Minutes ago, in a flurry of excitement and anticipation, I dug through my drawers and cabinets, assembled clothing and toiletries and trinkets, and put it all together in my old Camino pack.
“Off on an adventure!” you might be thinking. “Where is she headed to?” you might be asking.
These are fine observations and questions but the answer is: Nowhere. Not yet.
But then why am I loading up my Camino pack? All I can really tell you is that I feel as though my summer trip is right around the corner. Today was just a Tuesday in the middle of May but it felt like one of those days that immediately precedes a big adventure. The air was heavy and humid and hot, the trees were bursting with green, I had off from work and so it felt like the normal pace of the last 9 months was pulling to a close. School’s out, summer’s here.
Not yet, not yet, I still have a month to go. One month! But just one month, and maybe that’s why I can practically taste my next journey. I’m in those final weeks where it feels like time just slips away so quickly, when there is still so much left to do, when every day I need to look at the great big list I’ve made for myself and try to manage to check at least one thing off.
And today, I let the excitement wash over me. My first stop on my summer trip will be the Pennine Way, a 268-mile route through the mountains and hillsides that are said to make up the backbone of England. I paged through my guidebook and began to re-read the blogs that had been part of my research months ago.
Along with the excitement was a sudden burst of nerves, the kind that always hit me, but this time they feel early. There’s still so much I need to do, but I have nearly 5 weeks and haven’t I already done this sort of thing before? Many times before?
Yes, but that doesn’t stop me from worrying. This route will be challenging, and the first days start off with a bang and I just haven’t been hiking like I normally do at this time of year. And this isn’t Spain, this is England- northern England- and what if it rains every day? What if the June days are unseasonably cool? What if I get turned around and stuck in a bog?
The blogs warn of stream crossings that can swell if there’s been rain, and now I think to myself, “I need to pack my Crocs, too.” The blogs also warn of the heavy mist that can obscure the way, and I worry at this as well. When I’m walking, I tend to have a good sense of direction and have really never gotten lost, or strayed far from the path. But what if the Pennine Way is different than the West Highland Way, or Hadrian’s Wall Path? What if I am, actually, vastly underprepared?
Now is probably the time when one of you should write in and tell me to stop over-thinking this, and you’d be right to do so. This walk may indeed be my most challenging yet, but I’ve also read many accounts that say the way-marking is better than ever, and that big stone slabs have been laid down over the boggiest portions of the trail. These things assure me.
Usually by now I’ve checked in with some updates on my planning, so here we go…
The planning has been intense!!
On a Camino, you really don’t need to do much planning, outside of your flight, your train/bus/taxi to the start of the walk, and maybe the first night’s accommodation. But walks in the UK are a little different, at least for a non-camper like me. Since I’ll be staying in a mix of B&B’s, hostels and bunkhouses, I need to make sure they I have my beds reserved. Because I’m not going to carry a tent, it would be a little risky to just show up and expect to find a place to sleep. And on the Pennine Way, there are sometimes great distances between towns or villages, so if one place is all booked up, I might be unable to walk the distance to the next.
I pre-booked my lodgings for both the West Highland Way and Hadrian’s Wall Path, but each of those walks were only 5 days long. I’ll walk the Pennine Way in 15 days, and including a night before my start and an extra night in Scotland at the end, I’ve had to research and book 17 different places! I knew this going in, but the organization and communication and details were another thing altogether once I’d started.
I’ve run into a little trouble here, and I’m not out of the woods yet. There are a couple places along the route where accommodation seems- already- to be all booked up. I’m not sure how this is possible; my guidebook talks of all the lodging options in one particular town along the route, and says, “Unless the Rolling Stones decide to play in Middleton Village Hall, there is always going to be plenty of choice.” Well, I looked into every single option in my guidebook, then scoured other options online, and everything is booked. I literally checked to see if the Rolling Stones were going to be in town (had to do it!), and I can’t find any reason that there is no accommodation available. And this has happened at multiple different towns or villages along the route, where I’d been planning to stay. So far I think I’ve figured out most of my nights, and have had to alter my route a bit, but it isn’t all bad. One of the changes I’ve had to make now has me stopping in Haworth, home to the Brontës, a stop that I thought I would have to miss. It does mean that the day out of Haworth will come in at a whopping 26-miles, but, well, I’ll deal with that when I get there.
But there are still a couple nights’ lodging that I need to figure out, and and another curveball has been how to figure out the best way to make a quick phone call over to England from the States. I won’t go into the details here, but it took me far too long to come up with a good solution (but I think I have the solution- Viber Out. I got through to one of the hostels this morning, so something must have worked?).
The other snafu to my summer adventuring has been the shoes. Oh, the shoes! Something I thought I had figured out 4 years ago, when I bought that first pair of Keen Voyageurs and have been singing their praises ever since. Well, maybe I have spoken too soon, or maybe I have jinxed myself, or maybe this is just what companies do: they constantly change things up because they think they need to be bigger or better. But when it comes to shoes that fit wide feet, oh please, leave good enough alone!
I bought my new pair of Keens and giddily took a photo of all the old pairs and this new one and thought to myself, “How lucky I am to have a shoe that fits.” But then I wore them for a few walks around my neighborhood, and then on a 6-mile hike, and I don’t think there’s any way that I can take them to England for the Pennine Way. The shoes have changed; I’d heard rumors of this a few months ago, but this new pair I bought confirmed it for me. I’m not sure what it is, exactly, but the shoe feels a little shorter and my toes feel crowded. I think the width is still there, so maybe it’s the length? But my toes hurt in a way that they never have before, and that was just after a 6-mile hike.
In any case, I’m at a loss for what to do. I’m running out of time so I need to figure out something quickly: either buy a half size larger and hope they work, or maybe try a different model altogether. I stopped by REI last weekend to see if I could try the Voyageurs on, but they are no longer being sold in the store. Someone working there said they thought that a new model of the Targhee is actually the same thing as the Voyageur, just with a different look (does this make any sense??). I tried them on but I wasn’t ready to make a decision- I’m still mourning the loss of my good ol’ Keen Voyageurs.
No room at the Inn and shoes that don’t fit… not exactly good omens for this adventure, huh?
But it’s all part of the fun, isn’t it? This is what travel is: it throws us out of our comfort zones, it makes us need to think on our feet, we need to make adjustments and accept change and sometimes just face the unknown with openness, and trust.
And in the end, I’m going to have shoes on my feet and a bed to sleep in, one way or another. I’m sure my walk through England is going to have some difficult moments, maybe entire days that are challenging, but it’s going to be beautiful and amazing too. History (my own, over these last four summers) has certainly proven that.