“Carpe Diem! Rejoice you are alive; enjoy the day; live life to the fullest; make the most of what you have. It is later than you think.” ~Horace
“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.” ~Henry David Thoreau
When morning arrived, we had deracinated ourselves from Chateau Relaxo and its semi-protective nylon walls, scaled the slipperiest stile in the UK, and put our best foot forward (of the two lame ones we each had). Such uprooting is the nature of thru-hiking---walk all day, find a nest for a night, and do it over and over again until trail’s end is achieved. The hardest part, besides having reached trail’s end is, well, reaching trail’s end.
In my case, I’m frequently forced to question why I like the struggle; why it is I like sleeping on the damp ground; why I like wearing my tent-fly as a rain cape; why I like walking through mud all day; why I like wondering where the hell I might be; why I like dealing with constant subtle nuisances. Unlike the Pennine Way, the answers aren’t always easy to stumble upon.
Lothersdale, luckily, was easy to find. Daylight made the difference and unlike the escapades from the previous night, no GPS unit was required. Only water was. We’d forgotten to fill our bottles back in Ickornshaw and were starting to turn into a human form of jerky. Water, of course, seemed to be everywhere: in the sky and in its contaminated form puddling atop the Earth’s surface, but no potable sort could be found. We passed through Lothersdale three times, even going so far as to trespass between cottages, but not a single spigot could be discerned. We left the tiny town as parched as when we arrived.
As hamlets go, Lothersdale seemed pleasant enough, sandwiched between two rounded hillsides and big enough to be on the map, or on ours anyway. Why, we couldn’t figure out. It played host to a pub, the Hare & Hounds, but the joint wasn’t open. There was no shop and no school. Its inhabitants were all sleeping or dead, and the only activity we witnessed was a mailman doing his daily rounds. But he too looked like jerky, so we didn’t bother him. We just bothered to move on, and were bothered to do so.
Conserving water is not usually a big deal, that is until thirst kicks in. Thirst is the worst of all the bodily must-haves, no doubt. If it is left unchecked for long enough, the brain literally starts to bake, no matter the temperature outside. Of course, no one chooses to be thirsty; it’s not a torture any sane person would opt for if forced to. Indeed, we were getting to the point where urine was becoming an option. To drink, not to torture one another with.
There were a few rocks filled with clean puddles of water en route to Pinhaw Beacon, and we tried to exploit each one we’d passed. The sight of it must’ve been quite comical: each of us doing semi-static push-ups against rocks, lapping up small pools of liquid---but neither of us found it particularly amusing. It was an act we enacted back near Stoodley Pike and I was mad at myself that we’d gotten ourselves in the same situation so soon. I’d wanted to capture a photograph of Ruth embracing a rock and slurping from its shallow lichen-lined vugs, but the lack of light would likely have wrecked the picture, while the torrent falling from the heavens would likely have wrecked my camera. The irony of it all was galling. Rain, bogs, puddles, thirst.
Not long after Pinhaw’s hilltop, we emerged at a three-way junction of macadam. Cars came and went and I thought of standing in front of one, flagging down a motorist so that he or she might spit into our mouths. But we just carried on, tongues attempting to capture what airborne moisture they could.
When we arrived at Thorton-in-Craven, known globally because it rhymes with snortin’ unshaven, the situation had ascended to a state of Red Alert. I’d gotten so delirious I could only repeat a song I’d written in my head en route…
Thirst is the worst, thirst is the worst
Next verse, same as the first…
Thirst is the worst, thirst is the worst
Why, dear God, am I always so cursed?
Deaf people would’ve loved it. I sang it loudly inside my head for what seemed like an era.
Again, we hunted for liquid and again we failed to locate any. Thorton-in-Craven was only marginally bigger than Lothersdale had been and it contained no businesses catering to humans. On Cam Lane we tiptoed to the side of a house, anxious not to startle any killer attack dogs. But the faucet’s knob could not have been any more difficult to rotate had it been welded in place. Rust was the culprit, the same corrosive coating now settling in to each of our joints. We creaked on like the Tin Man, in desperate need of oil and quickly losing heart.
Thankfully, just as we began to depart the village, at the precise point where Cam Lane and the Pennine Way diverged, we came upon a working faucet (not literally though, as that would be rather gross and disrespectful toward future hikers). It was on the side of a tiny cottage with excessively acute angles, far greater than ninety degrees. The spigot was directly underneath the kitchen window, but we didn’t care if we startled anyone. We just stood there, downing the elixir of life. Not a single creature on Earth can survive without water and we weren’t going to buck the trend much longer(1).
Rehydrated and revitalized, we set off once more, vowing not to make the same mistake
twice again. Shortly beyond the charming cottage, we paused to enjoy a momentary break in the rain. Or shall I say a momentary break of the rain. The sun wasn’t shining or doing anything else quite so noble, but an absence of rainfall in England is a blessing you stop to relish. Or shall I say one you stop and relish. We relished it while it lasted, all of about four minutes.
