 10th grade something happened and I just shed a bunch of weight. It wasn’t planned. I didn’t exercise or consciously change my diet and I didn’t shoot up all that much in height or anything. It just happened. The day I graduated high school I was the same height I am now — a shade over 5’10” — and I weighed 185 pounds. When I bothered to think about it, which wasn’t often, I felt pretty OK about it.
In college, beer and pizza and stuff caused me to put on a few pounds and I’d end up spending most of my 20s a good 10-15 pounds heavier than I would’ve liked to be. Occasionally I’d creep up to 200 pounds, hate myself for a little bit, spend a couple of months exercising and watching what I ate until I was down in the low-to-mid 190s. By my early 30s my job had gotten stressful, the social pressures of my law firm encouraged heavy drinking, and fatherhood took away any time or energy I had to either exercise or eat right. I was no lower than 200 pounds from 2004 until 2010. At times I was north of 210 pounds — sometimes a good bit above it — and I felt absolutely awful. In my mind I was that fat kid from middle school again and I hated it.
In March 2011 I bought a treadmill and made a concerted effort to exercise regularly and eat fewer sweets and fatty foods. Between then and that October I dropped around 30 pounds. It’s probably worth noting that my marriage crumbled during almost exactly those same months so I suppose some of that weight loss was stress weight loss, but I am pretty confident that the exercise and watching what I ate was most of the story. Either way, on November 1, 2011, at the age of 38, I weighed in at 183 pounds, two fewer pounds than I was when I graduated high school 20 years before. My personal life was a wreck, but I looked and felt pretty damn good physically.
In the 11 years since then I’ve fluctuated up and down a bit, but I’ve never gotten back to that bad place I had been for most of my 30s. I’ve been as low as 179 pounds — that came in 2013, after a period in which I was making a concerted effort to exercise more as my 40th birthday approached — and as high as the mid-190s. Usually I’m hovering someplace between 182 and 190 pounds and I feel alright about it. Right now I’m just north of 190 and I don’t feel particularly good about it, but the many travels and excesses of this past summer are over and having the Coast to Coast walk a year ahead of me is now focusing me.
Not that the Coast to Coast is about losing weight. As I mentioned in the first post about all of this, it’s about much bigger things. I am noting it now, however, because I’m beginning to prepare for what will prove to be the most difficult thing I’ve ever done, physically speaking, and I wanted to mark the starting point. And to talk out loud about what I’ve come to accept in recent years is some weird, even if mild, body dysmorphia. I mean, there is no rational, let alone physical basis for me feeling like I’m in amazing shape when I weigh 185 pounds but like a horrible sloth when I weigh 195, but I do for some reason. I’m sure it’s all tied up in feeling bad about myself when I was 12. I’m pretty sure it’ll never go away.
Even a guy with a messed up body image knows, however, that for purposes of the Coast to Coast weight is nowhere near as important as physical fitness. That walk is about putting one foot in front of the other for two weeks while trying to put 192 miles between myself and the Village of St. Bees. One can do that wonderfully well even if they’re a few pounds north of where they’d like to be and one can be supremely ill prepared to do that at their ideal weight. Not surprisingly, as I’m writing this I have a LONG way to go until I’m ready for that.
I am going to mark September 1, 2020 — this past Friday — as the beginning of my training. That’s arbitrary, I suppose, but that day I did go for a decent walk outside for the first time since I decided to do the Coast to Coast and it gave me something of a baseline from which to begin. It was just a walk around town, the sort of which I do fairly often. The distances on those walks vary. Sometimes they’re only three miles. Sometimes they’re ten miles. I fall in and out of grooves with those walks, doing more of them in the late winter and early spring when cabin fever is getting to me, dropping back when it gets really hot in the summer, and starting up again in the fall until it gets too cold to bother. The walks aren’t workouts, really. Or at least I don’t think of them that way, as I still have that treadmill and use it when I want to properly exercise. To me these walks are just, well, walks.
This particular walk was only about three and a half miles. I never got tired during the walk — it’s flat here and I was not pushing myself to keep up a given pace — but my feet were sore when I was done and I could tell that I had exerted myself when I woke up the next morning and that’s far from ideal. Today I walked a little over four miles around town. My feet and legs felt a little better than they did on Friday but I began to feel a little pain in my middle-to-upper back toward the end of the walk, the sort of which I usually don’t feel until I’m pushing ten miles when I’m in decent shape. None of that, obviously, is a big deal given that I’m not walking the Coast to Coast for a year, but it certainly puts me in mind of just how far I have to go between now and then.
As it stands, the plan now is to try to work myself into generally decent shape by around the first of the year. Part of that will involve outside walks but I’m not too concerned about actual walking strength yet. I mostly just want to be at a foundation of good health and fitness heading into 2023 so that I’m well prepared to begin more specialized exercise — core strength, leg strength, back strength — and to ramp up walking distances starting in the late winter. My hope is that by late spring to early summer I’m in a place where I’m able to do 10-15 mile walks on back-to-back days without any sort of strain or physical discomfort, which is what the folks who train people to do long walks like the Coast to Coast say people should be able to do.
At the moment that doesn’t sound daunting. We’ll see what happens when the rubber hits the road.
September 15, 2022: For over 11 years my treadmill workouts have been accompanied by television. I tend to do about 45 minutes on the treadmill and that’s perfect for either one hour-long TV episode without commercial breaks or two half hour-long episodes without commercial breaks. When I lost all that weight in 2011 I did so while watching the entire 14-episode run of “Firefly,” the entire 76-episode run of “Battlestar Galactica” and as much of the entire run of “30 Rock” as there was on Netflix through mid-2011. Since then there’s always some show I’ve watched, though I’ve never been as regularly committed to treadmill work since then as I was that first year. Sometimes I think watching TV on the treadmill has been a hindrance, actually, as if there were no shows I was really into at any given time I’d feel less enthused about working out.
At the end of August I had to move Anna up to Vermont for college. It was an eleven and a half hour drive there and another eleven and a half hours back. While I’m usually good with music for even the longest drives, this time I decided that I’d listen to an audiobook. I listened to most of the Middle Ages history Powers and Thrones. It was excellent and the 23 hours on the road absolutely flew by. This was something of a revelation. It made me wonder if I could listen to audiobooks on the treadmill or when walking outside.
Yep, it worked. The next book I got was the World War I history The Guns of August, and completed that in between treadmill and outdoor walks. I’m just now starting Bill Bryson’s popular science book A Short History of Nearly Everything in the same way. Listening to audiobooks makes the workouts and walks, like the drive to Vermont, zip by with ease. It’s also significantly increasing my book consumption, which has fallen off dramatically in recently years, probably because I spend too much time online and, by the time evening rolls around, my eyes have reached the limits of their ability to consume words. My ears and brain are still in fine shape, though.
I don’t think I’ll want to listen to audiobooks while walking the actual Coast to Coast. I’ve found with audiobooks that if my mind wanders even a little bit I realize that I’ve missed entire passages. I hope and expect my mind to be distracted by all manner of wonderful things when I’m walking across England, so I’ll probably listen to music or, better yet, nothing. However that shakes out, I’ll likely get through a ton of books before the trip. It’ll help my training, too. I’ve already hopped on the treadmill a couple of times when I might not have otherwise done so, simply because I wanted to hear the next chapter.
September 24, 2022: I’ve been working out on the treadmill a bit more frequently and, on the weekends at least, I’ve been taking walks outside. Short ones at first, as most of September has been pretty hot, but cool fall air descended a few days ago and it’s been glorious. This morning I walked five miles around New Albany. My legs and feet felt fantastic. I could’ve gone a couple of more miles easily if they were the only consideration, but I got some of that middle back pain I mentioned before once again. It’s not a super sharp pain as much as it’s discomfort. It disappears as soon as I get home and stop walking and doesn’t trouble me at all until I’m out walking again. I could’ve continued walking with it if it was necessary, but it’s something I really want to figure out and address pretty soon. Maybe it’s a posture issue and trekking poles will help, but given that I have nearly a year before the Coast to Coast I’m sure there is some sort of back-strengthening work I can do.
That aside, I’m happy that it hasn’t taken much work at all to get back into better walking shape as far as legs, feet, and stamina go. It’s far too early to try to gear-up for super long walks but I got online and mapped out four, five, six, seven, and eight-mile walks around here for just regular walks going forward. They’re flat, so it’s less than ideal, but they’re right outside my door so I can take off and just start walking without much in the way of planning. I’ll try to work in some trips to Highbanks Metropark as well just to keep me honest and, of course, the incline on my treadmill is useful, even if there are some pretty significant differences between treadmill walking and covering actual ground (i.e. covering actual ground is harder).
All of that said, I still feel fairly fat and out of shape in a general sense. I’m still not weighing myself now because I don’t want to fixate on that, but I just feel bloated. We’re going to a friend’s wedding today. It’s the first time I’ll have a suit on in almost three years, I think. All of my suits are very nice, but they’re also slim-fit numbers, each of which I bought when I was in better shape than I am at the moment. The jackets will button but there is notable strain on the fabric. The pants will fasten, but they’re something less-than-comfortable. It’s not enough to justify a new suit and, even if I did, it’s not enough to justify going up a size, but it’s enough to where I’m self-conscious. I had the pants on my navy suit taken out half an inch just so I won’t be miserable. I wish I didn’t have to do that but I suppose I’ll feel better about myself if, six months from now, I have occasion to wear the suit again and realize that, oh no, it’s too baggy, best to wear the gray suit instead of this blue one.
September 25, 2022: A week ago I reached out to Packhorse, which is one of those companies that will handle logistics for people doing the Coast to Coast. I told them my plan and that I’m interested in getting a quote for booking and luggage hauling and stuff. No response. Packhorse is the company most prominently mentioned in the guidebooks, so I wanted to try them first but if I don’t hear back soon I guess I’ll go with someone else. The next one on the list is Maximum Adventure, LTD., which sounds like one of those rafting outfitters from West Virginia. Some of them are good! Some of them are shady as hell! Guess we’ll see. Me being in walking shape is the biggest factor in all of this, but having a place to stay each night is pretty damn important!
October 8, 2022: I just finished a freelance project. I’m not sure what the final name for it will be but I’ve been thinking of it as “The Stars of Major League Baseball.” It’s kind of a kids book a publisher reached out and asked me to do. It’s not exactly deep or mentally taxing — it’s an illustrated book with 500-word bios of the biggest stars of today, aimed at middle school book fairs and libraries and things — but (a) I remember reading a lot of books like that when I was a kid and I rather liked them; and (b) they paid me fairly generously for something that, honestly, didn’t take a ton of time to do, so I’m glad I did it. Of course even if the job wasn’t that difficult I, as I often do, procrastinated so it took over my last couple of weeks before the October 6th deadline. The biggest consequence of that was that I didn’t have a ton of time to work out or take walks, but now that that’s done — and due to a “Rethinking Fandom” presentation I had been slated to do down in Fort Myers, Florida at the end of the month has been canceled due to Hurricane Ian — my schedule is now wide open, so there’s more time for getting in shape.
This morning I took a just-under-seven-mile walk, out Dublin-Granville to Beech Road, up to Smith’s Mill, back to Kitzmiller, and then back home. I’ve done that walk before but I’m not in as good a shape as I was the last time I did it. Adding to the challenge was that it was 34 degrees when I left the house at 7:30am. Still, it went pretty well. I had three physical complaints but none of them are particularly concerning for me.
The first one was what, during the walk anyway, felt like a blister forming on the pad under my big toe on my left foot. When I got home, however, I realized that an actual blister had not formed, even if the skin was getting a little tender. I actually think that’s a good thing as it suggests the beginning of a callous there. Callouses are nature’s shoes, right? They develop to protect your feet, don’t they? I already have some around my heels and on the sides of my big toes by virtue of being 49 and, even if people pay a lot of money to get those sanded off, I want them, so go me. I will be watching to make sure that doesn’t actually blister, but I’m choosing to believe that today’s pain there was merely a function of me having grown soft over the last year or so and my body working to remedy that.
The second one was a new, though not particularly serious pain on the outside of my right quad, covering most of its length. It wasn’t a sharp pain and didn’t impede my stride so I suspect it was partially a function of the cold and partially a function of going a couple of miles farther than I had in a good while. Again, I’ll keep my eye on it but it didn’t seem like a problem.
Finally, the usual issue with my upper/middle back flared up. It was not quite as bad as it had been a month or two ago which was probably a good thing but it’s obviously going to continue to be my biggest issue. As I’ve said before, I think it’s mostly about posture and just the way I’m built and I’m hoping it goes away after I start using trekking poles. We’ll see.
