The fantasy of time travel is to leap forward or backward. Slow travel is my method of choice. A pace that allows you to relax, take note of what’s going on around you. One sensation to the next. Measured in months, weeks, until you only have days left. An event was in the future is now in the immediate present. How should I react to the change? Panic, obviously. I’m not ready, I need more time. I bought a new backpack months ago. This was my best attempt to pretend that I am organised, prepared, ready for anything. Everything even, except hiking 20km a day with 20kg on my back for five days.
There was one final opportunity for a dry run. 10km through a corner of the New Forest and along the estuary of the Beaulieu river. In the beginning the walk was going to be another jaunt with friends to justify a pub dinner and a couple of beers. Taking my bag with me might offer suggest a degree of foresight, after all I do know what I’m doing. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank my uncle Tim for suggesting I find out I’m even capable of walking with weight on my back for a few hours before I try and do it for a week. I packed everything I thought I would need apart from food. Part of me says I can eat in a different pub every day for five days, the rest of me checks my bank balance and shakes his head. I wonder if I’ll have space for a few cans of Britain’s finest craft beer as a daily reward for not being a colossal failure? The accountant in me doesn’t say no so we’ll see how that pans out. (Spoiler: I bought four).
A tent, a sleeping bag, and a stove. A change of clothes, a waterproof. I can’t help but wonder what do I need to survive? 5 days is the briefest of adventures, in a well populated, almost busy part of the country. I’m banking on it being better to have too much than not enough. I’ll almost certainly come home with clean clothes. I don’t need to destroy every t-shirt I take with sweat and tears. I’m hoping there won’t be any blood.
I put the almost-weightless, cup-a-soup hug in a mug but actually a backpack on and I felt the pressure of needless worries lift from my shoulders, straight down my legs and into the ground. Throughout the hike I found myself constantly tinkering with the straps and supports to my back. Trying as best I could to keep it feeling comfortable for as long as possible. I still can’t quite believe how easy it was. I’ve either massively underestimated myself, or under packed.
10km on the mostly flat terrain was easy. With friends who were stop-starting for amateur photography sessions, the pace was relaxed and we still finished in around 3 hours. For the main event I’ve got all day and the days are long. The concerns I’ve been harbouring about weight and distance have set sail over a cloudless horizon and I suddenly realise that things could be much worse. It could be 30 degrees everyday. Overcast and drizzle might be better conditions than a heatwave.
I drink a lot of water. Under unusual conditions (i.e. not stressful but different) physical conditions and in direct sun, I’m going to sweat a lot. The 2l reservoir I had purchased to help me cope has a pin sized hole in it and has to go back. Now I’m going to have to consider duel-wielding water bottles as well as a replacement tank. The backpack starts to weigh heavy on my mind and my shoulders again. The bright-side to carrying more water is that the bag will get lighter as the day goes on.
Could I have done more? Should I be more prepared. Absolutely. If there’s one thing I know about any kind of adventure, most of the learning happens while you’re on it. There’s nothing left for me to do. I’m already closer to the journey’s end than to its start without taking a step. An idea transformed into the gift of a book, which led me to make a plan and a public announcement. Now I’m about to follow through with it. This short expedition is a whole load of steps away from where I am and towards where I want to be. All I have left to do is start.