Monday, 8 October 2012
Not the sense I was born with.
Not the sense I was born with.
I set out from the camp site at Dalchalm with a renewed vigour and clean socks and boots and was hoping it would not rain today. I thanked John who was out tidying the camp site and emptying the bins etc, and said what a priviledge it had been to have been welcomed with such kindness.
Not far along the road I came upon a woman who was waiting for me in a lay-by, quite literally. She told me that she had seen me yesterday and was herself supporting her husband Derek who was walking from lands End to John o' Groats in stages and was on his last stint. Jean from the Manchester area had stopped to ask me all about my walk and my aims. I said that it was a pity that her husband had already set off as I would have liked to have walked with him. She said he has only left about 25 minutes ago, and offered to take me in the car to catch him up. I accepted, and we drove less than 2 miles before we saw him along the road ahead. I asked Derek if he would mind me walking with him, and he said not at all. Thankfully Jean offered to keep my bag whilst I walked with Derek and it saved me a ton of energy. We began walking and chatting and I stayed in the grassed part of the kerb, Derek in his high viz vest was happy to stay road side. For a man in his mid 70's Derek was a sprightly man who's stride was long despite his claims to be a slow walker. Mind you I know what that feels like almost always carrying about 20 kilos. Jean was following him and collecting him at the end of the day. They stayed in B&B's and then she would drop him back where he had left the previous day. I sometimes wish I had a support network like this, or at least a way of not carrying all my gear all the time. We seemed to have covered about 8 miles or so by the time my stomach was talking to me and we had reached Helmsdale. Derek was keen to carry on as his lunch was a banana and something light, and he needed to do about another 15 miles or so today. Jean was waiting to return my bag so we said our farewells and I watched Derek sprint off up the hill and away.
I was pleased to have known Derek and Jean and they had secretly helped to renew my spirit to go on, like the Lads from Manchester had also. I was happy to have met another keen and dedicated walker and learned so much about his views of the world. Derek had single handedly given me one of the most comprehensive outlined views of what it is to be British and what his generation had done to be a part of that. He spoke with certain knowledge about our involvement in the shaping of the world over the past several centuries in particular and our drive to be leaders in the opening up of industry and technological advancements over these years. He admitted sadly though that our time was well and truly over, despite the best efforts of our politicians to convince us otherwise. Britain was a lost cause as a world leader now and had been replaced by the United States as the dominant setter of tradition and policy. I picked up that his view was simply that this was the way of life/evolution and the general way of things. He all but said no-one could be top dog for ever, and I tended to agree with his views about this. His views of the future were pretty well more of the same but others leading the way. (Or what they considered the way.) I made a note that his more mature view was very conclusive of many areas of consideration that had not been open to me very often. Hence the reason for my quest to know the United Kingdom and what makes and will make Britain Great again, if ever it could be. The voice of reasoned and sound wisdom rang out, and he was not a man to ignore the more esoteric thoughts that I offered as a further idea about the world either.
I was going to miss Derek, and he had taught me much, especially about stamina and persistance.
I went into the village and found Poppy's Too where I ate and drank and refreshed my weary body. Alex a young lady was keen to ask about where I was off to with my bag and very happy go lucky in her spirit. She wasn't keen on wasps though and several were extinguished with a fear of getting stung in mind. I managed to catch one and set it free with no need for nasty methods of removal, which she seemed grateful of. I paid my tab and set out for a brief walk around the village and got talking to Dave Mason, a guy in a mobility scooter, who was keen to chat and told me about the village website for all you need to ever know about Helmsdale.
As I dragged myself up the next long and winding hill towards the days end I spotted a couple of bright hi-viz vests sprinting along behind me, and could see that they were going to catch me very soon.
I kept my pace until the road flattened out, which meant that when they caught me I was able to walk at their gait for a brief period despite my bag again being the size of a house.