We’ll also see how that long walk makes me feel tomorrow. As it is, I finished the walk at about 9:30am and it’s now 3PM and I feel pretty good. I can tell I walked nearly seven miles but I’m not feeling wiped out by it or anything. Maybe that’ll change tomorrow. If I wake up feeling OK, though, I’ll probably go on another chilly morning walk just to see how I do on back-to-back days.
UPDATE: The next day I felt mostly fine. A little soreness in the balls of my feet that could be bones or tendons or just general old man ache. I ended up not going on an early morning walk because some things came up, but since it was a lovely fall day Allison and I went to Blendon Woods Metro Park and walked a two mile loop. That wasn’t particularly strenuous but my feet actually felt better during and after the walk than they felt before, making me think it’s just soreness and stiffness I’ll be able to work my way out of with more walking.
October 14, 2021: My friend Ethan emailed me and suggested that we meet up for a hiking trip. At first he suggested Big Bend National Park and then, when we discussed how it’s really damn hard to get there, he pivoted to hiking in the Bay Area, maybe four hikes over five days or something, to be determined. It sounds like a fun idea so hopefully we can make it work.
Part of the impetus, he told me, is that he had recently been on a hike in Yosemite with a couple of guys. They were people from his industry — Ethan lives in Silicon Valley and has worked in tech for nearly 30 years — and they were all super talkative about this, that, and the other thing they all have in common generally speaking. Ethan, though normally talkative himself, told me that there he was in a quieter mood, that he wanted to appreciate his surroundings a bit more and was thus mildly annoyed. He said he ended up hiking way ahead of them so he could be on his own and that it ended up being really great and really peaceful. It made him want to hike more but to hike with what he called his “introverted friends” who can enjoy shared silences and leave it at that. I am one of those, he said, and he thinks it’d be great if we hiked together. I don’t think of myself as particularly introverted, but I do suppose he and I do shared silences pretty well. Going back as far as we do tends to make us serve more as each other’s historic, emotional ballast as opposed to chatty pals talking about our day-to-day goings on. There’s a lot that can be said about such a dynamic, but it makes for a great hiking partnership.
October 22, 2022: Allison went out of town with friends for the weekend giving me a pretty wide open Friday-Monday. I used a good bit of it yesterday morning in REI, beginning the process of trying to figure out what kind of clothes and gear I want for the Coast to Coast. Or, at the very least, as I ramp up training for the Coast to Coast. I have hiking shoes I like, but do I need boots? I have hiking pants and shorts that are adequate, but what should I get if I’m being super serious? What about base layers? What about some sort of headwear that can soak up a bald head’s sweat but also wick it away rather than just sort of sit there? Also, I eventually have to settle on the right backpack, because, while I have a decent Marmot day pack, it’s too small for what I’ll need and doesn’t have a water reservoir, which I have decided that I’d like to have.
I looked at all of that — and I think I settled on a bag: an Osprey Manta 24 — but I decided that I’d leave boots, hats, and gear like backpacks and trekking poles for another day. I ended up buying a pair of Kühl hiking pants, a nice merino wool quarter-zip base layer, and some decent wool socks with a bit more padding than the basic ones I usually wear.
This morning I went to Highbanks Metropark, getting there just before dawn, for a longish hike. It’s hard to do a long hike at any Metropark as the trails are usually between half a mile and a couple miles long, but in the bigger parks you can link together most or all of them to give you a substantial hike. And, of course, you can go in circles or go back over routes you’ve taken to increase the mileage. I had been shooting for ten — I did a ten-mile Hike in Highbanks a couple of years ago — but by the time I did all the looping I figured I could do this morning my pedometer said I only did eight. Still, an eight mile hike is pretty good so I called it a morning.
Less important than the mileage, though, was how I felt: pretty damn good!
There was zero in the way of that back pain I’d been getting of late. It could be a function of my being in slightly better shape than I was a few weeks ago. It could be that I was walking almost exclusively on dirt trails as opposed to sidewalks and roads like I do when I walk around New Albany. It could also be because, unlike my local walks, I took my little day pack with a liter bottle of water in it and having that on my back might’ve caused me to stand up straighter, fixing my posture problem. Whatever it was, I was super happy not to feel that little knife between the shoulder blades.
Also much improved: my feet, which I chalk up to the new, cushier and better quality wool socks, though I’m sure being on a dirt trail helped that a lot too. Either way, my feet and legs felt almost as good at the end of my eight miles as they did at the beginning. I stopped because I just found myself back at the trailhead again and figured it was a good time to head home — Carlo was home by himself and I like to limit that whenever possible these days — but if I had several more miles ahead of me that I had to walk I certainly could’ve. Hell, I could’ve done 12-15 miles easy, I suspect.
Another good thing about the walk: it was around 45 degrees when I started and, though it got really warm later, it was still only in the upper 50s when I was done, which are the sorts of temperatures I’ll likely get on the Coast to Coast during the time I’m shooting for. The new base layer and a fleece was perfect for the first hour or so. After that I put it in the pack and just went with the base, and that was perfect too. This merino one I got yesterday is much, much nicer than the synthetic blend North Face one I’ve had for years and years. I’ll probably get a second one of these so I can let them air out on alternate days when I actually do the walk.
I’m going to go on another walk tomorrow, I think, to see how I’m doing on back-to-back days. That sort of training is really not something I need to be doing yet — the idea is to get to where you can do long back-to-back days in the weeks leading up to the actual hike — but I’m curious as to how it’ll make me feel.
November 6, 2022: I went on a ten-mile hike this morning. It was a double loop of a five-mile hike at Blendon Woods MetroPark. I did the five-miler on Friday, felt great, and decided to double it today. It worked out well and I felt pretty good the entire time. I’m not ready to go do 20 miles yet but I can tell I’m in way better shape for this stuff now than I was even a couple of weeks ago.
This route is all woods, with a few ups and downs through ravines and a couple of places like this where it crosses a field before plunging you back into the woods again. It’s quite pretty considering that, as the crow files, you’re only a mile or two from a Home Depot, a Target, and a Whole Foods from any place in the park. You’d never know it, though. Columbus does a great job with its MetroParks.
I took advantage of the earlier sunrise due to Daylight Savings Time ending to start walking at 7AM. I didn’t push myself for speed, stopping a couple of times to take a little break and drink some water. I kept my little exercise tracker going when I did, so I ended up averaging only about 3.3 miles per hour. On the treadmill I usually set it to 4.0 or 4.2 depending on how I feel. I’ve been known to average four miles an hour walking out in the world when I’m really trying, but given that, ultimately, I plan to walk 192 miles over a couple of weeks speed seems far less important than sustainability.
To that end, I didn’t get the little pain in my back until I was at mile 8 or so, which is not terrible. It did have me thinking about trekking poles again. Which is why I laughed when I got home and saw that someone had sent me a link to a Washington Post article about the pros and cons of trekking poles. Upshot: old people love ’em because old people lose their balance more easily. “Old” in the article is defined as people over 40. Which, ugh, harsh, but here I am talking about using them so I suppose I can’t talk.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve taken to listening to audiobooks rather than music while walking. The one I’m reading right now is Origins: How Earth’s History Shaped Human History by Lewis Dartnell. It’s pretty much what it sounds like: a comprehensive treatment of how things like plate tectonics, eccentricity and precession of Earth as it orbits the sun, ice ages, and other natural processes have directly impacted the development of human civilization. How the existence of mountains on the north coast of the Mediterranean led to democracy. How the draining of the long gone glacial Lake Agassiz in Canada led to farming in the Fertile Crescent. How the submergence of Doggerland shaped the entirety of European history. The book is Big History which synthesizes geology, oceanography, meteorology, geography, paleontology, archaeology astronomy, and political history in a really satisfying way.
One of the things the book does, like a lot of natural histories do, is to put human life in perspective. It serves as a reminder that the things that happen in the three score and ten that we generally get doesn’t amount to all that much. Or, for that matter, that the things humans have, can, and will do while we’re here as a species is likely to just be a fraction of a blip as far as the Earth is concerned. We may kill each other either indiscriminately or systematically or we may overheat this planet so much that it becomes uninhabitable for us, but nature doesn’t care. It had itself killed off most everything that has ever lived multiple times, millions of year before we existed. If we manage to hang on longer than it appears we might at the moment it’ll kill us off too, with our without our help. Then it will move on to the next thing. Earth is always starting over and it holds zero sentiment for that which came before. You’d think that all of that would be depressing or even frightening, but I find it all rather comforting for some reason. I’m not sure why I feel that way, but I do.
To be sure, I do not use this knowledge as a basis for nihilism or as an excuse for not caring about the fate of humanity. I can see how it might inspire such feelings, but I don’t take it that far. Or at least haven’t yet. If anything it makes me even prouder of humanity’s capacity for caring and compassion. Those may be things that are in short supply these days, but they still exist. The fact that they still exist in the face of both our own self-sabotage as a species and the certainty that, eventually, nature will erase us completely, is marvelous. Beautiful, even.
I still have the rest of my lifetime to try to truly understand all of that. To understand why the inherent contradiction between our inevitable doom and dauntless hope doesn’t bother me. Or, if that calculus changes and all of that either makes me feel hopeless, cynical, or numb, why that is. Maybe my current feelings on it are informed by how much of a miracle it is that we’ve even existed at all. Like, if some rodent had farted off-key 50 million years ago or if some protein took a right turn instead of a left turn in some primordial pool, it’s possible the bees would be ruling the planet right now and not us. That kind of thing should make all of us feel fortunate for being here, even if we’re in the process of fucking it all up.
All I know for now, though, is that going for long walks in nature while thinking about how unimportant the things we do are in the (very) grand scheme of things makes me feel peace and something akin to contentment. Even if it’s just a MetroPark a mile as the crow flies from a Home Depot, these walks give me the feeling that there is something much greater than goddamn human beings and that, ultimately, we cannot harm nature over the long term. Not really. I like that feeling and I’m glad that there are no shortage of books and places to walk that can deliver it to me whenever I need it.
November 9, 2022: I wrote a thing in my newsletter about the back pain I get while walking and how it has me considering trekking poles. A subscriber who happens to be a cardiologist replied, telling me that I should immediately get a stress test because inter-scapular pain can be a sign of an aortic aneurism. So that was cheerful. For what it’s worth, I do not think I have an aortic aneurism, but I asked my doctor about it anyway. My doctor said he does not think I have an aortic aneurism either. He said cardiologists, by definition, tend to see patients with cardiac problems so it can skew things and that in his several decades of being a PCP, he has had only two patients who have presented with inter-scapular pain that was, in fact, attributable to cardiac problems. He is not the sort of doctor who blows things off, though, and he said that I can come in and get an EKG and we can talk about it.
I am mostly writing about this here because, if I do end up dying of an aortic aneurism while ascending a mighty fell in the middle of the Lake District, this will make for fantastic content.
November 11, 2022: REI had a big sale starting today so I bought a bunch of gear. More high-quality socks, a Patagonia fleece, and another pair of Kuhl hiking pants. I tried to buy a backpack but all they have is lime green and, no. I got the backpack — an Osprey Manta 24 with a water reservoir — in black off of Amazon for the same price. I also tried to buy trekking poles but they didn’t have the ones I wanted: MSR DynaLock Ascent Carbon Backcountry Poles. I got them from MSR directly. I hate even writing out the name of the gear. It feels so . . . precious. I dunno. I am not a gear-head about really anything. Obsessing on reviews and specs and everything is so exhausting. I generally just try to find things that people who know things recommend. If I get burned, welp, I get burned. I guess my views when it comes to this sort of thing are why I have so few actual hobbies. So many of them I’ve toyed with in my life — golf, cycling, various crafty things — seem to be so gear-centric that it just turns me off. I have no attention span for it. In the case of the backpack and poles the first dozen or so customer reviews and a couple of professional reviews at the website GearLab are enough I suppose. They sound fine. I suppose they’ll be fine.
November 25, 2022: I’ve used the poles and the new backpack twice now. A five-mile walk last weekend and a seven and a half mile walk today. It only took like a half mile worth of walking to get used to the poles at which point they became second nature to use. Last weekend was super cold — high 20s — so I was pretty layered up. That’s a bit less than ideal but I’ll have to get used to that for winter hiking. Today it was in the upper 40s and sunny, which is just about perfect. I started with my fleece and a base layer and lost the fleece halfway through. If I didn’t have other things to do I would’ve stayed out and gone to ten miles probably. I just had a ton of energy despite the fact that yesterday was Thanksgiving and all I did was eat and drink garbage all day. It’s hard to quantify how much of the extra energy is a function of just having been walking more lately or if the poles are making a difference. Could be both I suppose.
