I put my right foot down and pain shot out from my knee like lightening through my body. I swallowed vomit. I was only halfway down the first cliff since I’d returned to the coast. I crumpled down on the damp grass, letting the weight of my backpack sink into the rising hill behind me. Looking out to sea I watched a small fishing boat rocking on the waves. I wondered if the people out there could see me. They must have spotted the bright green waterproof cover on my backpack inching it’s way down. I told myself if I sat here for long enough they’d send help.
I made it up and down the next cliff before I heard thunder, a coast guard helicopter. It circled out to sea and then headed straight for me. I picked up my feet and undertook a rapid transformation in to a comfortable, competent long distance hiker. Yes, I was ready to quit but there was no way I was going to be rescued. It floated over my head and beyond the hills. I never saw it come back.
The night before I’d sat at a picnic table in the sunset considering my day’s achievements. I’d walked further than the Tongariro Crossing and coped with the weight on my back. It hadn’t always been easy but I’d made it. I was exhausted but my tent was up, I’d eaten, enjoyed my first beer and had a hot shower. I’d met a few other walkers in the day, we’d sometimes stop to share our plan, exchanging wishes for all the best. Their presence was reassuring; my idea was achievable. I knew it was going to be tough but I felt like I could do it.
There was a spanner to contend with. As I washed up after dinner I got chatting with a man at the sinks. We talked about walking in the heatwave, how he had been walking in Snowdownia and ran out of water. I was glad of the forecast of rain ahead. When I talked about my route he told me that the Lulworth Ranges were closed during the week. My brain collapsed. How did I not know this? I hoped he was wrong and immediately looked it up. My planned rest day of 11km would now mean a detour of over double the distance. I figured I’d wait until I arrived at Durdle Door to see what my options were. Maybe there was a bus, better yet a boat.
Looking back I remember limping to the toilet block that next morning. At the time I imagined it was just carried over aches and pains. My soft, doughy feet had begun to toughen up. A thumb sized blister had spread across the sole of my right foot. My toes were rippled with folds of skin that hardened over night and I had begun to seriously wonder what toe nails are even for? I imagined I might lose one by the time I reached the end. Once I got started and my legs warmed up to the idea of pushing on, I felt good.
I made Osmington Mills ahead of my made up schedule. I’d decided if I was there before 1pm I was making good time. Since leaving Weymouth I could see the first serious cliff I’d have to climb and was relieved to break before I tackled it. I pushed on up the hill, a man walking his dog caught up with me and we walked together for a while. Things were looking good, the rain had started to come down but my spirits were s high. My single serving friend told me that he often walked the coastal path in this area. He and his wife with their dog tended to stay a little further inland as the path was free from landslides. I took his advice for a while, passing through fields of wheat but I longed to be on the coast. I wanted to see the cliffs, I wanted to be on them but I was not ready.
Maybe I needed to start with shorter distances. A marathon in two days across the rolling coastline was too much. I should have been better prepared. 10km on the flat does not qualify you for a long distance hike. I had the stamina, my own total stubbornness to get through anything but what I lacked was strength. There was no big hike experience, no overnight stays, no consecutive days on the trail. I had let myself down through a lack of preparation.
The moment I sat down on the damp grass I knew it was over. I managed the climbs but the downs were closing in on impossible. At times I was dragging my right leg, anything to avoid bending at the knee or shifting my weight. With a mile left to reach the campsite I imagined there would be tears. I would just lie down and give up. The tent went up in the rain. I was surprised to find I’d managed to keep everything else dry. I crawled into my sleeping bag and stopped everything. The day had ended and so had my hike.