Monday, 26 August 2013

Training Walk Three - Lea Valley Path

My calendar had blocked out the weekend of August 3rd and 4th for a two day training walk. Under location it simply said “The Abyss”.

Since the walk to Reigate I was worried about my feet – and particularly my toes. In Forest Gump Lieutenant Dan tells Bubba and Gump that the most important thing to do is look after their feet. Sound advice that.

Before I took on the two day hike up the Lea Valley I managed to buy myself a tent, stove, food supplies and order the shirts that I plan to wear for the hike. Most importantly however, I had gone and got some proper walking shoes recommended by my friend Will Wintercross who has done an Ultra Marathon so I assume knows about such things. He had also lent me his rather space age looking roll mat to sleep on after inspecting mine and telling me in no uncertain terms that it was shit.

Preparation again wasn’t great as I ended up having dinner with a friend and not getting home until 10:30pm and realising I had not yet packed a single thing – or bought any breakfast for the next day. Lessons clearly not being learnt.

I packed my bag with everything I thought I would need come September 1st. Individually every item was very light, but once I slung the pack onto my shoulders I was shocked at how much it weighed. About 16 kgs…nearly three stone. By the end of the weekend one of the many things that had become very clear is that I need to lighten my load.

My friend Kirt joined me for the first nine miles or so as far as Tower Bridge, and chuckled as the roll mat which was fixed onto the top of my pack with, what turned out to be a plastic karabiner, proceeded to swing to one side and constantly hit me in the side of the head. This thing was to prove the bain of my weekend.

After Kirt left I immediately got lost going through Wapping. Of course, we’d already taken a massive detour by Battersea Park which was a bit disappointing, so this second episode was even more irritating. After that though, I found Limehouse Cut and simply had to follow the canal the whole way.

The walk itself was relatively pleasant. I had a few people texting me as I went, mainly with updates on the cricket, and I passed the Olympic Park for the first time since the games a year earlier. I stopped for lunch at a pub called the Princess of Wales just north of Hackney Wick, the first I had seen since Wapping, and was rather upset that the only carbs on the menu were pizzas. It’d have to do.

By 4pm I ran out of water. This was seriously bad news as I’d not seen another pub or shop since lunch. Then the karabiner snapped and the expensive roll mat belonging to my mate fell off and rolled towards the canal. It went under the railings and just held there…like that putt TigerWoods hit at the Masters years ago. I had time to decide it was lost only to suddenly realise it might hold long enough for me to back-heel it through the railings and to safety. This was the adrenaline rush of my day, and I am pleased to say that I do not owe Will a new roll mat.

In Enfield I found a pub and paid the princely sum of £1.90 for about 200ml of water, and by 7:45pm I collapsed into Dobbs Weir campsite…which I discovered to my amazement was in Hertfordshire. It had taken my 12.5 hours and I think I’d covered around 33 miles.

Tent up, food cooked, shower taken and feet inspected and I actually felt surprisingly OK. The midges were pretty annoying, and proceeded to bite every inch of exposed flesh going. I later counted 13 on one leg and nine on the other, not to mention a few on my arms and face.

I got some sleep and had decided that I’d call it quits at Wapping on the way back which would be about 24 miles for the day – it proved a wise decision. In the first hour I covered what had taken me 90 minutes the night before, but shortly afterwards I got such a horrendous pain in my little toe on my left foot that I genuinely couldn’t take another step. Given the choice, I’d have happily cut it off, but without a handy pair of pliers I added a second plaster and popped two more painkillers.

Passing back under the M25 was landmark one, then on to the same pub for lunch where they now not only didn’t have pasta on the menu, but they’d got rid of the pizzas too. A battered cod sandwich was the best they could muster.

By the time I approached Wapping I was pretty out of it. All sorts of negative thoughts were in my mind. What on Earth have I taken on? I was moving seriously slowly. My shoulders were sore from the pack, as was my back, and my feet…Jesus Christ my feet hurt so much it was ridiculous. I slumped onto the overland train for the 30 minute journey back to Clapham and it’s safe to say I was in a pretty dark place.

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