December 9, 2022: We went to Texas to visit Allison’s parents last week so I didn’t get a chance to do any hiking. This morning I went out for the first time in two weeks. I figured that the layoff plus the fact that Thanksgiving and the time in Texas was full of nothing but bad-for-me food and too much to drink that I’d be dying today but I actually felt pretty great. The plan was to do ten miles but I had to cut it short because I had forgotten I had a haircut in the early afternoon, so I ended by doing somewhere between seven and eight. Still, it went amazingly well and I had plenty of energy. I could’ve easily done the ten or more. It was pretty encouraging. I’m going to go out again tomorrow and maybe Sunday too to see if I can’t manage something like 20-25 miles for the weekend. I suppose it depends how I feel when I wake up each of the next two mornings.
I do have some newfound inspiration to get moving with this and get in better shape: Ethan and I planned the California hiking trip I had mentioned back in mid-October. I’m flying out to San Francisco on February 9. We have four full days of hiking planned. We might even squeeze in a quick one the day I land. Specific hikes are not yet determined but we’re going to do 10-15 miles in the Mt. Tam/Stinson Beach area in Marin County and we’ll probably do a city hike, from the Embarcadero across to and through the Presidio. The other two are to be determined. On one of the days we may be joined by some of Ethan’s Bay Area friends.
I’m looking forward to the trip. Both for its own sake and because I want to see how I do on a few consecutive days of at least moderately strenuous environments.
December 11, 2022: I placed a deposit on the trip with the outfitting/planning company, Coast to Coast Packhorse. This will be the company that will make the booking for all of my inns/B&Bs and transfer my suitcase from town to town along the way so I can just walk with my backpack. It was $100 down for now. Not sure how much it will cost overall, but when I budgeted it a few months ago the idea is that it was going to be a couple of grand. But this is a 50th birthday present to myself, so screw it. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing.
I’ve sketched out a 16-day walking itinerary, with a few of days on the front and and back end for getting to Manchester, acclimating, getting from Manchester to St. Bees, and then getting from Robin Hood’s Bay back to Manchester and then home. Tentatively:
- I’ll fly out on September 13, land in Manchester on September 14;
- I’ll spend the night of the 14th and all day September 15th in Manchester, and then take the train to St. Bee’s on September 16, spending that night in St. Bee’s;
- The walking part will begin with Stage 1 on September 17 and stage 16 on October 2;
- On October 3 I’ll take the train from Robin Hood’s Bay to York, as I’ve never been to York and I kinda want to. On October 4 I’ll go from York to Manchester, stay in Manchester the night of the 4th and then fly home to the U.S. on October 5
|16 Day Itinerary|
|1||St Bees||Ennerdale Bridge||14||22½|
|13||Ingleby Arncliffe/Osmotherly||ClayBank Top||10||18½|
|14||Clay Bank Top||Lion Inn/Blakely Ridge||8¾||13½|
|15||Lion Inn/Blakely Ridge||Grosmont||13¾||21¾|
|16||Grosmont||Robin Hood’s Bay||15½||25|
Most books will tell you this is generally thought of as a 15-day itinerary, with day 11 and 12 combined for a Richmond to Ingleby Arncliffe/Osmotherly stage at about 23-24 miles. Those same books, however, all say that’s too long a day and that you should break it up somehow, with the way I’ve broken it up — a stop in Dansby Wiske — seeming to be the most popular option. I’m pretty sure I could do the 23-24 miles, but I’m also pretty sure that I don’t want to and as I am not pressed for time I see no reason not to break it up.
Seeing all of these town names laid out like this makes me laugh to myself. Despite quickly watching a documentary on the Coast to Coast, I don’t have clear ideas of these places and most of them are absolute abstractions to me. In their names alone they either sound like fairytale villages or places that could be sad, forgotten little towns in rural Pennsylvania or Ontario or something. It’s hard to imagine that, after I do all of this, I’ll have memories of these places and the path in between them.
After paying the deposit I went out to the woods and walked about eight miles. Again, I could’ve done more but I had some things I needed to do early this afternoon. I’m really happy with my progress so far and how much easier it is to put some miles on now than it was even a few weeks ago.
December 12, 2022: I mentioned back on September 15 that I have taken to listening to audiobooks while walking. Since that update I’ve read (well, listened to) the following books while walking:
- Origins: How Earth’s History Shaped Human History, by Lewis Dartnell;
- Paul Newman’s posthumous memoir, The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man;
- Dancing in the Dark: A Cultural History of the Great Depression, by Morris Dickstein;
- The Day of the Locust, by Nathanael West; and
- Babbitt, by Sinclair Lewis
The Dartnell book was inspired by me just wanting to keep up the popular science/big history stuff from reading Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything. It was more informative though a less entertaining read than Bryson and it was a better overall book. The Paul Newman book was more out of curiosity because I like Paul Newman. It not what I expected, focusing far more on his inner life and feelings than his career, which is probably why he never finished it and had it published while he was alive. Still, it was excellent and surprisingly introspective for something by a movie star.
I had obtained the Dickstein book back when my friend Steve and I were starting a since-aborted podcast about 1930s life and culture. We may or may not pick up the podcast again at some point but the book, though clearly thorough and well thought-out, was a chore, even in audiobook form. Way less as far as events than I expected and way more college English class close reading for my tastes. Still, it did remind me that I had never gotten around to reading The Day of The Locust, so it inspired that read, for which I am grateful as it’s an astounding book. I wanted to stay with the general era and re-read Babbitt, which I had read many, many years ago but don’t think I really appreciated, probably because I was half living George Babbitt’s life at the time without realizing it, and chafing against it so badly that the book unconsciously threatened me, even if I didn’t exactly put one and one together. With several years of life experience under my belt — and George Babbitt’s middle age upon me — I was astounded at how good it was and how well it holds up, even if it was written 100 years ago. Most aspects fo the book remain shockingly current. One wouldn’t have to change very much if someone were to write it today.
December 19, 2022: A couple of days after I placed my £100 deposit, the booking company sent an email saying they’d “try” to accommodate my desired dates and itinerary but that “September is filling up quickly” so there are no guarantees. They added that there were “plenty of days available in April and August” which, um, no, I do not want and I cannot do anyway. I was concerned that even though I was booking nine months out that I’d be screwed.
Phew: Just got this email:
“Dear Mr Calcaterra
“Thank you very much for your booking for a Coast to Coast Walking Package commencing on 16 September 2023. I have pleasure in confirming your holiday. Please find enclosed an outline schedule for your walk.”
Rooms requested – Single: 1
Sat 16 Sep 2023: Overnight at St.Bees
Sun 17 Sep 2023: Overnight at Ennerdale 14 Miles
Mon 18 Sep 2023: Overnight at Rosthwaite 14.5 Miles
Tue 19 Sep 2023: Overnight at Grasmere 9 Miles
Wed 20 Sep 2023: Overnight at Patterdale 8.5 Miles
Thu 21 Sep 2023: Overnight at Shap 16 Miles
Fri 22 Sep 2023: Overnight at Orton 8.25 Miles
Sat 23 Sep 2023: Overnight at Kirkby Stephen 12.75 Miles
Sun 24 Sep 2023: Overnight at Keld 12 Miles
Mon 25 Sep 2023: Overnight at Reeth 11 Miles
Tue 26 Sep 2023: Overnight at Richmond 11 Miles
Wed 27 Sep 2023: Overnight at Danby Wiske 14 Miles
Thu 28 Sep 2023: Overnight at Osmotherley 11 Miles
Fri 29 Sep 2023: Overnight at Claybank Top 10 Miles
Sat 30 Sep 2023: Overnight at Blakey 8.75 Miles
Sun 01 Oct 2023: Overnight at Grosmont 13.75 Miles
Mon 02 Oct 2023: Overnight at Robin Hoods Bay 15.5 Miles
There are a couple of very minor changes to what I had planned in there, but nothing that makes a difference.
Now that the hard part is done, all I have to do is to figure out how to make a 50 year-old, flat-footed body walk 190 miles.
Well, and pay for it too:
Cost of your holiday:-
1 x 17 Night Package………………………………………………………………………… £1619.00
Single Supplements x 17…………………………………………………………………….. £765.00
Booking Deposit received…………………………………………………………………..(£100.00)
Remaining deposit – due by return please…………………………………………..(£496.00)
Balance (due 8 weeks prior to departure)……………………………………….£1788.00
I love that it’s a £47/night premium to have your own room, but I figure that they figure they’re getting boned out of a couple of beers and a meat pie or a plate of fish and chips each night by not having a second person with me. Fair enough.
As for the rest of it, I figure that there have been a hell of a lot more midlife crisis vacations/50th birthday presents that cost dudes more than £2,400 + airfare, and you only live once, so the check will be cut.
January 4, 2023: I paid my first substantive deposit. In exchange for the £496 I sent them they sent me my detailed itinerary with the actual names of the inns and B&Bs where I’ll be staying after each leg of my walk. They are all, not surprisingly given the remote and ancient nature of the little villages along the way, impossibly British in both name and vibe. Most of them have photos like this placed prominently on their websites:
Yep, that’s pretty much what I had in mind.
Indeed, the websites of just about every single one of the 17 places where I’ll be staying prominently feature photos of cask ales, fish and chips and full English breakfasts. One of them, The Kings Arms Hotel in Reeth, offers a “lighter breakfast” that features fried eggs, sausage, and bacon. I like their definition of “light.”
The way I figure it, I’m gonna end up walking 190 miles yet coming out the other side five pounds heavier. I think I’m OK with that.
January 21, 2023: It’s appropriate that I wrote about my weight in that last entry, because it’s definitely a thing that’s been on my mind recently. Back in September I had a plan to drop a bunch of weight before the first of the year but that sure as hell didn’t happen. The holidays were particularly food-and-booze heavy this year for some reason and I was really bad about things from mid-November until New Year’s. I made a point not to weigh myself because (a) I try to remind myself that the actual numbers on the scale aren’t the most important thing, feeling in good shape is; and (b) I was not, by any damn stretch of the imagination, feeling in good shape.
Like so many people who indulge in the festive season my plan was to immediately crack into action once the calendar turned. Unfortunately, on January 3 I got COVID. It was the first time for me, if you can believe it. It put me in bed for most of a week and delayed my exercise plans. It was not until about ten days ago that I felt myself. Since then I’ve been doing well, however. I’ve been either walking outside or on the treadmill almost every day and, recently, I began doing some hiking-specific exercises like squats, jump-squats, calf muscle exercises, and some upper-body stuff. Despite the extra weight and the holiday bloat, I’m happy that I haven’t lost much if any of the walking stamina I built from September through November. I’m actually feeling pretty good in that regard. Which is a good thing given that in less than three weeks I’m supposed to do some big hikes in California with Ethan. Ideally you have more than four weeks of intensive-training before some major hiking — two months is more like it — but it’ll have to do.
And I’m pretty sure it will do. As I wrote a few months ago, I have some messed-up body issues. I always feel worse off than I am when I’m in less-than-ideal shape and I probably feel better about myself than I should when I’m feeling great. I’ll make it around California just fine. And after experiencing what even a month’s worth of solid ramp-up does for me there, I’ll feel extra good heading to England with many months of solid training under my hopefully tighter belt.
January 22, 2023: I like to shop in person for clothes because sizing can be so inconsistent between types and brands of clothes. I swim in some larges while others are far too tight. In jeans I’m a consistent 34 but sometimes, with some styles of pants, I need a 36. I hate shipping things back, so I usually make the trip to a store, if for no other reason than to make sure what size I need.
Today I went to REI today to look at (a) rain shells; (b) some lighter-weight hiking shirts for California and/or hiking this spring and summer; and (b) at least look at boots, knowing that I’ll need to buy either those or new hiking shoes — still haven’t decided yet — before the Coast to Coast. I got there and they were (a) out of stock of the couple of rain shells I’m interested in; (b) out of stock of most lightweight hiking shirts; and (c) the boot department was overrun and there weren’t many employees there to help. I stayed long enough to get the size on a particular UV-protective/moisture-wicking shirt I needed — they only had bright orange and I was not doing that — and then I went home and ordered what I needed:
Yep, XLs. Active gear almost always seems to run smaller than I like.
I did not order the rain shell I want — the Arc’teryx Beta — as it’s out of stock absolutely everywhere, including the manufacturer, at least in colors I’d accept (more blaze orange could be had!). I think I’ll be OK without it in California in February. I’ll absolutely need it in England, as one has to plan for a lot of damn rain on the Coast to Coast. Whether anyone needs this specific jacket is an open question, as it’s really goddamn expensive, but it’s also the best-rated, by far, at OutdoorGearLab, which I’ve come to trust as an independent source for gear reviews and information. I’m going to keep an open mind about other jackets, at least until the Arc’teryx comes back in stock, but there are two things upon which you absolutely cannot skimp when walking across the whole of northern England. One of them is, quite obviously, boots. The other is a rain jacket.
