Why would anyone want to put themselves through something like this? I guess for any number of reasons, but I would be surprised if there weren’t many whose were similar to mine. I will go into greater detail at various times later, but a period of depression, mid-life crisis (unfortunately without the women and the fast cars – so no fun for anyone) and the feeling of nothing except work in front of me until retirement coincided with me reading Mark Moxon’s epic story of walking from Lands End to John O’Groats. Suddenly a vision of a real challenge and achievement loomed.
The idea just planted itself around the end of 2011. Google Maps confirmed a minimum of 838 miles, but a more realistic distance is around 1,000 miles. My wife and son Matt, who is now 18, were with me through a darkish two years when I felt out of kilter with much of what else is in the world. I spoke to them and I wasn’t sure they thought I was serious. I wasn’t sure I was serious. Like many men, obsessions appear at regular intervals, so much so that I tried to list as many things as I can about which I have obsessed. Try these, roughly in chronological order: football, Tottenham, table football, Timeslip, watching cricket, playing cricket, scrabble, table cricket, Portsmouth FC (Pompey), E.L.O., the pop charts, bridge, darts, snooker, running, Matt’s football, Atkins diet, diets in general, Alfred Hitchcock, Deal or No Deal, going to the gym, Sarisbury Cricket Club, cricket scoring, Pointless and now long distance walking. Some of these still play a decent part of my life, some don’t, but a common theme is that for a reasonable period each of these took over a large, often disproportionate, part of my life and thoughts. Pam is very understanding about all this and accepts me for who I am – we have been married for over 21 years. The three of us have a standing joke that if we watch any film on television I will at some point comment on the influence of Hitchcock on some perhaps extremely minor detail or film technique. I have often felt I have some obsessive tendencies and one area in which I have been extremely fortunate is numbers. Luckily, and perhaps because of that fixation with numbers, I was always quite keen at school and ended up with a PhD in Statistics so I have had a pretty decent working life, all in all. Perhaps in the last few years I have plateaued or reached the inflexion point of my development and my mind did not feel quite right for some time. I had a real crisis of confidence, particularly in communicating with people I didn’t know well. It is hard to understand for anyone aware that I lectured part-time for seven years and then full-time for another seven. I still present for my employers at training courses and public events and it puzzles me how I have managed to achieve a very high reputation for informative and entertaining presentations in a field which is considered by many to be as dry as a bone. 2010 and 2011 proved to be years of great struggle, some days floating above cloud nine, only for the following days to be as dark as I can imagine. On occasions, I prepared to go to work and physically could not get through the front door. On one occasion, when I was visiting the London office, I reached Waterloo Station but could not get off the train. I then travelled all the way back home on the return train. Gradually, the bad days became less frequent but I realised it was going to take something special to get me back to my mental state of three or four years before. I am 49 now, not quite the physical specimen I was in my twenties when I ran half-marathons but not in bad shape. I had received a Kindle from Pam for Christmas – she’d actually given it to me a month or two early – and on one of my many searches I found Mark Moxon. Soon I was hooked and it wasn’t long before I had the idea of doing the long walk myself. I’d had plenty of recent dreams where I was out running just like I had been twenty years before so it was obviously on my mind. I felt it was worth pursuing and another obsession was born.
I still have my off days but am as happy and as settled now as I’ve been for some years. Perhaps this was just the challenge I needed. Wow – have I just written all that?