10/03/10 Wicklow Way – Day 1 Distance: 24-25km
You went into this walk wit a lot of angst. You knew you could confront it. The sooner the better. But what’s all this business about the confrontation in the first place? It’s like, “You have to do this, Maria!” Why? What are you trying to prove? That you can hike alone? Nobody doubted that.
Five days seems like a long time to walk alone. No one. No iPod. Nothing. Just the sound of your own breathing. It has been a loooong time since you have been this by yourself. This will be the first solo trek of your life. And the longest trek you’ve ever confronted.
Within 30 minutes, you were already seeking ways to reward yourself. You checked yourself. Why did you need a treat? For what? It really must be punishment! If you’re thinking like that…
Also, after 30 minutes, your left shoulder went numb. Didn’t take long, did it? The strap to your bag pinches a nerve. No surprises there.
By the second hour, you stopped feeling sorry for yourself. You hit that “runners high” and though, “Oh, this is going to be sweet. This is what you love to do!” And it is… you love feeling your body strain under the weight of your pack. You love being outdoors. Feeling the “clean dirt” instead of he dirty city scum. You love it.
But something isn’t right.
Distance certainly does make the heart grow fonder. Where is your Alexis?
You reached into your pocked and pulled out her picture–all dreamy-happy-eyed Alexis saying, “Remember when…?”
No! you can’t keep living in the past. Light and love, Alexis. You put her back in your pocket, examined your thoughts for another moment, and then let them drift by.
It’s amazing what you mind will do when there;s nothing around to distract it. You won’t say you brooded the entire time. Rather, you thought of all manner of things.
It wasn’t under your 4th hour of walking that you were so tired that all through seemed to stop. One foot, the other foot. One foot, the other food–smooth, slow, rhythm–tired and smooth the way a rowing shell glides evenly across the water–only on the row back to the dock.
Your first evening was a shamble. You are still totally unfamiliar with the technology of your new-fangled white spirit stove. The tend went up with rusty precision. You gobbled up your dinner without gratitude.
Where was your Alexis?
10/05/10 >>Morning of the third day.
What’s worse? Being cold, or wet?
Wet always brings cold. Once you’re wet, you practically lose your chance of ever being warm again.
When you’re wet, you start to feel very negative.
Fuck this walk. Fuck this rainy country. Fuck the possibility of Norway.
First consideration: you don’t like your boots. They do the job. Your feet are warm and dry. But these boots weigh a ton, and while you have remained blister free thus far, you don’t feel like every step you take should rocket your attention back to your toes.
Second, your tent is totally inappropriate for the weather. You now understand that a cold-weather tent should not have so much mesh everywhere. Thank God for Alexis’ sleeping bag–which, by the way, was wet! When you crawled into it at just 6:30pm, having taken a full 20 minutes to peel your damp clothes off your body and maneuver with half-numb fingers into a dry set–you were too cold to do anything, even poke your head out the top of the bag.
Third, your bag feels too heavy, and you’re not one to complain about lifting weight. Period. you are only packed for Irish weather, and you feel the impossibility of snowshoeing creeping in. It’s so different, not having another person to split the load.
You carry three liters of water, a stove, fuel, purifier, one pot and pan (lightweight titanium, even!) 2 sets of clothes, sleeping bag, tent, tarp, rain slicker… oh, and food. A few kilos in rice and lentils. It all adds up.
You’d forgotten the joys of stabbing pain through your hips while trying to sleep at night. The tweaked nerves. The aching back. Scratch that. Your back always aches.
You are only a couple kilometers ahead of the suggested 7-day itinerary and feeling pretty sorry for yourself.
Not to mention… you haven’t had a BM in two full days and you are without toilet paper.
Day 3: Evening time.
This was a much better day. The weather held, you found a much better stride, and managed 25km again, as opposed to yesterday’s paltry 18 or so.
What changed? Nothing, really. Mindset. You overshot your traditional hour-long centers and would walk 90 minutes, rest for three, walk 30 minutes, rest for 15-10 (cramming handfuls of seeds, and lentil-rice into your face as fast as you can). And repeat. All day.
