I started committing to my trek when I posted about it on the internet. Then I did nothing beyond a few hikes at the weekend. The clocks changed, spring was most definitely in and I decided I should probably get around to booking a week off work. This is happening. At the end of June, assuming I manage to get accommodation booked for the days I want on the sites I need. As you can see planning isn’t high on my list of things to do. The journey is still too far away for me to feel much of anything. There is a hint of interest growing in the back of my mind, a list of ingredients for an emotional cocktail with a base of excitement and fear.
I started taking an inventory of equipment and established that aside from boots, socks, and a tent, I’m either in desperate need of replacements or don’t have anything at all. A lighter, smaller sleeping bag, a backpack with two functional straps, a cooking stove. The list moves on to less essentials but as things stand, my chances of being comfortable are looking slim. My practical issues aside, the ground covered is increasing. I can only recall one weekend where I haven’t managed to get out and walk at least 10km because I had a screaming hangover and there wasn’t a single thing worth leaving bed for. Without even trying I’m managing to tick off swathes of another national trail; the South Downs way. I’ve been out alone in the Itchen valley, I’ve climbed Old Winchester Hill with Matt and David, and most recently my new rambling gang knocked off the Seven Sisters.
Matt first mentioned the cliffs on the East Sussex coast sometime last year. I had a look, immediately decided it would be great and began asking him every weekend if we could go. Eventually a nice looking Saturday popped up on the weather app and we hesitantly agreed to head down to the south coast knowing that it would only be a matter of time before the forecast turned to rain. The weekend came, the sun kept to schedule and we hit the road.
In true organised fashion I decided to wait until we arrived to download the map, assuming that being close to both Brighton and Eastbourne mobile coverage wouldn’t be an issue. It was. Fortunately I’ve got an excellent sense of direction and have never got us lost or taken the wrong path from the outset and led us off into Friston Forest in what I hoped to be the general direction of Eastbourne. On this occasion my navigating was on point and I eventually managed to load up a map to convince the others I knew what I was doing.
We almost managed to squeeze in a brewery that I accidentally found when checking the route. However, the apparent lack of modern technology in East Sussex meant I was unable to discover that it doesn’t actually exist and we’d walked straight past the brew pub in favour of going direct to the source. David flatly refused to double back at any point, a walk must be circular so we continued on to the National Trust cafe at Birling Gap.
We’d all mentioned how the Seven Sisters didn’t look like they were hiding too many ups and downs. The path through the forest followed a valley floor and our only ascent so far was to climb out to the village of Friston. After that we’d been downhill all the way to the coast. Across the span of about 4 miles many of the bigger, steeper rises and falls were hidden behind the summits. There was no chance of us losing Matt in between the cliffs, being the only man I know willing to wear canary yellow since we finished school.
The white cliffs are probably the finest looking stretch of the South Downs I’ve walked so far. Blessed they may have been as this was the first time I’ve put my boots on and trekked under the sun. The wind was up. Rushing down every valley to drive us over the edge, or at least snatch the phone from my hands while I took a picture and cast it into the great wide open beyond. I was glad the skies were clear, I don’t think any part of the route would be fun in the pouring rain. In fact this might have been the best I’ve felt putting left foot in front of right. The sun on my face, the sea stretching no more than a mile to the horizon. I was enjoying just being outside. I’m much like a dog that just needs a good old blast to feel good. I don’t even need a ball, I’ll just happily chase Matt around in his bright jacket for hours.
Another successful warm up complete. In the following days, I’ve felt exhausted. My knees haven’t exactly hurt, but they don’t feel right either. The punishing incline of the cliffs have caught up with me. How will I feels after two days of ups and downs, fighting with the wind? Am I crazy? I should have done more training by now. One fear brings out all of it’s friends to play. I am too excited aren’t I? This isn’t a big deal. Nobody cares about this. So few people will even bother to read this. It’ll be fine, it’s not even that long. Most people would probably do it in less time.
The larger struggle is in remembering all of this is for me. After every high point, there’s a hidden drop before the next peak. This is another fresh start, only this time I’m not travelling half way around the world. I am moving away from a person who does nothing and toward being a person who does something. The walking, the writing, this is a reminder for the doubting, critical voice in my own head that I am not afraid anymore. It is for you as well, kind reader. I know there are a few of you out there making it worth sharing. This might not be a work of superior or lasting artistic merit, but maybe it speaks to you too.