I remember marching up the valley in the dark. The only light coming from the torches strapped to our heads. We came into the arena, found a seat on the loose rocks and watched the dawn light flow down the Torres del Paine. The W trek feels like a dream now, one I can watch again if I close my eyes. When I returned home I allowed myself to rest, relax. I enjoyed birthdays, weddings, any excuse for a drink. My Sundays were spent in a permanent hangover. The resting became a habit. Soon I was doing nothing at all. I needed a break but I let it go on for too long. I sunk into the laziness, let my feet touch the bottom and sunk even lower. Lying down. Inaction becomes an anchor or a bear trap. I get stuck. Pulled in. Held under, until I realise I’m the one doing the holding. Then I start walking again. Covering distances greater than from my bed to the kitchen. Along the flat tow-path alongside the muddy-brown canal. Down the black, wet tarmac into work. The next adventure is around the corner. Ten days of high peaks and midnight-sun in Lofoten, Norway. I don’t feel ready. I never feel ready. I checked my calendar and found a hole. I sent off a text to Jon, who will be travelling inside the Arctic Circle with me, to see if he was free. He was so we quickly booked in a weekend of hiking in the Peak District.
The full train pulled out of Sheffield and into the countryside. Sky grey, hills green. I was glad to be heading out. The sudden increase in distance from my feet to the floor that comes with putting boots on. We were going to be doing serious walking. I felt ready for the initial pain. The oh god why and the weight. Voices bubbled on the train. I watched a man smiling on the platform, heading out into the Hope Valley with a tripod attached to his backpack. Jon pointed out Mam Tor. I couldn’t decide if it looked big or not. I wondered if I could do this, I know I can do this. We made our way to the start of the Pennine Way in Edale, another of Britain’s National Trails that I can add to my to-do list. The sky was grey, the hills were green. The beginning was gentle, winding along the valley through fields and farms. It wasn’t until we hit Jacob’s Ladder that we had to do any real work. A group travelling in the opposite direction stopped us to ask for help with their map. I confidently assured them of where they were, and they were delighted to find they were much further along on their route than they thought. Looking around at the valley limits, I wasn’t sure how they’d managed to get confused.
We continued to climb up Kinder Scout. Having half an eye on the clouds we were moving towards, I made the decision to put the rain cover on my backpack. With the tent strapped to the back, my cover didn’t quite shelter all of my bag. I was confident the the rain wouldn’t bother us for long. When the rain first hit my face I enjoyed it. Being out in the elements is life-affirming, for a while. We passed Edale Rocks, stopping briefly to shelter from the wind and the wet. In the clouds at the top it often seemed like we had the path to ourselves. Plenty of people emerged from the clouds, enjoying the great outdoors and the very best the British weather had to offer. We came to the trig point and stopped for a quick photo opportunity with the total lack of view. The exposed granite coming into and out of sight as the weather rose and fell. In the clouds, along the endless waterways running off the moor we’d come off the path. We were lost, still somehow on a path but not the path. I thought back to those people earlier on the trail and apologised for my judgement. I watched a bird fly low over the ground, a raptor of some kind. It was the only distinguishing feature the moor had to offer. I realised I was completely disorientated. In the featureless landscape with nothing to use as my marker, I was thrown. I started to struggle even with my map. This was a new feeling for me and one I didn’t enjoy. Note to self, paper maps and a compass are important.
Jon led the way back towards the path we should have been on, across streams, through peat bogs. Wet, weighed down with my pack and feeling the pain start to climb up my legs I decided I’d had enough. The problem with making this decision while you’re on top of a ridge is that before you can actually call it quits you have to get back down again. Jon and I were back on the path, and while it didn’t look like much we started climbing down a gorge. I was gently lowering myself down the narrow valley, trying to keep the thoughts of slipping on the wet rocks from my mind. Jon was enjoying himself, treating each step like a puzzle. One step after the other. We eventually made it out of the gorge and onto ground that was more obviously a path. The rain had finally stopped. The exposed sides of my bag suggesting I might have some belongings more damp than my boots. I stopped to take the weight off. To feel the sun on my face. To look back up what we’d climbed down. We arrived into Edale a few minutes before a train back to Sheffield. I had already asked too much of my legs. Wet and with the forecast for the following day equally miserable we decided to call it quits. We sat and steamed on the train. Enjoying the soft cushion of the seat, relieved to be on our way back to the great indoors.
It didn’t amount to a weekend outside. In the moment Kinder Scout was bleak. I had a smile on my face almost all day. Only when my knees started to give up on me did I stop having fun. Even when we were lost, I knew that if we kept moving in any direction we’d get to where we needed to be. These experiences are important. In the past I’ve been lucky. Walking along the coast, you can’t get lost. On well marked trails, you always know which way to go. In good weather, everything is better. In bad weather, things are harder, more challenging, perhaps more important. Back in Jon’s flat, clean and dry we were already talking about trying again, doing more. But first, Lofoten.