People think it’s funny, but it’s really dark and runny, diarrhea.
That’s how my entire night went and all I could figure was that the perpetrator was the lasagna I’d eaten at the Abbot’s Harbour Café. It wasn’t easy having to escape the sleeping bag every few minutes, but I had no other choice. My nose was no longer the only runny body part I had. In fact, it had gotten to the point that I’d debated sleeping with my boots on, to allow for quicker escapes each time. Instead, I just ran outside barefooted, dealing with the problems inside me, by working them out. Of the dozen or so times I had to unzip the tent and rush out, Ruth slept through all but one. She had lasagna too, so maybe it wasn’t that. I didn’t know and I didn’t care; I had to deal with the here and now.
The here and now was miserable. And cold. Though I wasn’t sure of the exact temperature, I could see my breath. Moisture was leaking from both ends of me and if I didn’t take care enough to drink each time I returned to the tent, I’m sure I’d have shriveled away to nothing. Then again, maybe I was just running the liquid right through me, a human funnel.
|Mud, not Poo. I swear!|
Interestingly, or at least interesting to me, I was fine when Ruth rose from the dead. It hadn’t even been a twenty-four hour bug, but his littler cousin the thirteen-hour bug. The bastard died a horrific death a couple hours later and I’d walk in relative comfort. Relative comfort on the Pennine Way is relatively uncomfortable, with or without poop running down your legs.
The goal for the day, besides our usual aim of achieving a steady state of childhood, was to make it to Malham, a distance of about seven and a half miles. The distance may not sound all that tough, but until you’ve walked through shin-deep bog through windswept moorland, up and down hills so steep you really can’t consider it walking, well then, you really don’t have a clue. Mileage isn’t how the Pennine Way is measured. Smiles, not miles.
We understood that the freest children are those not bound by objectives, so it really didn’t matter if we reached Malham, so long as we kept reaching for it, and only because it meant reaching (and attaining) more of what trail life has to offer. Trail life is my favorite life. I only wish it could last forever.
But trail life also presents its difficulties, if that hasn’t already been driven home and on into the neighbor’s house. Ruth’s knee was always in the back of her mind (figuratively speaking, else she’d be quite limber) and we had failed to bring a spare. It ached acutely and would only get worse throughout the afternoon, a crescendo of pain that would ultimately force us to stop and consider our options. “Amputation,” I said, but she didn’t laugh. Though she never once whinged, I knew she was suffering; everyone laughs at the thought of losing a limb. Only decapitation is funnier(1).
had have my own problems, but if I were to start writing them here there’d be no room for anything else on the Internet. The long and the short of it is that the list runs long. Really, really, really long. The English would call my condition buggered.
But I digress.
Our day started much more agreeably than it would finish. My diarrhea had died (and died hard) and Ruth’s knee was only marginally noticeable. We left the lovely Leeds/Liverpool Canal and retraced our footsteps to the Pennine Way. We had the option of following the one hundred and twenty-seven mile canal to the next town stop, Gargrave, as the trail intersects the canal there one last time. But I was afraid that if we followed the serene strip of water we’d keep going all the way to Leeds (a distance of about thirty-five miles from where we’d camped) and then onto the North Sea. Britain’s canals are stronger than magnets and I have to fight the urge, and their lure. At least until another time(2).
|My Diarrhea Face|
In Gargrave just a half-hour later, we passed the Mason’s Arms Pub/Inn, which I had erroneously read as ‘Ma Son’s Arms’ in the guidebook earlier. ‘Ma Son’s Arms’ sounds more southern hick-like than it does English of course, and Ruth questioned what I’d just read. When she suggested that perhaps maybe I had just renamed the place, we couldn’t help but burst out into fits of unrestrained laughter. “Mah Son’s Arms,” she cried over and over, wiping away tears of mirth. I knew it was time I started wearing my reading glasses while hiking, alas. Fuck I hate getting old, but I guess the alternative is none the better.
Blind though it seemed I was, Gargrave was pleasing to the eye, perfectly situated between the River Aire and the Leeds/Liverpool Canal. Although petite, the place was full of activity, in part because the main thoroughfare dissecting it, the A65, played host to innumerable automobiles. There was also a swarm of cyclists seated comfortably in the local tearoom, the Dalesman Café, sipping their lattes and talking about cycling, which of course is what cyclists do; if they were to actually ride their bikes, they would not be true cyclists. We opted to steer clear of the place until their bicycles no longer barricaded its entrance.
In the interim it was decided we’d send some stuff back to Ruth’s flat in Harrow, so we no longer had lug it. The umbrellas had been deemed worthless long ago, as were the gaiters, the cook-pot, the stove, the utensils and a whole bunch of other crap we thought were required to hike the Pennine Way. All you really need to hike the Pennine Way, of course, is raingear, a dry change of clothes and heavy-duty boots. Oh, and desire, but that goes without saying.
