And so I have returned to York after a 5 day trek across the Yorkshire Dales.
I really did think that this would be an easy stroll across a few Dales; up a few hills, maybe the odd marshy terrain, down a few pleasant valleys...84 miles didn't seem like a lot, and I was expecting a 17 mile daily average to leave plenty of time for leisurely picnics, exploring woodland and lengthy evenings in pubs.
Actually, I have never done anything so difficult in my life. Not even scrambling Goredale Scar comes close. I wasn't aware of the physical challenge that 5 days non-stop walking (because it was actually non-stop from 8:30am to 7pm) would bring - blissfully unaware, I must say! 10 hours of walking with a 10 minute stop by the M6 for a bread roll had me in tears - not that you could see them for the rain washing down my face. We had blisters from day 1, and made it through 5 packs of blister plasters (that's £25 worth of plasters!). We faces winds that came scarily close to blowing us down scars and into rivers, bringing relentless rain that soaked our feet, face, hands. Agony with every step meant evenings were spent rubbing muscle balsam into our tired limbs, streching, taking painkillers and showering to fight the chills. We waited as long as we could manage to digest our meals, then fell into bed to await the 6:30 call for more stretching and quick-fix foot operations with a pen knife the next day.
Sounds miserable, doesn't it?
Yes, at times I suppose it was miserable. But not miserable enough to loose sight of the incredible landscapes, the fresh air, the harsh weather, the autumn colours, the wildlife and the distance from this world. On most days we hardly saw a car or another person for hours at a time. We were left with the changing scenery - watching valleys becoming hills becoming dales becoming mountains, and the fantastic colours that October has brought. 2 days back in the real world and I am longing for the space around me and ahead of me. Although painful, the physical turmoil that we put our bodies through was amazing; I could feel myself getting stronger and fitter, and walking has never felt so easy. With every painful step I could appreciate the power of my body, putting it through so much and yet it didn't give up or even falter - it was finally doing what it was really built to do.
I can't really continue to put all of this into words - I will be typing all night. What the Dales Way brought to me is something that I probably couldn't ever find the right words to describe. The biggest challenge I've ever encountered, and possibly the best learning experience I've known in 22 years. The closest I've come to thinking I couldn't do something, at one point (only one point) the only time I've considered giving up and going home.
Mum asked me whether I'd do it again. I would for definite!