January 23, 2023: The actor Julian Sands has gone missing while hiking near Mt. Baldy in the San Gabriel Mountains. Conditions were horrible not long after Sands presumably set off, with lots of snow and even avalanche warnings. They have not yet said that they presume him to be dead but it’s looking pretty bleak. For what it’s worth Sands’ brother, who lives back in England, believes that Julian is likely dead. I suspect he’s dead too.
Reports say that Sands usually hiked alone and was doing so when he went missing. “Never hike alone” is one of the first rules of hiking, though a lot of people do it. I’ve done it myself a lot and will be doing it on the Coast to Coast this fall. That seems pretty safe to me, though, given that it’s so well-traveled, it’s not particularly extreme in either terrain or weather, and you’re never more than 10 miles from a village or a town. I don’t think I’d ever do it someplace dangerous or prone to severe weather like the San Gabriels, though I suppose if you hike a lot you can talk yourself into believing that all manner of things that are, objectively, risky are actually not.
Sands, who was 65, was an avid hiker. In addition to hikes in California he has hiked all over England, including a recent trip over the whole of the Pennine Way, which is a 268-mile walk, from just north of the midlands to just inside Scotland, over the Pennine Mountains. The route intersects the Coast to Coast near Keld. Sands grew up in a small town right next to the Yorkshire Dales. I’ll practically be in his old neighborhood in a few months. I’m sure that he got his love of hiking in that country. I’ll no doubt think of him when I pass through Keld and the Yorkshire Dales.
February 4, 2023: I actually found that expensive Arc’teryx rain jacket I thought was out of stock everywhere. The company had one. It was an XL but between my experience with active wear running a bit smaller and both the product notes and customer reviews saying it ran small, I felt confident ordering it. It showed up a couple of days later and it was the size of a three-man tent. I spent about five minutes trying to talk myself into it — maybe if I tighten the velcro on the cuffs and layer it with 18 fleeces . . . — but no, it wasn’t happening. I sent it back. The next day I went to REI and found an Outdoor Research Foray II jacket which was the second highest-rated racket per Outdoor Gear Lab. It was about $180 cheaper and a large fits wonderfully. Part of me still thinks that I will find myself in a driving rainstorm someplace in the Lake District, soaked to the bone because I could not get the highest-rated jacket according to Outdoor Gear Lab, but most of me realizes I’m being absolutely ridiculous. The problem with having all of this time before the Coast to Coast is that I have very little to focus on except for gear.
It’s five days until I fly to California. The other day Ethan shared a Google doc with the hikes he has planned. This is all in his words:
Peninsula Redwood options, small-ish afternoon “welcome to CA” hike:
- Los Trancos (3.5 hours, 6.9 miles) – #1 choice due to storm damage at Purisima
- Purisima Creek – many options but storm damage – will re-assess next week
- El Corte de Madera 10 miles, too long for “welcome to CA” afternoon hike. Monday option!
Mt. Diablo options:
- Grand Loop (moderate, 6.2 mi)
- Mitchell Creek to Diablo Summit (not moderate! 13.1 mi) 🙂
- We can make a call based on how we feel on the drive over there.
SF / Presidio Options:
- San Francisco Crosstown Trail (16.5 miles) Super excited about this. The fact that we can intersperse beer, food, and sightseeing is just awesome. Also can bail at any point, will park, hike one way, Uber back to car
- Presidio Loop Trail If we’re tired, fallback option. But hell, why not just do half of the crosstown trail instead?
Mt Tam / Marin / Dipsea options:
- ** Epic – Stinson Beach to Mt. Tam (15 miles). Likely the highlight of the trip, and we’re signed up for this as a group hike. Excited! Buckeye Roadhouse will also be epic.
- The Dipsea – a classic (9.7 miles) (an alternative we’re not doing)
TBD, could be this or anything above depending on how we feel.
Point Reyes options:
- Coast trail to bass lake (6.0 mi)
- Bear valley trail
I feel pretty confident that I can handle all of the hard options on that list, but I thanked him for including shorter options and cop-outs in the event I wake up with dead legs one day or just crap out completely while on a trail. He told me that the shorter options and cop-outs were for him just as much as they are for me, as he hurt his back last Monday and was laid up for a couple of days. I asked him how he hurt his back. He said “I saw a pice of cellophane on the floor in the living room and I reached over to pick it up.”
Getting old is some serious shit, man.
February 10, 2023: I landed at SFO at around noon local time yesterday. Ethan picked me up, we dropped unnecessary stuff at his house, and we were on the trail at Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space by 1:30. We walked 7.76 miles among beautiful Redwoods, patching together a few different trails to do it. Absolutely gorgeous weather and scenery, including peeks of the Pacific Ocean.
It was mostly downhill out and, as such, it was mostly uphill back. When we first started walking I was chatting with Ethan a lot, seeing as though I haven’t hung out with him in forever, and so I didn’t really appreciate that the first half was downhill. When we stopped and turned back, I was thinking to myself “you’re doing pretty good, Craigy boy!”
Then the walk back exploded my quads and my lungs about eleventeen times because I am an old man who does the vast majority of his hiking in flat-ass Ohio. I kept apologizing to Ethan for making him stop so I could catch my breath but later we looked at his watch and it showed us having averaged 2.5 m.p.h. even with the stops, and I didn’t feel so bad. I hike faster than that back in Flatassia, but I’ll take 2.5 in places with some elevation changes in a heartbeat.
After the hike — and a great burger and a beer at Jack’s Prime Burgers & Shakes — I wasn’t hurting too bad. I could tell I hiked something, but I was not aching or limping around or anything like that. Between being tired from the hiking and the switch to Pacific Time, I conked out by 9pm and slept like the dead until a little after 5am. That’s a lot of sleep for me but I obviously needed it. I was happy when I woke up, too, because my legs felt pretty great. January Craig was smart for starting to do all those squats, because I think they were the difference between hacking all of this and failing to hack all of this.
Today we hiked at Mt. Diablo. Its peak is 3,894 feet, but we did not do all that as we started midway up and then circled just below the peak, with a diversion out to Eagle Peak. But there was still a lot of up and down on the way up. We ended up doing about 2,500 vertical feet while covering around 8.8 miles. It was gorgeous. We had a lot of weather changes too, going from warm sun and clear skies in the parking lot to cold, gray, and blustery weather near the top. While walking along a ridge, under a steel-gray sky, with a fast, cold wind hitting us from the north, Ethan turned around and said “this is probably what England is going to be like.” He’s probably right. I liked the feeling.
As for the physical aspects, it was a more extreme version of yesterday. My legs are doing great, but my lungs less so. Any time the verticals got even mildly gnarly, I was pretty damn winded well before I would’ve expected to be. My heart rate, though high, was not particularly extreme. As mentioned, my legs, back, and all of that felt fine. It was just breathing heavy and hard, forcing me to take a lot of breaks. I felt bad holding Ethan up and began to get discouraged at times, wondering why I was so much more out of shape than I anticipated I’d be. Then it occurred to me that this could be a COVID hangover. It’s only been a month since I had it. I’m wondering if it has imposed some pulmonary limits on me which cancel out the overall fitness improvements I’ve made of late. It seemed plausible to Ethan and Rika. It seems plausible to me. Guess that’s something to watch going forward.
February 13, 2023: Saturday and Sunday were pretty damn epic days of hiking.
On Saturday we did the San Francisco Crosstown Trail. It’s around 16 miles from Candlestick Point to Lands End, going through countless parks and neighborhoods. It starts like this:
But ends a little after this:
So yeah, it gets better as you go along.
Overall it was a really rewarding hike that, because of its length and the fact that a lot of it is on sidewalks and pavement, my legs hurt a good bit when I got done, but nothing that wasn’t manageable with a hot shower, some stretching, and some Advil. The lungs thing from Diablo was not quite as much of an issue here. To be sure, there is still a lot of vertical on this hike — you gain something like 1,900 feet over the course of the walk with all of the ups and downs occasioned by the hills of San Francisco — but when it’s spread out over 16 miles instead of eight miles it’s a little easier to hack. Still, I had to take some breaks at the top of some of the hilly, curvy roads and stairways to catch my breath. Yes, stairways:
Not my favorite thing ever, but you do what you do when walking through a city built on hills.
Sunday was the BIG one:
Stinson Beach to the top of Mt. Tam and back down, in part, via the Dipsea Trail. You can see the San Francisco skyline in the top third of the photo, a bit to the right. Mt. Diablo, which we hiked on Friday, is clinging to the far left of the photo. Not pictured, but visible from the vantage point on the summit were the snow-capped peaks of the Sierra Nevadas, which are not often visible from up here. We just lucked out with the clearest day imaginable.
In all it was a 16.86 mile hike with 3,500 foot elevation gain. The four of us — Ethan, Ethan’s friends Mark Williams and Wayne Loeb, and me — started at 7:30am and we finished at 4:15pm. The lung stuff was still an issue for me, especially early when there are a lot of straight up goat trails when the elevation begins, but eventually we got to a place where the incline was less intense but stretched over more miles. I am still pretty convinced that I have post-COVID lung capacity issues but I also think it’s pretty manageable, at least as long as I pace myself. Thankfully my three hiking companions were very accommodating and took breaks when I needed them. On the way down one Wayne needed the breaks — knee issues — so I didn’t feel so bad about my limitations. During the course of the day we joked about passing the “gimp hat” back and forth depending on whether we were going up or going down. I mean, shit, we’re all roughly 50 year-old dudes. We all have our crap. Getting up the mountain and back despite that is a victory, not something for which to apologize.
The day ended at the Buckeye Roadhouse in Mill Valley. Despite the name, I do not think it actually has any Ohio connections. It does, however, have excellent cocktails, oysters, and big-ass steaks, and after hauling my ass up and down a mountain, those were welcome indeed.
Today was my last full day in California. Ethan and I decided to take an easy recovery hike, which consisted of 6.48 miles around Belmont, where he lives. We went up and down the hills in his neighborhood, some of which are pretty substantial, and then did something of a loop around town. In the middle of that we grabbed some pretty great sandwiches at Mr. Pickle’s after which we looped back home.
By my count Ethan and I did 55.86 miles — with a lot of elevation — in five days. Given that our original plan was to do 50 miles in five days, I think we did OK. Oh, and though it was totally accidental, we averaged 11.17 miles a day. The Coast to Coast average walk per day will be . . . 11.29 miles a day. With way less elevation. Yeah, I think I’m going to crush it.
Overall the plan on this trip was to (a) have fun; and (b) assess where I was, hiking wise, seven months out from the Coast to Coast. The former has definitely been accomplished. What I’ve figured out from the latter has sort of surprised me.
I was fully prepared for my legs to be tired and my feet to be aching this weekend, on the assumption that I have not hiked enough over the winter to truly prepare me for it. That’s been totally wrong. While there has been some stiffness, it has not been severe, it has cleared up as soon as I have begun walking again each day, and it has not interfered with my hiking. My feet, likewise, do not hurt much if at all. Likewise, I have not had any back pain — thanks, trekking poles! — or overall fatigue in any way that matters.
The concern, obviously, is how quickly I’ve gotten winded on inclines. Granted, I don’t have much opportunity to do any sort of elevation in Ohio, but I honestly did not expect it to be as bad as it was. I think it’s quite possible that this is a post-COVID thing, but it’s still very clear to me that I need to improve my cardio health and focus less on all the squats and stuff.
I am convinced that, right now, I could do the Coast to Coast without too much trouble. The range, leg/foot strength, and overall stamina is in great shape. The breathing-on-elevation stuff is annoying, but it’s also the case that there is nowhere the ups over there that there are here. The absolute highest point on the Coast to Coast is Kidsty Pike, at 2,560 feet, which you get to over the course of a couple of days. Mt. Tam is 2,579 feet, to which we went from sea level to the top in like four and a half hours. I feel like England is gonna be a bit mellower.
Apart from physical stuff, a lot of this trip was aimed at sorting out my gear and things. On that score:
Shoes: Being able to go up and down the extremely rugged Mt. Diablo and Mt. Tam in my low-cut Keen Targhees has made me pretty confident about being able to handle the Coast to Coast in low-cuts as opposed to boots. Insight from Ethan, Mark, and Wayne, all of whom are far more experienced hikers than I am, bolstered that, with most of them saying that the best argument for boots over shoes is if you’re carrying a heavy pack. My pack in England will not be considerably heavier than how it was this weekend, so on that score it seems fine. As for terrain, it is impossible to imagine more ankle-challenging ground than what we dealt with on Diablo and Tam, so I think I’ll OK with respect to that as well. The one factor which could change that is moisture abatement and whether the extra few inches of a boot are preferable to putting gaiters over shoes. I have a few months to test that I figure. Maybe I’ll get some gaiters and go to Lobdel Reserve in Licking County, where I know there are creek crossings, and experiment a little. Ultimately, though, I like the lightness of shoes over the heaviness of boots.
