The longest day

The first day of walking is always 30 kilometres. It doesn’t matter what you plan. Think it’s going to be 25kms? It’s not. The map says 15? Lies. Certain it’s only going to be 12 kilometres? Think again, buddy! The first day is ALWAYS 30 kilometres.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The day started beautifully, as I slowly packed and got ready. And then I put my bag on my back. I’m not saying I’m that bird out of Wild, but my pack is a revolting behemoth. I don’t think I’ve packed any lingerie, but there is clearly a lurking brick or two in there. It’s really only about 16 kilos, maybe 17. Which is about 5 or 6 kilos more than I wanted to carry.

Anyway. I’ve packed it now. I’ve carried it 31 kilometres. I know it’s achievable, even if it hurts.

The first five ks are always the easiest. You knock em out so fast, you feel so strong, so fit! Look! Pretty horses! Cheerful people! Nice scenery!

Naww horsies!
Naww horsies!

I had entertained thoughts of ‘taking a short cut’. I’m not the purist I used to be, and I thought if I could just catch the bus to Scartho and start from there, I could save my legs 5 kilometres. But when I walked out of the camp at Cleethorpes, the path was right there in front of me. I guess I’m a bit of a purist after all – it called to me and I took it.

If I’d known how knackered I was going to be by the end of the journey, maybe I would have taken that bus. But probably not. That’s just the way I roll.

By the time I reached Scartho, walking along a mixture of canals and A roads, I was feeling pretty good. I wouldn’t have gained that much getting the bus. I wondered what Scartho would be like. Maybe there’d be a little cafe to grab a scone? Or perhaps it was too early? I’d only been on the road an hour. In any case, I needn’t have worried. Scartho had nothing of anything much. A small Spar, reluctantly open on a Sunday. The local rugby league team was having a game that looked quite energetic. But all in all I got the impression that Scartho was a bit of a nothing place. In fact, I even found it a bit depressingly bland. I guess you shouldn’t expect too much from a town where the streetlights are shaped like dentist tools.

 

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After a few more kilometres, I found myself lost in a pond. More precisely, I took a wrong road and ended up in private property, where serious looking men were gathered – no, that’s too close a word. Where men were scattered around a fishing pond, quietly angling, trying to ignore the bumbling behemoth struggling through the bushes that was me. I heard one man say, “she keeps looking at her GPS”, and another man said, “I’ll go help her out.”

And over he came, this red-faced army-camo-dressed man. “Your GPS lead you astray?” he said.

“I want to be on that path there,” I said, pointing through the bushes.

“Oh you’ll never get through that thicket,” he said. “Let me show you another way, a back way out of here.”

I was of course very relieved. When you’re walking 25 kms (ha!) in a day, the idea of back tracking even a little bit makes you want to cry. But mostly what I was thinking was that this was the first time I’d ever heard someone use the word ‘thicket’. I’ve seen it written, sure. But in Australia we always use hedge, or bushes.

He sent me on my way with a shake of the hand, a shake of the head, and a ‘good luck’. I’ve already come to be used to this reaction. Every conversation I’ve had with someone on the trail today went something like this:

“Oh, you’re weighed down, aren’t you? Where you headed?”

“I’m aiming for Caistor today.”

“Oh? Caistor? Well, better you than me. Long way to go yet. Are you training for something?”

“No. No, I’m ah… I’m walking to London. Maybe. I’ll see how far I get. But London.”

“London! Are you mad?”

And yes, I suppose I am.

After another such conversation, a local man pointed me along a path. “That’s the one you want for Caistor,” he said. “Just straight on.”

I compared what he told me to my GPS and OS maps. His way did seem faster, but I had plotted out a rather different route on my GPS. After some dithering about, I decided to take the local man’s route – and gee, I wish I hadn’t. His route was no doubt excellent to get to Nettleton, but my campsite was on the north side of Caistor. If I’d done about 5 more minutes of planning I would have known that.

Shortly before that conversation I’d passed through a town called Irby upon Humber. Irby is best summarised with this photo.

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The last 5 kms of any walk are always the worst. It doesn’t matter where you are or where you are going. That’s just the way it is. For the last section of the walk into Caistor I mostly felt like how this pictures looks, except, you know, crankier.

wpid-day-one-1.jpg.jpeg

 

However, I’m in Caistor now. I’ve had an entire burger, more food than I’ve eaten in two days, and I’ve almost finished my beer. Time to walk the 1.6kms back to camp and lie this stupid tired body down.

 

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Nat Newman

Nat Newman is an award-winning writer of short stories, content, podcasts, feature articles, drunk text messages and, soon, a novella.

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