Sometime during the night rigor mortis had set in, and to both Ruth and I. Upon rising I looked at her and she at me: neither of us moved and nary a syllable was spoken. Our faces were swollen and I couldn’t help but think that if this is how our faces look, then I don’t dare care to imagine what our feet must look like. There was no need to see them; we could already feel them. Even blinking seemed to produce pain, so we each shut our eyelids for a longer lasting spell. We awoke for good a few hours later, though there was little good about it. Discomfort is an almost constant companion when backpacking long distances, even whilst sleeping.
The rain remained chronic throughout the night, drumming away atop the tent-fly, and it would refuse to come to a standstill merely for the sake of a new day. We tore down the tent in a deluge (it was as wet inside the tent as out) and dreamed of dryer climes and sunnier skies. Daybreak in the UK is often indiscernible. It’s almost as though daylight knows it just can’t win in these parts, so why fight it? We could always tell it was dawn though, since the blackness fizzled out in favor of a sinister dark gray.
I took a picture of nighttime and daybreak, to illustrate my point…
Nighttime in England...
Daybreak in England...
Neither is terribly inviting to the sightseeing seeker. Hiking blind would still remain enjoyable if it’s all you knew, I’m sure, but once you’ve devoured eye candy, it’s hard to imaging starving. Gray skies are that famine. The views on the Pennine Way really ought to be done in Braille; at least that way you could tell what they are. There had already been entire days where visibility topped out at maybe a hundred feet, a mere stone’s throw(1), and this was looking to be yet another. But after we crammed the tent into plastic bags and the bags into the backpack, the skies abruptly lifted. ‘Twas still raining but visibility nearly doubled, to two stone throws. (To clarify, that’s one stone thrown twice, not two stones thrown once.)
It was a small victory in a losing battle, but as we started walking, the skies opened up some more, as though they’d been waiting for our arrival before deciding what to do. John Muir once said that “the sun shines not on us, but in us,” but the bloke never hiked the Pennine Way. Had he, he’d have said, “The sun shines not on us.” No if, ands or but.
Then ol’ Johnny Boy would add for prosperity sake, “This fuckin’ sucks, I’m taking the first boat back to my beloved Sierra.”
Ruth and I had already grown used to seeing (and feeling) the showers, and to the dearth of flowers. Although the path isn’t as accommodating or dazzling in November as it might be in, say, May, it is all ours and ours alone. Selfish as though we are, this is precisely how we wanted it and why we chose to hike this time of the year. Few hikers care for crowds and those who do aren’t generally those I care to accompany. I’ve always found that those who can’t handle being alone tend to make for lousy company. And though it’s been a struggle for me this year, I’ve always believed that it’s important to seek and find happiness alone, or else it can never be fully shared. Truth is, I don’t know; I’m just happy Ruth is along for the ride and having fun out here.
And that she was. Not once did her knee mention its whereabouts. While it may seem counterintuitive, it’s always a great thing when your body sends no signals. Those signals may be there---they may be building in volume and could just be indiscernible---but how great is it to walk with no mention from your knees or feet or back? It’s rare, of course, especially when a backpack is strapped to you and subsequently strapping you down.
Every year my body sends more and more signals. Most these emanate from the bowels and are expressed loudly and fragrantly and painfully (at least to those unfortunate enough to be near me at the time), but there’s also a burgeoning chorus coming from the bones and the joints and the muscles themselves. Aging is a symphony of sorts, though the music isn’t always so enjoyable or easy to hear (since the ears also lose their capacity over time).
While Ruth was forced to endure one ache, the pain in the arse that is Chuckie, today she’d walk without worry. Immediately after we began walking, we hit pavement. It is normal for the hiker to hate hard surfaces, but in the UK this is rarely if ever the case. Unfortunately, we left the bitumen behind soon after we hit it, and were soon faced with a long, muddy downhill. It pointed us, albeit circuitously, toward the Snaizeholme Vale and the village of Hawes, the day’s target. I worried Ruth’s knee would object to such punishment, but it never did.
