Pain Halts Play


It was his feet.

The blister wasn’t on his ankle, it was on his heel. And it wasn’t little.

(Those with a nervous disposition might want to look away now.)

Image This was the ‘little blister on my right ankle’ that we heard of earlier in the week. Evidently, he liked it so much, he got the pair. The one on his left heel is just as bad.

When he got to Goring (of course he walked 17 miles with his feet in this condition), he rang me back. ‘Um,’ he said. ‘I’m hurting pretty bad. I don’t think I can do 55 miles over the next two days.’

‘Take a break,’ I suggested. ‘Do the rest later.’

‘But I’ve taken the time off work…and it’s about to be the Christmas rush.’

‘Finish it on weekends.’ I wonder if he can tell when I’m praying on the other side of the phone.

Long silence.

‘I could do that.’

And he will. Andy won’t let his sponsors or the Rett families down. Sometimes, though, you have to succeed in different ways than the way you planned.

Andy’s used three days of his week and has walked nearly halfway. He’s got four days more to do. Keep following the blog to find out how and when he finishes his challenge.

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Shirburn Hill – 51° 39′ 11.9988 and 0° 58′ 0.0012

11 miles yesterday. The terrain was rough and it was the hilliest part of the trail. It rained heavily and there was a biting northerly wind. Andy lost his way  and says, that the mistake ‘cost me an hour and tons of energy.’ It must have done. It was 10 minutes to six pm when he sent his goodnight text and I could feel how tired he was by reading the message. By seven this morning, he was back on the trail.

If you look at the overall map of the trail..

…Andy’s now starting section four, the dark blue bit.

He’ll send us a photo later today. He’ll be walking through a woody bit, and he’ll like that. Not only will the trees provide some shelter, Andy has a natural affinity for woodland; it’s where he feels safest and happiest.

Andy knows that the pressure is now on. He says he’s planning to ‘make good progress’ today. Physically, he’s doing very well (especially considering he’s just turned 50 and hasn’t done a lick of training). The test now is more about Andy’s mental endurance. It’s not easy to keep believing that what you are doing is possible or desirable when you are walking (and sleeping, and eating) in the rain and cold. Andy knew that the first few legs would be the toughest and that the walking would be easier once he got to Oxfordshire. However, when you’re in the middle of a challenge, you can forget that kind of information and feel as though you aren’t doing well enough. Andy will need to keep his energy up; both his physical energy (his huge packet of custard creams that he snuck into his pack will help with that) and his mental energy.

Before the walk, we talked about him taking a break today for a cooked lunch at a pub; it’d be good for him to boost his calories right now. But he’s taken the money his daughter and I raised at a car boot sale for his spending money, and I know he wants to give most of that to Rett Research Trust UK. I’ll bet he makes due with his packet soups and biscuits…

Andy needs four hundred more pounds to make his goal.

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Coombe Hill 51°45′09″N 0°46′17″W

This was Andy’s bedroom last night – Coombe Hill, just West of Wendover – and Andy sent me the photo this morning. Coombe Hill is the highest point in the Chilterns and about 11 miles from Ivinghoe Beacon, where Andy started.  The hill has a very well-known Boer War monument on the top and, on a clear day, terrific views.

It’s on the outskirts of the Chequers Estate, the official country residence of Britain’s Prime Ministers.

Andy texts that the bivvy worked beautifully, but that a cow nibbled a bit on one of his feet. It didn’t hurt (him or the bivvy) and his feet are holding up well. His legs ache and he’s got a slight blister on his ankle (glad I made him take the blister plasters and paracetamol … wish I was there to make sure he uses them), but it seems to be going well.

Andy will need to pick up the pace if he is to accomplish what he’s asked of himself. He said Sunday that he’s not concerned with measuring how far he’s come. He’s using his Zen training: ‘No hindrance’ and ‘no making good or bad.’ ‘Just walk,’ he said, putting his hand between his eyes, and shooting it out in a decisive gesture. ‘I’ll just walk from early morning until it gets dark.’ But in his text message, he quoted the page of the trailbook he’s using to tell me where he was – and I know he’ll know exactly what he’s got to do to reach his goal. Today’s the toughest leg of the trail, with the largest ups and downs. It’s also due to rain heavily tonight. But nobody can help Andy get to his destination. It’s just his body and his mind that will get him there.

You can, however, help Andy with his main goal – raising £1000 for Rett Syndrome UK Trust. He’s got £622, including Gift Aid, so far.