Richard Graham was walking from Lands End too, and had started in August and was in the last days of the challenge to walk around about 30 miles per day. He was a tall man and his stride was obviously longer than mine, and I admired the feat of his challenge, much like I had with Derek earlier. His companion Paul was a friend who had come to support him on the last stages of the walk. A younger man but none the less a seeker of pain in the pursuit of glory.... Richard was raising money for the English and Scottish Motor Neurone Diseasecharity. He had about another 14 miles to do today he said, so would need to carry on at a faster pace. I think he could see that speed was not the object of my walk, hence the home I carried. I wished him all the very best with the last few days of his walk, as it was great to have shared a mile or so with him and Paul. They tore away and for a while I kept a good pace, as the land was more level. Then came more hills and open road.
I wondered, as it had been shown to me today that others were doing so much more in the way of a physical challenge, just what my limit would be. The only way to know was to keep walking until I stopped or died I supposed. By about 7 ish I was closing in on a place called Dunbeath and would possibly arrive there within the hour. All was good, feet holding up well and I was also in incredibly good spirits at meeting the people of the day and hearing about their challenges.
I asked at the fire station in Dunbeath where there was any food to be had and the officer kindly pointed me in the direction of the far side of the valley and a pub called the Bay Owl Inn. He was surprised that I was still walking after so many miles from Brora, nearly 30 miles away.
To be fair, this was by a good few miles the most I had walked on this project and close to the 54 kilometres I had once walked on the Last Camino, though that had been Spain. Warm and needs for less of a bag full of heavy items for survival too.
As I walked into the car park of the Bay Owl Inn, guess who were walking in from the other direction? Yep, Richard and Paul, who were meeting Richards wife Carol and his father in law. He was surprised to see me here and said that he had only been here close to an hour himself, just time to shower and get ready for his meal.
I was so glad to be able to have a chance to sit down and rest my feet and try to dry the boots and my coat and other waterproofs before I had to think about setting off into the night to camp or whatever came next.
The place was a rare treat, the staff as ever for me were very accommodating to my particular brand of needs. Lynn happily took my order for hot soup and energy giving pasta to follow. Somewhere in my mind I was hatching a plan of supreme stupidity, but that was not the fault of anyone except the boy who wondered what if, inside me. Trevor and Irene Filshie the owners were keen to know much about my aims and where I would be tomorrow, and I secretly told Lynn that I had almost decided to carry on and test myself to the limit and go on to John O' Groats tonight. I admired Richard for his physical challenge and was determining to see just how far I could go in one walk, to forever know my limit. And so it was, I had concluded to go another 38 miles after I left the Bay Owl Inn at 10pm that evening.
Notice that the common understanding of an Owl is that of wisdom. I on the other hand was acting out a dream and a fantasy that could prove to be anything but wise. Richard invited me to a wee dram before I left and I didn't tell any of them that I intended to be at John O' Groats when he arrived in a few days time, to welcome him in after his long and difficult challenge. And besides I am sure they would have tried to talk me out of such fool hardiness. With good reason no doubt, Richard had had his testing difficulties along the way since day one even.
I waved them adieu and set out in the pitch dark to walk the 38 miles to John O' Groats whatever trials that would bring. Actually the moon did a great job of keeping me aware of the road surfaces and I began at a great pace.
The miles rolled along slowly and I kept dreaming of the sense of achievement I would know when the trial was finally over. The evening was cool but the exercise kept me warm. The rains thankfully kept off all night and I found a few places comfortable enough to have a rest or a nap now and again. About every hour and a half or 5 miles whichever came first. I passed something I had initially mistook for the Northern lights, as it bounced off the bottom of clouds in the sky. It was a burn of valve on the coast, that kept the surrounding area lit up for a very long way. I bet the residents are used to it by now, but it must annoy the hell out of them reflecting on their windows all through the night.
I was stopped by a local police car as it spotted me in its headlights, the officers driving about to keep an eye on the locality. They advised a high viz vest, quite rightly. I explained that I don't make a habit of walking through the night so hadn't one to hand, and they chatted happily with me for a while. I imaging they must meet some right idiots walking running or cycling to the top of Scotland. Well they had now....!!
The female officer said she would have given me a lift the 11 miles to Wick, but it would have been cheating on my part, wouldn't it??
As you can imagine this news was not the best kind, I had half hoped to be there in about another hour. Still I eventually found the funny side of it.....!!!