Along the muddy pathway, an assemblage of motorcyclists approached from the opposite direction and squeezed by us one by one. (The trail was now open to all kinds of travelers in the area, and signs warned us of this.) Each was respectable enough to slow way down and avoid splashing us as they passed, an act of thoughtfulness that so few American motorcyclists seem to employ or understand. They even waved as they went. I guess they didn’t know they were supposed to be jerks.
Outside its bigger cities, England doesn’t seem to play host to a whole lot of jerks. The country has no equivalent of the US’s white trash, rednecks, hillbillies or hicks, and those residing in its rural regions are kind, sharing and educated. Their teeth may not be straight, but they’ve got ‘em all. I’m not sure how this came to be or why it is that the US seems to play host to so many dumb fucks (and not just those stuck in the sticks), but I love it. At least while here, I do.
Ruth and I are each admitted Anglophiles…
Anglophile (n): A person who romanticizes Britain and possesses an almost pornographic fascination of Britain culture.
Anglophilia (n): A condition in which a person obsesses about Britain and its culture.
We are smitten with Britain! She’s big into the country’s pre-Victorian history, whilst I love the music, everything from A (Adam Ant) to Z (Zeppelin, but of course). Unfortunately, we were both born on the wrong side of the pond. If a group of muddy motorcyclists can remind me of this, I know it to be true.
I was once married to an Englishwoman, and though I loved her dearly (and always will) it was that much easier for me to get hitched because of her nationality, despite the necessary paperwork hassles. An accent alone is an allure for me that’s on par with outward beauty. Call me peculiar, but I’d rather have an accented voice whispering in my ear than to be smothered by a nice pair of boobies, though it obviously depends on whose voice or whose boobies we’re talking about. Both would naturally be best, so long as they were natural breasts.
We made it down the descent in fine fettle and reached the village with the generic name by early afternoon. The name Hawes sounds more like a southern US town, home to hicks and hillbillies or a pub called Mah Son’s Arms, but it would in fact end up competing for The Top Dog honors (not to be confused with The Top Bog honors) with Hebden Bridge. It had narrow cobbled streets, a charming center and just enough going on not to leave you bored, no matter how boring you were. “If only they could change the name,” I joked to Ruth, “It might stand out.”
It’s a good thing of course that it doesn’t stand out. Few things in life are as distressing or depressing as when a charming little town has become “discovered.” Discovered generally means overcrowded and appeal-gone-missing. Indeed, the last places I care to visit are those once-lovely spots that the travel magazines hype as “off the beaten path” or a “hidden gem” or a “must” vacation. “Must vacate,” I think to myself, adding, “Must never flip through another one of these stupid magazines again.”
The truth is if it’s promoted as being “off the beaten path” there will be enough idiots who believe the hype and consequently pound it into being the beaten path. The Pennine Way isn’t so much a beaten path as it is a beating path, at least in November anyway. It’ll beat you straight into submission, after you’ve fallen straight into yet another bottomless bog. But my guess is that even when it is the beaten path, during those dog days of summer, that it’ll still beat you. Some paths are as abusive as they are abused.
Anyway, pardon the tangents. Now where was I? Oh, yeah. I was mentioning the nondescript, boring old town of Hawes, in the tiresome, tedious North Yorkshire County. The town is an absolute dump. It is polluted, it reeks, and it’s teeming with tourists and motorists and far too many other –ists. It is also terribly noisy and expensive as all get-out. In a word: shit-hole. (Shit-hole is not really a word, but let’s pretend for a minute that it is.)
Ruth and I did a once-through---an insufferable experience if there ever was one---before passing through town a few more times, just to be sure. We concurred: we despised the dump. Disregard that we booked a room at a local B&B, the
lovely, I mean shitty Ebor House, where we plan to possibly linger more than one night. The place is like a prison and nobody likes prison. Honestly, don’t bother coming.
(“Foot”note of the Day #1: A stone’s throw is an excellent way to put rocks to use, right alongside with barn-building, wall-assembly and cairn-construction.)