The Road goes ever on and on; Down from the door where it began;
Now far ahead the Road has gone; And I must follow, if I can;
Pursuing it with eager feet; Until it joins some larger way;
Where many paths and errands met; And whither then? I cannot say.

[JRR Tolkien, Lord of the Rings]

Monday 28 May 2007

A Couple of Days in the Rhinogau - Day 2

Saturday night was, per the forecast, wet and windy. Also as forecast, the wind swung around from the east to the west, which was a bit unfortunate as our pitch as nicely protected from the east, but not at all protected from the west and of course we were pitched the wrong way around for a westerly wind.

On Saturday night we had looked at a map (which is full of holes and must be replaced either with a new one or with some 1:25k mapping software of that area) and chose a route back to Barmouth for the Sunday. It’s becoming a bit of a challenge to come up with something new as we’ve walked quite a bit in that area, but there was an obvious low level route that we’ve not tried before.

The first section exercised our right to roam, which always presents the danger (in fact, almost a certainty) in this area that it will be either marshland or boulder/heather. This route didn’t disappoint. We left all trace of a path after the first mile and then spent the next hour or so yomping through knee-deep marsh. Even tussock jumping didn’t help as none of the tussocks was sufficiently firm. It was energy sapping to the extreme, with having to lift the leg so high on every step, but perversely it was good fun at the same time. It was also an excellent test for the Terrocs (of which I will post later).

Finally, we reached a track (not a moment too soon) which we followed through a forest for quite a while, stopping for a brew on the way, taking advantage of the shelter that the trees offered from the increasingly heavy rain.

Out of the forest, my feet almost started to feel dry, which was the cue for us to leave the road along which we had been walking and venture into the biggest marsh of the trip. The good thing about the Terrocs turned out to be the fact that once the feet are wet you may just as well wade on through any terrain, rather than taking care as to where each foot fall will be, which is what I would have been doing in boots so as not to let the water over the top.

All was going well until about an hour later we realised that we had misplaced ourselves. Suddenly what we saw on the ground didn’t match the map and we realised that we were a kilometre adrift. More boggy, tussocky ground put us right.

On our way back to our intended route we encountered the first two D of E groups (from Stafford).

Once back on track, we followed the intended path which turned out to be very pleasant, in yet more showers, until we reached an area with which we are familiar (where we met the next two D of E groups, from Halesowen this time).

With a further deviation onto previously unwalked terrain, we were soon back onto the familiar path via the mast and the slab, back to Barmouth. The D of E chaps were the only people we saw out walking until we were within half a mile of Barmouth.

The weather was much better than expected (no torrential rain) and although some of the terrain was hard going the verdict from the weekend was that it was tremendous fun. Roll on the next outing…

A Couple of Days in the Rhinogs - Day 1

By Friday afternoon I had finally got the Psion and the computer reliably talking to each other and Husband had made a route choice for Saturday.

It perhaps looked like a lazy choice that we would repeat a ridge walk that we did at the end of January, but there was good reason: at the end of January we spent two days up in the clouds with no visibility. We felt sure that the views would be superb, if only we could have seen them, so vowed to return in good weather. The forecast for Saturday was good, so it was an easy decision to make.

We set out from Barmouth late on Saturday morning, went past the slab and onwards to the mast, from where we headed diagonally up the hillside until we hit the ridge at a junction of two walls. Then all we had to do was follow the ridge to Y Llethr.

The downside of having good weather was that we could see what was to come; back in January we couldn’t see the big inclines coming, so uphill section seemed to be longer than the visible 10 metres! But on the plus side, what views! It was one of those unusual days when neither Cadair Idris nor Snowdon was shrouded by clouds, and from the ridge we had a view of both.

The most amusing incident of the day came at our lunch stop, when we were crouched down behind the ridge wall, commenting that it was amazing that on the Saturday of a Bank Holiday weekend we had walked for over 3 hours without seeing a single person, when just then we heard someone approaching on the other side of the wall. He became visible to us as he climbed the stile over the wall, it turned out to be a chap wearing boots, socks and a rucksack – and nothing else. A Naked Rambler!

Husband forgot the rule of not laughing out loud at other people’s appearances and guffawed.

After lunch, we headed up to Diffwys, on to Y Llethr and then down the ridiculously steep ‘path’ down to Llyn Hywel (so this was where everyone was!) before popping up to the top of Rhinog Fach. Peace on the summit was shattered by an unruly group, mainly of children, and we didn’t dally long.

