C2C The End: Making it Back for Dinner

If waking up after not sleeping for 24 hours is hard, standing up and walking after 64.2 miles in those 24 hours is even harder. But I had to get back to the Lion Inn, 12 miles in the opposite direction, to meet the Minnesotan family as planned, for dinner. Making it back was half of the challenge.

I peeled my body off of my mattress, my legs stiff and my feet swollen at around 9:30am. My tent was damp from the rain, but my quilt managed to keep me warm through the night. I packed up my things slowly and headed toward town where I hoped I could get a hot breakfast.

Unfortunately the town didn’t have any cafes and there was nothing until I reached the inn. I did manage to get some cold egg and bacon pies from a village shop.

The 12 miles back to the Lion Inn were mostly uphill, and mostly on dirt or paved roads, both of which are very painful, especially on already destroyed feet. The roads, the uphill, and the downpours of cold rain, really got me down. Mentally, I was the lowest I had ever been since some of my worst moments on the PCT. During the 24 hour challenge, I was strong mentally all the way to the end, but because this didn’t seem like it should be a challenge, my mind was not prepared for it. I wanted to look behind me at Jon Michael to tell him, “I’m in a dark place,” so he could give me encouraging words or just tell me to suck it up, but I was alone, tired, and defeated. I was in the weeds, as they say, and I didn’t know how to get out.

Every mile dragged by. The only bright moments were when I bumped into several hikers I had been with off and on, going toward Robin Hood’s Bay. They were shocked to see me going the opposite direction, and I relayed the tale of my jaunt to the end and back. It was nice to see them again and say goodbye officially. But these moments were short, and soon I was back to being alone in the rain, slogging it out, my body wrecked from the day before.

I was to the point where I was looking at how far I had left every 2/10 of a mile. That’s a sure way to destroy yourself mentally.

All I could imagine was the warm fire at the inn, a cup of hot coffee in hand, and blessed shelter from the rain, but it was like I just couldn’t get there.

After four and a half hours, I was three miles away. I could see the Inn across the valley, but the trail followed a paved road all the way around the ridge to the inn. I sat down in the rain, totally defeated. “I give up,” I thought aloud. “I’m going to hitch the last three miles.” I had already walked this part of the trail, so what was the point of going back down it? I stood up in my mental weakness, ready to lift my thumb up, when the other half of me, the half that refused to quit, the half that contained all of my mental endurance, the half whose voice my weak side could not shut out, rose up in one last attempt to battle my weakness. It was like some epic last stand moment in the movies, except it was all in my head, the voice of weakness and the voice of endurance fighting it out. I felt like Frodo, struggling up Mount Doom. “Nooooooooo!” I yelled out into the stormy clouds around me. “I will not give up! Half the challenge was making all the way back by dinner, and walking the whole way too!” Strength was flooding back into my legs as I stormed down the road. Cars wizzed by me, but I did not put my thumb out. My feet hurt, I was shaking from the cold, my destination didn’t look like it was getting any closer, but I had a one track mind. One step in front of the other. Mind over matter. By the last quarter mile, I was running down the road, channeling all of my energy, all of my focus, all of my rage. I would walk the whole way back, I would. And I did.

The warmth of the inn welcomed me. I was overwhelmed with relief to be back. It was the most wonderful feeling to sit by a warm fire, sheltered from the storm, and being there made all of the hard miles worth it.

At 6pm I joined my trail friends for dinner. It was a full table–the Minnesotans (Dave, Julie and Ted), Emma (who dared me to jump in the river), and Tom (who I met that night), were all there. Good food and even greater company! I had the most amazing broccoli and chicken lasagna, which they were so kind as to treat me to. Being there with such good people made all the miles worth it. It was the perfect way to end the trail.

Until the next adventure!

~ Himalaya

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C2C Day 13: The 24 Hour Challenge

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!

~ Himalaya

C2C Day 12: Too few miles?

Today, when I realised I only needed to hike 9 miles to stay on track to finish by the day my train was leaving, I actually got a bit discouraged.

9 miles…

That’s three hours of walking for me, which meant that I would probably find myself in a cafe three hours later, spending more time on my phone in the WiFi then I would in normal life.

I tried to make the walk as long as possible, picking flowers and strolling along, but there’s only so much you can do through flat farmland, and unlike yesterday, there weren’t any cows to sing to.

On the PCT, I dreamt of only having to walk 9 miles in a day. My body was so exhausted then, that it would have been a needed break. But days and days of walking under 12 miles is starting to exhaust me in a different way. It’s just boring sometimes, a complaint I never thought I would have.

Yesterday I met a guy called Tom who was hiking the trail much faster. He was doing 20 to 30 miles a day, and he was exhausted from it, but part of me wished I was doing miles like that again.

So as I was walking today, my mind was pondering ways I could turn this hike into more of a challenge. And then it struck me, the worst idea ever, and I knew I had to try.

