So I’ve encountered another cultural thing. The English do something called ‘Walking Holidays’ which I have never really experienced in my life growing up in the States. (My family sometimes camped in Maine for summer vacation, and hiking trails were one part of the week’s activities, but not the sole focus…)
On English Walking Holidays the point is: to walk. Choose a scenic portion of the country and hike away. It could be long, it could be short, but usually it requires driving or taking the train further than what you usually considerable an acceptable distance to a scenic local; stay in a bunkhouse or youth hostel at night somewhere near a climbable or hikeable area. Groups of friends = bonus.
And P.S. rain or shine, baby. Why, because it’s England, and you don’t get to choose whether it will rain or shine on your holiday. You came to walk, darn it. Well… walk!!!
Last year, Hawkgirl and I went with some folks from City to the Peak District. The peaks were gorgeous, but it was downpour galore the first day. Such that our [supposedly] waterproof clothes and shoes never really did dry out until sometime after we got home the next week (not an exaggeration). We did a quick walk that day, due to the torrential conditions, the most notable feature of the landscape being the road that had washed away due to previous storms.
The second day in the Peak District it only rained a little at the beginning of the 15 mile hike (bah, child’s play!). After that it even got pleasantly warm a few times. We climbed to the top of a peak which was a plateau covered with a nationally protected treasure: a peat bog. Miles of peat stretching beyond your vision, ribboned by gashes in the peat down to the bog—sometimes as deep as 20 feet—to essentially quicksand. Shortly upon arriving on this trackless terrain fog descended and we couldn’t see anything, including the trail. We did several loops in the bog, jumping death traps, trying to find the river bed on the map that was supposed to lead us to the other side. I was wondering how I was going to notify my family that I’d died lost in a bog—when I had no reception on my cell phone—when we at last struck the riverbed, the fog lifted, and we’d only added 3 or 4 miles to our 11 mile hike…
To use an English term: we were shattered when we got back.
This year, many of the same troopers were up for doing it all again! But somewhere without bogs. We went to the Yorkshire Dales. Dales are, if you’re clueless of such things like me, really long hills. They are of varying heights, but pretty steep, and they tend to go on across the landscape like a giant mole hill might go across your lawn. Crisscrossed by stone walls built by the hardier walking-holiday thrill seekers of ancient days (who must have carried the stones on their backs for additional fun), the land now sports only sheep, cows, and stone farmer’s cottages, tastefully scattered across the green hills by an artiste saying, “Hold it! Right there!”
So it was that Hawkgirl and myself and the daring, walking adventurers of City set off to master a few of these sprawling giants. This time, a mere 10 mile walk.
I learned something about myself this trip: I’m a dancer. I can handle walking if it’s fast. If it’s slow, I have no stamina for it. Performance dance requires you to use an intense amount of energy for an hour, maybe an hour-and-a-half. You use lots of muscles, doing exceptional things. You also get adrenaline and endorphins to help you out. Slow, plodding, consistent walking might get the tortoise to its destination, but it drags my energy through the dirt, and causes me to die, rot, and decompose into the dust of the path.
So I resolved to strike out ahead of the group with the Lindy Hopper, the Paramedic, and the Gymnast. The four of us also made the mistake of deciding to cut across country, because the way to the top was clearly more direct than the path. Found out there was some peat (and a tiny bit of bog) in the Dales after all. But after much, intense, high-knee marching, we did come back to the path quite a bit further along than our party. It was grueling, in the lung gasping, high energy, endorphin-ridden way that I’m sort of familiar with. But as the slope grade continued to steepen I did turn to the Paramedic and complain, “WHY are we doing this?”
“The sense of accomplishment at the top?” he suggested.
Right. I was hoping for, like, money, or something.
But off we trudged.
I did stop to look back over the valley, and it was impressive. There was quite a bit of grass down below us.
We also passed a couple (she was pregnant) with their dachshund, trotting happily up the path. I said to them, “Its 3 and-a-half miles to the summit. What is that in dog miles? Like, twenty-four?”
The dude replied, “He was a great dane when we started!”
Anyway, we finally arrived at the top of what we thought was the summit only to see that it was a false peak, and the real summit was further on. It was lunchtime, and there was a stone wall shelter, so we decided to wait for the rest of our group, and dig into some food. Afterwards everyone joined us, ate, and we continued to the top.
And then… . Seven. More. Miles. Yes, downhill. But. For. Ever.
I have mixed feelings about walking holidays. The company is impeccable. The views are beautiful (when it’s not raining). But it might that true reason I come is that when you all get back to the bunkhouse, there’s nothing but card games and board games to do. And that suits me just fine.