I should be on a train clattering down the tracks sitting exhausted but blissfully staring out the window at the countryside that only hours before I’d been hiking. I should be exhausted from four days of hiking the North Downs Way, satisfied with having covered nearly 100 miles. I should be reveling in the glory of achieving such a challenging accomplishment.
But I am not. I am sitting on my couch watching a World Cup match resting blistered feet and a mildly bruised ego. After all, I was somewhat certain that despite my lack of conditioning and slightly strained knee, I would rise to the challenge and impress massive masses of people who knew I was plodding toward the coast. Unfortunately, reality hit at mile 10. There was a slight reprieve about mile 14 but at mile 20, on a steep downhill, the bottoms of my feet felt like they were shredding. And they were. It was also about the spot where I learned that it is possible for shins to cramp – and keep cramping for quite some time.
My hiking companion and I limped into Otford, ate dinner at The Bull pub and I pretended the reason I didn’t get up for two and a half hours was because I really had no place to go, having reached our Day 1 destination. It wasn’t until I got up to go to the loo that I had to confess the real reason I hadn’t moved was because I couldn’t – or my body wouldn’t. There was certainly a full blown rebellion from waste down.
But the pain didn’t diminish the enjoyment of 7 hours of hiking. We set off at 6:30 am and made our way out of the city up a rise to the trail that unfortunately paralleled a major thoroughfare. Soon enough it diverged however, and we enjoyed quiet rolling hills covered in maturing wheat. Views across the valley were more than worth the effort to get out and see them.
As we sat at the pub and I had to come to grips with reality that the dream (delusion?) was over and the best option was the train station two blocks away, I determined I’d return. The North Downs proved itself a formidable opponent for a middle-aged, under-conditioned hiker. But although I may be short on accomplishment this time, I am long on determination. I will enjoy the view along the cliffs after having walked miles to get there.
Here are a few other images from an enjoyable day outdoors.