Day One

November 3rd, 2012: Harrow to Edale via train; Edale to the top of Kinder Downfall via foot (5-ish miles) …

I had been hoping the forecast might suddenly change overnight, but no.
Sleep is not a strong point of mine. Never has been, probably will never be. So it wasn’t too terribly unexpected that I was unable to sleep last night. Usually, it’s emotional turmoil that keeps me lying there awake("Foot"note #1), tossing and turning, but last night it was excitement! Pure, untainted, child-like excitement.

Like most grown-ups who get to decide for themselves, I had gone to bed late. It was around midnight when I finally hit the hay. This wasn’t too unusual in itself. What was unusual was that as soon as I laid down I remembered ten more things to do. Rarely do I have ten things to do during a given day, let alone ten more.

Most of what needed to be done involved tending to the details of our hike. Ruth was an absolute beginner with what we were about to attempt and I wanted to make sure I didn’t leave her out to dry(2). It was my role to be sure she was going to be okay. I told her in so many words that I could not guarantee my work, but that I’d take care of the gear needs and whatnot. But I assured her that she also needed to help me help her by helping herself, whatever that meant.

Gear needs generally aren’t too terribly extensive for the act of walking. Expensive, perhaps. Extensive, no. Shoes and clothes are about all that are needed. But we were to hike the Pennine Way, and during one of the wettest years England has experienced in over a century. A failure to bring something needed could equate to a failed hike, or worse. Gear had become important.

Some of the necessary gear
It turned out the lights never went out, so I pulled an all-nighter and waited for the alarm to ring, signaling to Ruth that it was time to begin our quest. Our first priority was coffee, so we wouldn’t end up sleepwalking all day. Our second was to catch the train. I took care of the coffee making (even I can manage making instant coffee without too much trouble) and left the logistics of the second task to Ruth; I’d simply stick to her heels as we disembarked on our journey, agreeing to take over when we hit our pay dirt: dirt.

The passengers seated across from us
The wheeled means of travel went without too many hitches and, after a transfer in the industrialized town of Sheffield, where the movie The Fully Monty was filmed, we arrived in little, old Edale, where nothing has been filmed. Well, nothing but videos of hikers starting their respective Pennine Way sojourns. It was just after 10am. I’d been up for more than thirty hours straight and was no longer seeing straight.

Edale's train depot
Still, the excitement was strong, just as the coffee at the Sheffield Railway Station had been, and we scampered through town like a couple of runaway freight trains. Surrounding hills were steep and high and swathed in sunshine and sheep. This would be our introduction to an animal we’d soon grow tired of. Indeed, it was hard to take a photo without a sheep in it. Who knew that sheep liked to ham it up? I thought only pigs did that.

Sheep hamming it up
A few minutes into our amble toward the path’s southern terminus, we stopped in at the Yorkshire National Park visitor’s center. Like most visitor centers, this one sold all kinds of ornamentals for those who’ve gone mental. But it also contained some more useful items: snacks, maps, books and even a small museum-like exhibit showing educational videos. Knowing though that the best way to be educated about the outdoors is to be outdoors, we continued on our way.

Home for a while
We were soon face-to-face with The Old Nag’s Head, the town pub. Pubs demarcate the human hub of the English countryside; the Old Nag’s head doubles its duties in that it signifies the unofficial starting point of the Pennine Way. Or at least a large sign on the side of the building told us as much. Another sign, alas, told us the pub was closed, so we were unable to sign the visitor’s book inside, the one intended for Pennine Way thru-hikers. Our guidebook told us about the visitor’s book, else we might not have known. It also mentioned that the building in which the pub sits (and in which we wished we could sit) was built in 1577. Gulp.

The unofficial start of the Pennine Way
We touched history and began walking. The quest for the Holy Grail had begun! Our excitement was so piqued that we had forgotten to take the requisite photos of the odyssey’s commencement. We’d also overlooked filling our water bottles, though we wouldn’t find this little detail out until we were well out of Edale and in the hills that enveloped us here. No matter, I was equipped with a water filter; if there was one thing we knew already, it was that water was not going to be hard to find. (It’s always hard to filter, but never mind that.)

We’d each fallen in love with Edale (population: missing) and not without reason. It was so picturesque and quaint, like only a rural English parish could be. I’d even come to learn that my very inspiration for this journey, an author named Mark Wallington, resided here. He still does. Wallington wrote a number of hilarious books chronicling the long walks he took with his trusty mutt Boogie, including Pennine Walkies: Boogie up the Pennine Way. It was this very account that planted the seed in my head, a seed that lay there dormant for years. Today that seed was about to sprout.

A hiker soon realizes that the Pennine Way commences with one of its most demanding stretches: the traverse of the Dark Peak to the peat moorlands of Kinder Scout, Bleaklow and Black Hill. Ruth and I would come to learn all this over the next few hours and the next few days. The terrain is excessively tricky, whilst the footing is excessively messy. And of course, then there’s the weather. Prior to leaving the States I’d read an online journal that stated, “in bad weather the trail is unpleasant at best…and hazardous at worst.”