During that time Ruth shot some photos of the flora surrounding us. It was an exceptionally picturesque scene and the resplendent, radiant colors that abounded could never be replicated on a painter’s palette or hung in a fancy gallery. Nature has always been the best artist and I, well, am an admitted naturosexual, perverted in every sense of the word. Farmland soon replaced the flora, but it too seemed more splendid than previous plots. The paddocks were all gigantic, the hills rolled on endlessly, and the grass grew unblemished. There wasn’t even any mud. No, really.
We walked in a state of pure rapture, upon cloud nine, or what I’d come to term, Cloud Pennine, giving birth to the name of this here journal. And it only got better. A short, sharp hill led us from the open farmland and onto the Leeds/Liverpool Canal towpath. I nearly climaxed I was so excited. This was the canal I’d wanted to see for years, Britain’s longest. It couldn’t have been a better time for it, as it was just it and us and a few ducks floating around aimlessly.
For the next mile or so the two of us strolled and smiled, directing our camera lenses at anything remotely worthy. A few seventy-foot narrowboats, the longest permissible vessel on England’s inland waterways, rested atop the water, still as the water itself. One was named Carpe Diem, the overriding mantra of my life ever since I’d seen the movie Dead Poets Society as a youngster. The boat didn’t exactly seem to be seizing the day---it just sat there motionless---but we felt like we were doing just that: living deliberately and sucking out all the marrow from life, to steal a quote from Thoreau.
Young, ol’ Henry wrote: “I went into the woods because I wanted to live deliberately. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life...to put rout all that was not life; and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived...”
Apart from the time my wife asked for a divorce, no other words have affected me as much.
Ruth and I kept on seizing the day and soon approached a double-arched bridge. This wasn’t the customary double-archer, where the arches are beside one another in the horizontal sense. No, these arches were stacked one on top of the other in the missionary position. It was the most unusual manmade object we’d seen yet on our hike, save for the teletubby doll we’d just passed, the one floating face down in the canal. Poor little fucker couldn’t swim, I’d surmised.
The bridge had been constructed like such to meet the surface of the roadway being built above it. We gathered enough pictures of it to create a library, albeit a digitized one, and then made our way to the next bridge, this time a characterless single-archer. Despite its lack of uniqueness we were equally enthralled with the overpass, since it led us to a microscopic settlement called East Marton, which contained a nearly-as-diminutive café called Abbot’s Harbour (and not much else: a church, a horse stable and a house or two).
A funeral party(2) was going on inside the cramped café, celebrating not the passing of the teletubby doll, but that of an actual, true-to-life human, though that human was now of course truer to death. In spite of the circumstances, no one seemed all that sad. This, because they were not honoring the deceased’s passing, but rather his or her life, rejoicing in the fact they’d each known that individual. Ruth and I knew all this since our server had informed us so, after I had inquired about the business’s busy-ness, which seemed genuinely odd given its size and that it was currently midday on a Monday, when the world itself is dead.
Honoring life ourselves, Ruth and I ate heartily, feasting on lasagna and some lifeless vegetables, vegetables that had been steamed to the point of liquification. I’ve never liked Brussels sprouts, but ours had been killed so many times over that they emitted absolutely no taste whatsoever, registering not even a blip of displeasure. Food without taste is akin to humans without heartbeats, though nowhere near worth celebrating. We each washed the veggies down with a liter of hot chocolate.
In fast-fading light, we returned to the canal and moseyed on our way north, headed for anywhere suitable enough to call home. Our standards were low and only required that the spot be flat and wide enough for the two of us. You’d think such spots lay in abundance on this planet, but when you actually need such a place, they all go missing. This is a well-known corollary of that law that that Murphy character signed into existence.
We’d settle on top of the canal’s towpath itself, a half-mile or so beyond where the Pennine Way had deviated from the conduit, roughly a mile past East Marton(3). Other than the canal itself, the only signs of mankind we could distinguish were a couple of far-off lights and a nearby radio tower. Ruth might also have counted as a sign of mankind, though she, of course, is a woman.
(“Foot”note of the Day #1: Scientists used to believe that no creature could survive without light, but then we found ways to reach the basement of the deep sea, where countless creatures proved---and continue to prove---otherwise.)
(“Foot”note of the Day #2: The phrase ‘funeral party’ seems such an oxymoron, but these folks, about twenty in all, were indeed celebrating the life of the deceased, not his or her passing; it was a thing of beauty.)
(“Foot”note of the Day #3: There was no West Marton, which brings up an interesting thought: Why do people insist on naming towns ‘East Something’ when there is no ‘Central Something’ or ‘West Something’? I understand ‘New York,’ even although there is no ‘Old York.’ This, because there is a ‘York’ and so the name ‘New York’ makes sense. You may be wishing by now that there was a New Author.)