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 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 meat pie, 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 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 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 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, 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 bloody 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.