Why, oh why?

Why, oh why?

I’ve found myself checking the symptoms of fatigue, trying to find out whether climbing too many hills and walking in the worst of weathers can bring it on! This year it all seems so much harder than last. A year older, of course, but the difference feels greater than that. Each evening I feel exhausted, some days to the point of having no appetite, although I know I must eat and I do. My body’s temperature clock seems to cut out leaving me unable to warm up; a damp cold clings to the inside of my skin. I feel amazed that by morning I’m ready to go again. The power of sleep.

We always know the first 6 days will be hard going. But I don’t remember them being this tough. Maybe it’s selective memory – that way the happy moments make a more definite and lasting imprint than the ones that hurt. I love the daily routine of walking from A to B, making a continuous journey across the country. It has a tranquility, an obviousness, each day mapped out by the last with scarcely a decision to make other than where to plant your foot for the next step. It’s like taking a vow of silence for a couple of weeks. It blocks out the other noises of life. At least most of them; this year my mother’s confusion and decline have sounded loud undertones underfoot. That, too, may be part of the fatigue, the preoccupation with parent playing between my conscious and unconscious mind, siphoning of energy.

I love the physical demands and the mental challenge of this walk, the sense of achievement that reaching each day’s destination gives me. The notion that you can cross an entire country under your own steam is thrilling. But, because it’s more taxing this time I find myself wondering why I do it. I don’t know if I have the answer but the question dogs and fascinates me. I struggle to understand my own motivation as I keep on through the rain and wind, head fixed down on the trail, wishing for the day to end and a better, easier day to come. Then you reach your destination, sink into a bath (if you strike lucky with the B&B) and gradually a sense of relief and fulfilment washes over you along with the hot water and the Radox. But still, it’s perhaps a strange obsession this fourth coast to coast journey.

Maybe I / we do it because it’s there to be done and we have something to prove to ourselves. Walking, the landscape, solitude – they’re all good reasons too. Even keeping fit, although it’s a bit extreme to binge like this for two weeks and abstain so purposefully for the rest of the year.

We’re at the end of Day 8. We’ve done 96 miles and have about 100 to go. Last night we slept in Kirkby Stephen (silent ‘k’ – the middle one) after a welcome tea and scones courtesy of Carol at the Jolly Farmer and an excellent Balti Garlic King Prawn at the Mango Tree. A rare dinner without fish and chips. Today we crossed the Pennines and froze up at Nine Standards Rigg where a force 9 seemed to be whipping straight out of the west, certainly having detoured via the Arctic. Bitterly cold and boggy up there. Even the sheep stay away. Only the bog asphodel thrive with their little beards flapping in the wind. We had several bootfuls of water and lots of black mud. Another day to ask ourselves questions….

Tonight we’re at Keld where the rivers run east.

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