Get back, get back to where you once belonged

My word, what an eventful last few days. An absolutely wonderful wedding in Belfast and two really good days wandering around doing the touristy thing, Botanic Gardens, Ulster Museum and the Titanic Exhibition. Not that much walking yesterday since the Gardens and Museum are reasonably close to where we are staying, but today we did what most would call a serious distance. Quite difficult to work out exactly how far – about 5-6 miles on the road with an additional I don’t know how much wandering around, both in the Titanic Exhibition but also in the nearby SS Nomadic. Enough just about to get some much needed aches in the calves.

It has reminded me how quickly I lose the edge off my fitness. I must get some miles in on Sunday, that is for sure, and try at least to get to double figures in returning to regular Sunday walking. Once the cricket season finishes, in the first week of September, I can build up again. I have no problem walking good distances in the colder climes of autumn and winter.

Plans? Not sure yet at all. The Monopoly Trail of around 55 miles (I am not going to call it a Challenge as such) will be a good spring event over 3 days, perhaps as part of the traditional Week of Pain, building up to something bigger and better some time a few weeks later. One that I won’t be doing is the Isle of Wight Challenge, which hurt me so much last year, both physically and mentally, that I very much doubt whether I could complete that, whatever the weather. London2Brighton did heal some of those scars and was quite emotional to finish.

So I think I’m regaining a little enthusiasm for long distance walking after a period where it wasn’t all that, and only the thought of London2Brighton kept me going. Even then, I wasn’t that far from pulling out after some tricky weeks with the Achilles and some odd blisters that didn’t heal as quickly as in the past. Just checked, and the record for the oldest person to complete Lands End to John O’Groats is still 74. That is still the (very) long-term target. I have just reached 52 and a half, so it’s getting closer.

But one step at a time, at least one challenge a year, a couple of hip replacements and knee operations and perhaps it will happen, in 2039. Probably need a visa to get into Scotland by then……..

So to Sunday. Time to get back to where I belong, out on the road.

A monopoly of bonkers ideas

A chance of getting a short walk in on Sunday but, if so, it will only be a short one just to make me feel better. I have been more grumpy than usual this week and I put that down partly to the quite reasonable step of not getting out on the road last weekend. I have let the blisters heal naturally and they are not causing any problems despite there still being marks on my feet as evidence of previous damage. I do need to be careful as I have had the odd niggle in, yes, the Achilles. My old friend will be with me forever and it doesn’t appear to improve with any rest, in fact it is worst with no walking. The middle ground of some walking tends to be best!

Various organised ultra challenges are appearing as possible in my mind. After two weeks ago, I am confident that I could complete any of them, with the possible exception of the Wight Challenge, which is generally accepted to be the toughest, with numerous hills and steps. I have my limitations even if I do feel unbeatable on occasions. It is tempting to do the Thames Path Trail in September, as a prelude to a two week break with Pammy. September is normally our month for a holiday and it is not unthinkable that I could get the time off work.

However, a seed of inspiration was planted in my mind late this week with the mention of the game Monopoly. I wondered if it was possible to walk the board, from Old Kent Road through each square in turn to Mayfair. It turns out that there is a fairly well established pub crawl through all the sites, but not in order. Visiting each site, including the four stations, can be done in a route of 12-15 miles. But that doesn’t feel like my sort of challenge. I should do it in order.

So Old Kent Road to Whitechapel Road to HMRC (Income Tax) to King’s Cross Station to Angel Islington and so on. Most of the sets of coloured properties are reasonably close to each other (except the orange set of Bow Street, Marlborough Street and Vine Street, it appears) but there are some decent walks of 3+ miles as you move between sets or involve the stations. Of course, there are some oddities – the Jail square follows Pentonville Road, conveniently close to Pentonville Prison, for example. Electric Company can be represented by the HQ of EDF Energy and there is Water Works somewhere close to Chelsea. Go To Jail is represented by The Old Bailey. Not sure what to do about Chance or Community Chest, though. Ok, ignore that, unless anyone has any better ideas. Free Parking? Surprisingly a large number of places in London, from a quick Google search.

