About that pitch you sent me…
OK – enough.
Let’s try to sort this out politely.Read More
About that pitch you sent me…
OK – enough.
Let’s try to sort this out politely.Read More
“This isn’t a good place for walking,” says Mariana.
“You mean this suburb?”
“I mean, the whole valley.”
“All of San José?”
“Plus there are unsafe areas. Not a good idea to walk through those, even in daylight.”
“But…I have these weekly blog posts that I’m supposed to be…”
She purses her lips. “I know. It’s going to be tricky.”Read More
There’s a whole new world out there.
I should stop and stare out this window that’s designed to look like film-reel when it’s photographed (nice touch). Somewhere beyond the tarmac is Mexico City, on a scale I wouldn’t believe if I saw it. I should go to some of the other windows and catch a glimpse. Isn’t that what excited travellers do? I may never be here again. I should photograph everything.
Instead, I head to the gate of my connecting flight, find a chair, and disappear back into myself.
Central America rolls past, thousands of feet below. It’s a stunning day, the kind where you’ll need Photoshop to tone it down. We float through a vast azure sky, and all the clouds are far below. It’s the perfect introduction to this part of the world – and I feel nothing. That’s fine. I’ve been feeling nothing for a few weeks now, so I’m used to it. I take photos – but of course, photos are meant to remind you of how you felt, so I guess these will be wasted. Nice to look at, academically interesting (that’s Nicaragua, look) – but not much else, perhaps.
It’s a blowy day in the San Jose valley of Costa Rica, and the plane has a rough time of it, lurching and juddering down towards the runway. Well, that’s nice, I think. Normally I’d be terrified at this point. Mountains rise around us, until they’re level with the window and then I’m looking up at them – and with a sway, a bump and a squeal of tires, I’ve arrived at my new home on the other side of the world.
Great – I guess?
I’m still barely aware that I’ve arrived.
It’s a month later as I write this, and it has taken this long to start dawning on me: this is the other side of the world. It’s my first time this far west, my first time this far south, and my first time in the Americas, barring a short hop to Canada a few years back. I’ve never had this many firsts in one journey, and never a journey this colossal. I’ve also never moved so entirely abroad as an adult, since I’m renting a house here with my partner for at least 3 months. We chose Costa Rica because it’s her home and I’ve never been. Those are good reasons.
I also needed to get completely away from everything.
That’s the third reason, and I feel really bad talking about it.
Depression is a serious thing, so I couldn’t accept I had it, even in its mildest form. It felt like an insult to the people I know who really struggle with it. How dare I suggest I was on that level? I’m not on that level. I should be ashamed for even thinking it.
What I was struggling with, and what I’m slowly dealing with, is an absence. A hole, somewhere inside me, where I used to feel lots of interesting things. In one sense it’s serious, because I need to be able to feel those things to write the things I want to write. It’s a requirement. And my brain (not my heart, my brain) knows why this hole opened up. Because of family issues, I was burnt out, filled with pessimism and numb lassitude, incapable of hoping for the best.
It’s understandable. I should give myself a break.
But in the other sense (says a voice that’s a big part of the problem), all this is pathetic, self-indulgent nonsense. I’m so full of shit. I’m not depressed. I’m just weak. I’m a failure, incapable of doing what I’ve set out to do with my weird, messy, freakish “career”. It’s not like walking 25 miles, where you grit your teeth and keep going until you’re done. I’m just not capable of keeping going. Until now, I’ve been pretending, and it’s time to stop lying to everyone. No wonder [x] unfollowed me on Twitter and [y] never replied to my article pitch. They’re sick of me. Why don’t you just go away, Mike? You’re such a bloody nuisance.
That’s what the voice was saying, drowning out everything else in my last few weeks in England – and I’m here to shut it up.
So, it seems I needed a month.
I needed it to sit in the sunshine, carefully thinking bigger and bigger thoughts until my 3-month plan crept back into view, learning how to tamp down my negativity, sitting and working quietly on this and that, spending quality time with my other half, walking here and there (not easy in Costa Rica, as I’ll explain another time), and enjoying the 35 years of National Geographic magazines lining the bookcases in the study of the house we’re renting. I’ve been letting Costa Rica work its magic on me, wrought with overwhelming hospitality and great food and incredibly dramatic scenery, and now I’ve become a little too comfortable for comfort, just a little…
So I’m ready to get walking again.
