Take this whole post with a massive pinch of salt. Believe nothing. Test everything. Your experience may differ.
I couldn’t have written this post until a few days ago, because back then, I hadn’t walked 25 miles in one day. (Like, ever.) The 25-point-something mile walk I just did along the Trans Pennine Trail gave me a few insights, which may be universal or may be unique just to myself. Consult your brain, your heart and your legs for the actual truth here.
(Yes, this is a great big rambling disclaimer. Treat it as such.)
Anyway, here’s how to walk 25 miles in one day.
This seems terrifying in advance, and utterly banal when you do it. The more you prepare, the more freaked out you’ll get, and the more it’ll feel like A Great Big Huge Thing That Requires More Preparation. Well, it’s not. Not at first, anyway.
Starting should feel like a massive anticlimax, when suddenly, after all that tension, you’re striding your way down the road and it just feels like a normal walk to the shops to get a pint of milk and a bag of Doritos. Think of this as the first of a string of perfectly normal milk-and-Doritos walks you’re taking today, all of them lined up behind each other in a 25-mile string. Think of it that way, as you walk along.
It’s not at all true, but it may help you remain positive for a while.
2. Make Sure You Packed Properly
It may seem strange to have this after “Start Walking,” but if you now discover you’ve packed improperly, turn around right now, walk back home and repack hurriedly, cursing your own stupidity as you do it. This way you’re fuelled with urgency and self-recrimination over the time you’re wasting, instead of using packing-time to lazily delay the start of your walk. This way, the clock is already ticking. Don’t dither.
If you’ve packed your rucksack or daypack properly, you should be able to walk comfortably and flex your knees in a normal way, but still have everything packed that gives you a sense of self-reliance and security. You’ll need to feel self-reliant and secure later, when it becomes nightmarishly clear that it’s too late to turn back. When that moment hits, if you can blame your equipment, you will. With blame comes failure of nerve. Avoid them both by packing correctly.
3. Ignore How You Feel During The First Ten Minutes
How you feel in your first ten minutes of walking 25 miles is not how you”ll feel for the whole thing. Right now, your body is protesting and your imagination is extrapolating all those minor aches and pains forward into a litany of agony that will escalate until you’re on your hands and knees, sobbing for death.
This is quite, quite wrong.
You’re going to feel much better than that.
And occasionally a lot worse, but let’s ignore that for now.
4. Fling Your Senses Open
Once you get warm and comfy, you’ll be able to enjoy your surroundings. The world will feel brimming with endless possibility. Bird-song will delight you. Colours will make you wonder why you never learned to paint. You’ll be entranced by the rich, loamy hue of a ploughed field. The air will smell just terrific.
Nature will work her sensual magic on you, and you’ll want to make out with her, right there on the path, in a way you’ll never be able to politely or coherently talk about in public.
5. Accept The Lack Of Progress
Eventually, you’ll get sick of enjoying Nature. Nature’s boring. Are you there yet?
No, you are not there yet.
In fact – and this is really hard to accept right now, but you have to try – in terms of your experience of today, you will never “get there”. It’s an illusion, created to get you walking. Now you’re off, the illusion can be stripped away from you. Forget “getting there”. If you keep wanting to “just get there,” again and again and again, your willpower will drain away, like someone bleeding to death from a thousand paper-cuts. If you keep one eye on the map, you’ll watch yourself get nowhere. If you mentally dwell on your destination, you will never arrive at it.
So forget progress. Forget the map. This is your new perpetual, unchanging reality. The scenery goes past, the path rolls under your feet, but you stay right here. You will always be here, walking forward, never moving. This is who you are now. Accept it, and then put your headphones in and listen to some music, or a nice audiobook. Or cry. Whatever helps you deal.
6. Tea Breaks
You’ve brought all the makings for a cuppa, right? Because you cannot fuck this up. If you forget the spoon, mentally, you’re done. No sugar? You’re done. Your tea break has to be perfect or you are done.
Tea breaks (or coffee breaks, or whatever hellish tea or coffee surrogate you choose to imbibe) will give you a self-respecting reason to stop and have a rest. Otherwise, you’re just sat by the road, feeling sorry for yourself.
7. Suffer Willingly But Not Foolishly
Your feet will hurt, your back will hurt and eventually everything will hurt. React to this sensibly, by slowing down a bit or stopping for a stretch or a cup of tea every now and again, not foolishly, like assuming you’re dying and then throwing yourself at the feet of the next passerby, hugging their ankles and weeping snottily all over their shoes.
Of course it’s uncomfortable. All the most meaningful things in life come with a side-order of misery. Just minimise the discomfort within reason, and then get used to it. Become it. It’s not going to go away until you’re done – but it’s almost certainly not going to kill you enroute, either. So enjoy the novelty of being aware of how bad you feel, when you’re normally so comfortably unaware of how your body’s feeling. Pay renewed attention to the fleshy, bony house you occupy, and listen to what it’s telling you (eg. “WARP CORE BREACH IN LEFT KNEE, SHE CANNAE HOLD”).
If you master 1) – 7), you’ll arrive at your destination at some point, and it’ll happen suddenly and messily, like a rushed, badly-written ending to a story you’ve been somewhat enjoying up to this point.
Really? That’s it?
Yes, that’s it. You did it. Congratulations! I know you’re not really aware of it right now, but no matter. Now – all you have to do is find somewhere to lay your bivvy bag, so you can wake up in the morning and find out what the view’s like….
Well, look at that.
Seems like you made it there after all.
(No – not there. Here. You made it here.)
Oh, and good luck with today. If you thought yesterday was painful, you have no bloody idea what’s coming when your feet wake up properly. All my sympathies. All of them.
Most weekdays this year, I’m going for a walk to explore the limits of my ignorance and write about what I find. Want to follow along?
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PREVIOUSLY: A Mile A Day #11: The Art Of The Start