The sky, no less than fifty shades of gray, started menacing us soon after we departed the pub. We were prepared in that we had all the necessary gear and clothing. But we were equally unprepared in that we didn’t quite possess the physical or emotional strength to contend with the conditions, even though we expected no less. A mutual stubbornness would egg us on and we were each resolute to stand behind our decision to hike this path.

I love the narrow lanes!
Not even one-car wide, near Upper Booth!
Truth is, we’d have stood behind anything if it meant we could get out of the wind and the rain. But stand we would not. Instead we walked in determined fashion throughout the day. Any uneasiness we harbored was overshadowed by our enthusiasm and excitement for things to come…or things we’d hope would come. Armed with the understanding that good things only come to those who don’t sit around waiting, we continued in search of those things.

Farmland in the Edale Valley
For an hour or so the path wandered through fields, skirting a couple of farms before arriving at the bottom rung of Jacob’s Ladder. It was at this point we began climbing, that dreaded task of overcoming gravity, knowing you’ve got no possible chance at victory. The trail’s first real assignment had been served, a series of awkward steps apparently named after some chap called Jacob, the same guy I would curse through the ascent. It was baptism by flame-thrower, and despite not knowing him, I hated this Jake bloke immediately. He’s clearly a friend of the devils.

Ruth on the ruthless Jacob's Ladder
Yours truly on the same climb
The Ladder led us up to Dark Peak, where parts of the poor adaptation of Pride and Prejudice were filmed, and then eventually up to a knoll called Kinder Scout. Kinder as in a childish, not as in more kind(3). At 2,087 feet, it’s the uppermost peak in both the Peak District and Derbyshire, the county in which it sits. For us it meant an incline of about 1,200 feet, of the 32,000 we’ll need to scale to complete the Pennine Way in its entirety. That’s slightly more than climbing to the summit of Mount Everest from sea level, for what it’s worth. Not kind at all, but at least there’s less than 31,000 vertical feet to go!

Enjoying the sun while it lasts
At a nameless intersection adorned by a giant cairn (aka: huge pile of rocks) there was a fork in the trail. I jotted down a quick poem about it…

Two paths diverged in a moor, and we…
We took the one more traveled by,
And that had made all the difference

The only difference it made, however, was that it was the wrong fucking path. We made the assumption that the path we wanted veered to our right. Henceforth, we carried on in that direction. The path we wanted veered the other way. Not unlike Robert Frost, trails are often vague.

Luckily, it wasn’t a huge error and only cost us a few months of backtracking before we had to resort to some cannibalism and an attempt at crossing the English Channel; all told, we would survive after being adrift at sea for seventy-six days. Okay, okay, not really!

Thanks to a levelheaded hiking partner of mine it was only about a ten-minute excursion. But I’m sure had I been in charge all of the above would have been true.

Ruth atop Kinder Scout
Kinder Scout was shockingly crowded with weekend hikers. Most these were decked-out adults with all the kit, but a surprising amount of them were kids. These kids ranged in all ages too, from the littlest of pipsqueaks to pimply, gangly teenagers. It was actually quite nice to see and Ruth and I smiled that maybe the future of mankind might not be so bleak after all. We were once kids, after all.

Two more kids atop Kinder Scout
The maze atop Kinder Scout made it almost impossibly hard to find the Pennine Way proper, so we pulled out the fancy GPS unit I’d recently purchased (after donating a kidney to afford the device). It worked a charm, as did the interrogation we directed at oncoming hikers…

“Which way does the Pennine Way go?

“The way you’re going, mate.”

Thanks, you little pipsqueak…

These sorts of responses offered some relief, but there were paths in all directions on top of Kinder and none of them looked all that promising, other than holding the promise they’d likely lead us astray.

Had we not done so many circles up top it probably wouldn’t have been dark when we reached Kinder Downfall, a stunning chasm complete with waterfall (thus the name). 

Kinder Downfall
It was there we decided to halt, just four or five miles beyond Edale, but the perfect spot to call home for the night. Our choice was further reinforced when it began to snow. Camping is expressly forbidden in the Peak District and the Yorkshire Dales, but we had no intention of letting a minor detail like that dissuade us.

Dome Sweet Dome
("Foot"note of the Day #1: “A ruffled mind makes a restless pillow.” ~Charlotte Brontë

("Foot"note of the Day #2: Leaving her out to dry might’ve ended up the nicest gesture I could’ve bestowed upon her, as it would be one of the last times she’d be dry for weeks.)

("Foot"note of the Day #3: The truth is, no one knows the exact derivation of the name ‘Kinder Scout,’ but it is believed to be of Norwegian provenance. Interestingly, the hill and nearly all of England’s natural habitat was once closed to the public, but in 1932 a mass trespass was led by 20-year-old Benny Rothman and ‘The Right To Roam’ legislation was soon considered and ultimately implemented. Rothman spent four months behind bars for his little stunt, but is rightfully revered as a hero today.)

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