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He’s Off…

Well, he didn’t start last night. You see Sunday morning, about nine o’clock, he decided he’d see if the old MSR Whisperlite was working. It wasn’t. So, he had to run into Bristol, after his duties at 10:30 Mass, to buy a stove.  (There was no time to service the MSR…they’re brilliant things, but temperamental…I think I’ve managed to light it without either swearing or burning myself twice in about 120,000 miles and twelve years).
After he finished packing, he lifted the pack. I looked at his face, and lifted it myself. ‘Hell!’ I said and looked at him carefully. ‘Have you got books in here?’ (Andy once hiked the Chiapas with a huge text on semiotics in his backpack. He never read it, but assured me he needed it.)
‘No!’ he said.
He went through the pack and discarded several tons of unnecessary weight. This took time.
Then he thought he might take his car to the end of the trail. This involved negotiations with the pub landlord and a pint. We got back into the car as large grey clouds moved in, and motored up the M4 towards Heathrow.
‘We’re not going to get there much before six,’ I observed.
Andy grunted.
‘It gets dark early when it’s this overcast.’
I drove for another five miles. ‘We could call the hotel and see if you could stay with us tonight…if they can move us from a twin to a triple.’
‘There’s a steam room.’
‘And I’ve already paid for two breakfasts and kids eat free.’
So Andy started off this morning about 10am with a tummy full of coffee, cooked breakfast and croissant. Libs and I got him to Ivinghoe Beacon, where he posed for this photo,
shouting, ‘This is for you, Rett Research!!!’
We were going to walk with him the first half mile or so. But the dog was being silly, and it was clear we were holding him back. So we hugged and said good luck and…
… he was gone.
The dog whimpered and fretted on the lead, barking after his Alpha. A half an hour later, Libs, Andy’s daughter, also started to cry.
‘Don’t be silly,’ I said to them both. ‘He’ll be fine.’
And I’m sure he will. I can still see the semiotics text in our bookshelves as I write. It went 45K miles that year; by plane, foot, bus, and Mexican second-class train. It survived a downpour in a rainforest, a curious pair of black bears and a memorable encounter with armed insurgents. But it made it here, to our home. And it still has its dust jacket.

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51.8420° N, 0.6058° W
Ivinghoe Beacon (Map below)

He’s Ready To Go!

The vintage Lowe Alpine pack, in day-glo nineties colours, sits in the corner of the bedroom.

Ringed around it are bits of kit; our MSR mosquito-weight stove (‘Have you checked that it’s working?’ ‘No. It’ll work.’), an REI three season bag (‘Won’t it get colder than 13?’ ‘Yeah, but I’m always hot.’), an inflatable pad (‘Do you want me to get something a bit better?’ ‘Why? These work fine.’), the RAB Storm bivvy bag (‘Do you think you should try it out in the garden?’ Dismissive glance.), a small torch (‘Have you got an extra bulb? Extra battery?’ Sigh. ‘It’s NEW.’), the solar phone charger I insisted upon (‘If you don’t take your phone, I’ll pretend to be sick so that you can’t go.’ ‘Oh, allright, then.’), and various other bits and pieces (‘You’ll need some waterproof trousers. Proper ones.’ ‘You got me some last big camping trip…don’t you remember? They’ve still got the tags on.’ ‘Oh.’).

He wants to keep his bag under 30lbs.

He’ll carry a few packets of food, but really, it’s not like he’s heading off into the wilderness… The Ridgeway National Trail passes through several villages and towns. He’ll be within reach of a shop every day…and that goes for tap water, as well. I got him a two-litre ‘hydration system’ (‘I have a hydration system. It’s called a bottle.’), but he’ll use lots of fluid walking so many hours a day. And he’s a caffeine  addict…I seriously can’t imagine Andy starting the day without boiling up a cup of tea and have seen him go through great lengths to do so…so he’ll need the water. I imagine during his shopping trips a few biscuits will find their ways into his hands, as will a latte or two.

Andy says that if the trail was a climb, or if he had to take more gear, he probably couldn’t do it without some serious training. But because it’s relatively flat (he keeps calling it ‘a stroll’) and he’s not carrying too much, he’ll be fine.

He probably will be absolutely fine, that’s the irritating part of it. Because of Andy’s athletic youth, he has a great deal of what they call ‘residual fitness’. He has large muscles and well-cushioned joints. He has incredible physical and mental endurance. But he’s also got soft little white feet that have, for the last ten years, only worn hiking boots when it snows.

Which is why I’ve also insisted he carry quite a few special blister plasters and an anti-blister film stick.

He’ll pack it all up tomorrow and starts walking on Sunday…er… I mean strolling.
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Ecosystems of the Ridgeway: Part II

The chalk grasslands of England are ancient. Not only is the land ancient, but the human relationship to it is old, older than Christ, older than the Roman Empire.

And during almost all that time, the relationship between chalk grassland and humans has been based on the grazing of sheep. Sheep provided more than food and clothing to Ancient Britons. They also provided the landscape itself. Without grazing (and hard grazing at that), the weeds begin to creep in and destroy what we now see as the natural plants of the grassland. The weeds come, and then the trees come and then the grasslands are gone.

The keeping of sheep has actually made the grassland’s optimum biodiversity, which is what many people consider to be the typically English countryside.

These terribly English plants are all best found on grazed, managed chalk hills and downlands:

  • oxeye daisies (Leucantheum vulgare)
  • bird’s-foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus)
  • common spotted orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii)
  • wild marjoram (Origanum vulgare)
  • salad burnet (Sanguisorba minor ssp. minor). 

