This time last week, I’d been hiking for seven hours straight; my feet hurt, my back hurt, my rucksack felt like I was carrying rocks and I was starting to hate the sight of hills. Not that I could see much, it was dark.
The day had started early with a kit check where I got my first hint that I probably hadn’t packed wisely; as I emptied out 2 malt loaves, 5 bagels, 10 flapjacks, 6 yoghurt tubes and a kilo of raisins onto the table and realised the lady doing the kit check went from smiling politely, to raising her eyebrows, to out and out laughter, I realised I may have overestimated how hungry I was going to get.
On the other hand, I completely underestimated how tough a 50 mile hike with nine major climbs would be…
|See the little double peak before Corndon – that’s where I retired|
We made our first big mistake by stopping for a 10 minute break after the second checkpoint. As we sat there, congratulating ourselves on getting to the four mile mark in good time we suddenly realised that we were the only competitors at the top of the hill, and the large crowd milling around were the volunteer marshalls! We raced down the hill and found ourselves well and truly at the back of the pack, meaning we had to get maps out and start navigating far sooner than we had anticipated.
We picked up the pace, and by mile seven we’d overtaken a few people. Then we made exactly the same mistake again and had another ten minute break. This time though, we didn’t manage to catch up with anyone, mainly because I’d taken over the map reading and with my wonderful sense of direction had got us lost up on the Mynd. By the time we’d found our way to checkpoint four at mile 10, we were a good 20 minutes behind the back of the pack.
By this time, I was in a foul mood; I was so angry with myself for getting us lost and so far behind everyone. We knew this would make things really difficult because it wasn’t far off nightfall and none of us were confident about navigating in the dark on our own.
Luckily, the next few miles were all downhill so we hammered the pace again and made it to mile 12 and checkpoint five in reasonable time. However, team mate Jo was really struggling. She’d been poorly all week and had been coughing her guts up all the way round. She decided it was time to retire from the hike.
At this point, it was starting to go dark and as per the race rules, all hikers got grouped into a minimum of three, and we became a group with a lady who had been sling shotting with us for last place for the past few miles.
As it got dark, we were joined by the chaps who made up the sweeper team. They were lovely, and chatted away to us as darkness fell and the head torches came out. We were so lucky with the weather; it was so mild we were walking in t-shirts. Pretty lucky considering it’s bucketing down this weekend!
It was completely dark by the time we hit the Stiperstones, and for any locals who have hiked up there, you’ll know it’s a receipe for sore ankles!! It’s not the easiest terrain, that’s for sure. Whilst looking for shooting stars and falling over rocks, our new team member decided her race was over and retired at the base of the Stiperstones. Sara and I then had a battle to catch up to the nearest team. We sprinted (well, not quite but we walked bloody fast) up Earls Hill to checkpoint 20 and made it down again in less than an hour. Unfortunately Sara had a fall coming down Earls Hill and hurt her back. As we got to checkpoint eight, and mile 22 Sara decided to retire.
By this time though, we’d walked so fast we’d caught up with not one, but three teams! Lucky really, since I was now on my own, bar the sweeper team. I fortified myself with a cup of tea and was invited to join a new team. It consisted of a lovely lady called Cathy, her husband, her brother and her brother’s friend. We headed off into the dark at about 11.30pm and started covering the five miles to the next checkpoint. At this stage, I realised I was unlikely to finish the hike and had made my peace with retiring, the goal being to get to mile 32 and checkpoint 11.
Once I’d made this decision though, everything started to go a bit downhill. Not literally, unfortunately. As we started a very long climb, my legs were starting to wobble and I was starting to feel sick. Remember all that food I brought, well, by this time I’d eaten one malt loaf and two yoghurts. The rest was just weighing me down. On the good side though, I’d left my kilo of raisins with Sara back at the checkpoint. That took some of the weight off!
It all started to get a little surreal at this point. The night was completely silent, bar the hooting of the owls and the odd whinge from me. It was like being in a little bubble. All there was to think about was putting one foot in front of the other, and making it to the next checpoint, where I’d decided I’d have to call it a night.
Three miles just doesn’t sound like anything, but it felt like a marathon at 1am after 12 solid hours of walking. The checkpoint just didn’t seem to be getting any closer.
It was around this point that I realised something; one of the things I’d been most worried about was walking at night. Mainly because I’m shit scared of the dark. I have a very over active imagination that can easily convince me of the existence of warewolves… No joke.
It suddenly occured to me as I headed off into the woods on my own to find a suitable bush to pee behind that I hadn’t been scared at any point, and still wasn’t. Turns out that when my feet and back are agony and I have no energy at all, my overactive imagination switches itself off. Useful to know.
About a week later (not really, but it felt like it) we saw the lights of the checkpoint, and we staggered in. At least, I staggered. My new team mates were pretty much bouncing, bar one. Cathy’s brother’s friend (who’s name I never caught) had stuck with me for the past five miles. He was struggling as much as me. We’d agreed we’d retire together at mile 27.
I realised quite how exhausted I was when I had to take my plastic off from around my neck. Sounds simple but at 2am it took me about five minutes till the lovely marshall took pity on me and helped me get out of the tangle. Another lady came over, handed me a cup of tea and led me to a bench, while a lovely chap helped me take my rucksack off.
One thing that stood out at the Long Mynd Hike; the marshalls. They were so nice! They were all volunteers, who gave up their day and night to stand at the top of hills, and in roadside tents to support all the hikers. They were just so lovely and encouraging.
As I sat down and got my phone out to text Owain and my Mom, I started crying. I was so gutted to have to tell them that I was retiring early. I’ve never not completed anything that I’ve started so this was pretty tough.
The chap who helped me get my rucksack off came over and spend a good five minutes telling me how proud I should be of myself, and that he expects to see me back there next year, smashing it. I promised him I would, and I fully intend to.
Cathy, her brother and her husband headed off into the dark after hugs all round, and I really hope they finished. I’ve got no way of knowing though. I’m pretty sure they would have finished, they were all looking strong at that point.
There were about eight of us retiring at this checkpoint, and before too long the minibus arrived to take us back to the HQ where I was planning to camp out on the floor till morning, then call my Dad to come and get me. The chap I’d walked with was a little horrified when he learned of my plan. In fact, he insisted on driving me home, despite it being 40 miles in completely the opposite direction. How nice was that?!?!
I arrived back to my Moms house at 4.30am where she had a hot bath waiting for me. It was heaven. And so finished my Long Mynd Hike experience.
Whilst gutted and very annoyed with myself for not preparing anywhere near adequately, it was the most amazing experience! From seeing the Long Mynd by starlight and not hearing a sound, to pushing myself so hard, to meeting such lovely people, it was wonderful from start to finish.
I’m definitely going to be back next year, and I fully intend to complete it.
On another note, as a blogger, I failed completely. I didn’t get a single picture. Probably not a bad thing, they wouldn’t have been attractive!