Day Fourteen

November 16th, 2012: Horton-in-Ribblesdale to Camm Farm Area (10-ish miles) …

When morning moved in, couthie Ruthie and I awoke to our usual disheveled likenesses and a sky drained of color. The latter was becoming all too familiar, we agreed, but there was little point in pointing it out. Why the English even make mention of the conditions is beyond me. The country is one big cloud factory.

Every British meteorologist ever: “Our calculations foretell of grey skies, frigid temperatures and a strong possibility of wind and rain…”

“…through to 2017.”

It gets old.

Still, there was no use in grumbling; we weren’t about to wrap up our expedition and jet over to Bora Bora (though it’s always an alternative, naturally). We just did what the Brits have done for eternity: we threw more clothes on. This also had the added effect of deceiving the mind, in that the backpack felt that much more buoyant. Bonus!

Dressed to the hilt, we departed the Golden Lion sometime midmorning. Our first order of the day was to await the opening of a mobile snack shop parked next door. We were fortunate the mobile home was there, as there were no other shops in town and we had little to consume, having depleted our supplies almost entirely the previous day. Only trail-mix stood between us and an absolutely scarcity. Trail-mix and starvation rank closely together, when choosing between methods of suicide.

I was grumpy we had to wait at all, and equally as skeptical that the store would contain anything worthwhile. From the outside, the mobile home was as hideous as a “storefront” can be, dark gray and borderline prison-like. It was almost completely devoid of color and windows. Fittingly, it was parked next to a work shed containing old tractor parts and barrels of used motor oil. And so I felt we were wasting our time. Normally, I’m as good as anyone at killing time, but my skepticism assured me that we were killing it only to starve to death in a puddle of used 10w-40.

Oh, but how wrong was I! The inside of the store was fantastic! The Brits are phenomenal at cramming lots into little spaces and this place had to have held some sort of world record. We found fresh food and junk food alike, along with a few packages we weren’t sure were food at all. International travel, even to a place so similar to the US as England, often means strange foods. We stuck to what we knew best: cheese, cookies, chocolate, nuts, and fruit. Chocolate is seldom a caloric faux pas, but the stuff we bought was just that, though we wouldn’t find out for a few hours.

After the resupply, we returned to the path we know best, the path of unrest. The sky looked like the inside of a coffin, the air still smelled like diesel, and a magnifying mist had smothered the scenery. Pen-y-Ghent was merely a fable, a bump in our history that we would not observe again. We were pleased to be moving on. As far as towns go, Horton was at the bottom of the barrel.

A brief mix-up aside, we found the path of unrest and began the day’s assignment: walk until our bodies told us not to. It mattered not whose body notified us first; we were both to comply. I worried it would be Ruth’s, since her knees were so bad just yesterday. But I felt truly horrific and honestly thought I might be the one to pull the plug. Somehow, my pack had doubled in weight overnight and my legs had become lead. Worse yet, the toehold was becoming some of the worse yet.

Our route steadily led us back into the land with less---moorland---where oozing black peat awaited us. “It is a landscape turned inside out, a beautiful mess,” I scribbled in my journal. It seemed an appropriate description. For the most part (and for the moist part), it presented nondescript walking, save for a few short stretches. One such stretch was around Ling Gill Beck, where a fifty-foot-deep chasm baits unsuspecting hikers like ourselves. The ravine was lined with vertical limestone walls, but scraggly vegetation blocked the more notable vistas. One misguided step and you’d be tumbling through shrubbery to your death. We stayed a safe distance and sauntered on.

Not even a minute later we crossed a small stone bridge, the Ling Gill Pack Horse Bridge. Below it ran Ling Gill Beck itself, an unexpectedly shallow stream readying itself for the abrupt drop into the chasm we’d just passed. A worn-out inscription on the narrow overpass appeared to have read:

ANNO 1765

The ‘N’s in ANNO were backwards, while ‘THYS’ meant ‘THIS’ and ‘BRIDE’ was likely ‘BRIDGE.’ ‘CHARLES’ must’ve been ‘CHARGE’ and 1765 could’ve been 1768 for all we could tell, but we weren’t about to nitpick about a few years here or there; both the inscription and the bridge were plenty ripe, no matter how you sliced it. Indeed, no word of when it was first built could be found, on bridge or in guidebook, as 1765 was the repair date, meaning it must’ve been fairly elderly by then.

