Nomadic return beckons

Lovely colours of autumn on view today. Even though I stuck mostly to roads, as usual, many trees and bushes exhibited beautiful reds, oranges and yellows. The underrated Hitchcock film The Trouble With Harry was brought to mind, set in New England in the early years of Technicolour (1955). Trailer shows these colours…. https://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=t&source=web&rct=j&url=https://www.youtube.com/watch%3Fv%3DU0w_1cHIc-0&ved=2ahUKEwjooYrfi4TeAhWkA8AKHQpTB2IQ_-MBMAN6BAgIEAk&usg=AOvVaw1CoVDyhC0zFAH1Fw_UHPeq

Having said that, there was no dead body in sight, not even mine after another 18 and a bit miles (Sarisbury to Portchester and back, with a significant diversion north of Fareham) I was a bit surprised and puzzled to have two blisters last week but there was no problem this time out. Putting in perspective, the first time I went on a walk in 2012 was a 15 miler on Saturday after which I was barely able to walk at all the next day and was limping around for three days after – not even with blisters but muscly aches and pains. Now, if I didn’t have stuff to do tomorrow, I could easily whack out another 20 miles or so.

It was unexpectedly warm and close this morning and my three layers gave me a slightly overdressed feeling but regular gusts of wind as the day went on maybe made me thankful for the hoodie. I was most troubled by flies and insects flying around and a couple flew into my eye, taking a little time to clear them. When I say they were a couple, I can’t be sure they were an item but, if they were, they have no doubt ended their relationship now.

I was listless early on and I had a strange feel of everything around me being just a little bit too noisy so I took a few quieter side roads for a while. Gradually I got in the zone and racked up the miles, only briefly disturbed by a cyclist brushing me as he raced past me from behind. Bikes on pavements have become the norm and I have no problem with that, as long as pedestrians are respected.

Looking forward some months, I have agreement in principle for four weeks leave for a challenge in March / April, as long as work is covered. Nothing is booked yet though I have the route mostly worked out with putative accommodation, and it is apparent that many are more expensive than in 2014. Talking of which, on being introduced to me at work earlier this week, a woman said, “oh you were the one who did that walk”. It is an easy conversation starter if anyone is interested!

So my plan is to walk between the three Office for National Statistics sites – Titchfield to Newport, Newport to London, and London to Titchfield. Somewhere in the region of 360 miles, I think, give or take a few. Of course, it is not definite but it is more likely than not so, er, March / April may happen. I am really looking forward to that somewhat nomadic lifestyle again (and brokering another deal with Travelodge!).

Fitness is key, obviously, and I will have to push myself over a couple of longer weekends and Christmas to reacquaint myself with walking a few consecutive days.

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Bogged down

Though my preferred weekend walking day is Saturday, the weather forecast suggested Sunday. A dry and even a slightly warmer than expected Sunday saw me back on the road for a very good 22 miles. Happy with that distance despite the rarity of the appearance of a couple of pretty juicy blisters, one on each big toe, but they didn’t cause any discomfort while walking.

Coffee break was taken at a familiar haunt in Stubbington, once the half a dozen customers in front of me had been served. With the baristas plugging a special offer of small or medium coffee plus toastie plus crisps for a penny under a fiver, many customers were ooing, aahing and cogitating as to which flavour crisps would go best with their other items. Me, I simply wanted my coffee which eventually arrived only shortly before the best before date.

Then the ‘fun’ started. If you are not comfortable with TMI then please feel free to move to the following paragraph. After my coffee, I needed the toilet but faced a queue in the coffee shop, while in any case that particular one has a hand dryer that threatens the nearest airport for decibels. So I opted instead for the public toilet about 50 yards away, which I know is well looked after and has washing facilities that always include soap, hot water and a warm hand dryer.

(Ok, not this paragraph for the TMIphobes. The next one.) I went in there and took the second cubicle. I always check the toilet paper situation, which was fortunate since there was none and – in the absence of anyone else – moved to the other cubicle. I sat down and set about what I needed to do, when I heard a man shuffling in to the gents and muttering something and then some profanities, presumably to his dog, or perhaps just to himself. The essence of alcohol was strong, especially as I hadn’t started, er, yes, started, that’s the right word. Knowing that some people behave unpredictably in an alcohol-infused state, I tried to keep quiet to avoid any interaction. However, it took a buttock-clenching that was close to hernia-inducing but once it felt quiet I, er, let it all out. Ok, he had gone. But between stopping for a coffee and starting off again, it was close on 45 minutes. Normally about 25 to 30.