And that feels damn good right now.
It’s those trainers with the split leather sides and the ripped shoelace holes, the ones you bought in 1997 for £5 and you’ve never been able to throw away.
It’s that t-shirt with the ragged holes in the shoulders and under the arms that you put aside to use as a pyjama top, but accidentally put back into commission, and then remembered how comfy it is, even if it makes you unfashionable enough to audition for the next season of Stranger Things.
It’s those jeans with the shredded knees and that hole in the crotch which means you can never sit opposite anyone.
It’s those odd socks you couldn’t be bothered to match up, old socks with broken elastic so they creep down your ankles in a way that makes you feel stabby.
It’s that sweatshirt that smells like something died in it a decade ago, and it’s that raincoat that’s about as waterproof as a string vest.
About half an hour into your walk, maybe less, you’ll start discovering the limitations of your crappy, crappy walking gear. Maybe you’ll get cold and sweaty at the same time – a miracle of thermodynamics. Maybe your legs will start to ache because your shoes are lopsided ankle-breakers. Maybe it’ll rain and you’ll get drenched right through to your underwear, leaving you with dramatic-feeling friction burns in intimate places.
Whatever happens as you walk, something will prove insufficient for the task at hand – hell, maybe everything will – and you’ll discover you need an upgrade.
Until that happens, you don’t need one.
All you need is to get out and walk with what you have.
Seriously. You know this, but it’s worth spelling out: if you want to go for a long walk, anything but walking is stalling. This goes for most outdoor activities, but it’s especially true for walking. There’s no uniform of entry, no minimum viable set of walking gear. You just walk, for as long as you damn well like, suffering as much as you damn well want to, until you turn round and stomp home, cursing the item of clothing that’s made your day unnecessarily horrible.
(This might not happen, by the way. You might be just fine.)
So why are you on Amazon, browsing the outdoor gear section, pointless lusting over expensive things that only weigh this and that, and are guaranteed to work in temperatures as low as WTF? You know why. It’s because you’re fighting Resistance and it’s winning, because you’re here, instead of out there, discovering the actual proven limits of your existing (non-)gear.
You don’t go climbing England’s second-highest mountain in non-gear. That’s just asking for trouble.
So, there’s a limit. But for most low-intensity, low-misery strolls, your walking heroes have gone for long walks in worse gear than you have available right now. Sometimes for the comedy value, admittedly, but off they went. It didn’t kill them. It won’t kill you either – unless you’re daft enough to pretend your gear isn’t laughable/dangerous when it’s clearly proving to be so, as already stated. That’s when you come back and buy some shiny new things from Regatta or Craghoppers or the like, when you’re agonisingly aware of how much you need them, when it’s written across your body in aches and pains and odd-shaped rashes.
I could go on, but then this post would turn into another way of delaying that walk you could be having today, and I’d hate that almost as much as you would.
However rubbish your gear is, it’s good enough to start. Same goes for your legs, your knees – everything.
Make do. Get out.
Well, it’s been a rough week. I stepped away from my writing work to deal with family issues, and the stress of it has left me exhausted. Now everything’s resolved, it’s time to open my laptop and pick up all my work where I left off.
But first – my morning walk.Read More
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. Read More
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.Read More
The beach stretches out before me.
I’m here to see a sign – but the view grabs my attention. It says:
Mike. Forget the sign. Forget all that stuff for a moment. Looooook.
Every time, that view gets to me – especially in summer (above), but even now, in winter, with a gunmetal sea and a roaring sky and rain spattering down and whipping under your hood.
I’ve walked to that horizon and I’ve slept on that beach (in the rain) – but its power over me is undiminished. A voice inside me, joyful and deluded and completely off its head, yells, I COULD WALK THAT, STARTING NOW. ALL OF THAT. NO REALLY. JUST GIVE ME A SHOT AT THIS.
I have a book at home that’s really not helping.