The span had apparently once been significant, but here now it stood alone in a forbidden, lonely landscape. Today, only horsemen and hikers seem to have access to it and a right to cross. We snapped a few photos and thought back to the thousands of souls who’ve spanned it over the past two hundred and fifty odd years, Pennine Way hikers and normal people alike.

A few hundred yards northbound we decided it was time for lunch. Neither Ruth nor I was especially ravenous, but we were each especially exhausted. We pulled out our foam sit-pads and squatted down right there on the path, which, for once, provided enough terra firma to do so. The Pennine Way is usually anything except terra firma---terra bogga or terra mushy perhaps---but every once in a while we’d manage to find some room to roost.

The problem though would be the temperature, or lack thereof. Lunch was sped through as though it was a competitive event: hand…mouth…throat…stomach…repeat. The entire cycle lasted about two and a half seconds. And we might have eaten even quicker had we not pulled out the chocolate bar we’d purchased earlier. What we thought was going to be a delicacy ended up a hardy cackle and a near choking episode. Never before has the world ever laid witness to a crunchy filling so…luminescent. This was shitty kid’s candy through and through, not the kind of chocolate you travel to Europe for.

Appalling as it was, I still managed to ingest the bulk of it, for it was better in the belly than on the back, or so goes my customary backpacking belief. It’d turned out better yet had it been left atop terra firma. But we questioned its biodegradability. Not unlike the bridge we’d passed, the candy bar would become a historical landmark.

The cold prompted us to move on shortly after the laughs. My extremities were particularly affected (all five of them) and I had to walk with my hands down my pants, in order to ease the ache (of three of them). Hands aren’t exactly needed when hiking, but I needed to fling the snot dripping down my face and take care of the other chores requiring dexterity, namely writing in my journal. Where would you, the reader, be if I could not write? (Incidentally, I thank you, the reader.)

As we marched forward, we could just about detect the celebrated Ribblehead Viaduct to our left. It stood just a quarter mile or so away, but a chunky miasma barged in and blocked what might’ve been a superb view. The trestle was constructed in 1875 and is still in use today, though the only trains in operation are those showy ones like The Little Engine That Could, built for portly tourists and Japanese sightseers, those not still stuck in the bog near Top Withens, anyway. The bridge spans a piddly quarter-mile-long dip in the landscape, and the whole thing seemed such a waste of money, but then money wasn’t worth much in 1875. (I still don’t think it is today, but that’s just me.)

I’d desperately desired a view of the viaduct and its many arched supports, but had to settle for a snapshot of what looked to be a blank piece of paper, with the faintest of gray lines down the middle. I couldn’t even see well enough to keep the faint gray line (the viaduct’s top) horizontal; my picture proved the Settle-Carlisle line to be the steepest set of railroad tracks in the world. Mist leaves you missing more than you’ll ever know. And so goes the story along the Pennine Way in November (or any other month).

Our view of the viaduct
A Google Images view
Ruth and I were enjoying ourselves beyond measure. And we understood that description often transcends expression. But the frustration of not capturing the trip was growing on us. Words would have to do, though they rarely ever do. Our experience wasn’t soon to be forgotten, but in time it would be (especially with a mind like mine, the sieve it is). Only pictures help you remember the way it really was.

And yet I write!

As we continued on, three hikers appeared from the mist ahead. Two of them had two legs apiece, while the other was outfitted with four. All three were female, though it was hard to tell with the four-legged one. She---or he---was too furry. The lot of us greeted one another in passing, and marched on in our respective directions. Interaction on the trail is rarely what you’d expect it to be; the weather runs the show and pleasantries aren’t always so pleasant.

The rest of the day was pretty much a void in my mind, a whisper lost in the wind. The rain had bit its frothy tongue for the day and we managed to remain dry throughout, but the threat was constant. Forty degrees (Fahrenheit) and rain make for a miserable situation and so when it came time to set up camp for the night, near the Camm Farm driveway, where the dirt road we’d been hiking atop metamorphosed into pavement, we made sure the tent was as secure as it could be, which is to say not secure at all. The thing was an abysmal letdown thus far, persistently creaking and leaking. Had we been able to anchor them, we’d have been better off beneath umbrellas or gum wrappers.

As it started to rain, I penned in my notebook that “this is the last North Face product I’ll ever purchase,” but that wasn’t entirely true. It shall be the last North Face product I ever use, period. The ink began to run (streaking, in fact) as I scribbled the thought, as a steady stream of nature’s piss dripped down inside the tent. It was about to be another long night.

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