6 July. This date looms worryingly near, and all I’ve achieved by WEEK FIVE of the Macmillan Mighty Hike ‘training schedule’, is a few gentle saunters and a handful of lake swim circuits.
With less than six weeks to go, it really is time to up the ante, get serious and focus on building stamina. This wobbly hulk of a body might feel a bit sleeker in a wetsuit, and my weekly totter up Totterdown Hill results in fewer suspected cardiac arrests. But today, as we approached the lunchtime Wolds Way pit-stop location at Wintringham Church, I began to wonder if I might have bitten off just a little more home-made rocky road than I can chew.
Thixendale, our starting point, and now a distant memory, lies four-hours south of us and as I dragged my leaden legs, like Frankenstein’s monster, the last few hundred metres to this blessed bench, I reluctantly decided to throw in the towel. The next challenge facing us lurks in the woods up ahead, and I am convinced that The Grim Reaper waits for me there, on the short, but perilously steep scramble up the darkly named Deep Dale Plantation. My reward would be a spectacular view from Heslerton Brow, but I know this last hill could be exactly that; my last hill, ever. If you listen carefully you can almost hear the engines of an Air Ambulance firing up in anticipation of the inevitable ‘casi-vac’ situation if I attempt it. Tori, who hiked this section before, warned us to just keep going when we got to this point, ‘Don’t stop, don’t try to help anyone else, just keep your head down, stay focused and when you reach the top you’ll feel great!’ Svelte and gym-toned, in ballet pumps and a neat navy shift dress, she delivered this advice to the assembled hikers in her kitchen earlier this morning. It is Tori’s walking boots that I am attempting to fill today. Sadly she can’t join us, as she will be at the funeral of one who suffered a catastrophic aneurysm after a 19 mile hike. This information niggled at the back of my own pulsing skull for the last 11 miles. With precisely 8 miles left to go, you do the maths.
It turns out that Tori and Sam, who I met for the first time today, will also be walking the Northumbrian Coast Macmillan Mighty Hike on 6 July. So I’ll know at least two friendly faces there, and their enthusiasm and positive energy is wonderfully infectious.
The visual diversions of wide open Yorkshire countryside, streaked with acid yellow oilseed rape, and burgeoning with red campion, forget-me-nots and wild carrot have helped to ease my increasingly creaky passage to this point. The marzipan scent of May blossom and soaring songs of skylarks and curlews added to the sensual delights that distracted me from the plight of my aching feet. And the tangible frisson provided by clouds of cordite and showers of shot over our heads as we skirted a row of guns and their clay pigeon traps gave us all a marked spring in our step.
But my groaning hip joints had already begun complaining even as we emerged from the spooky abandoned valley of Wharram Percy, just five and a half miles into our hike. I wonder if my account of the gruesome archaeological discovery, that skeletons buried here were all found to have broken legs, was a bit of a downer. But I thought the group might be interested to know how it was apparently done ‘post mortem’ to prevent the dead rising again as zombies. Too grim, maybe? Unlike me, my sunny walking companions were not plagued with morbid thoughts. Instead they shared helpful little portions of juicy dried cranberries and the nutty trail mix was passed round to stave off fatigue, and in my case, of course, death.
As we gradually climbed higher above the Vale of Pickering, my face seemed to swell, hot and red, and the blood pounded past my eardrums with alarming volume, but eventually the pit-stop came into view; a distant spire on the horizon.
How was I going to break it to my new walking buddies that such feelings of failure and physical ruin had taken hold? These five fabulously perky ladies, all good friends that go way back, kept up a lively and amusing dialogue the whole time, and they had swept me along in their jaunty slipstream.
I talked with Sally, about the mental challenges of my last Macmillan Hike, in the dark, up a mountain, and it hadn’t occurred to me until she pointed it out, that someone with cancer goes through similar struggles. I will carry that thought with me on this next Macmillan trek.
As we crossed Wintringham beck where it pools in a cool dappled ford by the Wolds Way, I exercised impressive restraint when seized with the urge to throw myself in. But as I finally collapsed onto the soft mown grass of the overflow cemetery in Wintringham Churchyard, all sign posts pointed to the folly of my over-ambitious goal, at this stage in my training, of the whole 19-miler.
After various packed lunches (beetroot salads, hard boiled eggs, felafel pittas, quark & fresh blueberries) had been hoovered up hungrily, the other Sally administered mouthwatering chunks of home-made cakes, and we availed ourselves of Ruth’s ingenious basket of fresh tea and coffee making facilities.
With my sensible head on I elected to stay right here and rest, and so waved everyone off with good luck and Godspeed on the last leg of their journey. I commandeered a picnic rug and have gratefully taken up sentry duty on this bench In Memory of Roy & Rose Wilson.
While I await their return, by car, from the finish at Sherburn, I continue to resist the temptation to sample just one more square of Sally’s deliciously calorie-loaded rocky road. After all, it was moments on the lips like that which brought me to this heavy state. I anticipate in the next six weeks that I will transform into a lean mean hiking machine. But for now I’ll go back to the ‘training schedule’ and stick to a more gradual build up from three hour hikes. Perhaps I should open a sweepstake on how many hours it will take me to do the whole 26 miles. What do you reckon?
Huge thanks to Ruthie, Sally, Sal, Sam, Simone and Tori for giving me the chance to see what I can achieve and for making me laugh along the way.
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