Day Twenty-Four

November 26th, 2012: Just above Knarsdale to Greenhead (10-ish miles) …

Wind and rain and cold woke me long before I’d wanted to wake. As such, I packed everything up and left, hoping to leave the conditions in my wake.

It did not work.

One cannot outrun the weather, especially when one is lugging a backpack the size of a small elephant. Walking itself is, by and large, a pleasurable activity, but backpacking is altogether a different beast. Because of the camping, the pack is a necessary beast of burden, but the act of wearing and carrying it is a beastly one.

“I’ll never be your beast of burden, 
I’ve walked for miles, my feet are hurtin’…” 
~The Rolling Stones

I would move slowly, and not by choice.

Thoughts of abandoning my tent, a six-pound piece of junk that only provides warmth on warm nights, invaded my mind. Most PW wayfarers go without tents or heavy backpacks as they joyfully traipse their way up the trail, connecting the dots, from B&B to B&B. This is what most do. But not me, no. You see, I thought it’d be fun to camp along the way. That’s what I thought.

As it’s turned out the camping has been anything but fun and hauling all the gear required is less amusing yet. Short as though they are, the days become endurathons, as do the disproportionately long nights. The next time I hike the Pennine Way (note: ain’t ever gonna happen, ever) I will simply stroll from town to town during the long lazy days of summer, with little more than guidebook and camera (and snorkel, if need be; it is England, after all). Working my way up yet another steep, muddy (read: slippery) hill, all I can do is laugh. And cry.

The official guidebook, also known as The Book of Lies, Half-Truths and Deception (and found under the FICTION section at all respectable book retailers) suggests daily mileages that are so far out of touch with reality that I’ve continually considered burning it or burying it in a bog. Each time I read a page I feel sucker-punched. Where it claims that the hiker should cover a whopping twenty-one miles in a single bound, I plan for two to three days. And not just because of the shorter days or the rain that England has experienced. But because I am human. The book was written for superhuman athletes, apparently.

“Most hikers,” it claims, “take eighteen to nineteen days to complete the Pennine Way.”

I’m on day twenty-four and the end is nowhere in sight.

Thrashing about through more flooded footing, I eventually came to Hartley Burn, a creek-cum-flood, a crashing torrent of death. The bridge spanning the creek was now doing so underwater, so I needed to devise a way across. What might have originally taken seconds was now likely to take minutes, if not hours. How the bridge remained, I don’t know, but I got the feeling its days were numbered.

The Pennine Waterway
I worked my way upstream (never mind that every hill in the UK is upstream this year) and found what looked to be a log that had jammed itself perpendicularly to the direction of the flow. Other than the fact it had decomposed severely and was covered in slick moss and a thin layer of ice, it appeared perfect for traversing the torrent.

I didn’t plan to walk across, of course. That would’ve equated to CERTAIN DEATH. Instead I would straddle the thing and tug my way across, one agonizingly slow inch after the next. The plan sounded sound enough, but when the log started to turn and roll down the gully, taking me with it, I panicked like never before, nearly pooping my pants in the process (no shit). Nearby sheep were afforded a good laugh at my expense and seemed to gather in droves for the exhibition. I drove them away when I cried out a high-pitched squealed reminiscent of a small child during a temper-tantrum.

Somehow I’d make it across (when applied correctly, panic can work wonders) and order was restored. In store, however, was more of the same. Creeks that weren’t shown on the map were there all right. And each crossing necessitated nerves of steel, along with gymnastic skills akin to those of an Olympian’s. Each also required vast chunks of patience and time. Where there weren’t creeks there was more of the same: shin-deep bogs and muck. Always more muck.

By the time I neared Greenhead and its adjacent golf course, my feet had already passed through all the phases of trench foot(“trench foot”note #1) and I began to develop webbing between my toes. Due to an absence of an under or an overpass, I had been forced to dissect a surprisingly hectic highway on my way to town, the A69 (presumably named after 1969 or some sort of graphic sexual position), but nothing---not even the bogs or the muck or the multiple creek crossings---would grant me the exasperation that trouncing around a golf course would.

“Golf is a good walk ruined,” wrote Twain, and this is especially the case in pouring rain. Had I possessed an enclosed golf cart I might have enjoyed trying to find my way through the maze, but alone on foot, with rain pelting the retinas, the task was nigh impossible. The guidebook mentioned little about how to cross the course, so I had to make use of the old standby: dead reckoning. Dead reckoning is not normally the hiker’s preferred method of navigation, and for some reason I can’t ever seem to get past the word ‘dead,’ but there were no useful GPS waypoints in the area. Golf courses shouldn’t require them, anyhow.

I’d skirt nearly every hole as I tried to make my way to Greenhead, starting near the second and ending near the fourteenth, but nowhere did the Pennine Way resurface. The holes were each full of water and made visible only by the flagpoles sticking out of them. Finally, a maintenance worker saw all my zig-zagging and approached. He asked that I quit wearing down a path on his course. “Mate!” he screamed (due to the wind and rain, not purely because he was angry at me), “You need to know that if any golfers find you after the damage you’ve done, they will string you up and slaughter you.” I wanted to assure him that no string could handle the weight of my pack, but instead opted to keep my mouth shut, save for an apology.

With an outstretched arm and a chubby index finger extended at its very end, he’d end up directing me where I needed to go. I worked my way down to Greenhead, first by crossing an inundated double set of railroad tracks, then by following the Tipalt Burn, another creek-cum-river that sprayed mist from all its urgency. I had caught glimpse of the Thirlwall Castle as I crossed the tracks, but I decided I’d save the sightseeing for another day. “If all goes right,” I thought to my lonesome, “That day will be tomorrow.”

To be sure, I was completely okay if it had been the day after tomorrow or even sometime after that.

(“Trench Foot”note of the Day #1: Trench Foot is a medical condition caused by prolonged exposure of the feet to damp, unsanitary, and cold conditions. The use of the word ‘trench’ is a reference to trench warfare, mainly associated with World War I and/or the Pennine Way.)

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