And what was so difficult then…

smeathe's ridge

It’s 8:30 on Sunday morning, and Andy is already halfway through today’s walk. We’ve said we’ll pick him up at Avebury at 3:30. It might even be earlier.

It’s gone so easily.

Last year, it was a strain. He pushed himself very hard, told us that he’d do it all in four days. He wore himself out, walking and didn’t take care of his feet when they started to blister.

This year, he’s cruised it, doing over the recommended mileage every day without strain.

What’s changed?

He’s not any more fit…if anything he’s less. He’s still using the same equipment (but with better socks). Physically, nothing has changed.

Mentally, however, everything has. Last year, Andy was using the walk to test himself…he wasn’t entirely sure of himself, this new, mature self who had just reached the age of 50. We, like most of our generation, had rather assumed we’d die young, of rock and roll related causes, nuclear disaster or by other means. Listen to the music of the 80s. We were all about despair. We had no intention of becoming middle-aged and no way (except by denial – 50 is the new 30) of coping with the concept.

But this year, he’s got no need to test himself. He’s coped with some of the toughest challenges a man has to face…the illness and death of a loved one who depends on your care. He’s written and read beautiful eulogies at his parents’ funerals. He’s kept his work life and his life here at home going through it all.

Last year, Andy raised nearly £600. This year, he’s only raised about £30.

But this year, it’s just a walk. He’s got nothing to prove.

 

 

 

 

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…and then, nothing…

 

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When a loved one is away, you go about as normal, don’t you? We’ve had one of Libs’ mates to stay and I was making pizza (not as good as Andy’s) and pootling about, baking cookies, doing laundry, hoping the recovered arms of the sofa really do match the rest of it, etc.

And then it got dark and my phone still hadn’t rung with a text.

You know how it goes. At first you think, ‘Maybe it’s not dark yet, up on the Ridgeway.’ And then, about half an hour later, you think, ‘Maybe he ran into a flesh-eating psychopath,’ having already gone through, ‘leg broken in rabbit hole incident’ and ‘lost solar charger’. My phone gets only intermittent reception  and it’s worse downstairs (old house, thick walls, O2), so I also thought, ‘perhaps when we go upstairs it will come.’

It didn’t. It didn’t come at 10:00, 12:00, 2:00, or 4:00. But at 6:15, when I’d given up on sleeping, I heard the familiar ting-ting.

Two texts at once. One saying goodnight and can I pick him up at Avebury tomorrow (today) and one saying, ‘Why didn’t you respond to my text?’ How blessedly irritating…still married, then…

 
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Punchbowl for Breakfast

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This is the Devil’s Punchbowl, by Sparsholt Firs on the 2nd leg of The Ridgeway National Trail. Andy’s doing The Ridgeway backwards, walking towards home…

He didn’t really have a punchbowl for breakfast. He didn’t have any breakfast at all. He made a quick cup of tea and got walking.

He walked 15 miles yesterday and climbed 1000 feet. This leg is 16 miles, but it’s all downhill. I know he’ll try and push past the beginning of the last leg. It’s a great day for walking, crisp and cool this morning with a shower predicted for the hottest part of the day. Andy said in his text that he was, ‘fairly comfortable’ last night (which means that he was terribly uncomfortable) and that the socks are ‘holding up brilliantly’ which means he doesn’t have any blisters.

Today, he’ll pass the White Horse of Uffington…

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…familiar to all readers of Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching series. It doesn’t look like a horse, he says, it looks like what a horse is. He’ll also pass many, many barrows.

Andy’s walking to raise money for Rett Syndrome Research. Rett syndrome traps girls into their own worlds. They can’t communicate with their loved ones as well as they could when they were babies. They are often hungry, with huge digestive problems. With his solo walk, sleeping alone and bound in his bivvy and with eating very little, Andy is both walking 19 miles today and trying to imagine a life with this terrible illness.

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A Bed With A View

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It’s the coldest night for a long time and Andy is somewhere in these woods, laying in his bivvy bag. If it’s not raining (it is here, and we’re only about sixty miles away), he can open the hood and look at the stars. I even found him a little mosquito net bag he can stick over his head, in case the midges attack.

It’s nine o’clock and he’s been asleep for at least an hour. He sent me the picture around 7 o’clock. He will have boiled his rice pack and snuggled down with a few custard creams. He doesn’t have a book to read and he shuts off his phone.  He just walks and eats and then sleeps. If he’s not sleepy, he hasn’t walked far enough, he says.

He walked far enough today. He did the whole third section of the trail, from Streatley to Wantage. He’s on the Ridgeway proper, now, the Neolithic pathway that was so important that walking it became a religious act. Great monuments were carved and heaped out of the earth along it. Kings and heroes were given barrow burials along it.

I’m warm in bed and reading a good book. And it is a bit cold and rather rainy outside. But I’m a little jealous of Andy’s bed with a view…

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bedroom

Back On The Trail

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Last October, Andy Wadsworth had to come off the 86 mile Ridgeway Trail. He’d been walking it in a week to raise money for Rhett Syndrome Trust, walking it alone, sleeping in a bivvy bag and boiling up rice for meals from his tiny stove. It was his 50th birthday celebration…something he felt like he needed to do.

He came off the trail unwillingly because his feet hadn’t held up. He had worn fist-sized holes in the skin over both Achilles tendons. He’d raised nearly £500 of his £1000 pound goal and used 3 of his 7 days.

Now, he’s going back to the place he stopped and continuing on.

A great deal has happened to Andy in the intervening time. He lost both his parents unexpectedly and very rapidly. His mother died just after Christmas. His father joined her just before Easter. Andy was their only child. Over this year, he’s carried quite a burden.

Now, he’s just carrying his pack. It’s meant to rain today and the summer, they say, is over. But Andy’s getting back on the Ridgeway trail where he got off…at Goring Station. He’s doing what we all have to do…he’s going on.

With better socks.

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The above image is a painting by the amazing Anna Dillion.

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