At 7am I finally arrived at the outskirts of Wick, and knew that about another 18 miles still remained to the end point of John O' Groats. I had by this point passed the point of the longest walk I have ever done and knew something within me would not want me to stop here, much longer than was allowable to rest or refresh my spirits.
I met a young man from Canada who was hiking at this moment to Inverness. Mike was young man with plenty to say, much like myself and we hit it off immediately. We chatted about such amazing stuff for an hour or so, before someone stopped to offer him his lift all the way to Inverness. Part of me wished that I would adopt this method of travel instead. I said to Mike all I needed was a dare and I would have no choice but to complete the very long challenge that I had offered myself.
So he dared me.... Damn.....!!!
Well done friend, I found the strength somewhere to reach town with blisters and eat a hearty breakfast, setting me up for the rest of the way. I was sure that Mike had appreciated the things we had shared as I had of him. I gave a cake, he gave me fruit. Here was the universe supplying us both with the resources for the journey ahead. I hope that he finds the community I told him about called Findhorn somewhere on the Aberdeen coast.
I snuck into town and removed my shoes whilst eating and changed my wet socks to give me a better chance of reaching the end in good condition. Judging by the size of the blisters that was way too late. A small tomato on my heel was ugly and sore. I lanced it and hoped for a miracle.
The walk was obviously getting slower but at least it was daylight and I could see something of the coast and the spectacular scenery. On the way out of town I passed a Tescos but decided not top stop as I didn't want anything else in the bag that I could do without over the next 17 miles. Oh god it dragged from here.
The miles passed and I got angry at every signpost for lying about the distance still to go, and the conspiracy of the highway agency for making up the mileages to aggravate me further. And then I was coming close to the last hill. Wasn't I dear god???
So up another and another... and then 3 miles to John O' Groats.......wahey...... I nearly passed out for excitement....
To be fair I had almost forgotten about looking at the wonders around me, in the haze of pain and suffering I was pushing myself through. But my spirit was strong and back again from the gutter, and pushing me to the very last hill on the road. And then yes it was the very last hill ever, in Scotland in my way of reaching the end. I cried to be honest, and the music coming through the phones headphones had driven me on to the very top in relief and enthusiasm of a hot shower and luxury accommodation, whatever the cost.....
I took a few videos for the diary and somehow managed to delete some without knowing, so happy was I to be within the past mile or so of my physical challenge. Just at the moment when I thought it would get no worse, I set off down hill and the blister's, returned with a passion burst.... similtaneously....
When I could move the relief was replaced by stinging pain, and I was almost crawling, so strong was the pain. But I saw a light at the end of the tunnel, the sign for the hostel. When I arrived after some time, it was closed for the season. Now came the test of patience, I bit my lip and said to myself it was early over, there would be other options.....dear god let there be other options....
I walked into the John O' Groats Hotel thinking I would get my deserved rest, but they had a room fee of £45 because I was a single occupant. £25 is based on two people sharing the room. I simply said that I couldn't afford it as my budget was small and they had no suggestions for an alternative, so I just had a beer to drown my sorrows.
Whilst sitting there I met Paul the walker from yesterday and Richards father in law and they asked me how I had gotten here. They seemed impressed that I had not stopped since having a drink with them only a day ago in the Bay Owl Inn at Dunbeath. They estimated that I must have walked in the region of 66 miles to arrive here. I worked out that I had walked 28 of the 35 hours of the challenge, to get here ahead of Richard, who would not arrive until tomorrow afternoon at the final end of his 1000 miles plus walk from Lands End.
Not that I was competing at all, more that I was spurred on by his physical determination and had attempted to aspire to a greater dedication of physical ability to test and push myself to a new high. And believe you me, I was high, with pain as much as with joy and happiness at being finally here.
I set out to find the reported of camp site at the bottom of the road, some quarter of a mile away still. I met a couple out walking back to their accommodation and they pointed me in the right direction. Soon a couple of girls out walking their dogs passed by and gave me local inside information on the camp site below, and that the gate house would be closed now, but to just put up my tent and sort out the rest in the morning.
And then I was putting up my tent in a haze of pain and relief and total exhaustion, and fell into a deep and restful release form the agony of the challenge I had beaten, hands down....