So what was my crazy idea?
Well, as I was hiking the 9 miles for the day yesterday, I realised I would be camping close to fifty miles from Robin Hood’s Bay, the end of the Coast to Coast Trail. Somehow I got the crazy idea in my head to try to hike my first 50 mile day, my previous record being nearly 40 miles in a day, and that was with my PCT trail legs. But here’s the catch, I was invited to dinner by a family from Minnesota who are hiking the trail too, Julie and Dave with their son Ted. The date and time was two days away, so if I hit the coast in one day, the next day I would have to hike 28 miles back down the trail to make it to dinner reservations at 6pm at the designated location.
As soon as the idea got into my head, I knew I was going to do it. I stood there, shaking my head and laughing to myself. About an hour after the idea got into my head, Tom, who I had met the day before, caught up to me. He had decided to do a short day to rest up, and I told him about my idea. He thought it over for a minute, and then he told me he’d come along too if I didn’t mind.
So we got into town, set up camp, and planned to hit the trail at 2:00am. By my conservative estimation, it would take me 20 hours to walk fifty miles, and I warned Tom that I didn’t have my trail legs, and probably couldn’t maintain a very fast hiking pace.
When my alarm went off at 1:20am, I felt a burst of adrenaline and apprehension. I had no idea if I was physically capable of such a thing, but I knew I wanted to try. I imagined myself writing up my next blog post titled “Why I didn’t make it back for dinner reservations.” But as I pack up my things, ate the cold oats I had soaked over night for the sake of efficiency, and put my headlamp on, apprehension turned into pure determination.
I wondered if I would regret having my ukulele, stove, and various other luxury items that weighed my pack down.
We hit the trail at exactly 2am, headlamps on.
The hilliest section was first, but we crushed the steep climbs and managed to get the first ten miles done in three hours, just as the sun was coming up.
We took our first break after 20 miles at a little inn on the top of Blakey Ridge. It’s the fourth highest inn in Britain, and is the place I was hoping to return to the next day for dinner with the Minnesotans. There was a warm inviting fire in the hearth, and we got lattes to give us an energy boost, but we knew we couldn’t stay long, we had miles to make. After 20 minutes, we were back out on the moors. I couldn’t believe how good I was feeling.
By noon we had hiked over thirty miles, quickly passing Tom’s previous longest day. Though he was struggling with some knee pain, he stuck with it, unwilling to be stopped by the pain.
We took our second break in a town called Grosmont, where we ordered the soup of the day and more coffee. It’s amazing what caffeine can do! Tom patched up his feet and put some gel on his hurt knee, and I reveled in warmth of my soup. It had been raining on us for a few hours, and I was cold and soaked to the bone.
We kept our break to 25 minutes, and hit the trail again.
I couldn’t imagine hiking the whole distance alone, and I was grateful to have met someone crazy enough to make the attempt. The miles go by faster when there is someone to converse with.
One of the biggest challenges was how much road walking there was. It might sound easier because roads have nicer grades, but the concrete pounds the feet, and after hours and hours of walking, your feet start to throb.
From our second break, we hiked the last 15 or so miles to Robin Hood’s Bay. When we reached mile forty, I was walking into new territory. Each step was one step further than I’ve ever walked in a day, and once again, I couldn’t believe how good I felt. My mind was in the game, I was pounding calories like crazy, and as a result of these two factors, my body was feeling great, other than the general foot pain.
According to my original estimation, we would be finishing by 10pm, but we were hiking so fast and so strong, that it looked like we would be done by more like 6:30pm. Because I was feeling so good by mile forty, I started thinking about upping the bar for myself. I had heard of people doing twenty four hour challenges before, and once again, as soon as the crazy idea came into my mind, I knew I had to do it.
We got to Robin Hood’s Bay at 6:30pm, about 47 or so miles into the day, where Tom ended his journey. We took photos by the sea, both overjoyed to have completed the Coast to Coast. Then, I said goodbye, went up to a fish and chip shop and prepared for the remaining seven and a half hours of hiking.
My mind was racing, and everything I did to prepare I did quickly and efficiently. I bought some chips (or French fries as some say), charged my backup battery for a bit, changed my socks, cooked up my couscous and scarfed it down, ate an apple, filled my water bottle, and rearranged my snacks. Then I walked over to a pub where I asked to use the washroom and connected to WiFi to send a quick update to my brother. In total, I spent 45min in Robin Hood’s Bay before heading out into the fading light.
