Thursday, 22 August 2013

Training Walk One - Darent Valley Path

“I formed a number of rationalisations. It would get me fit after years of waddlesome sloth. It would be useful – I wasn’t quite sure in what way, but I was sure nonetheless – to learn to fend for myself in the wilderness. When guys in camouflage pants and hunting hats sit around the Four Aces Diner talking about fearsome things done out of doors I would no longer have to feel like such a cupcake. I wanted a little of that swagger that comes with being able to gaze at a far horizon through eyes of chipped granite and say with a slow, manly sniff, ‘Yeah, I’ve shit in the woods.’”
- Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods.

I walk to work everyday. I have done so for three years and it is one of the great luxuries of London living. Two miles each way which takes about 30 minutes, slightly longer if it’s raining or I’m hungover. However, I have been reliably informed that four miles ambling each day, occasionally in my now defunct sandals, is not suitable training for what one person referred to as “an endurance hike.” Damn.

Thankfully I have done a few treks in the last four years. Everest Base Camp in 2009 and the Langtang circuit in Nepal later that year. If 2010 was fairly inactive then I more than made up for it in 2011 with the Wakhan Corridor Trek in Afghanistan followed almost immediately K2 Base Camp. Unfortunately 2012 did not see much activity (although I did run a sub two-hour half marathon that I was rather pleased with), but in 2013 I have done a week of hiking in the Palestinian Territories and another week in the north of Romania.

Every one of these trips has been very different, but none of them have covered the kind of mileage I am going to have to do along the Thames, and as such when I undertook my first training walk in mid-June I was somewhat unprepared for the aches and pains that were going to accompany me.

When I first committed to this walk I was keen to have a wingman. I envisaged the comradeship along the way and the high five we’d have at the end. The thing about most of the trips listed above is that they have been work trips. I’ve met some good people along the way, but I spent a lot of the time wishing I was with my buddies (of course the honourable exception is the Everest Test – it was the first of my treks and I was surrounded by 50 of my best mates…I suppose I was slightly spoilt!).

I tried to bully a couple of different people into joining me until eventually my mate Jules said he’d be very keen. Of course, later that afternoon his wife did ask the rather pertinent question of: “couldn’t you find someone else’s husband to kidnap for a week - preferably one who doesn’t also have two children under the age of two to support?” Well Vicks, I’m afraid the simple answer to that question was no!

So after some bartering with his wife, Jules was in and we swiftly planned some training weekends. The first Sunday in July was chosen – not ideal as the British Lions had beaten the Aussies on the Saturday and Andy Murray was playing in the Wimbledon final on the Sunday afternoon, so we needed to fit 20 miles in between the two, as well as a BBQ and a few celebratory beers of course on the Saturday night.

We had chosen the Darent Valley Path, which runs from Sevenoaks to Dartford. We loaded our rucksacks and stuffed down a breakfast of porridge before getting a train at 7am to start the walk. It was hot that day, but by and large it went off without a hitch. We managed not to get lost, we ate at the right times and did not run out of water. Better still, we were done in 5:15hrs and had completed roughly 18 miles. It was a solid start, the only annoying part was having to run for my train at the end of the walk only to get to the platform to find it was going to be held there for five minutes. Bastards. Still, I was home in time to see Andy Murray win Wimbledon.

There were a few aches the next day; calves, hamstrings and some nasty rubbing on my little toes, which seemed weird, but nothing major. My boots seemed to have done a good job and I was relatively confident they’d see me through come September.

Jules seemed in much the same state, but sadly that would be the only walking we would do together. Understandably his conscience got the better of him and his family and professional commitments needed to be put first. This was obviously disappointing, and it also left me with a few issues. We had planned to share the workload when if came to the organisation, kit buying and route planning – but now that was all down to me. I realised I had better get a move on.

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