The earth is a big heat sink, robbing the unsuspecting sleeper of vital body warmth when he lay atop it in late November. I knew this going into this hike, but last night, no matter how many push-ups or sit-ups I had done (a full five or six of each before tiring out), I simply could not get warm. The one-inch thick air mattress I slept on didn’t offer much relief---it’s merely a ¾ length model, designed to save weight and freeze feet---and it slowly loses air throughout the night, oddly enough at the same rate I lose hope of staying warm. This sucks and I love it, I thought to myself, trying to jot that very thought. (Alas, the ink in my pen had froze; a backup pencil was called into play.)
Because I had worn nearly every piece of clothing I carried (‘twas all relatively dry after yesterday’s benign conditions), I would’ve had a tough time of sleeping anyhow, as all I had to use to fashion a pillow was a pair of dirty socks and a few granola bars. The dirty socks were as crunchy as the granola bars, and neither, for what it’s worth, makes that great a pillow. Call me high-maintenance, but just as it is with most of the animal kingdom, I require a certain level of comfort in order to sleep.
There are times when I wish I didn’t love the struggle that camping and hiking most often provides, but like all outdoorsy misfits, I can’t help myself. The struggles are as essential as they are unavoidable, and naturally, the highs always tend to override the lows, or I wouldn’t keep partaking in this shit. But when the lows are low temperatures, the lows gnaw deeply. I’m too thin to win.
As is typical during such frigid nights, I had to pee throughout it. But despite the nip, I was at that teetering point in which the camper finds himself just contented enough to remain protected inside, but uncomfortable enough not to be able to fully fall asleep. Not a happy camper per se, but a contented one. It seemed the lesser of the two evils to remain on lockdown, but each time I rolled over to a new position, my bladder announced its aspirations.
I had no designated pee bottle, which might have made life a little less stressful. In the past though, I’ve made the mistake of drinking from such a bottle, and cared not to repeat the feat. Instead, I just lay there all night, comfortably miserable. Strangely, by daybreak, my bladder was fine. I hadn’t peed my sleeping bag or anything, but yet it sounded no sense of urgency when I awoke. That is until I stepped outside. The cold is a diuretic, no doubt.
The temperatures were comparable to the inside of a freezer, but the day looked to be relatively free from air-peril, so I tore down camp and set sail. The route placed me upon an excessively thin strip of pavement for a quarter mile or so, before branching off into the great wet open, where the primordial manner of perambulation took over. All it took was one step off the tertiary road and I was knee-deep in trouble. My new boots---those picked up less than a week ago, those already well worn and rotting of old---would do their job in restricting my ankles from rolling each time I sunk unexpectedly. Rarely did I sink unexpectedly, of course. It was always anticipated, and justly so. I felt like a walking mop, pogo-ing from bog to bog.
Soon after the mayhem kicked off, the Pennine Way plowed straight into England’s rendition of the woods. The trees were all neatly placed in rows and marked with spray paint or flagging, both signs of impending doom, but the feel was every bit as woodsy as any free-ranging woods. Most trees stood about a hundred feet tall, nearing, I’d speculated, the end of their “unproductive” lives. Only when dead does a tree become productive. Or at least that’s how man has always viewed them. Not me though. I am a bona fide tree-hugger and would’ve stopped to hug even these planted ones, had the frigid temps not ordered me to keep on keeping on.
Miraculously, there’d be no moisture all day. In England, a day without rain is considered a drought. And I prefer droughts. Droughts by day, draughts by night.
A bloody nose(1) slowed my progress for a while, but by early afternoon, after skirting the Horneysteads House, I reached Shitlington Crag, a shittily named outcropping comprised not of crap, but of limestone or some such rock. It is yet another candidate for Rude Britain, the book of brusquely branded places like Dull, Twatt, Ugley and, my personal favorite, Titty Ho.
‘The Shit’ stood over ten meters tall in places, but was merely head-high where my path clambered through it. It turned out I was nowhere near the proper path, as confirmed by a wooden post atop the outcrop, but I soon found my way back onto it and continued on northward, sun splashing on my back, smile splashed upon my face.
After an uninspiring mile or so, lined by a dead sheep and some even less-inspiring cows, I descended down a grassy slope and into Bellingham. Locals pronounce it Bell-in-Jam, in what sounds like a single syllable. The town sits beside the North Tyne River and is otherwise isolated. Huge expanses of nothingness encircle the place, making the village that much more alluring, though its allure is ostensible enough. There were pubs and cobbled side streets and smiling denizens and only a few TO LET signs(2), unlike so many other northern England hamlets. And this was the first place along The Way to host a public library with Internet access, something I hadn’t missed at all until the moment I got online, when I pulled up the forecast.
“Snow tonight,” it read, “and then nothing but sun for the next few days.”
Life was looking good.
(“Foot”note of the Day #1: Brought on by the need to continually pinch my nostrils, to hurl the dripping snot away.)
(“Foot”note of the Day #2: One of which had been altered by a street artist, from its original state of 'TO LET' to a vastly improved 'TOiLET'.)