I am now on the point of leaving for my walk. The journey to get to this point has been long and winding. I could now go on to describe my entire life up to now, as at a stretch this all could be considered important to getting me up to this point. But that would take far too long to write so I shall restrict myself to the key points in getting me here.
The initial germ of the idea entered my head aged 18 after reading “A time of gifts” by Patrick Leigh Fermor and “Clear Waters rising” by Nicholas Crane (I think both of these were suggested/gifted to me by my parents, so I suppose they can be considered the ultimate progenitors of this whole endeavour 🙂 ). These excellent books are evocative accounts of solo long distance hikes through europe. They are totally different from each other in style and context, but both stirred my adolescent imagination about solo, long distance journeys by the slowest means of transport possible. This idea of a walk stuck, and then proceeded to fester away throughout my 5 years of university, and 4 years of employment. sometimes it was barely remembered, sometimes it was a dull ache, and sometimes (increasingly towards the end of my employment) it became a loud and incessant drone telling me not to get too settled because I wouldn’t be satisfied until I had tried the same kind of walk that had kindled my imagination those many years ago.
By 2015 the drone had become unbearable and I started to think seriously about making plans and putting them into action. By Summer 2016 I had quit my job. After a trip round France and Italy in a camper van with a friend, I found myself back at my parents house at the beginning of November, with a mid January leaving date in mind for the walk. That gave me two and a half months to plan and prepare myself. In November, this felt like a long time, it felt like I had so much time that I didnt need to worry too much but it went past scary fast. I lost many hours to procrastination, mainly in the form of helping my parents out in the garden at home. But at the back of my head I did realise that this was serious, and I did managed to get my head in gear enough to decide on a route, order the best maps I could find from Stanford’s, and begin my lengthy vaccinations schedule. I also ordered several guide books to long distance hiking – to see if I could possibly avoid the worst mistakes made by rookie hikers. I had done a fair amount of hiking previously, but it was generally restricted to overnight camps in Scotland and had certainly never attempted anything remotely close to my planned hike in scale.
Aware that my hiking and camping skills, and my fitness, had much to be desired, I planned a 2 day training expedition, I made a kit list (weighing each and every bit of kit with the kitchen scales). The training hike was up in Scotland with a friend. We went for a moderately challenging hike up a Munro in the snow, with fairly hefty packs. It became very clear that a heavy pack is a massive encumbrance, and even a danger, under such conditions(I knew this academically to be the case, but until you actually go and do it, with a 15-20kg bag full of thing you consider necessary you only have a vague idea how much it will hold you back) . I returned from the hike and attacked my kit list with renewed vigour. I cut and cut, and looked critically at everything on it. I invested money in a superlight shelter, and stove and backpack – figuring the cost wasnt actually that much if you spread it out over the course of a year. I went on further training hikes (3 more), each time testing and becoming familiar with new and old bits of kit.
By early Jan, I felt that I was as ready as I could be, I laid out all my stuff on the bed, ticking the items off my kit list as I did so (I made three check boxes: “laid out”, “checked” and “packed”)
After finally packing all this stuff away into my rucksack for the final time before catchimg my flight, I was still left with nagging doubts, have I done a good enough job of preparation, or have I have made crucial omissions in equipment, or in skills, or in mental strength. I guess I will find out over the next few weeks…..months……years.