When we think about nature conservation, we tend to think of wildness; of unmanaged tracts of land. But not managing the chalk grasslands will actually cause them to dissapear. Their relationship to people and farming is so ancient that they cannot exist without us.

They also can’t exist with too many of us. Between 1966 and 1980, nearly 20% of chalk grasslands were lost, either to intensive farming or development.

This is the place of skylarks and stone curlews; a land of butterflies and flowers. But it’s also a land of sheep and farmers. It’s the ancient farming communities that built so many of the monuments along the Ridgeway; the barrows and the earth mounds and the stone circles.

As Andy  moves along the Ridgeway, he will often be sleeping in grazed fields. He might wake up in the middle of a flock of sheep – many bivvy-ers have!
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More on chalk grasslands here

Map for the Ridgeway

Here’s the Google Map link for the Ridgeway National Trail. It’s broken down into nine sections. Don’t forget, Andy will be walking it the other way, from East to West.
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Landscape is a strange concept. It’s not really about the land, but about the ‘scoping’. A landscape is a view of land, a human view. It’s not a landscape until a human witnesses the land.

What humans see in a landscape depends as much on the human as the land. When European settlers first saw the vast prairies of central America, they called it a ‘vast desert’; a place to be avoided. A few years later it was a ‘vast grassy sea’; a place to be crossed. The tribal peoples who lived there thought this was ridiculous. To them, the prairie was a rich treasure of sustenance to be treasured and fought for. A hundred years later, the prairie had been settled by Europeans. By then it had become ‘America’s breadbasket’ and ‘the Heartland’. Once it was farmed, the European invaders could see the prairie’s richness for themselves.

On the southern slopes of the Ridgeway, the land has been farmed for over 5,000 years. Some of the fields are so ancient that the hedges that surround them (the hedgerows) are protected by law and subsidised by the government. All of the land around the Ridgeway has been farmed for at least 3,000 years.

This is a place which has been extensively witnessed. Millions of people – Stone-age famers, Iron-age traders, Vikings and Romans among them – have seen the views from the great chalk road. One of the latest visions is from Anna Dillon whose exhibition of Ridgeway landscapes opens this weekend in Berkshire. Her paintings of the Ridgeway are exciting, energetic and inspiring. You can see more of them here.

When Andy walks the Ridgeway, what he sees will be influenced by everything he has read and all the art he has seen of the area. But what he will see, like all the millions of people who have walked the trail before him, is his very own Ridgeway landscape.

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What’s a bivvy???


Bivvy’ is short for ‘bivouac’, which Merriam-Webster defines as a ‘temporary encampment with little or no shelter.’

Andy’s using it as short for a bivvy bag, a waterproof, breathable bag that fits around your sleeping bag. A good bivvy has a hood with a drawstring which can be cinched down in case of rain and is roomy enough to also take your camping pad (i.e. Thermarest) inside. Some bivvy bags have hooped hoods or no-see-um/midge netting, but true bivvy enthusiasts see these as too tent-like. If you want to get away from insects, you should climb higher, they say. They’re like that.

Bivvy bags were designed for the military and for technical climbers, but now some walkers, hikers and ramblers use them as well. The idea is that you are closer to nature and take less time to set up camp. In the time it would take to unroll your tent and find the poles, you can already be in your bivvy bag. You can roll on your side to cook and roll back to sleep it off. Less time and less weight in your pack means more and better walking. Bivvy enthusiasts feel that they are more efficient walkers and get to take time to do more of what interests them along the trail. In Andy’s case, it will help him have more time to rest up during the walk and allow him to camp closer to the trail.

The bloke in the top picture (who looks utterly miserable) isn’t Andy. Nor is the guy in the big picture down below (who looks giddy with joy). We’ll see, won’t we, which is the most accurate bivvy expression, when Andy gets into his stride…
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Andy’s Walk

Andy Wadsworth is raising money for Rett Syndrome Research UK by walking the Ridgeway, an ancient pilgrimage site. He’ll be walking 86 miles alone, camping with a bivvy bag and cooking one meal a day.

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Rett Syndrome effects young female children.  Imagine the symptoms of autism, cerebral palsy, epilepsy and severe anxiety disorders all developing inexorably in one little girl…

Rett Syndrome is the most physically disabling of the autism spectrum disorders. It strikes at random in early childhood, and parents watch their daughters lose their developmental milestones and slide into a life of helplessness and pain.

There is no treatment beyond supportive, and often ineffective, measures such as feeding tubes, bracing, orthopedic and GI surgeries, and medications for anxiety and seizures. First recognized only 25 years ago, the prevalence of Rett Syndrome equals that of Cystic Fibrosis, Huntingtons and Motor Neurone Disease but is vastly underfunded in comparison to those disorders.

Many girls live into adulthood, requiring total, 24-hour-a-day care.

The Rett Syndrome Research UK Trust is funding very promising research that may soon provide a cure for this distressing and diminishing syndrome.

If you have loved a little girl in your life, please support Andy by giving to the trust.

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