A Mile A Day #13: Giving Up And Taking It Personally

Crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch.

I lift my head cautiously, and pale daylight and freezing cold air pours into my bivvy bag. Aha – it’s a jogger, using the gravelly shoreline to get a morning sweat on, and she hasn’t seen me, so I duck my head again and flatten myself against the ground, hoping the bushes will hide me.

Crunch, crunch, crunch, skiddddddd.

Oh dammit. Please. Please keep going. Please don’t come over to check if I’m dead, or ring the police. Look, I know I look a bit dodgy. What person in his right mind would be sleeping on the shore of the Humber on a bitterly cold February morning? I’m not a tramp, terrorist or lunatic. I’m an outdoors enthusiast (this may not sound much of an improvement, I know). Trust me, I’m doing this for fun! I’m harmless. I haven’t slept all night and I’m way too cold to be dangerous.

Another cautious peek.

She’s tying her shoelace. One, two, a nice little bow, and then she’s off again. Not a glance in my direction.

Thank you thank you thank you.

It’s been a horrible night, but breakfast makes up for it.

I’ve forgotten how enjoyably simple breakfast is when you’re bivvy bagging. It’s not like normal, home-based breakfast, where you’re bombarded with a bunch of options and you feel cranky because you can’t decide about anything until you’ve woken up – and breakfast is what’s supposed to wake you up, dammit.

No – bivvy bagging makes things really easy. You can either eat the thing you packed, or you go hungry. You can either faff around with your gas burner and brew up a coffee to drink and warm your hands on, or you can stay cold and uncaffeinated. Those are your options. Get on with it.

So I get on with it, tucking into a slightly squishy banana, a packet of “breakfast biscuits” (ie. normal biscuits with the word “breakfast” on the packaging) and a few slices of cheese on “toast” (a flame-scorched bread roll). It all tastes terrific, and I know it’ll make my rucksack slightly lighter – not that it really matters, since this is as far as I’m going on this particular jaunt.

Yep, I planned to walk the same distance again today – but I’m calling it.

By the criteria I set out in this post, this was an adventure (fear + weirdness/stupidity + disaster). I was afraid I couldn’t walk 25 miles in 1 day – and I overcame it. I was nervous of the sheer weirdness of sleeping in the bushes just outside Hull – and here I was, stuffing my things back into my rucksack.

And did anything go wrong, in a way that didn’t kill me?

Yes!

And it was wonderfully awful.

I was too cold to sleep last night. I spent the whole night shivering. The really bad, can’t get warm, hands-kept-going-numb kind of shivering. I wore everything I had, but it still wasn’t enough. I’ve felt warmer sleeping in the snow in sub-zero temperatures in the North York Moors. For some reason, this felt far worse.

Thing is, I’m using similar equipment to my North York Moors trip. So it’s probably me. Right now, I’m just not tough enough. I need a warmer sleeping bag, and more thermals – and more practice. And since tonight is forecast to be colder with the added delight of rain or maybe even snow, well, I’m done for now. That’s my finish line for today. No need to add hypothermia to this particular story.

I stagger down the beach (my legs are doing odd things right now) and pass under the Humber Bridge, in search of Hessle railway station.

I’m feeling pretty good about things until I start reading a book on the bus home.

In 2011, Jennifer Pharr Davies set a new record for walking the 2,175 miles of the Appalachian Trail (for which she became a National Geographic Adventurer of the Year in 2012). She did it in just over 46 days. That’s an average pace of around 47 miles a day. I learned this because it was in the bio to her bestselling book Becoming Odyssa, currently top of the queue on my Kindle.

And with perfectly awful timing, I now start reading about one of the world’s most accomplished walkers, someone capable of walking at least twice as far as me every day for a month and a half, through far worse environmental conditions.

25 miles, Mike? the book seemed to say! Ha! That’s nothing. Ha!

“Well, screw you.”

Professional adventure writers must dread this reaction. They tell their story as honestly as possible, hoping to inspire others into chasing their own misery-saturated escapades, and instead they’re met with small-minded resentment. Are you saying my own adventuring isn’t proper adventuring? You pompous £#(*^$! Oh, sure, if I had your equipment / time / opportunities / money / good health… and so on.

That’s not the intended message, but it’s what some people choose to understand. They see it as a competition they’ve already lost, and the winner wrote a book to really rub their face in it.

So, momentarily, I join them, sitting on the bus with aching feet, annoyed that I’m not allowed to feel heroic anymore.

(It’s not much of a defence, but I should add that I’d only had an hour’s sleep in 36 hours at this point. Even so, pathetic.)

Then I shake myself out of it, splashed water on my face and carry on reading. In fact, Becoming Odyssa seems to be about someone superhumanly bad at walking. She’s hopelessly ill-prepared. She undercooks inedible food, and forgets to bring a water filter. She’s a klutz, sustaining all sorts of avoidable injuries. It’d be easy for a judgemental outsider like me to read all this and say, Oh dear, look, you’re not cut out for this. Why put yourself through it?

Reading all this makes me feel better, in a mean sort of way. And then I realise what I’m doing, and feel a total ass.

Pharr Davies, and all the other walkers and adventurers I admire, seem to have one important thing in common: they spent most of their energy comparing themselves to themselves. They did something, and then they went back and did it better – and they kept doing it, relentlessly, until they were seeing the progress they’ve always dreamed of.

And this is what I’m not doing, here on the bus, pouting like a spoilt child. I’m comparing myself to the wrong person.

So – 25 miles. That’s fine. It’ll do nicely for now.

So how am I going to do better?



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 Images: Mike Sowden