Those of you who have been reading my 50 Feats blogs so far may be wondering: “When do the death defying, heart-stopping adventures begin?” My friends, I give you Fabulous Feat #5, a week-long walking tour of the Isle of Wight.
While my first few activities were mostly cerebral and reflective, this feat turned out to be all about physical endurance. I enjoy walking, but my exercise level has recently dropped to a dog’s paced stroll rather than a workout. Still, I consider myself to be in shape, albeit closer to pear-shaped than any other.
Since I have no sense of direction, this adventure was not one that I could achieve on my own; it was definitely a “Feat with a Friend” activity. My walking companion, the Navigator, is a lifelong distance runner and this walking vacation was his idea. He suggested I review the Isle of Wight walking tours website for details of the distances, and route profile in advance of committing to the trip. I looked a the cute little map of the Isle and thought “How hard could it be?” Perhaps I should have done the bit of math that divided the 104 km covered by the Coastal Path we would be following into our 6 days of walking to realize the gravity of my commitment.
I was not completely oblivious to the physical requirements of the journey; I increased my daily walks to about an hour, sometimes two, each day in the weeks leading up to our departure. And so, I felt somewhat confident stepping off the ferry to begin the 6 day hiking holiday around the Isle of Wight via the Coastal Path.
The first day in Ryde was a “non-walking day”. We settled in with an ad hoc 16 km “stroll” in the afternoon along the shore pathway which was tiring for me, but reasonably manageable. In the morning we were greeted with a full English breakfast and an overview of the trek ahead. Each day we would have our luggage shuttled to the next destination B&B, and we would walk the Coastal Path with just our rucksacks and a map guiding us up cliff hills, across pastures, over stiles, through villages, and down wooden stair pathways.
Over our time on the Isle (including the trail, a few sidetracks due to some missed turns along the way, and the walking around villages in the evenings), we covered more than 150 km with our longest days adding up to over 30 km! I found the walking incredibly challenging (while The Navigator not only completed the days effortlessly, but also got up in the mornings to go for a run prior to beginning our daily route – I would have been jealous were I not so tired). During the hours of walking, I considered a few thoughts about the journey that also translate nicely into life lessons:
- You’re tougher than you think you are: when you think you can’t go another step, I discovered that you can, sometimes hundreds more.
- Despite the above, sometimes its okay to cry “uncle”: on those occasions where I had to have a rest before carrying on, I simply plopped down on the grass and enjoyed the view for a few minutes.
- A healthy perspective is all about balance: if you spend all of your time looking down at your feet, you miss the beauty of the scenery, but if you are always looking at the view, you can easily stumble on a root – alternating the two outlooks provides maximum pleasure with fewer falls along the way. And sometimes, the beauty is right beside you if you simply take a moment to notice. Life’s like that too.
- Take the time to celebrate your accomplishments: on particularly steep hills, I stopped at the top to relish my victory (okay, and gulp air like a fish out of water).
- The bridge you wish for isn’t always there: sometimes you have to go up the hill, only to come back down again. It is, however, okay to grumble under your breath about it.
- Your imagination can be your salvation: to take my mind off the aches and pains, I distracted myself with made-up stories about people we passed, sang songs in my head, and, more than a few times, pretended that The Inexhaustible Navigator walking easily ahead of me was my Sherpa guide leading me up Everest.
- Sometimes you just have to fake it till you make it: by the end of the first day I knew I hadn’t prepared enough for this walking tour, but I broke it up in my head into manageable chunks and then just kept on truckin’ till my body was toned (okay, it turned out to be swelling from edema, but still) and my breathing easier.
- Have fun, and share it: I had a little Kermit in my backpack and took pictures of him at the various sites, posting his adventures for my friends to vicariously enjoy the trip.
- Savour the journey, because, in the end, we all finish in the same place we began: the walk started and ended in Ryde, but it was the sights, sounds, and encounters along the way that made the trip memorable.
Of course, my favourite part of the adventure was meeting people along the way – on the path, in the pubs, in the endless queues at the airports. The people on the Isle (natives are known as Corkheads) were lovely; they have a delightful way of making every statement into a subtle kind of question by adding an inflected “yah” on the end of a sentence. For example, one young woman sent us on our way with a breezy “You’ll enjoy your walk, yah?” suggesting we would likely have an excellent time, while leaving the slightest possibility that we might plummet to our deaths off the narrow cliff pathway. See, I told you this was a death-defying feat!
Would I recommend this Fabulous Feat? A resounding YES. I am still a little sore and have a few bruises and blisters to remind me of the challenge, but it was an incredible experience that will provide a lifetime of memories. If you, too, are interested in becoming a “Wight Walker” (GOT pun intended), details can be found at http://www.visitisleofwight.co.uk/things-to-do/activities/walking (Sherpa not included).
Next up: a snail by any other name – a culinary adventure in escargot