Once the two-dozen or so cyclists cleared the Dalesman, we returned back to it from the Post Office, a saunter of about a hundred meters, or what the Brits and we Americans know as one hundred and ten yards. Though I didn’t record the exact distance, I was glad it wasn’t far, as my hunger was primed. Hunger on a hike is nothing like ordinary hunger; it is intense and undeniable. Left untreated, the effects could lead to dizziness, crankiness and the maiming of anyone unfortunate enough to be carrying a croissant as they overtake the hiker. We finished ordering our food before our waitress could complete her first sentence.
Two cyclists remained in the café and we’d soon struck up a tête-à-tête. It wasn’t exactly a heart-to-heart, but more of an eye-to-eye (though there were two of them and two of us, making it an eye-to-eye-to-eye-to-eye-to-eye-to-eye-to-eye-to-eye-to-eye-to-eye-to-eye-to-eye-to-eye-to-eye, if my math serves me right and if you include all eyeballs and not just one per person; there were no Cyclopses amongst us. Oh, and despite my need for reading glasses, I could still see eye-to-eye, so long as we remained seated far enough back, as we had been).
They were two older gentlemen, one about eighty years old and the other a mere pup, at seventy or so. Ruth sat mostly silently as the three of us philosophized about life, and about cycling. I’d been a cyclist for years, even competing professionally many, many moons ago, and our conversation revolved around the state of the sport today. In a word, dismal. Even in the face of Bradley Wiggins’s Tour de France victory, the first time a Brit has won the event, the sport is reeling, mostly because of Lance Armstrong’s BIG GIANT LIE and the sport’s never-ending problem with drug use, drug use I’d witnessed myself…the same thing that led me out of the sport (‘tis not a victimless crime, alas).
Of course, cycling isn’t merely sport. It transcends that, and we mostly spoke about the beauty of simply being atop two wheels and under your own power. I tried to convince the two men that long-distance backpacking shared and evoked many of the same subtleties and emotions, but they would have none of it. They seemed wise.
We left the café and Gargrave an hour or two later, crossing over the Leeds/Liverpool Canal one last time. Ruth and I vowed we’d be back to paddle it and we meandered on, thinking how much more delightful it would be to pedal or scull somewhere than to walk. One pedal or paddle stroke offers glide, whereas one stride only sets you up for another and another and another, which only sets you up for eventual soreness, if not extreme boredom and pervasive thoughts of suicide.
The landscape beyond Gargrave was as nice as anything we’d walked by yet, paralleling the River Aire past open farmland and inviting hills, more of what the previous day had offered, only now we had a bed of leaves to walk atop and a riverbed to feast our eyes upon. No one has ever feasted upon a river, that is unless they were floating on it in a boat or possibly an inner-tube, but we were and even from its banks.
The scene could not have been any more scenic, that is if scenes possess varying degrees of scenic-ness and could not attain a higher degree. Regardless whether it could be quantified, we liked the looks of what we were passing. Our cameras would not do it justice since we were enveloped by beauty, not merely surrounded by it. It was spherical and not remotely capable of being placed upon a computer screen or captured by “the magic of” digital imagery. Digital imagery, of course, is still virtual, merely a rendition of the original, completely counterfeit. We were experiencing the real deal, alive and immersed.
It wasn’t just eye orgasm we were experiencing. There were even a few wonderful fragrances that managed to overpower those of our own, along with sweet canorous sounds of birds chirping and gentle breezes swaying. Even feel was affected, as the temperature was mild and not its usual frigid self. We strode on in ecstasy.
But before long we also strode on in mud, and more than we’d yet known. The shit was everywhere, no thanks to grazing cattle and horses, both species of which had upturned the soft susceptible surface with their hefty hoofprints. Just as I love them, female mud wrestlers would love the Pennine Way. This was the knee-deep stuff, not unlike the moorland bogs, only thicker and tougher to extract yourself from. It would end up taking us six-plus hours to reach the nearly nonexistent hamlet of Hanlith, a distance of only about five miles or so.
Sure enough, it was dark when we arrived. But it was still fairly early, so we didn’t fret one iota. Late is meaningless when the clock, and indeed time itself, are circular and without end.
And with that abstruse metaphysical philosophical mumbo-jumbo, I’ll end here. Something has got to end.
PS: More about Malham when we can see the place. It appears pleasant enough, though things turned a little weird when the owner of the Miresfield Farm B&B suggested he first hose us down before letting us in. We obliged, natch.
PPS: Here’s the nightly sock-washing ritual. This is after twenty or so wringings...
PPS: Here’s the nightly sock-washing ritual. This is after twenty or so wringings...
(“Foot”note of the Day #1: This is why England has such a long history involving the act, because it’s absolutely hilarious watching someone being beheaded, be they kings’ wives or simple peasants or serfs. Methinks it should be a spectator sport in which members of the audience are ordered at random to participate.)
(“Foot”note of the Day #2: 2014, to be specific. I’ll be preoccupied in 2013, joining the Fraternity of Lunacy here.)