So, is there any mileage in this? Around 56 miles, I reckon, so this is either a 2- or 3-day challenge. A bit different, a bit quirky, and could be done without taking loads of time off work. Slightly annoying that there are parts of that walk that would involve walking 2 or 3 miles in one direction, and then immediately afterwards the same 2 or 3 miles back in the opposite direction. But it feels like a bit of a laugh and I might well take this on. Will need a train fare and two to four days worth of B&B in London, so not exactly costing nothing. As you can see, I haven’t really thought about the logistics of this.

Of course, there is a posh version of this – the Cluedo Challenge – where I walk between each of the rooms in my house in turn, apart from the drawback of not having a billiard room or ball room. We could probably improvise the library – there are plenty of books in most rooms of our house – and use poetic licence for the hall and study. OK, forget it, stick to Monopoly, before we get talking about Risk or Diplomacy, cos that would just be mad. Monopoly it is, don’t know when, don’t know why, actually…….

Recovered, almost

Sunday afternoon and evening were write-offs, as was much of Monday after the walk from London to Brighton. There is a curious feeling after achievement, the initial euphoria then plunging into introspection and sometimes even a period of being downright miserable – coming down from a high. I can see why many sporting professionals do suffer from depression after retirement from playing.

Anyway, Monday was hard in that just about any movement was hurting and my sleep pattern had no pattern at all. It was predominantly blisters and the soles of my feet being very sore but I did have the great memories of the previous day to buoy me. I had some help on the Tuesday with my calves from my son and budding physiotherapist, which helped immensely. It hurt while they were being worked on but I felt the good that it did me. Stairs suddenly became much more surmountable and meant that on Wednesday I could venture out to the local cricket club without so much as a limp, and score a good but rain-affected match without too much discomfort. Thursday saw me take the lovely Pammy out to the New Forest and for a lovely brief walk and a lovely cream tea.

So how am I now? Not too much soreness but I have let the blisters heal themselves and my feet are no longer any issue. There is still about 10 per cent of the stiffness remaining in my legs but I am already thinking about the next challenge. Itchy feet already. I have restricted myself to one challenge a year so far and that feels right but I really have the bug. I very much doubt if work could spare me (cos I’m just so important) for a week off in September to recover from doing the Thames Path, and I thought too about the South Coast Challenge in late August, but that does clash with the last day of the cricket season and I really want to be there for that.

There aren’t that many ultra challenges around in UK but London to Cambridge and the Grand Union Canal Challenge sound good too. All of these are 100 km or thereabouts, similar to London2Brighton. The Grand Union was replaced in 2016 by the South Coast Challenge but I gather it might be back next year. Others further afield include the Saharan Challenge with two marathon length walks in two days in Morocco and Kilimanjaro, which is fairly well established now, but they involve my nemesis of camping. I am likely to organise my own multi-day walk somewhere for either 2017 or 2018, but it won’t be on the 10 week scale of Lands End – John O’Groats, more likely two or three weeks, and I have mused over Offa’s Dyke (the length of Wales, 178 miles) for some time now. It has to be something that is difficult and is a challenge.

The problem with all this stuff is that it is so bloomin’ expensive. Even for London to Brighton, entry fee for self-funding was (from memory) £149, a £33 train journey, £93 B&B (and yes that was about the cheapest within a couple of miles of the start), and another similar amount for accommodation in Brighton so Pam could meet me, scoop me up and drive me home. On top of that, there is the general gear needed, boots etc. that need updating and upkeep, and it is not a cheap pastime. A two week walk would probably cost 14 * £40 (minimum) average accommodation plus travel plus all the food apart from breakfast, which is the second B in B&B. Getting on for a thousand quid before you’ve even blinked. Don’t ask what Lands End to John O’Groats cost me, but you can imagine. But it is very much worth it for that feeling when you complete it. If you’re ever thinking of doing any stuff like this, beware that it hurts but the rewards are enormous.

I doubt if you will hear much from me on this blog for a week or two or three while I rest my feet and legs and recharge my batteries. But, with recovery almost there now, my enthusiasm is undimmed and, before you know it, I’ll be back doing something or other as part of this mid-life crisis…….