We then made our way down to our intended pitch for the night and settled down to wait until a decent time to pitch the tent.

We were joined by three chaps who decided to pitch ten yards away from us. I was all for moving on somewhere else, but Husband was intent on staying (I have to say, it was a fairly spectacular pitch). I’ve never had to share a wild camp with anything but wild life before – but the chaps didn’t disturb us, and were gone before I made it out of the tent in the morning.

An excellent day in excellent weather.

Day 2 to follow - I've got to go and do some chores just now...

Wednesday 23 May 2007

Damned Technology

Today I finally got my hands on a USB to Serial Port adapter. The supplier that I ordered it from 2 days ago (after office hours) was good to their word and delivered the next working day. Tronisoft on the other hand has not only taken my money and failed to deliver, but they’ve also failed to respond to my (perfectly polite) complaints (but I’m not bitter…).

So, this evening my task was to connect the Psion to the PC.

I used to think that I was computer literate. I now realise that I’m just quite good with the standard Office Products and a few bespoke systems. The inner workings of a computer confound me.

So, the first challenge was to install the driver for the adapter when faced with a dozen possible driver files on the supplied CD. I finally got over that challenge and expected a connection to be formed. Unable to connect was the message I kept getting.

An hour later, I finally stumbled upon the answer to the connection problem after so much cursing and head-scratching that I was ready to put the Psion back on Ebay (the answer being, quite obviously (!?) a simple matter of selecting the right COM Port for the synchronisation software to search for the device).

Now that I’m connected (I danced a jig when it finally happened after an hour and a half of trying), and I can see the files on the Psion, tomorrow night’s task is to work out why the synchronisation programme is terminating every time I click on one of those files.

Tuesday 22 May 2007

Random Thoughts: Dry Food, A Backpack, A Trip and A Computer

The dehydrator was on overnight, working on some fruit (we seemed to have a surfeit of bananas and mangoes, plus some pineapple that needed to be used). I’ve read before that it’s not possible to over-dry food, however I’m definitely finding that, when drying at 70 degrees, it’s possible to dry it for so long that it takes on a hint of a burnt flavour. It would have been fine had I swapped the top and bottom trays half way through the drying time but, alas, I didn’t make the effort at 2am this morning, so we’ll just have to put up with slightly burnt mango.

Said fruit should hopefully come in handy this weekend. The plan is for a short backpacking trip in Wales. I’ve delegated the route planning to Husband on this one, so I’ve no idea where we will be going (neither does he at this time; I don’t believe that he’s given the subject any thought yet, but hopefully he’ll make some moves towards a tentative plan by the end of tomorrow).

What I am intent on doing this weekend, no matter where we end up, is using my brand new 35 litre pack, rather than my usual 50 litre. Next year I’m hoping to squeeze everything that I need for 3 months into the space of a 35 litre, so hopefully a short night or two away will present no problems.

I did a test pack in the 35 litre when we got back from the Cumbria Way and happily fitted everything that I needed for a week in there, except my bulky down jacket (which won’t feature on next year’s packing list), so for the weekend coming I should find that I have lots of room to spare. I shall report back next week.

Also coming with me on the weekend will be my new (by which I mean old and second hand, but new to me) Psion 5. The Psion 3c used on the Cumbria way proved to have keys far too small to be able to type properly, so I’ve upgraded to a model with a sensible keyboard. I’ve finally given up on Tronisoft ever supplying the cable that I paid for nearly two months ago, or indeed responding to my complaints, so have ordered a replacement cable from elsewhere. Fingers crossed that it arrives by the end of the week, then I won’t have to go through the pain of having to retype my notes when I get back.

Friday 18 May 2007

Catch-up Time

Time for a bit of a catch up, as I seem to have been a bit slack on updating lately:

29 April 2007
I had declared our training for the Keswick to Barrow Walk to be almost complete, but in cognisance of our training having been woefully lacking in hills, I had earmarked a day of this weekend for a spot of hill work.

Tentative plans had been made for a weekend of backpacking in the Bala area, but we completely failed to firm up those plans or do anything towards packing, so instead we opted for a weekend at home, with just a trip to Cannock Chase on Sunday afternoon to walk up and down the side of a small valley there.

The walk in from our usual car park turned into a bit of a ‘run/walk’ affair. Not sure how that happened: husband accused me of running down a hill, causing him to join in, I reckon it was him who upped the pace. Once over at Mere Valley, we just spent the best part of a couple of hours walking up one track, along the top and down the next.

