Dispatch from the Razor's Edge, the Blog of Michael Stephen Fuchs
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C2C Day 3 - Borrowdale to Grasmere
The "Recovery" Day. Hah!

"I've got two words for you guys: Sheep Sleigh."
         - M. Pitely (on the climb up Lining Crag)

     So the Retained Technical Consultant on our Coast to Coast Walk was one Josh Schroeder – extremely experienced hiker/camper, Eagle Scout, and all around prince of a guy. When I had asked Josh to prepare a brief on the issue of whether or not we should be bringing camp cooking gear, his response was along the lines of, "Well, you can definitely just pick up food since you're going to be in towns most nights. But what you have to ask yourself is: on a freezing cold morning, after a long rainy night, when you're up at dawn and rolling up the soaked tent - how nice would it be to wrap your freezing wet hands around a hot cup of coffee and a steaming bowl of oatmeal?"

Answer: it would have been awfully bloody nice. Darby, to whom I had forwarded most of Josh's position papers, had opined that the true wisdom of Josh's recommendations would only become apparent to us when we got out in the field and faced the situations first-hand. Or, as she memorably put it: the further we hiked the smarter Josh got.

So we woke up on the morning of the third day in exactly the same fashion that we did on the morning of the second day: namely, the sun came blasting into the tent at 5AM, waking us from a palsied sleep, at which point we realised we were freezing ourselves off. It quickly became apparent that getting up, getting moving, and breaking camp was warmer than lying there shivering in our sleeping bags. Hence, once again, we were on the trail before 6AM. Which once again meant we were unable to pick up breakfast – or lunch. You can see our troubles synergizing here.

There was reputedly a general store in Rosthwaite – the Thwaite that was neither the Thwaite we were camping in, nor the Thwaite that was on the way to the trail. But we certainly weren't going to thwaite around for it to open. Did I mention we didn't actually quite know what time it was? Darby's high-tech watch/barometer/blowtorch (I think) didn't survive its passage in the hold of the plane. We mused about picking up a timepiece along the way, and made several desultory efforts, but it never came to anything. I mean – we couldn't even score breakfast.

The only thing we accomplished on the way out was that Darby made her daily phone call. She had implemented the following system to reassure her (understandably terrified) parents (as well as friends) that she was alive on a day-to-day basis: she would call her own voicemail daily and leave a message to the effect of, "Hi, it's Darby, today's May 14th, we're in Borrowdale. And I'm alive." On this morning, as Darby approached the red phone booth, it occurred to Mark and I to wonder what we should do if that stopped being true. Perhaps she should give us the number and password to her voicemail? "Uhh . . . today is May 18th. Darby died in the night outside of Patterdale. Uhh . . . sorry. <click>"

And so we hit the trail, following a river, beneath Eagle Crag, through a green valley. The sun was not yet over the crags, leaving us in deep shadow. We went through a break in another stone wall. The old men called an early pause to stretch their old bones (DK) – or groins in the case of this picture. I don't do anything without stretching; I'm not 19 anymore. Come to consider it, I'm not 29 anymore. Anyway, I like to stretch.

Did I forget to mention my knee? I can assure you it never let me forget it. As noted, the fully-loaded climb up Loft Beck – and, even more so, the descent down the other side – had generally done a job on our knees (and to a lesser extent our feet and ankles). I also mentioned that the last haul, yesterday, into Borrowdale had been just too much. Not least because they made us clamber over a bunch of boulders and a stream when we were, basically, already in town. And it was on one of those boulders that I stepped not quite right and sharply twinged my knee. Whoah-hoah!!! That was a brisk shot across my bow, I can tell you. I figured I had plenty of stamina and morale for this walk; but if a knee goes, there's just no way to bull it out. I'd be going home on a bus. So my twinged knee had recovered somewhat overnight. But my best guess was that I simply wasn't going to get any more friendly knee warnings. Any more missteps and I was done.

Darby took these nice pictures of Mark and me. As you can see, we were still looking and feeling pretty confident. That's because today was . . . (in Joe parlance) our recovery day! (Ie a short easy day after a long hard day.) And we sure needed it. Frankly, the first two days, especially yesterday's climb, were more than we bargained for; it was hard to imagine keeping up that pace and exertion for 14 days. But we wouldn't have to! Yes, today was a paltry 8-mile hop over to Grasmere – where the facilities were supposed to be nice and we could get in early and relax. Eight miles! Hah! Plus Darby's elevation chart showed (wildly mistakenly) no climbing today.

Our first clue that something was wrong came when we ran out of valley. It simply kind of ended; we ran into the back of it. Mark pointed up to a wildly steep path that climbed out. It took him awhile to convince Darby and I that this was actually our path; he ultimately succeeded because there was nowhere else we could possibly go (other than back). Kind of shocked and numb, we got climbing again.