So not much going on today then. With summer in the past, it was dark in the final couple of miles, after a beautifully red sunset. Note to self – from now on until about April, don’t wear all dark clothes, with black gloves as the temperature drops. Or at least have my fluorescent jacket to put on when needed. I felt the discomfort of crossing a couple of busy roads where I must have appeared a mere shadow to drivers, so caution was the better part of valour.

Off now to Trip Advisor to alter my 5 star rating to 4 stars for the public bogs in Stubbington.

Daydreamy blur

No walking last weekend due to a combination of catching a slight cold and the appearance of variously named storms and equally rain. I missed it badly and, after a week at work where so little went right at the same time as feeling under the weather, it was a welcome return to the road late this morning. However, this was not until after clearing a load of gunk from one of my boot soles after discovering a chewing gum incident from the last walk.

There was so much in my head and events in the world of sport did everything they could to cheer me up: Pompey winning and going top of the league again, a decent return in Fantasy Football, and the Ryder Cup seeming to go our way. It was a trifle challenging listening to West Ham v Manchester United with not having much love for either side, in fact, asking me whom I wanted to win would be like picking which is your favourite serial killer: Dennis Nilsen or Harold Shipman.

A nice section along Lee on Solent, one of my favourite walking spots, was chillier than I expected and I wasn’t too full of energy not to pick up a couple of snacks as I turned inland. Apart from nearly being taken out by a teenage boy riding a bike on the pavement in that oh-so-annoying ‘look no hands’ way, it was a pretty uneventful walk that did allow me to drift off into a helpful daydreamy blur.

I felt leggy late on, by that I mean in the tired sense, not in the Daisy Duke sense, perhaps pushing myself a bit harder than was wise. I would have liked to do a bit more than 19 miles but at least I had killed off most of the negativity. Given there are no events in the near future for which I am in training, let’s not get too ambitious at the moment.

CALM down

The last five months or so have been difficult with more ups and downs than usual since a really troublesome few days at the end of April. I came off social media for a couple of weeks at that time to declutter my mind, and have been grateful for a few close friends to keep me on the straight and narrow since. This is not to mention some boosts of an award at work and the South Coast Challenge, the latter completed with greater ease than I thought likely, as well as an excellent cricket season – which came to a close this weekend. I am still quite up and down and never quite sure which version of me will wake up in the morning!

So after the 100 km walk three weeks ago, it might seem a trifle surprising that I am still tramping out the miles. I have no events in the rest of the year and so all of this is only for the mind and fitness. It feels good to be fit, that’s for sure. Some days I have to force myself and, after sorting out a couple of things at home this morning, I left the house and felt really leggy in the first mile. As often, I set myself a shortish distance (around an hour from home) and promised myself that, if I still felt that bad, I would turn around and walk back, so getting at least about 7 miles on the clock. No need. I loosened up and felt sufficiently fine to go over the Itchen Bridge.

As well as the normal signs alerting to the Samaritans, there were a number of laminated sheets attached to street light posts and I stopped to read one or two. Of course, last Monday (10 September) was Suicide Prevention Day and each sheet drew attention to incidents on Itchen Bridge – individual cases of suicide and their background stories. Hampshire Constabulary did not provide a figure as a response to an FOI request for the number of suicides at Itchen Bridge since it opened in 1977 – due to issues with recording of location – though a cursory internet search reveals we are at least in double figures. One story caught my eye within a very nice walking blog: http://www.iwalkalone.co.uk/?p=41198. Sobering stuff.

During the recent event, I spoke with a couple of guys walking for CALM – Campaign Against Living Miserably – and, in common with so many people doing charity events, the charity was prompted by personal experience and a friend who had taken their own life a few months ago. I’m sure that they had described their story many times before but I could still sense incredible emotion behind the voices. A friend at work also walked 115 miles in 5 days for CALM, around a month ago, quite an achievement, raising a four figure sum in memory of a close friend.

Suicide figures recently released by Office for National Statistics, whoever they are, showed that the suicide rate continues to fall, both the crude rate and the age-standardised rate. Perhaps awareness and the level of support is helping. The stigma of mental health is still there but definitely not as negatively viewed as a few years ago. I have recently decided that my next charity event will be for CALM, and details of CALM can be found at https://www.thecalmzone.net/. 84 men every week in the UK take their own lives.