Socks: Only today, on our 6.48 miles around Belmont, did I get sore feet in any way. I’ll chalk that up to (a) it being all on sidewalks and paved streets, which is way harder on feet; and (b) the fact that I wore thinner, more casual wool socks as opposed to my thick-padded hiking socks. I think it’s more than worth wearing the padded ones at all times and will plan to do that going forward.
Pack: It was a pretty good shakedown cruise for my Osprey Manta backpack. I’ve used it at home in Blendon Woods, but not to the degree I did here, what with needing to refill the water pack on the fly, access sunscreen and snacks, and pack and unpack my fleece or whatever over the course of a long day. I don’t have any complaints about it. I think I picked a winner, and the more I’ve broken it in the better it’s felt to wear it over the course of many miles.
Pants/Shorts: Both the hiking pants and shorts I have proved to be pretty solid. I could see myself maybe getting something a little lighter as far as hiking pants go, but it’s not essential. Honestly, the biggest factor in pants will be if I drop a few inches in my waistline over the next few months, which is possible. If so, I may get something else. That said, I discovered that I can wear shorts when it’s much cooler than I thought. I wore them on Diablo, when it was blowing a very cold wind and I wore them on Mt. Tam which, at least when we first took off, was just under 40 degrees. There’s something to be said for physical exertion warming you up. Upshot: I may be bringing along a couple of pairs of shorts to England and wearing them more often than I anticipated.
Shirts: I alternated my long sleeve/hooded sun shirts with my short sleeve sun shirts. Both were excellent for breathability and sweat-wicking. Despite working my ass off, they don’t stink in any noticeable way. I’ll obviously want to rinse them out or wash them a few times along the trail, but they or something like them will work wonderfully.
Fleece: My Patagonia fleece was plenty warm for the cold mornings and the cold wind on Diablo. Most days I shedded it after a couple of hours. I cannot imagine a situation in which I’d need more than it in England, especially if I wear my wool base layer, which I did not use at all on this trip and can’t imagine needing unless it wasn’t going to climb out of the 40s on a given day. I had some thoughts about getting a thin down jacket but it’s not going to be necessary at all. In the worst conditions the base layer, the fleece, and my rain shell — which I did not need this trip — will be more than enough.
Trekking Poles: It would’ve been unimaginable to do Diablo and especially Mt. Tam without them. Absolutely essential and my back felt fantastic the entire weekend.
So that was the trip. It was a load of fun, but it was also extremely enlightening and useful for my preparation. I am already glad I did it for its own sake but the experience has already paid for itself in terms of how much more ready I will be for the Coast to Coast when it comes time to do it.
February 20, 2023: We took a quick weekend trip to Denver. No hiking, but on the flight back I read a book Allison had gotten me. It’s a memoir by the Scottish actor Sam Heughan called “Waypoints: My Scottish Journey.” It chronicles his impulsive decision to hike the West Highland Way, which is a roughly 100 mile hike from Glasgow to Fort William in the Scottish Highlands.
The personal memoir portions of it were mildly interesting, though I can’t say that I care all that much about Heughan’s journey from drama student to well known actor, so I skimmed those parts. The hiking stuff was fun, though. He lives in Glasgow and grew up in the Highlands, where he also films his show, “Outlander.” He’d never hiked that trail, however, but decided to do so in November 2021 during a filming hiatus.
It was late in the season for anyone to hike that trail and Heughan, despite being in fantastic overall shape, was not necessarily in fantastic walking shape. Despite this he planned to do it in five days instead of the usual seven. He also planned to camp it and filled his pack with like 60 pounds of gear. He got through the first day, camped, and then embarked on a 20-mile slog in the rain on day two and was absolutely miserable, to the point of wanting to quit. When he got to the end of that day’s walk he checked into an inn rather than camp. That night he got on his phone and made reservations at B&Bs and Inns for the rest of the route, extending his overall walk to give him more manageable daily distances and to make it a seven-day trip. When he set out the next morning he buried all of his camping gear — stove, tent, sleeping bag, etc. — in a garden outside of the inn and walked off relatively unencumbered. He still had a big walk in front of him but a doable one. And yes, he finished the walk.
It was quite amusing, and encouraging I must say, to read about a guy who is seven years younger than me and who is in infinitely better shape than I am getting humbled to the point of settling on an itinerary not unlike the one I’m doing. And the West Highland Way sounds gorgeous. So, hmmmm . . .
February 26, 2023: Someone on Twitter sent me a link to a guy who chronicled his LEJOG hike. Which stands for “Land’s End to John O’ Groats.” The entire length of England from the very southwest end of Cornwall to the tippy top of Scotland. It’s over 800 miles by car and, with all of the twists and turns it’s over 1,000 miles on foot. Rather than just one trail it’s a series of networked trails. It also sounds like an absolute mess. Basically everything south of the Midlands sounds like a boring and annoying slog, with big parts of it tracking freeways and things. This guy took 12 weeks to do it, which is a bit on the short side. He also camped it for the most part which, no. All of it sounds like a no to me and the sheer distance of it only like the fourth or fifth reason I wouldn’t want to ever do it.
I did, however, start looking around the guy’s site. He’s from from Arizona and he flies over every spring or summer for a different British hike. He’s done a 100 mile Cotswolds hike that seems lovely. The Cleveland Way. The Dales Way. And yes, the Coast to Coast. I read his whole Coast to Coast diary — he did it in 2017 — and while it had a lot of interesting insights and observations, it also made me shake my head a lot.
He did it in 12 days, which is way too compacted, with far too many big, 20+ mile walks. While the guy seems to be in really good shape he complained constantly about his knees and his feet and it’s not hard to understand why given how much ground he chose to cover. I was willing to be charitable and believe that he had to do so because he was short on time but he did take over three months for LEJOG, so his schedule is pretty flexible.
The other thing that made me shake my head was just how much the dude drank. I personally plan on having a pint or two at the end of most of my days on the Coast to Coast, so I didn’t think anything of him talking about hitting this pub or that pub. But at the end of the diary he tallied all of his miles and elevation and other hike stats, including how many pints of beer he had. My man drank 62.5 pints! In 12 days! That’s over five a day, with extra long hikes the following morning! Oh, and he smokes cigars basically every day. No wonder the guy kept talking about how hard it all was. I’ve got a fairly decent tolerance for alcohol but I cannot imagine drinking five pints and doing anything productive, let alone walk 23 miles. Hell, I can’t imagine he slept all that well before those miles either. The older I get the more beer just sits on my stomach like a brick and causes me heartburn. Maybe I’m more sensitive to it than this guy, but he had to have been hurting some mornings.
Not that I’m just going to complain about the guy. He’s a good writer and his hiking diaries are interesting. He takes good photos. There is a lot of very useful hiking/gear/navigation advice sprinkled in. And of course he’s given me some good ideas for other hikes. Finally, he dropped a C.S. Lewis quote that I liked which reinforces my decision to hike the Coast to Coast alone:
“Walking and talking are two very great pleasures, but it is a mistake to combine them. Our own noise blots out the sounds and silences of the outdoor world; and talking leads almost inevitably to a farewell to nature as far as one of our senses is concerned.”
March 26, 2023: It’s been a lazy month with some treadmill walking but almost nothing outside. It’s just been cold and wet and I’ve not felt motivated at all. As I’m writing today it’s pushing 60 and sunny so I’ll probably go walk a couple of miles this afternoon. The trip is in just under six months so I have plenty of time, but I do need to return to activity. I’ve felt like such a lazy schlub lately.
I did accomplish something, though: I bought boots: Saloman X Ultra 4 Mid Gore-Tex hikers:
Previously I said that I’d probably be OK with low hiking shoes, but these seem to be the best of both worlds: light as a feather yet still higher on the ankle for support and better waterproofing. At least that’s what all of the reviews say. I should have them in a few days and I’ll decide for myself, but for the moment I think I’ve made a good choice.
March 27, 2023: I didn’t realize that I needed the actor Andrew McCarthy to provide me with 800 some-odd words about the value of walking great distances but I apparently did:
Hippocrates proclaimed that “walking is man’s best medicine.” The good doctor also knew that walking provided more than mere physical benefits when he suggested: “If you are in a bad mood, go for a walk. If you are still in a bad mood, go for another walk.” He was alluding to what so many who came after would attest, that walking not only nourishes the body but also soothes the mind while it burns off tension and makes our troubles recede into a more manageable perspective.
Soren Kierkegaard agreed when he confessed, “I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it.” And Charles Dickens was even more direct. “If I could not walk far and fast,” he wrote, “I think I should just explode and perish.”
But walking does more than keep the devil from the door. The Welsh poet (and sometime vagabond) W.H. Davies wrote:
Now shall I walk
Or shall I ride?
“Ride,” Pleasure said.
“Walk,” Joy replied.
Walking buoys the spirits in a way that feels real and earned. It feels owned. And walking, like a generous partner, meets us more than halfway.
He’s mostly quoting other people about walking here, but given that he has now — twice! — walked 500 miles across Spain on the Camino de Santiago, I think he knows of what those whom he quotes speaks.
April 7, 2023: I ended up returning the Saloman boots. They were too snug, so I went to REI to try on a larger size and they still felt wrong. They were squeezing my toes and generally giving me bad vibes. I ended up doing exactly what I had planned to do in the first place and bought a pair of Keens –the Targhee III Mid Waterproofs — that are exactly like the hiking shoes I’ve worn for a decade, except higher in the ankle. By every metric, according to the gear reviewing people, they are inferior to the Salomans. But they fit wonderfully right out of the box, give me ample room in the toe box, which is pretty important given the shape of my feet, and will give me nothing to worry about. If I find myself in the middle of a bog in the Yorkshire Dales with my boots soaked through because they feature a KeenDry Waterproofing Membrane™ instead of GORE-TEX,™ welp, fine, you live and learn. But at this point I consider the footwear matter sorted.
More importantly: my air travel is now sorted. I fly out to London on September 13, landing on the 14th, and fly home on October 6. The original plan was to fly to Manchester but there weren’t decent flights there for which I could use all of the Virgin Atlantic points we have accrued, making London a way less-costly option, even after you figure the extra train travel north.
Also, at present anyway, Allison is planning on flying with me there, spending the couple of days with me before I begin walking, finding something else to do for a couple more, and then heading home. If she does do that there’d be more for us to do in London anyway. If she doesn’t do that I’ll just land at Heathrow and take a train directly up to Manchester and stay there for a day or two, perhaps. Or maybe I do just stay in London until the 16th and go straight up to St. Bee’s. I honestly don’t know yet. And I kinda don’t care. Flexibility is the key and, in so many ways, a big part of the promise of this trip.
May 15, 2023: Change of plans. Allison, realizing that there wouldn’t be much worth doing in London in the short couple of days before I start walking has decided not to fly over with me. Rather, she’s going to go to London in late July to meet her friend Annette and the two of them are going to see a Pulp concert and generally hang around. She may head down to Brighton to see her friend April, who lives there too. It makes way more sense for her to use her airline points that way. I’m going to be preoccupied with hiking thoughts in the couple of days before I set off and I won’t be in a particularly social headspace. Honestly, I think I’ll be better off heading over there alone.
June 4, 2023: It’s been a bit since I’ve updated but there hasn’t been much to update as far as the hiking goes. The past two months have been extremely full, however. First with travel — Texas and New York for Depeche Mode concerts and up to Vermont and back to get Anna back from college — then with Carlo graduating high school. Then something more exhausting: house hunting and buying.
We decided to sell our place in New Albany, where I’ve lived for over 18 years, and buy a place in Columbus proper. Much of the past month and a half or so has consisted of looking for a house, first in Clintonville and then, when that proved to be a giant pain in the ass, in German Village. We close on a townhouse on Grant Avenue this coming Friday and take possession on June 19. We put our house on the market two days ago and immediately got one great offer and one strong backup offer in the first day. Assuming that all goes smoothly we’ll be out of this place no later than June 30.
Needless to say, all of that has caused me to fall way behind on hiking prep. I went close to a month without walking at all. I also sold my treadmill in anticipation of moving. And with all of the stress and travel I’ve been eating like garbage. I’m in frankly terrible shape right now, but I took a 4.5 mile walk a couple of days ago and did about six miles this morning and I felt fine for each, so I presume there’s a psychological component at work there. Whatever the case, my original plan of losing a lot of weight by July and then spending two and a half months concentrating only on hiking shape is out the window. But with over three months before the trip I think it’ll be good enough to simply begin regular training in earnest now and see where that leaves me. I am confident that that’s more than enough time to be ready to hike 192 miles. It may not be enough time to do it while looking the best I’ve ever looked and weighing the least I’ve ever weighed, but if I have to take ten extra pounds with me on the trip I’ll take ten extra pounds with me on the trip.