I was feeling strong, mentally and physically, but I wasn’t without worries. This was my first time night hiking alone, and that, plus doing something more physically challenging than ever before, made me worried about where my mind would go as soon as I lost the sun. Would I panic if I got off trail? If I started to panic, would I start blindly running, making me prone to injury? What if my headlamp died? What if my phone died, and I no longer had maps? What if on the road walks there are drunk drivers or creeps? All of these questions and factors flooded my senses as I hiked back down the trail, away from Robin Hood’s Bay. But as the light faded, the hymn that we ended all of our chapels with over my last semester of college came into my mind.
“Guide my feet, while I run this race.”
I clung to that line, and had to trust that it would be okay.
That being said, I had several conditions going out. First off, I’d already completed my goal of fifty miles, so if things got bad, I could pitch anywhere and still be proud of myself. I wasn’t going to take unnecessary risks or let my goal become more important to me than my own safety.
Here were my conditions:
If my phone died, I would pitch my tent immediately.
If my headlamp died, I would pitch my tent immediately.
If the weather turned crazy, I would pitch my tent immediately.
If I started to lose focus on the road walks, endangering myself, I would pitch my tent immediately.
If I got injured, I would pitch my tent immediately.
And so on…
The first test came when I hit a boggy section, just as it got dark. I lost the trail for a few minutes, but I remained calm, and soon got back on track. After the bogs, trail finding became much easier, and I grew more confident in the dark.
The next challenge came at about 11pm. I was hiking in a forest, and my headlamp died. I couldn’t believe it. I turned my iPhone light on and managed get to the edge of the forest and into a little town that the trail passes through. I still had three hours of the challenge left, but I knew my iPhone battery wouldn’t last that long. I knew I’d have to call it quits soon. That’s when I came around the corner and saw another light coming down the road. At first I was cautious, thinking it might be a drunk person walking home, but then I saw the man had a small pack on his back. He sat down on bench, and I asked him if he was a Coast to Coaster. It turns out he was, and he was just as surprised to see me hiking as I was to see him. His name was Bob, a 65 year old fell runner (a hill runner). He said he had been averaging thirty five plus miles a day and was finishing the trail that night after 6.5 days. He was already at 43 miles for the day. I told him about my headlamp situation, and thankfully he had a fully charged backup battery that he let me plug my headlamp into. We sat there for about twenty minutes, talking about how much we enjoyed all this craziness. We talked about how few people really understand why we get so much joy out of this, and we wondered if the next day we would think this whole encounter was just a dream or hallucination from the long hours of hiking. Though my legs were stiff from the break, it was refreshing to talk to another human and know that someone else was out there, even if he was going the opposite direction.
After I left Bob, I was faced with another challenge. As I climbed up into the hills, it began to snow on me. At first I thought it was bugs in my headlamp, until I put my hand out and felt the flakes melt on my skin. I was still wearing shorts, and pretty soon I realised I could feel my thighs burning. There was no question about it, I could not stop walking, for fear of hypothermia or frost bite, but eventually I had to quickly put my leggings on, still damp from the rain earlier in the day. I pressed on, thankful for the protection of the leggings, and soon hit a two mile descent on a paved road at a 33% grade. It didn’t seem so bad going up the hill earlier in the day, but going down, in the dark when it was wet, was super painful on my knees. The hill never seemed to end, and by the time I got down, I was longing for an ascent to rest my knees.
Down in the valley, the snow had stopped. It was nearly 1 am, and I saw on my maps that there was a possible camping location roughly two miles away. As soon as my mind caught hold of the notion that the end was near, my feet started to give out. The pain doubled, and I hobbled there. I reached the location by 1:30 am at a total of 64.2 miles (according to my maps). According to Tom’s calculations, I was closer to 70 miles, but I’ll stick with the conservative estimate, just to be safe.
I pitched my tent in a field, my body shaking from exhaustion, and I fell onto my mat. At first it was hard to sleep, despite how tired I was. My mind had been racing for 24 hours, and it not easy to just turn it off. Eventually sleep washed over me, but I was awoken several times in the night, my body aching and shaking from the pain, no position comfortable enough.
I camped 11.3 miles from my dinner invitation, and would have to walk the remaining distance the next day.
I am so thankful for the good company with Tom, the timely encounter with Bob, general safety, and the crazy endurance that I managed to tap into. Praise God!