What that charity event will be is still under wraps until I am absolutely certain of its viability. What I do have planned is something that will take me around four weeks. So, having said earlier that today’s walk would only be for the mind and fitness, ah, it’s a bit more than that. It also gives me a purpose, which is of massive importance in remembering one’s own worth, and I felt really good today, apart from a spell when I felt a bit weak, so topped up with various items at a Poundland store. “Sausage roll – that’s a pound, Digestives – that’s a pound, Drinks – two for a pound, and some chocolate – a pound. Anything else?” “Er, could I have a carrier bag please, er, that isn’t a pound, is it?” The humourless till assistant didn’t even smirk – “no sir, it’s 5p”. “Ok, that will be fine thank you.” “Right that’s £4.05 please…….Five pounds, that’s 95p change.” Get her down the comedy club NOW……

Over 20 miles today – on a day when I was much more thoughtful than normal, especially with the football on the radio not especially inspiring for me. A bit too chilly for two layers when in the shade, a bit too warm for three layers in the sun. Most of the time I settled for three and my cap twice being blown off in fairly strong winds. I had to tighten the Velcro strap at the back. I know I have lost a bit of weight over recent months, but surely my head hasn’t as well.

 

Re-run of CSI Croydon Live

My goodness I wrestled with my head this morning, and probably just about won by two falls to one submission. Just an hour of flicking through the news, sport and Facebook had me jumping from irritated to deliriously happy to sad and just about back to the better side of ambivalent. Change is not the same as progress and the world is changing in so many ways that don’t convince me that the human race is making progress. My rapidly vacillating change of mood didn’t see me much progress in getting on with the day until I stopped over-thinking and shaved, showered and shoved on my walking gear.

There is no place now in this world for stability. There is a thirst for change in everything, not helped by social media providing the ability for vastly disparate and definite opinion, normally the least intelligent having the greatest insistence that they are definitely right. As a parallel, some of my work in disclosure control showed that those who reported they were 100% certain they had identified individuals in the data were much less likely to be correct than those who reported about 60-80% confidence.

(In case you are interested, you can read more on this in http://www.unece.org/fileadmin/DAM/stats/documents/ece/ces/ge.46/2013/Topic_5_Spicer.pdf  and, yes, I did get a trip to Ottawa to present it.)

However – some changes are good, without a doubt. Even 2 years ago, listening to two things on my radio, switching between them entailed deft fingerwork, edging the tuning dial back and forth without ever getting it quite right, having to re-tune as I changed direction of travel. Now with digital radio, my digits can rest easy as I can switch back and forth with ease, self tuning so that I could listen to the Test match until 1pm, switching to music until 1:40, back to the Test match, over to football at 3pm, and back to the Test just before 5pm. One thing that did disappoint was that half-time at the football coincided with the tea interval at the cricket. One would think that the authorities might do something about this disgraceful state of affairs.

I am still in a pretty decent state overall after the South Coast Challenge thing and I really was in the mood to walk a significant distance today without great dramas. I did have to pass the police forcibly restraining a youth on the ground near Fareham Station, noting that they had placed a ‘spit hood’ over his head. I am not in a place to judge but he looked and sounded only around 15 or 16, so he must have done something fairly serious. The lad was certainly not exercising his right to remain silent.

Of course, in that very modern way, a small number of onlookers were capturing this on their phones, along with the rather old-fashioned way of gawping at this rather unattractive scene. I shuffled past and moved on quickly – it was nothing to do with me and I have seen enough episodes of CSI Croydon Live in the flesh to know that it ain’t floating my boat. But it was by far the most noteworthy event – notwithstanding football and cricket – of my 17 miles. Now very much in the off-season before a busy 2019 so I’ll be ticking over with about one walk a week simply to keep my head straight and my feet honest.

(Very nice) dog (almost) bites Minister for Opprobrium

I already had itchy feet only five days after the South Coast Challenge, and I don’t mean of the fungal infection type. I couldn’t wait to get out there and do some more walking. This is now a sad addiction but there could be many worse addictions to have. I have been keeping a little mobile and active on Wednesday and Thursday, the former driving a round trip of a hundred miles or so to visit my father and take him out, the latter doing some much-needed and much-put-off shopping for some items otherwise known as stuff.