June 28, 2023: They found a body in wilderness near Mount Baldy in California. It was confirmed to be that of the missing British actor Julian Sands, who I talked about in the January 23 entry.
Five years ago Sands was asked about his approach to acting and why he was been drawn to so many eccentric roles that took him far outside the mainstream of both British and Hollywood moviemaking. It was a path that he didn’t have to take. He was a strikingly handsome man and an extraordinarily talented actor who, if he had approached things more conventionally, could’ve had a very different sort of career. Like, he could’ve been a Liam Neeson or a Pierce Brosnan type maybe. In response, Sands said “I was looking for something exotic, things that took me out of myself. I think I found myself a little boring.” He also said that he was happiest when he was “close to a mountain summit on a glorious cold morning.”
I can relate to those things. I can relate to anyone who finds themselves in a system in which they, broadly speaking, wish to be and don’t wish to truly rebel against because rebellion is not in their nature, but against which they more than occasionally chafe. People who try to both be within and apart from from that system at the same time and who carve out a little place for themselves to be weird and maybe a little difficult. It’s a tough balance to strike, but I think Sands pulled it off, and for that he’s a hero as far as I’m concerned. May he rest in peace.
July 14, 2023: I turned 50 today. I don’t have any ruminative thoughts about that. It’s corny as hell but I truly do believe that stuff about being only as old as you feel. And my recent bitching notwithstanding, I feel pretty good right now.
Part of that is because I joined a gym in my new neighborhood and have been working out pretty regularly for a couple of weeks. I’ve quickly discovered that, while I still have work to do before I set off from St. Bee’s, I’m in better shape than I gave myself credit for in the last entry. I can walk for a very long time at a very fast clip on very steep inclines and feel pretty damn good. I’ve been doing leg presses and calf and core work and I already feel appreciably stronger than I did. Maybe all of the physical labor that moving entailed helped me out some? I don’t know. All I know is that while there are still a few extra pounds on me, my legs and my lungs could pull the walk off right now if need be. Assuming I keep up my current workout schedule — which will be augmented by actual long outdoor walks here starting this weekend — I’ll be exactly where I need and want to be two months from now when my Coast to Coast walk begins.
Mentally speaking things are more of a mixed bag.
The move mentioned in the previous entry was fairly hellish. Simply moving one’s stuff to a new house is pretty straightforward, but downsizing is hard. I did a pretty brutal first pass of getting rid of things — some sold, some donated, most thrown out — and had the kids and Allison do the same, but we still had a lot of crap to deal with. I got a storage unit for the overflow and I’ve spent close to three weeks now arranging, sorting, shoving, and storing things to make the new place feel organized and sane. It’s still not perfect but we’re moving toward mostly settled.
The emotional impact of this move took me by surprise. Some of it, but nowhere close to most of it, was tied up in getting rid of tangible things. Indeed, it was actually cathartic and even cleansing to throw away objects, even objects I’ve had for a long time. But the overall process was like traveling in a time machine. It placed me in constant conversation with Craigs from 1999, 2003, 2005, 2009, 2011, 2014, and 2020. I caused me to float through the various houses, jobs, lives, and loves I’ve had over the past 25 years. In the space of just a couple of weeks of purging, packing, and moving I watched my first marriage grow into maturity and then crumble into dust, I watched my life and love with Allison begin, grow, and mature, I watched my kids grow up and grow older, reliving their triumphs as well as their struggles, some of which have been harrowing in the extreme.
Throughout this I have been trying to contend with the fact that this new house will never be a place my children really consider their home. Anna will likely not come back home from college again next summer. I figure, at most, Carlo will come back for one more summer. After that I’ll just see them on breaks and, before too long, only on visits. This place will be like the places my parents have lived after I went away to college and they moved away from Beckley. Nice, welcoming, and in many respects homey, but not really their home. Part of me wishes I had just stayed in the neighborhood they’ve lived in for their entire lives so that I could stand, waving to them from the familiar front porch, as they go off to their lives, knowing that if anything went wrong, there would be a safe and familiar space waiting for them.
But, I have a need to move on and I have to honor that. I have to begin living the sort of life I want to live in my 50s-on. One that is not anchored to the past. One that does not cause me, like it has caused so many other parents of adult children I’ve known, to freeze in time and live the rest of my life as if it was all postscript to my child-rearing years. I have friends whose parents’ living rooms haven’t changed since the day of their senior prom and whose childhood bedrooms still have the Guns ‘N Roses and Duran Duran posters on the wall. For as much as my heart has screamed at me to keep the status quo and to stay put and wave from that familiar porch come August, I never, ever want to be the sort of person who calcifies. Who stops growing and evolving the day their youngest moves out of the house. If that causes me some angst in the meantime it’s angst I just have to process and deal with. I think my kids understand that and I hope that, be it now or later, they appreciate it.
A big part of my decision to take this walk was to help distract me from whatever feelings I’ll be dealing with once the nest is actually empty this fall, but as time goes on I’m increasingly feeling like I don’t need a distraction from it as such. I simply need to live through it and feel it all, even it’s momentarily difficult, knowing that what comes next is every bit as important as what came before. More so, actually. For the past is already written and I have so much more to write.
July 18, 2023: I just paid off the £ 1,788 balance for my trip, so I guess I’m really doin’ this, huh?
July 21, 2023: I’ve been working out at the new gym regularly since I’ve joined, and it’s already made a big difference. I feel stronger and I have more stamina than just a few weeks ago. All of that is necessary, but it’s not sufficient. The only way to truly prepare for a long walk is to, well, walk. I haven’t really done that since the move — walking to bars and restaurants don’t count — so I took advantage of some slightly cooler weather this morning and took a 6.21 mile walk around downtown Columbus:
Part of that was to get some actual miles under my feet. Part of it was to get to know the part of town in which I now live. Part of it was take my new boots on their first shakedown cruise. It was a success on all counts. The walk was pleasant — based on how I felt when I finished it I could’ve easily done a full second loop with no problem. The boots are exactly what I wanted and expected. A bit stiff but they loosened up nicely after a couple of miles, just as most new boots do these days. The route was nice too.
I’ve lived in Columbus for over 30 years, and I’ve been all around downtown a zillion times, but I haven’t walked around it for non-utilitarian purposes much. I had never been to the new-ish Scioto Audubon Metropark, which is that big green patch on the southwest corner of my loop. When I moved here that whole peninsula was the city impound lot. Acre after acre of towed-away cars and related industrial ugliness. It took them years to do the environmental remediation on that, but it’s pretty lovely now, with a gorgeous path along the river that gives you views which are frankly amazing for downtown:
I didn’t take a photo of the detour off the trail in the northern part of the park where they’re sinking massive pillars for the construction of a huge flyover for a re-routed I-71, but just know that when you’re in the city, city shit is gonna happen.
Overall, however, it was a lovely walk. The sort of which reminds a person that despite the fact that Columbus made a bunch of horrible choices 70-75 years ago as to how it would grow — around automobiles and suburbs instead of people and neighborhoods — there are still parts of it where, if you look at it just so, a different reality and an alternate history present themselves.
July 22, 2023: I have been worried that my hiking pants — Kuhl Radikls — were going to be too heavy and too moisture absorbent. Part of this was because, since they’re so comfortable, I wore them a lot while doing all the stuff I had to do while moving. They’re fine, and breathable, and rugged, and articulated in all the ways hiking pants are supposed to be. On a couple of occasions, however, they got wet from doing stuff in the rain or excessive sweating or whatever and they didn’t dry particularly quickly. This is not a big issue when it’s 85 degrees in Ohio but when it’s in the 50s in England, and when the rain just doesn’t stop, it will be. So I did a bunch of research and, yep, that’s a complaint a lot of the reviewers had with them. Great pants all around, but not the best if you’re going to be in cool, wet weather.
So I went to REI after my hike yesterday and tried on a bunch of different hiking pants. I’d like to say I found a sensible, budget-friendly pair, but friends, I did not. I bought some super damn expensive Arc’teryx Gamma pants. In my defense (a) they have excellent reviews for exactly the sort of hiking I’ll be doing in the sort of weather I’ll be doing it; and (b) I look really fucking amazing in them.
So you see: sensible. Now I just gotta get a second pair, perhaps in another color, just to be safe. And to look fucking amazing in them in a different way.
Oh, I also hiked again today. Just under ten miles in Blendon Woods.
The general advice for getting ready to hike the Coast to Coast, apart from just being in decent shape, is being able to do back-to-back 12-miles hikes on four occasions prior to departure. Yesterday’s six and change and today’s nearly ten is not that yet, but on both days I could’ve done more. There are seven full weekends between now and when I fly out. When I got home from today’s hike I marked four of them on which to do two 12-milers: the weekend of July 28-30, the weekend of August 11-13, the weekend of September 1-3, and the weekend of September 8-10. I can work in more in all of the open weekends except that of August 25-27, as I’ll be moving the kids into college then, so I do have some flexibility in case the weather or my body or events conspire against me. During the week I’ll continue going to the gym for cardio and weights.
After so much waiting and after so many distractions, I finally feel like I can focus 100% on getting ready for the hike. And I feel 100% confident that I’m going to be in great shape for it when I set off.
July 29, 2023: Allison is in London to see Pulp and visit with friends. She left Thursday and will be gone until Wednesday. I feel like she’s over there doing some advance scouting.
Earlier this week I turned the mostly mental list of gear and supplies I will need into an actual written list. A couple of them, actually: things I have and things I still need. As I buy things from the latter list they get put on the former list which will then, in turn, serve as my packing checklist. Here’s where I am as of this morning, having spent some dough on some rain pants, some gaiters and three pair of Darn Tough hiking socks while sipping wine, listening to music, and reading reviews at Outdoor Gear Lab, which is easily the most fun part of hiking prep:
Merino underwear (3)
Short sleeve base layer/hiking shirt (1)
Long sleeve base layers (2)
Hiking pants (2)
First aid kit
Soft-side laptop sleeve
Beanie cap for cold
Another short sleeve/base shirt
Dry map/passport case
Portable power backup for phone (maybe: InfinityLab InstantGo 5000)
Moleskin/pen for notes
I bought the merino wool underwear last week and took them on a trial run on that very hot and sweaty ten-mile walk. A lot of people recommend those both for comfort and because you can wash them out in a sink and they’ll be dry before morning, which saves you a lot of packing and hassle on a long trip. I can now attest to both their hiking comfort and the ease of washing/drying. It’s a bit galling to pay like $27 for one pair of underwear but this is what I have done with my life, so whatever.
I’m wary of the rain pants. I had tried a pair on at REI last week — large REI brand — and I was swimming in them. Last night, after reading reviews, I settled on some Outdoor Research pants which are from the same line as my rain jacket. The size charts have me right on the border between short/regular cut. I almost always wear large regulars in everything but after trying on those at the store and reading some reviews I suspected that regulars would be too long so I ordered the shorts. I still have time to exchange them if they show up and are too small. I feel so weird buying shorts in anything though.
Anyway, beyond the stuff on those lists I have a separate list going of just general travel crap like my phone charger, power adapter, headphones, toiletries, and all of that stuff but it’s a pretty boring and standard list so I don’t figure I need to share that.
This is a two-twelve-miler weekend. The plan today was to wake up at 5AM and be out on the trail at Highbanks MetroPark by 6am so that I could get in 12 miles by 10:30 or 11AM thereby beating the oppressive heat we’ve been having this week. The waking up at 5AM part was no problem. The being ready to go part was no problem either in that I was smart last night and packed my backpack, including in it most of the things I’ll be bringing with me in England so I can get used to the weight. When I went to bed last night the forecast called for some early showers but that it would clear off by 8AM or so. Fine, I thought. In addition to everything else I’ll need to get used to rain so no worries there either. Out the door I went at 5:30AM.
Then, a few miles up I-71 a torrential downpour with thunder and lighting started up. I got off the freeway to see how long and how bad it was supposed to be and discovered that a severe storm system that was supposed to track north didn’t track north enough and that we’d be having severe thunderstorms for the next couple of hours. England rain is one thing but Midwestern summer lightning storms are quite another. Hiking in the woods during one of those is not wise and the last thing I want to do is go and get electrocuted before my trip. So I turned around and drove home. It’s 6:30AM as I’m typing this. The storms are supposed to pass in the next hour and a half or so. Rather than head up to the park I may just do two loops of that six mile walk around Scioto Metropark that I did last weekend in order to get today’s twelve miles in. Those miles are happening one way or another.
