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  • Wednesday, November 5, 2014

    Soaked, Sore, and Stubborn


    A stroll in the rain can have an uplifting, almost life-affirming effect. To release control over your own comfort and embrace whatever the weather brings, can feel very freeing. That being said, it's something else entirely when walking in relentless rain for several consecutive days and you have no place to go dry off.

    Your waterlogged skin begins to chafe. Your soaked feet rub painfully raw against your socks until you're limping and sometimes bleeding. Once in Scotland, I stopped to change into dry socks and found one of them stained red with blood around my toes. When I wrung it out, red water poured down my hand like I was squeezing something that was recently alive. Surprisingly, I do still love the adventure, but I have a confession. The rain is really starting to get to me.

    Walking in the rain for days is not a physical or mental challenge that you can feel proud of in the end for having endured it. It's not like climbing Everest. It's more like hiking through mosquito infested woods. You're just constantly uncomfortable and annoyed. And it rains a lot in Britain this time of year, about five to seven days a week.

    When it finally stops and your clothes and gear begin to dry out, your spirits do lift, but then it rains again, usually in less than 24 hours. Sometimes you find yourself up on a hill with a clear view of the green countryside and it is beautiful, but as time goes on, with each break in the rain you find your spirits lifting less and less high.

    I was warned many times that it rains a lot in Britain in the fall and winter, but I've hiked in the rain a lot. Although it's rarely pleasant, you get through it. You know your clothes, shoes, and gear will eventually dry out and you have blue skies and starry nights to look forward to. That gets you through those soggy wet days, but here you don't get multiple days without rain. I can't remember the last time I had two consecutive days without some rain.

    Although I expected this to some extent, I didn't expect the emotional toll from constant overcast gray skies, from putting my feet back into damp socks and wet shoes day after day, from walking through so many lunch breaks rather than sit to eat in the rain, from pushing on well into the night because I can't find a spot out of strong wind to setup my tent, and from having nobody else around to laugh at the shared misery. Even on the popular backpacking trails, I haven't met a single hiker going south.

    In addition to all of this, there is that constant thought in the back of my head that says, "You don't have to be doing this. This is voluntary. There are a lot of places you could be right now." But I push on, because I have this goal.

    On a particularly rainy three days, I looked at the forecast in Rome and Florence and saw it was sunny and warm all week. In Barcelona it was 70 degrees Fahrenheit with a 0% chance of rain. While walking in the heaviest of downpours so far, a man pulled his car over, cracked his window, and asked if I wanted a ride to town.

    "No, I'm walking across the country," I shouted over the rain, water poured over my lips and sprayed as I talk. "But I appreciate you stopping for me."

    Meanwhile, the little icons on the 3-day weather forecast for Monaco, for Athens, for Prague, were a row of cloud-free suns. My forecast, five to seven days out of the week without fail, is a row of clouds of varying shades of gray and rain drops. But I have this goal, so for better or worse, I push stubbornly forward.

    While taking a couple of days off in Carlisle, I bought an umbrella so I might get some temporary reprieves. After those two days indoors with little to no rain outside, I set out again at night and it immediately began to rain. It bummed me out, I'm not going to lie, but then I remembered my umbrella. I excitedly pulled it out, pushed the release button, slid it up to expand my shield, and before I even got it above my head a gust of wind flipped it inside out, snapped a metal support arm, and then blew it out of my hands. I watched it disappear into the darkness, deflated, defeated. I sat on a wet park bench and watched a train go by in the city behind me. Once again, I thought of Rome, of Barcelona, and the south of France.

    This blog is suffering as much as me, as you can probably tell. I have so few stories lately. Who wants to hear me whine about being soaked and irritated, or read constant descriptions of bleak weather, the pattering sound of rain on my hood, and how I'm limping along on sore wet feet? I want to write about that as little as you want to read it. My camera barely even sees the light of day anymore. I keep it packed away most of the time so it doesn't suffer the same fate as my journal, which got soaked and ruined by the rain despite being in two zip-top bags and inside my rain coat pocket.

    What's my rule again? Always take the path of the anecdote? Am I following that rule anymore? I wonder, but I push on because I have this goal. I want to walk across the whole of the UK... because I am stubborn.

    Who knows, I may find that the weather improves as I move south, although when I say that the locals look at me like they are afraid to tell me how true that isn't. There are certainly more towns and more chances to meet people in England, but either way, I need to make some changes. I can be at the southern coast in half the time if I take a shorter route and stick to more roads. That would satisfy my unwavering need to finish what I started.

    Now I wonder, is the goal of walking across Britain a more important goal than feeling happy and free? I could be hitching around Europe at the whim of happenstance. I could be on a touring bike zooming from place to place. I could be exploring the whole of Europe with only the rules and goals that matter to me most, take the path of the anecdote, follow your bliss, and above all else go where you feel the most free. I bet the blog would get a lot more interesting and a lot more fun to write.

    What do you think? I need some advice...