So it felt as if everything had recovered sufficiently for a few miles. How many ‘a few’ was not known, but I planned to walk to a coffee shop 3.5 miles away and see how I felt. Not bad, as it turned out, and I rambled on for a total of 11.5 miles. It wasn’t as hard and challenging as the equivalent distance on the opening sections on Saturday but I felt that this was very much as much as I wanted. I took care to limit the hills but I still had to finish with Sarisbury Hill and one or two twinges on the hip flexor. Perhaps that is nature telling me to take it a bit easier, or at least not to have steep climbs.

For the first time in a while, I had a dog incident and the inevitable, “it’s ok, he’s just playing” from the Owning A Dog for Dummies handbook. Right, well given that the last time that I complained about dogs – about four years ago – I received my one and only Facebook warning and had two erstwhile friends send me rather unpleasant private messages, I’ll leave that one there. I can’t remember if I unfriended / defriended them or they unfriended / defriended me but, despite knowing them since schooldays, we are out of each others lives and I can’t say it upsets me now. I see far worse written about human beings on social media without any apparent comeback, but (what I thought was) a fairly harmless, witty and humorous play on words about animals prompted a backlash of phlegm-filled verbal aggression as if I was the designated Minister for Opprobrium. In the 21st century, the worst thing one can do is to offend someone, whatever the intention may be.

Lovely weather for walking today, by the way, which made the head music I Made It Through the Rain somewhat puzzling. Need some dog-based tunes perhaps. I Shot the Mastiff (But I Didn’t Shoot the Border Collie), perhaps – no, really, no, I retract that. I didn’t mean it, I really didn’t……….

 

And now for the next one

I am pleased to report an almost complete recovery from the exertions of the weekend. The feet were fine anyway, just a little tired from the pounding and tricky terrain at times, but no blisters. I have come to trust Vaseline (other petroleum jelly products are available) in protection of my feet, minimising the effect of my toes or the balls of my feet rubbing excessively. My calves and, to an extent, my thighs had aches which are wearing off fairly quickly and there is no sign of the hip flexor issue that was discomforting in the last couple of hours of the walk.

The most difficult things to overcome this time – once I’d had a couple of decent sleeps – have been, how can I say this, intake and outtake of food. After almost 27 hours of necessary snacking on whatever was available and a greater diet imbalance than usual, my body is sugar-heavy and I can feel the difference. It will take a little time to adapt back to a sensible balance of food types, and my body is still transitioning. Let’s leave the outtake detail, maybe too much information, except that it takes a day or two to get back to normal.

I still have this week off from work and it feels as if I can do more than I might have expected. As long as I don’t sit around for too long, everything will be fine. In the last kilometre of Sunday’s finish, I spoke to the two girls about running to the finish. I certainly could have done it, or at least I ran about 20 or 30 metres before we reached the park, more to prove to myself I could do it. I felt so good about it all, and still do. It was the first of any of my four 100 km events when I have not felt that it would be my last. I am already wondering which one I will do next year and have the Peak District Challenge and the Chiltern Challenge in my sights.

The Peak District Challenge is due to take place on 13/14 July 2019, a 100 km figure of eight centred on Bakewell and, as the name suggests, covers much of the Peak District in Derbyshire. There will be parts of that where I will have walked in 2014. The date for the Chiltern Challenge is 15/16 June 2019, a circular route commencing and finishing at Princes Risborough with the mid-point in Henley-on-Thames. Looks like one of those will be the one for next year. I can’t believe that I’m saying this but I am even tempted by the Chiltern 50 km event this year, on Saturday 29 September. That wouldn’t involve walking through the night but might well involve some walking in the dark given the shorter daylight hours. I’m going to look into that and decide in a week or two.

By the way, if any of my friends would like to do any of these with me, please get in touch. I am not in any of these to do anything other than just finish, and would happily walk at a much gentler pace if that was necessary. For more details on these and other events, see https://www.ultrachallenge.com/

I also have a possible multi-day walk of something like 350-400 miles but that needs a bit of planning – and agreement that I can take four weeks leave (in probably April). That would be five years since the Lands End to John O’Groats trek; I can’t believe it will have been that long. I still think about that time and how brilliant that experience was.

Possible short walk at the weekend – just to loosen up. We’ll see.