UPDATE: I walked almost exactly 12 miles. Rather than do the same six I did last weekend twice, I looked more closely at the Scioto Audubon map and realized that the trail extends out west past the part of the riverfront I had reached last weekend, crossed the river and followed it back down on the Franklinton side, eventually looping back into the park and then back home. The loop from my house and back was 9.8 miles. When I got back here I stopped, ate the peanut butter and jelly sandwich and apple I had packed for the trip when I didn’t think I’d have a chance to stop at home, ate it, reapplied sunscreen and walked back out. I went down to Schiller Park, around it, and back home again, giving me the two miles and change I needed to get my 12:
I should’ve not paused the tracking when I stopped to eat lunch because knowing my pace with rest breaks and things is probably more practically useful for me than knowing just my active walking pace, but oh well. I will, of course, take that active pace which is around 3.3 miles per hour. Not too bad for wearing a pack and not trying to push things too terribly hard. Obviously it’ll be slower with elevation gains, of which there was almost none today because, welp, Ohio. But I trust my legs and, increasingly, I trust my lungs. My little bout with COVID in January and what it did to my lung capacity in California in February feels like a long time ago. Though, I suppose, I’ll not know for sure until I get to some real hills, as elevation on the treadmill doesn’t do real hiking justice.
Tomorrow will be part two of the first of four back-to-back 12-mile weekends.
July 30, 2023: I woke up super early again and did 12.5 miles in Blendon Woods today, so mission accomplished on the first of four back-to-backs. This time I kept the clock going when I took little breaks so I don’t seem quite as fast:
You have to do two and a half loops of the three patched-together trails I usually do out there, but distance is distance. And while 705 feet of elevation is not exactly extreme, it’s decent for Ohio I suppose. There’s really no good way to climb around here.
August 6, 2023: The latest audiobook I finished was The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. Several people suggested it to me when I said that I planned to do the Coast to Coast. I finally got around to it.
The plot: a timid, older, ordinary man named Harold Fry learns that a former friend and colleague with whom he hadn’t had contact in years is seriously ill. He sets out with the intention of sending her a letter but rather than go back home after putting it in the mailbox he keeps walking, with the plan to go and see her, believing that as long as he keeps walking she will live. His journey takes him from his home in Devon, the southwest of England, to Berwick-upon-Tweed way up in the northeast corner of the country, some 600 miles away. He does the whole walk in yachting shoes, a rain jacket, a sweater, shirt, and a tie.
It’s a lovely story about regret, redemption and self-examination, though it also has heartwarming and, at times, sentimental aspects to it that may turn some people off. Normally that sort of sentimentality is a dealbreaker for me but there is not so much of that here that it took away from the more sober and contemplative aspects to it. Without going into detail, both in the interests of spoiler avoidance and the preservation of some personal privacy, there is a specific plot point which, while likely not necessarily remarkable for most people, was difficult to the point of harrowing for me to read. But I got through it and I’m glad I did.
The biggest takeaway from the book is that we should do our best to take notice of the everyday things and everyday people who surround us, even if we’re often too preoccupied to notice them. The book’s message walks a perfect line between (a) accepting that we are not the center of the universe and that none of us and none of what we do is so significant that we need spend our days fretting about it; and (b) knowing that what we do does, indeed, matter and that it is never too late to live a fulfilling and meaningful life.
Those two concepts are putatively at odds but, I believe in them both. Indeed, I spend a lot of my time trying to reconcile what I believe to be the inherent meaninglessness and indifference of the universe and our absolute obligation to care for one another and to make the best of our brief existence. I don’t mean to suggest that Harold Fry is a philosophical book — it just got made into what appears to be a soft-focus, heartwarming movie, complete with a score aimed at maximal heartstring manipulation — but it did make me think of that stuff all the way through it. It also does a good job of capturing one’s mind space when one is in the middle of a long walk, so it gets points for authenticity.
August 7, 2023: I was casually perusing the route of the Coast to Coast in my Ordnance Survey map yesterday when I came across this section near the end of the walk:
Oddly, none of those lists that tell you what gear you need to bring on the walk suggest a black light. Though, now that I think about it, the less I know the better.
August 8, 2023: In 2018 and again last year I stayed at an Airbnb in Manchester managed by a man named Scott. They were two different apartments, actually, in the same, wonderful 19th century apartment building right in the middle of the city center. Scott didn’t actually own them. He lives in the building but I think he managed the rentals, along with a few other units, for their owners who used them as pied à terres or investments or something. He’s a young guy who works in graphic design or something and does the Aribnb thing as a side hustle.
Scott is a great host. Both times he met us at the train station, helped carry out bags for me back to the apartment, gave us a full orientation, including restaurant recommendations, tourist sites and walking tours, and everything. He bought milk and put it in the fridge for us and held bags for us in his apartment after checkout when our trains were later in the day. He checked in with us to make sure we had all of the bookings we needed and to make sure we were enjoying ourselves. The fact that I’ve only been to Manchester a couple of times but, each time, had a wonderful experience which has helped me get to know and love the city as if I had been going there for years and years is in no small part attributable to Scott and his generous and thoughtful hospitality. While the Airbnb model as a whole is pretty problematic in a lot of ways, if it is to be a useful and viable business, having hosts like Scott, who truly seem to care and who make it a warm, human experience as opposed to a mere transaction, seems pretty damn critical to the mission.
In light of all of that I absolutely planned to stay in one of the properties Scott manages for my two nights in Manchester before I head up to St. Bee’s for my walk. Back in June I found his listings and booked my place with him. We exchanged some nice messages as well, with him asking after Allison, Anna, and Carlo and saying that he was sad that he wouldn’t get to see them this time around.
Then, last night, I got three messages from Airbnb: the first one saying my reservation was cancelled, the second one saying that I was getting a full refund, and the third one confirming the refund with a receipt. There was no explanation for the cancellation. So I messaged Scott and asked what the deal was. he replied, “Hi Craig — Thank you for your message. It’s with deep sadness and upset, I have to advise you that Airbnb are deleting me from the Airbnb platform.I’m extremely sorry that you have experienced this cancellation. The apartment you originally booked will be back online shortly under new management, so please do look on Airbnb again in a few days time. Please be assured of my best intentions at all times. Thanks Craig. — Scott”
I can imagine all manner of things that could cause Airbnb to 86 a host like that, some of which reflect poorly on the company, some of which reflect poorly on the host, but I honestly have no idea. Really, I’m less annoyed about the cancellation — there are a zillion places to stay in Manchester and I’ll find one easily — but I was actually looking forward to seeing Scott again. It felt nice staying in a place run by someone who seemed to give a shit. Oh well.
August 11, 2023: This is my second weekend of back-to-back twelve-milers. I walked the downtown/Scioto Trail route again today. I felt better at the end of it — and now, about four hours after finishing it — than I did two weeks ago. Like, much better. It’s almost as if the more you walk the better shape you’re in. Someone should probably look into that.
The highlight of today’s walk was taking a new hat out on a shakedown cruise:
It’s a Fjällräven Singi Trekking Cap. Sort of a paramilitary field cap I guess. I’ve been wearing my usual New Era baseball caps for most hikes but, even if they’re not made of wool anymore, they still pretty hot and they really don’t breathe as much as I need a cap to do when I’m active. Also: it takes forever for the sweat to dry out of them. When you don’t have hair to soak up sweat a LOT of sweat hits your hat band.
There are way more utilitarian hiking hats out there but they tend to be big-brimmed things that look rather silly to me and look rather silly on me. Maybe if I was hiking someplace out west where sun protection was a more critical thing I’d err in that direction, but I’ll be in rainy England and my neck will be covered with clothes almost all of the time anyway. This cap will cover the dome, protecting it from sun, wind, and mist. If I get sweaty it’ll dry out much more quickly than my baseball caps. And, hey, it actually looks pretty cool. Best part: it actually fits. Which is not a thing that is easy to find when your head is as big as mine.
August 18, 2023: I was talking to a friend yesterday who asked me how my hiking training was going. I told her about my 12 mile walks and all the time I’ve been spending in the gym and she said “OK, that’s the body. But what about your mental training? Are you prepared to be out in nature, walking by yourself, in your own head for all that time?” It’s a fair question. In my case, however, I think the answer has to be that I am extremely prepared for it. Indeed, it’s as if I were made for it.
I live a weird life. While a lot of people have gotten used to working from home since the pandemic hit, I’ve been doing it for 14 years. And unlike pandemic-era work-from-home people, I don’t have Zoom meetings or spend time on Slack or anything. I haven’t had coworkers for over three years and even in the 11 years before that I only rarely talked to them. My professional life has been primarily a laptop and me since the first year of Obama’s first term. Which, at times, has created minor problems.
I went through a stretch in the first year or so of my work-from-home life when I didn’t leave the house all that much and the only people I talked to regularly were my kids, who were in preschool and kindergarten at the time. I remember, about six or seven months into my writing career, going out to lunch with my wife. I met her downtown. Lunch was fine, but as we left the restaurant I sort of mindlessly walked right out into an intersection and almost got hit by a car, not really paying attention to my surroundings. A little ways up the block I saw a billboard or a sign of some kind I had not seen before. I can’t remember what it was — it was some then-trendy/viral ad campaign — but I stopped and gawked at it and said something to the effect of “well, that’s clever.” My wife, who was out in society every day, was sort of shocked I hadn’t seen it before because apparently everyone had talked about it a few months prior and the novelty had worn off.
The whole exchange lasted only a moment but it made me feel like an alien who had just landed on Earth. Between not paying attention to stoplights and not having encountered some ubiquitous bit of pop culture, it sort of dawned on me that I had been isolating myself way, way too much. I adjusted things a bit at that point, making a point to leave the house more. A little over a year later I got divorced and the socializing, traveling, shopping, kid-hauling and everything else that accompanied those adjustments I had made helped me rejoin society in a much more appropriate way. I still don’t get out as much as I should but these days I am far closer to being a normal person than I was for a little while there.
I may be better-socialized now and I may get out of the house just enough these days to be normal, but something definitely changed, or maybe broke, inside my head when I stopped working in offices. I don’t have problems interacting with other people — in social settings I’m pretty chatty, I can be clever and funny when necessary, and I generally do just fine — but it takes a lot more effort for me now than it once did. Part of that is probably just being out of practice. It’s been years and years since I’ve lived a life where idle chitchat was part of my daily existence. Part of it is also likely due to the fact that I just write all the time now. That combination has made it so that whenever I find myself getting into anything approaching a non-superficial conversation with someone I start to think how I’d be able to express my thoughts on the matter so much better in writing and wish I could just send them an email, possibly delayed by a few hours to allow me to think about it, rather than to talk in real time in the meatspace.
Life, of course, does not always let you be the sort of person I’ve become. Humans are social beings and we live in a damn society. I have a family and they need me. I may not have coworkers but I do have readers and I’m a better writer when I engage with them than when I pull back. Life demands that we not disappear into our own heads like I am inclined to do when I’m not careful about it. But . . . giving myself permission to do it for a few weeks sounds heavenly. Being able to walk for several hours a day and simply be alone with my thoughts sounds like the definition of comfort.
Maybe I’m all wrong about this. Maybe I already spend far too much time in my own head and maybe I’m overstating how much I need that kind of time. Maybe three days into my walk I’ll be so hungry for a conversation that I’ll team up with some 65 year-old dude I meet in a pub and walk ten miles with him. I have no idea, but I am greatly looking froward to finding out.
August 20, 2023: Hmmm . . .
August 28, 2023: On Friday I drove Carlo down to Athens to move him in to the dorms for his freshman year at Ohio University. On Saturday I drove Anna up to Burlington to move her in to the dorms for her sophomore year at the University of Vermont. Today I drove back. That’s a lot of mileage, a lot of effort, and a lot of emotions for one weekend. But I’m home now and I’m officially an empty nester. I leave for England in a little over two weeks. There are no big events or obligations between now and when I start walking. The countdown is on.
August 31, 2023: I had planned to do my third set of back-to-back 12 milers this weekend but I looked at the forecast yesterday and saw it was going to be in the 90s. Yesterday and today, however, were an unseasonably cool 70-ish each day so I moved up the plan and did 12 miles at Blendon Woods yesterday and 12 miles around the river downtown today.
That sorta messed with my work schedule — I feel like today’s newsletter was sorta half-assed since I didn’t start writing it until the afternoon yesterday — but it was worth it. I’m so damn sick of walking in hot and humid weather. It’d be one thing if I was training to walk 192 miles in the heat and humidity but I am absolutely-fucking-not doing that. Indeed, my hatred of heat is a huge part of going to the north of England in September and October in the first pace. I’d rather walk in freezing temperatures than the horrible hot mess that is the American summer.
Anyway: each day went fine. Whereas, a couple of months ago, a walk that long would have me sore all day the next day, each day this time featured some leg stiffness for a couple of hours after I got home but which mostly went away by mid-afternoon. Today’s walk was certainly not negatively impacted by yesterday’s — indeed, I was faster today than yesterday even though I wasn’t trying to be — so I suppose that means I’m basically ready. I’m sure stringing 17 of these things together as opposed to two will be a different story, of course.
