That’s me, trudging across one of the high fells in the Lakes District, as part of the 300-km Coast to Coast just completed in England. We took 16 days, we met one man doing it in 11, most seemed to hike from the Irish Sea to the North Sea in 12 to 17 days. This is my third fifteen-day-plus “through” hike. What did I learn about myself?
Do I appear to be enjoying myself? The two-and-a-half weeks were a kaleidoscope of British scenery, from cowshit farm fields to high tarns to rock scrambles to bleak moors to quaint villages. We were fortunate to have clement weather, although I had to admit that the isolated gloomy/rainy/misty days were thrilling, evoking something uniquely British. I felt a sense of journeying, gradually chewing up the miles across a country, spying what lay ahead while glancing over a shoulder at our conquered territory. One distinct pleasure was the progression of B&Bs/pubs/hostels, with their fulsome breakfasts, accompanied by nightly “reward” dinners, mostly in pubs, nearly always with wine or beer. The company was avuncular and easygoing. The hike was robust – on average we walked just over 20 kms a day, 5 to 10 hours depending on the terrain – and demanding at a very basic level, namely that of keeping leg and foot in shape. But only three of the days really taxed me, so by one reckoning the CtC was not a full challenge – how did that affect my experience?
Two days after scrubbing my boots clean, the ultimate conclusion to a hike, I’m plagued by an unreasonable disquiet. I cannot fault the journey, but here’s the rub: I’ve always yearned, or thought I was yearning, for the big challenges, what I’ve been labelling as a future Tough Hikes Big Year. We’re talking intense physical exertion, navigational intricacies, an element of riskiness verging on danger. Yet the Coast to Coast was quite manageable, thank you very much, and I loved it. Am I changing in what excites me about hiking?
Tom Foreman’s “My Year of Living Dangerously” is a rollicking read for anyone who runs or has run. Its premise is blurbed as: “Four half marathons, three full marathons, one 55-mile ultramarathon, and 2,000 miles of training all in one year. From a standstill.” The tale itself is thrilling but I was taken by this post-race reflection:
As people get older, life becomes all about playing it safe. We protect our jobs and our money. We guard our houses, and we try to make the world as risk-free as we can for our kids, because that is important. But along the way, you can lose yourself. You start thinking that the great adventures are all gone and that you’ve reached all the limits. . . . So, when I started this, I don’t know, it felt like something woke up inside me. I stopped getting through my days, and I started getting into them. I guess I ran this race because I didn’t want that to end.
I like to think my Jogging Big Year springs from the same impulse.
Claw your way back. Grope. Settle in. Chapter 3, with its plot points and old words, awaits.
Home . . . Melbourne
What could stop me now?
Nearly three weeks off, my biggest jogging gap in years . . . returning to York for a one-night stay before heading home, I wondered if I’d approach my running with equanimity. How surprised I was to find that I couldn’t wait to chuck on the green runners and head off into an afternoon of sun and swirling breezes. It was wonderful! A pace of 6:15 seemed surprisingly swift for my first outing back.
I’ve begun reading 1966: The Year the Decade Exploded, by renowned music critic and biographer Jon Savage. It deals with my formative period – I was 11 in 66 – and rock music, the love of my life. Savage writes early on:
It was a time of enormous ambition and serious engagement. Music was no longer commenting on life but had become indivisible from life. It had become the focus not just of youth consumerism but a way of seeing, the prism through which the world was interpreted. ‘This isn’t it for me’: that simple, defiant cry, delivered by John Lennon, the most famous young person on the planet, echoed throughout 1966. Success wasn’t the be-all and end-all; it was possible to conceive of an alternative future, to believe that things could be different, that people could be free.
But I’ve been away from home nearly two months and took no music with me. What, no music at all? Something is wrong, very wrong. I am planning a Rock Music Big Year, listening to many, many new-music albums, but the plan isn’t for action until quite a few years down the road. Should this big year be sooner?
An artist I know has just suffered an emotional storm. The fear of losing control is realistic. It takes a spiral of energy to spin off art, or any sort of demanding work. Inside the spiral is a vacuum chute, and down is faster than up.
From Daybook: The Journal of an Artist by Anne Truitt
Carrying a pebble from the Irish Sea to the North Sea, I came across a rare brand new sign. Does it mean anything? Sigh . . . no, it means no more than its physical direction. Meaning can’t be found on a walking track.
Let’s pretend we can scale the Matterhorn. Let’s pretend we can swim the English Channel. Let’s pretend we’re at Everest Base Camp. Let’s pretend we’re Euan McGregor crisscrossing the world on a motorbike. Hey, let’s imagine we’re running through Death Valley.
Now let’s not. Let’s not pretend. We’re just human and ordinary and ourselves. But we can aspire to be a little better at something meaningful to us. And . . . why not do it daily for a full year?
That’s a Big Year.