While you’ve only told two blokes on the trail, your goal was to complete The Way in 5 days. Judging by your guidebook, it’s not only inadvisable (certainly not alone!), but fairy impossibly if weather conditions get hairy (check).
That understood, you’re not sure how you feel about your goal.
First, the backs of your heels feel raw and also achy. They may recover by morning. Everything below the knee hurts, especially on the descent (if only this whole thing were uphill!).
Your crack (yes, that crack) is chaffed to high heaven.
You have been utterly without vegetables or “proper protein” for days now (this kind of gamble was lost last December when you developed pneumonia). Not a big deal yet, bout should you put yourself at risk for exposure, there might be a problem. (Exposure? No kidding. Not just the rain, but some of these mountains bring crosswinds capable of pushing a 260-lb biped uphill.)
The biggest question. Why finish the last 30 km of The Way when it’s mostly road walking? Not only does the tarmac devastate your legs, but it doesn’t leave much for the imagination.
You’ve have a better idea tomorrow. This evening, you celebrated the “double day” of walking with a pint just off the trail. You felt so relaxed, you wanted to keep walking, but checked your enthusiasm when you saw an ideal camp site. You ate, cooked plenty of food for tomorrow, and now hope to get good sleep.
Your pack is starting to feel lighter as you eat through you food reserves.
Fuck….. ………. ………… ………
Well, you’ve resolved to give up swearing. But like your many resolutions, it won’t stick.
So why hold onto this hike’s resolution?
Today was to 3rd 500. Every rower knows what that means. For the rest of your readers…
The morning , just 100 feet from your tent was the Half Way maker. Half way! With only 2 days remaining? You literally walked 1/4 of the hike today, with an equal distance tomorrow separating you from the finish line.
Why hold onto this resolution? Why do this hike in 5 days? Why torture yourself?
And it is torture…
There you were, thinking you would have to ostracise yourself to the Norway. And the Wicklow Way was here the whole time!
And what is it about your self-tormenting habit? You’re so good at making yourself uncomfortable. Doing things the hard way. Creating drama. It’s like… wow, without discomfort, you’d be bored. As the Buddhists say, life if suffering. You really embrace that, don’t you?
Your feel feel like stumps. Sometwhere around hour number four, right right Achilles tendon went haywire.
Boing! Like a harp string.
Thud-thud. Thud-thud. Thud-BOING! Ouch! Fuck! Boing! FUCK!
You wondered what the problem would be if you quit early. Mechanical, or electrical?
Mechanical is always a possibility, but you trust your body. Well, you know how to read its feedback. your head, on the other heand, is a crap shoot.
Hooray! A mechanical problem. No one can fault you for quitting early if you get injured.
But aren’t you more fit than that?
Your stride changed. You favored your right foot. Walked flat-footed. Like and Oompa Loompa. Your pace plummeted from 4-5km/hr to 2-3.
Oh Jesus, how your pace slowed. Just keep walking. Just keep…
To make things worse, you misread a trail market and lost a half hour, almost 2km of your 33ish trek today. You knew if you could just reach the end of that 3rd 500, then tomorrow, Achilles willing, you can sprint to the finish.
Anyone can keep placing one foot in front of the other, even if one is bad.
The fact is, you’d be two-faced if you quit on yourself now. What would you tell people you train? “Yes, well, if you put your mind to something, it okay to quit when the going gets tough.”
Bottom line, if you quit now, it will be an electrical problem–hyper-scrutiny of the mechanical. Impatience.
Mission failed. Game over. Quitter quitter. Mechanical and electrical failure. Return to base camp.
First step out of the tent on the fifth day… boing! Still 35 km from the finish. 2-3 km per hour… still over ten hours. Impossible. Not in one day.
Everything you owned was soaking wet. Could you do the hike in 5 days? No. in six? Sure. Would you want to? No.
By the time you hitched a ride back toward Newtownmountkennedy, you felt great about your decision.
Were welcomed home with a dinner party. Good booze, good company, good fun. Homemade Belgian chips.
So worth coming home for!