In other news, I am flying over there on Virgin Atlantic, and paid for almost all of my airfare on points thanks to us using a Virgin Atlantic credit card for almost all expenses, and then paying it off each month, for the past year and a half or so. Because of that I was able to book a Premium seat on the way over, which is basically business class. I’ve flown over there on that before and it’s basically the equivalent of first class on domestic flights. It’s quite nice. Nicer than anyone really needs, in fact.
Except I’m spoiled now, I still have some leftover points, and I’ve been checking the Virgin Atlantic website which tells you if there are available seats for which you can use points to upgrade on the flights you have. I’d been checking it once a day for a couple of weeks to no avail, but this morning they showed one Upper Class seat — their name for first class — that was points eligible. I sorta want to do it because I’ve never done it before. The seats fold down like beds and you can use the club at Heathrow when you land to take a shower and all of that kind of thing. Like I said: completely unnecessary but . . . doable.
So I called and tried to upgrade. The woman on the phone said “oh, sorry, there’s nothing available.” I told her I was looking at the screen that said there was. She said “sometimes the website is wrong. Sorry!” I wanted to be mad. Then I realized that I had already said and done enough to get myself thrown up against the wall the moment the revolution comes so I figure I need to drop it.
Not that I’m not gonna check the site again tomorrow. Do you know how nice it would be to take a shower right after an overnight transatlantic flight?!
September 4, 2023: From the BBC:
A five-year-old boy is believed to have become the youngest to complete the near-200 mile Coast-to-Coast.
Ollie completed the gruelling challenge from St Bees, Cumbria to Robin Hood’s Bay in North Yorkshire on Saturday. The boy, from Ashbrooke, Sunderland, wanted to raise money after witnessing a Great North Air Ambulance (GNAAS) helicopter rescue.
“He’s been absolutely incredible, he’s been so determined,” father Paul Sainthouse, who walked with him, said . . . Mr Sainthouse told the BBC: “I’ve never had to prise him out of bed or anything. He’s just wanted to crack on, he’s so proud of himself, bless him. “I thought it would be a struggle at the beginning with the terrible weather but he has proved me wrong.” Despite Storm Betty generating up 60mph (95kmh) winds and heavy rain in the first three days of the walk, they managed to continue as scheduled.
Shit. Now I’m gonna feel even worse if I don’t finish the walk for some reason. Fuckin’ Ollie.
September 7, 2023: Six days from flying over to England. The overseas flights and the hiking accommodations have been sorted for months, but it’s been a busy week of planning all of the subsidiary stuff. The train from London to Manchester. The hotel in Manchester for my two days worth of acclimating, chilling, and revisiting one of the best breakfasts and one of the best dinners I’ve ever had. The train from Manchester up to Saint Bee’s where the hike begins. Getting from Robin Hood’s Bay, at the end of the hike, down to York, where I will stay and visit a couple of days before heading back to London and home.
I am no one’s idea of a super traveler, let alone a super travel planner, but I greatly enjoy sorting out this kind of stuff and putting the finishing touches on a grand adventure.
September 8: Some Virgin Atlantic point-eligible tickets became available so I was able to change my flight on Wednesday from Heathrow to Manchester. That saves me a two hour train trip right after I land. I was cautiously optimistic that I’d be able to do it as Virgin tends to release more points-eligible flights closer to departure date, and yep it happened. Oh, and I upgraded to Upper Class — Virgin’s name for first class — because this is a once-in-a-damn-lifetime trip. I’ve never flown first class on an international flight. Should be pretty trippy. I’ll report back on how the other half flies after I land on Thursday morning.
This morning I took my second-to-last training walk before I leave. It, like the others, was supposed to be 12 miles. Except I apparently hit “pause” on the AllTrails app at some point and didn’t realize it when I checked it later and thus ended up hiking, I’m guessing, about 14 miles instead of 12. For what it’s worth I felt fine afterwards so, after one more 12-miler tomorrow, I suppose it’s time to bring on England.
September 10, 2023: I did that last 12-miler yesterday. It went perfectly. Legs felt fresh as could be when I woke up and I walked all 12 miles without taking anything more than a couple of 30-second breaks to re-tie boots or grab something out of my pack or whatever. I was making serious time too, likely because I’ve hiked in that park dozens of times and I’m bored with it.
If anything I went too fast, though, which is probably why I started to develop a bit of a hot spot on my right heel. I haven’t had any blister problems to date, but it’s something I’m definitely concerned about for the upcoming walk. I already had a basic blister kit for my pack but when I got home I decided that I needed to be a bit heavier-duty about it so I bought a whole roll of moleskin — as opposed to the little patches from the kit — some alcohol wipes, and some Neosporin. My hope is that I never need them but I think I’ll be happy I have them.
Ultimately I won’t be going anywhere near as fast on the Coast to Coast as I go in boring, mostly flat Ohio MetroParks, and I’ll be extra careful about making sure my boots are appropriately snug and my socks stay dry.
And with that, the training is over. I fly out Wednesday. I begin hiking on Sunday, September 17.
September 11, 2023: My friend Ethan had some fun with ChatGPT on my behalf:
“Please write me a blog post about the first day of a 20-day trip hiking across England. Talk about the trail, the scenery, some people you met along the way, how your equipment worked, and what may happen tomorrow. Use a breezy informal and slightly awkward style, with some personal revelations and plenty of words.”
Day 1: The Idyllic Beginnings of My 20-Day English Extravaganza
Ah, the Grand English Outdoors…
Today marked the first day of my great English hiking escapade – a 20-day journey across the undulating terrains of England, that little country with a big heart.
The sun greeted me with a cheeky wink as I set out, all strapped up with my spanking new backpack, which carries pretty much everything but my kitchen sink. The trail began at the small yet utterly charming town of Idyllville (not its real name, but let’s roll with it). The pathways were a mesmerizing patchwork of cobblestone streets, guiding me into the heart of England’s countryside, a place so green, you’d swear the color was invented here.
Oi, You’re Going the Wrong Way, Mate!
I’m not too proud to admit this, but I might have taken a couple of wrong turns. But in my defense, the trail was weaving through fields and forests like a startled rabbit. It was during one of these impromptu detours that I encountered a fellow hiker, a beacon of wisdom in hiking boots, who kindly guided me back to the righteous path with a friendly shake of the head and a hearty laugh.
Of Sheep and Men
I wouldn’t have experienced the day in all its glory without mentioning the picturesque landscapes I traipsed through. Rolling hills playing hide and seek with herds of sheep, all under the watchful eye of an azure sky. I stopped to chat with a shepherd — yes, a real-life shepherd! He shared tales of the land, his sheep, and even recommended a homey inn for tomorrow night. It felt like stepping into another era, a chapter from a storybook sprung to life.
The Chronicles of Gear
Speaking of life stories, let’s talk gear. Oh, my boots, my precious new boots, they squeaked and protested with every step, a relentless reminder of their brand-newness. Despite this, they held up well, guarding my feet against the angry protests of stray rocks and roots. Meanwhile, my backpack seemed to develop a personality of its own, sometimes cooperating, other times just being a right pain in the back.
What Tomorrow Holds
As the day winds down and I set up my humble abode for the night (read: a two-man tent that barely fits one), I can’t help but wonder what adventures tomorrow will bring. Maybe I’ll meet a group of hikers to share stories and snacks with or perhaps stumble upon a hidden glen that’s straight out of a fairy tale. One thing is for sure; it will be another day of wondrous landscapes, endearing encounters, and yes, my still squeaking boots accompanying me every step of the way.
Here’s to open trails, kind strangers, and the joy of exploring — squeaky boots and all.
Ethan, realizing that I’d never use the phrase “the sun greeted me with a cheeky wink” and that I’m not going to be sleeping in tents, then revised the query:
“Can you make it a little more world-weary and less cheerful? Also staying in an English inn, not a tent.”
“Day 1: Trudging through England, One Step at a Time
The Unforgiving Embrace of the Morning Sun
Today heralded the beginning of my 20-day journey, trudging through the well-worn paths that crisscross England’s daunting landscapes. The morning sun wasn’t so much a welcome friend as a herald of the long, potentially grueling day ahead.
The Well-Trodden Paths of Yesteryear
The starting point, a nondescript town whispering tales of more vibrant days long past, was the gateway to trails laden with memories of yesteryears. Every cobblestone underfoot seemed to recount stories of the countless others who had embarked on similar ventures, a constant reminder of the path that lies ahead, both beaten and unbeaten.
Chance Encounters with Solitary Souls
It wasn’t long before I crossed paths with others — a lone hiker with a nod of acknowledgment, a fleeting connection in this expansive yet oddly enclosing environment. There was a shepherd too, a man embodying the enduring spirit of the English countryside, his stories echoing the melancholy and steadfast spirit of the hills that surrounded us. It was a poignant reminder that even in the face of relentless time, some things remain unmoving, stoic in their essence.
A Symphony of Creaks and Groans
Ah, my gear — a new pair of boots, so unyielding and indifferent to my pleas for comfort, and a backpack that seemed determined to challenge my physical limits with every step. The day became a symphony of creaks and groans, both from my gear and myself, a duet of man and material in this seemingly never-ending dance.
The Weary Traveler’s Rest
As the sky draped a blanket of muted hues signaling the day’s end, I trudged into a welcoming English inn, a beacon of warmth in the fading light. Its wooden beams groaned with age, the floors echoing the weary sighs of countless travelers who sought refuge within its walls.
The room is a reflection of my state — functional yet devoid of any pretense of luxury, a space that promises rest but not comfort. Tomorrow beckons with the inevitability of more paths to tread, more stones to overturn, and the ever-present reminder of the solitude that accompanies a journey such as this.
What Tomorrow Might Bring
Tomorrow is but a foggy landscape in the distance, a continuation of today with its mixture of reluctant anticipation and an underlying pulse of dread. Yet, amid the weariness, there is a glimmer, however faint, of hope — that the paths yet to be traversed might offer moments of quiet beauty, silent companions in the form of ancient trees, and perhaps, just perhaps, a kindred spirit sharing this road less traveled.
Here’s to the hopeful heart of a weary traveler, venturing forth into the unknown, one laborious step at a time.”
I’ll grant that I spew on and on at times, but at the moment I feel pretty secure in the notion that ChatGPT is not gonna put me out of a job any time soon.
September 12, 2023: I almost never pack too far ahead of time — I’m often putting things in my suitcase the morning I leave – but I packed my bag last night, at least preliminarily speaking. Packing for this trip is different than any trip I’ve ever taken, I have a lot of weird gear and things, and I wanted to make sure I had time to optimize stuff if I ran into any unexpected issues. It went generally fine. Everything fits into my big duffel and I’m well under weight limits for both air travel and the bag hauling service during the hike. Still, I am almost certain I overpacked. Which, to be fair, I almost always do, but usually I’m just going someplace, dumping my bag and staying in a single place so it doesn’t much matter. With moving, unpacking, re-packing, and moving again almost every day for three weeks overpacking seems far more irresponsible, so I’m gonna re-do it today. Obsessive traveling Craigy is obsessive.
Today is also filled with all manner of last minute house things I want to do before I go. Cleaning the cat water fountain thing. Putting the screens in a couple of windows that don’t have them because it’ll be cool enough to open up here not long after I leave. Spreading some of those ant killer granules around the foundation of the house because in the Midwest you tend to get a lot of little ants in your house when the weather starts turning cold, especially if you have cats who scatter little crumbs of cat food all over the kitchen floor. Preparing a bunch of chicken breasts for the freezer for Allison so she eats well while I’m gone. There are some other things too. I have a list.
Yes, Allison could do those things. Yes, I am weird about taking care of things around the house and I worry too much about everyone around me to just let it all go. All of which is probably an excellent argument for me actually leaving for a few weeks and not thinking constantly about taking care of everything.
September 13, 2023: I’m off!
Preparation: September 14, 2023: Hanging around Manchester
Preparation: September 15, 2023: Another day hanging around Manchester
Preparation: September 16, 2023: Traveling to St. Bees
Walking Day 1: September 17, 2023: St. Bees to Ennerdale
Walking Day 2: September 18, 2023: Ennerdale to Seatoller
Walking Day 3: September 19, 2023: Seatoller to Grasmere
Walking Day 4: September 20, 2023: Grasmere to Glenridding
Walking Day 5: September 21, 2023: Glenridding to Shap
Walking Day 6: September 22, 2023: Shap to Orton
Walking Day 7: September 23: Orton to Kirkby Stephen
Walking Day 8: September 24: Kirkby Stephen to Keld
Walking Day 9: September 25: Keld to Reeth
Walking Day 10: September 26: Reeth to Richmond
Walking Day 11: September 27: Richmond to Danby Wiske
Walking Day 12: September 28: Danby Wiske to Osmotherly
Injury and The End: September 29: Back to Manchester and a visit to the NHS