More on my crazy idea in the next post, and whether or not it works out!

~ Himalaya

C2C Day 11: Singing for the Cows

It was a short day today. I had very few miles to hike and it was totally flat, so to make the day as long as possible, I walked slowly and took many nice breaks to enjoy the “wildlife.”

I saw one cow that looked so pregnant, I thought I was about to witness her giving birth, so I took out my mat for a break and waited with anticipation.

Hoping to encourage her to give birth, I took out my ukulele and starting singing for her. I guess she wasn’t that impressed, because she walked away, but her sisters and aunties were all very interested. Slowly, one by one, they gathered around. There were about eight of them, lined up with their heads together, less than three feet from where I sat. They munched on grass and listened, quite content. It was kind of a magical moment, though in the back of my mind I feared they might accidentally trample me.

~ Himalaya

C2C Day 10: Trail Beauty

I had a short day of hiking today. The clouds threatened to rain all day, but it wasn’t until late in the evening that a storm finally blew in. By then I was done hiking and had my tent pitched nicely.

I had a nice time hiking with Lee and Aliceson again today, along with their two friends, Fiona and Joy, who had joined them the day before. It was nice to stroll through the countryside having good conversation.

One of the highlights of my day was walking through a field of yellow flowers. I had just stepped ankle deep into mud, and could have been upset about it, but when I saw the flowers ahead, all complaints left my mind.

The countryside is really beautiful out here.

Tonight I am camping at a bed and breakfast on a farm. The owners, Simon and Jane were very generous and let me camp for free. After I pitched my tent, Jane brought be a hot cup of coffee so I could warm up, and I enjoyed chatting with them late into the evening.

They provided a hot shower and invited me into the warmth of their home as it hailed outside. I could see the storm coming up the valley as the sun was setting.

One of the best things about this trail is the people you meet. Because of Bed and Breakfasts scattered across the countryside, there’s an even greater variety of people out hiking.

Tonight the temperatures will go almost down to freezing.

~ Himalaya

C2C Day 9: Ruins and Dead Bunnies

Today I had the option to take a high route through the old ruins of a mine or a low route by the river, so of course I chose the high route.

I started out alone, as usual, and as I set on my way up the high route, I kept noticing dead bunnies along the trail. Within a mile, I had seen five bunnies, and it started really creeping me out. Some of the bunnies had been crushed by cars, others devoured by animals, but the creepiest ones were just laying there, as if some dark spell had knocked them out.

It started raining on me, and that, plus all the dead bunnies was unnerving. I decided if I saw one more dead bunny in the next mile, I would turn back and take the low route.

Thankfully, I bumped into other hikers within the mile, not dead bunnies. But as the day went on, I counted 17 dead bunnies.

The ruins were creepy too. Perhaps if it hadn’t been such a grey day, they wouldn’t have seemed so. It was like walking through an ancient civilization, everything deteriorating and left to turn into dust and be forgotten. I could imagine people working in the mines, a life bustling above and below, and then I would pass a dead bunny, and shudder.

Soon enough I was through the old mines, and the sun started to show through the clouds a bit. I kept passing dead bunnies, but it was less unsettling when the sun was shining.

~Himalaya

C2C Day 8: Good Company

I decided after yesterday’s run that I should take it easy, so I only went 11 miles to a little town called Keld.

My body felt surprisingly good considering how far I ran the day before. In fact, I was hardly sore at all.

One of the original reasons for my nero yesterday, was so that I could do a section of the trail called the Nine Standards. Because of erosion, there are three different routes you can take, depending on the time of year, and the Nine Standards route opened on May 1st. If I hadn’t stayed in Kirkby Stephen, I would have been a day too early.

When I got to the Nine Standards, I caught up to an older woman who I had seen off and on for the past few days. It was very cloudy over the Nine Standards, but we managed to get some decent photos.

I have no idea what they are, or why they are there, but they sure look cool.

The area is known for its bogginess, and pretty soon, we were squelching through the marshes. I quickly gave up trying to keep my feet dry, and embraced the freedom that comes with wet feet. Once they’re wet, you don’t have to look where you’re going.

We went slowly over the hills, chatting and enjoying the views as the sky began to clear. Eventually we caught up with some other hikers, two of which I knew. We came to a waterfall with an excellent swimming hole, and I pointed out what a nice place it would be for swimming on a warm day. Emma, one of the hikers, dared me to jump in, so I did. It was cold, but one of my goals for the year (inspired by my friend Anna) is to jump into a natural body of water once a month, and seeing as it was May 1, I decided to get it over with.

I was camping separately from the lodge they were all staying in, but they invited me to come hang out later that evening. They were just about to order dinner, and though I’d already eaten some of my own food, two of the hikers, Lee and Aliceson, a father and daughter pair from America, bought me dinner and desert. They were very generous!

I enjoyed the good company as much as I enjoyed the chocolate cheesecake.

~ Himalaya