Not the most exciting way to spend the afternoon (although it beats sitting in front of the telly any day), but the weather was fine, if a bit windy, and at least the views made a change from the canal and lane walking that we’ve been doing for months.

I didn’t measure the distance that we walked, but I reckon that we covered at least 10 miles in the 2.5 hours that we were out.

5 May 2007

Given that Husband had missed out on a couple of the longer walks, and given that he had (another) new pair of running shoes to try out for suitability for the K2B (both of us bought new runners earlier in the year that we decided that we didn’t like and wouldn’t be comfortable over a distance of 40 miles), we decided to pop out for a quick 20 miler.

I glanced at a map and chose a route that looked like it was about the right distance and off we set.

Things did not go well for me. I think the effects of the entire week had caught up with me.

On Tuesday I had had a long day when I had to pop down to London for a meeting. I got home late, then had a full day at work on the Wednesday before flying out to Denmark in the evening, arriving at 10.30pm. At 8am on Thursday morning, I was sitting in a lawyers office, with the impossible task of reviewing 7300 pages of documentation in two days. At 8pm, after 12 hours of solidly reading and making notes, I left the office and went out for tea. At 8am the following morning, I was back in the lawyers office, again plodding through files. At 5pm I flew home, arriving at gone 7.

Some people do that sort of thing day in, day out and thrive off it. I have a life and am not one of those people. By the weekend, I was mentally exhausted (and it’s amazing how much of this long distance walking malarkey is a mental issue) and sleep deprived too.

So, by 15 miles through this walk (and with an annoying pull in the back of my knee) I was fit to drop, declared defeat and sent Husband on ahead to get the car to pick me up.

Having sent him on ahead, I managed to muster a little energy and kept up with him, until with only 1 mile to go the pain in my knee was getting worse and I couldn’t face the last fifteen minutes of yomping over fields and stiles. I therefore lay myself down at the roadside (a very small and quiet lane; I didn’t feel too conspicuous) as Husband jogged off across country.

Lying there in the sun was quite pleasant respite for me, and I could happily have fallen asleep. Whilst I lay there, however, Husband was having a bit of drama. He approached the exit from the first field, to find it guarded by a herd of cows. Waving his arms and shouting dispersed them, but as he started making his way past him to the stile they decided to ambush him. He legged it to the stile and vaulted over.

The next field was fine, but as he enter the following one the cows decided to chase him the whole way across, causing him to sprint the entire width of the field to fling himself over the next stile (this one’s covered in barbed wire, but he managed to avoid it, even in his haste). Fortunately, the next couple of fields are cropped and the ones beyond that are used for sheep grazing.

I was surprised to hear the tractor-like rattling engine of my car approaching me a good ten minutes before I expected it and was soon resting my weary bones in an armchair, hoping that a week of good healthy food and lots of sleep would sort me out for 40 miles in a week’s time.

The 41st Keswick to Barrow Walk – Saturday 12 May 2007

If I go into too much detail about the day, I’ll fill at least fifteen pages (that’s how long my full write-up is so far, and I’m not finished yet), so I’ll keep this very short:

After record breaking warm and dry weather throughout April, it was inevitable that the weather would have broken by mid-May and that we would be rained upon for the big walk.

Sure enough the forecast was poor, and the day dawned grey and drizzly. It remained drizzly with occasional showers throughout the morning. However, after a very heavy shower at the half way point, the weather got better. By early afternoon the sun had won through and the day was warming up.

The first half of the walk went remarkably well. We reached the 20 mile point in exactly 5 hours. From around 22 miles, I entered a bit of a slump. Unfortunately, I didn’t recover from that slump and was thoroughly miserable through the next fifteen miles.

A return of the pull in the back of the knee and a short lived hip problem at 32 miles didn’t help my mood and I started to doubt my ability to finish.

Thanks to Husband (and his insistence that we weren’t going to be beaten by the oversized chicken that was hot on our heels; we’d already been overtaken by Scooby Doo) not only did I keep putting one foot in front of the other right to the end, but we even managed to summon a sprint up the crowd-lined drive to the finishing line.

We completed the walk in 10 hours and 37 minutes.

My first statement on finishing was that I would never take part in the event again.

The following day I conceded that I would take part again, but I wouldn’t do it so fast again.

By mid-week I was thinking that maybe it would nice to train harder in future and see if I could achieve a 10 hour finish…. Dangerous thoughts.