It’s one of a huge number of titles printed by Reader’s Digest that you’ll only find in charity shops or in strange corners of eBay. They all share similar characteristics: incredibly well-made, beautifully illustrated, admirably well-written, usually part of a collection, and if you’re British or American, your parents own at least one of them.
(If you don’t believe me, ask them.)
This book is all about walking round the coast of Britain.
Well, not really. Nobody would be daft enough to do that!
(Oh. Right. Well, never mind.)
Every page is maybe a day’s walk – around 20 to 25 miles of coastline.
Here’s the stretch of coast I’m on right now, with Hornsea smack in the middle of the picture.
This book is a guide to the adventure of a lifetime. I’d sell my soul to do this – except, I don’t need to, there’s nobody stopping me, no gatekeepers demanding a toll. If I got my affairs in order and found a way to pay my bills, run my business while I walked, and get my girlfriend interested in joining me for at least some of it, I could just – go.
It’d take me about a year to get round the English coast, around 4,500 miles – so doing the whole of the UK, which is around 20,000 miles, would take me a bit more than 4 years. Or, I could skip the islands and cut it down to 12,000 miles, if that didn’t feel like cheating. Or I could cheat – following the general direction of the coastline but cutting out all the crinkly bits, which would shave thousands of miles off. It’s a tricky thing to get your head round.
Anyway, 20,000 miles is four years of solid walking – or, perhaps more practically, eight years of walking 6 months per year. If I started today, I’d be 53 when it ended.
And I could start anywhere. I could start at John O’Groats, which I’ve passed through many times on the way to Orkney, where I worked as an archaeologist.
I could start at Land’s End, at the other end of the UK.
I could start in Hornsea, my childhood home – but that would mean I’d be finishing in Hornsea, and that’s not a destination that would bolster me with hope for 20,000 miles.
(No offence, Hornsea. We just…need to see different people for a while.)
Right now this is what I call a 75% idea. I don’t just have half a mind (50%) to do it. I’m more resolved than that. But it’s still not a true, really-in-the-world thing. It’ll require work to piece together – and a lot of training. The mind is willing but the flesh is oh god, can’t we just go home and watch Netflix?
So, for now, I turn my gaze away from that enticing coastline, and look at the sign.
This is what I’d see if it was a sunny day. (In fact, it’s such a wet, foul afternoon that I’m afraid to take my camera out, so I’m borrowing someone else’s photo from Flickr.)
The sign marks the official start of the Trans Pennine Trail, opened in 2001, a walking route that crosses the width of England and connects the North Sea with the Irish Sea. This exact spot is where it begins (or ends). For the last 15 years it has nagged at me:
Mike. Forget the coastline. Forget the writing thing. Forget all that stuff for a moment. Look at the sign.
And at long last, I’m paying attention to it.
Tomorrow, I head southwest – diagonally down East Yorkshire and into the city of Hull, through Hull, along the river, and to the Humber Bridge, where I’ve identified a few likely spots for a spot of overnight bivvy bagging.
It’s a 25-mile route, and that’s got me deeply worried. My personal record for a day’s walking is half that distance – and that was back in 1995, when I was 20 years younger. I’m poorly trained, my knees aren’t so great these days, and I’ll be carrying a fully-laden backpack.
I can think of many, many reasons why this won’t work.
My feet will be ruined before I’m even halfway. I’ll turn into an unhappy, snivelling, pathetic shell of a man, filled with self-pity, and I’ll sit and eat all my sandwiches and BelVita breakfast biscuits in one go and then feel too heavy to continue, at which point I’ll find a bus-stop and go home. My camping stove will explode, taking me with it. My rucksack straps will break, and I won’t be able to repair them. My legs will cramp. Or maybe I’ll rationalise my way out of it like any sensible person would: I’m an adult! This is foolish! What’s the point? Grow up! Conform! Be responsible! Mid-life crisis!
However, nobody likes a whiner, including myself, so I think I’ll just set off first thing in the morning and see what happens.
Sometimes the stories and voices inside your head are an utter waste of your time. Sometimes you just have to shut everything and everyone up, and just find out for yourself.
I guess that’s what I’ll be doing tomorrow, then.