Saturday, March 9, 2013
Slip and Slide
Mud is slippery,
Rain boots have zero traction.
Living out of a suitcase makes dressing appropriately a difficult task as I chose to pack rain boots instead of hiking boots, and because England is both cold and wet with an impressively hilly landscape it is nearly impossible to win. Today, I lost bad. With numb feet and traction like ballet slippers, at least I had dry feet—or so I did for their first mile.
Hadrian's Wall Hike—a wall nearly 2,000 years old, built in the time of Jesus—is a 73 mile hike from the east to west coast of England, traveling through the bottom of Northumbria National Park. Though compared to 73 miles, our 3 mile hike was plenty hardcore.
Our day began in a warm bus, riding through the hilly back country of Northern England, enjoying the roller-coaster rhythm of riding up and down, and up and down on a road so small our bus filled both lanes. Outside, the hills rolled on endlessly, stacking up on each other like janga pieces—old, stone farm houses and herds of sheep dotted the green, heather covered range.
Upon arriving, all 25 of us filed out into the killer winds and hiked up to the fort along the wall where 800 soldiers once lived—the walk took 5 minutes and already a few were moaning about the miserable winds and tiny slivers of ice slicing our cheeks. 3 miles lay ahead. But I couldn't get over my fascination with the fort: the old latrines, stables, staircases, and heated floor system. I could only imagine the place in its glory days, but the battered and torn walls were still beautiful in their own ancient way.
Then things got interesting. We followed the wall through a forest, emptying out into a hilly opening where the wall wound up and around, down and up again like a spine—that's what our path followed. I looked down at my rain boots and prayed to God I would not fall. Having already slipped in the wet grass back at the fort, my chances were slim. But, I wasn't alone—I really shouldn't have been happy about this, but falling on your butt damages your pride much less when everyone else is doing it with you.
1.5 miles in, nearly half the group had wet pants, muddy butts, and fingers so cold they were nearly chipping off, but the sight was rather comical as people slipped like rag dolls, their feet kicking out to their sides. Everyone was slipping and sliding—someone would scream, flail their arms around in a chaotic windmill motion, then stand panting with knees bent and arms out, trying not to move a muscle My throat is raw from laughter.
I striked out with 3 falls, one bruising my knee to a deep purple. I had never been more afraid to take another step in my life, especially down the steep hillsides covered with wet rock and slumping soil. With a sore knee and shoes like glass, I was genuinely afraid.
However, the view made up for all the sore hips and numb toes: cliff sides and lakes, rock pillars and taluses like aprons, miles of the winding rock wall, and soft green moss covering every tree, stump, rock, and leaf. I had to remind myself to look up from my feet every now and then to admire the beauty, but not too long otherwise I'd start windmilling.
Contrary to what you may think, Hadrian's Wall Hike was up there on my top favorite adventures. Yes, the weather could have been better, but this is England! There's going to be rain. There's going to be mud. It's all part of the British experience as 80% of the year is wet and cold. So, what better way to experience the back country of England than in its natural environment. Next time, however, I would invest in waterproof hiking boots with a thermal wool lining.
at 2:20 PM