At the first summit, we took a happy rest. Today was our rest and recovery day! (Right?) We mused on how much harder it must be to build a dry stone wall on a nearly vertical hill. We made ourselves start climbing again.

Finally, we climbed up into Drumlin Basin – a high sunken area that Mark felt was probably a caldea (sunken volcano). Darby shot a nice panorama of the whole basin, which I've taken the liberty of clumsily stitching together.

So I did feel like I was still hanging in. But if I'm doing neither of them an injustice, Mark and Darby were not in what we might term fine fettle. Darby, because she'd scarcely eaten for days. And Mark because he kind of thought he was in for a nice stroll in the English countryside – rather than the relentless mountain-climbing expedition this had turned into. And we were all kind of psychologically scarred because we had agreed that the first two days were really rough sledding – and that today would not be. Which it was conspicuously not not being.

I wandered out onto a promontory overlooking the basin (DK), to sort of not inflict myself, or my faux good cheer, on Mark and Darby. It was lovely and lonely (DK) out there. Though Mark finally wandered out to join me (DK). He brought an offering from Darby: the dwindling bag of cashews and cranberries.

Finally, our morale was restored enough to consult the guidebook and maps to figure out our next step. Unfortunately, doing so caused our morale to not so much plummet as explode. The climb out of Drumlin Basin was as steep as anything we'd yet seen. So much so, in fact, that Mark was initially skeptical that could even be our path. He didn't think it was climbable.

For better or worse, it was (DK).

So we were huffing it about half-way up, looking back over the heavily sheep-dotted slopes when Mark caught us up and delivered his immortal line. It deserves to be repeated:

MP: I've got two words for you guys: Sheep Sleigh.
     He figured he could at least rig up something that would allow the sheep to drag our packs to the top.

Summitting (again), we were faced with a path that – according to the guidebook, as well as, emphatically, our experience – completely disappeared into a wide, high bog. Luckily, we encountered a lone figure coming the opposite direction. He was a young Londoner, of Indian descent, doing the C2C east-to-west, solo, in something like 9 days. He was bad. He was also very nice. Happily, since he had just climbed up the opposite slope, he was able to give us some tips on finding the path down to the valley. And we were able to do the same for him on his descent. It was nice we met nearly at the top.

Still, we spent quite awhile following derelict fence posts (putative landmarks), looking for a mythical stone cairn said to mark the path. Ultimately, both Mark and I went on wide scouting expeditions – and both independently found that once you're over the crest, and the valley opens below (DK), it becomes fairly obvious where we had to go.

So we descended. And descended. And descended.

I pretty quickly found that my knee(s) simply couldn't deal with the rocky surface of the path proper – the combination of lowering all that weight, step after step, onto a hard surface was murdering me. So I started creating alternate paths – in particular skirting boggy areas, getting just close enough to enjoy soft turf, without (hopefully) sinking to my knees. (I did end up soaking both boots in mud to the ankle, playing it too close to the bone.) My mantra became "bog is bliss". The sweet sound of the squish.

Wordsworth, by the way, called the valley of Grasmere "the fairest place on Earth". Screw him.

Mark and I were both making about as good time as we dared. But Darby, fleeing famine, took off at her own pace. We figured she could smell the bakery in Grasmere. Eventually, we hit level ground, then passed some Grasmere picnickers, which meant we were close. By this point we were all pretty slap-happy.

MP: We've got an A-Team with only a Murdoch and a BA. We're not going to get anywhere this way.
MF: . . . So you're saying we're a Faceman short of an A-Team . . . ?
     We finally made Grasmere – which is a cute, somewhat posher, center of hiking/rambling activity. Lots of little shops and amenities. We dropped our stuff at the Thorney How YHA, stumbled into town, and commenced eating like refugees (Darby at a bakery, Mark and I at the Red Lion – I can't deny a pint of ale before food did me a world of good). After my 6-course meal, I wandered across to the bakery where I grabbed a roll of vegan biscuits, which I wandered dazedly through the streets stuffing crumbily into my mouth. Mark picked up an additional sandwich. When Darby turned back up, she had groceries for a week. She had clearly vowed to never go hungry again.

In a final coup, I loped into a pharmacy to grab some sun goop (both Mark and I had gotten burnt, somehow despite our intrepid explorer hats) – and found they had a digital photo processing center! Muahahahaha! Did I mention I brought no laptop, nor any other way to get photos off my memory cards? I figured I could get by on the 286-some shots I have memory for; but I figured wrong. I'd been shooting myself into a hole all through the Lakelands, averaging 50 or 60 frames a day (rather than the 20/day that would last the trip). But now I burnt the whole mess onto a CD! Ha! I was bailed out! I felt precisely like a kid who cuts a swath through a candy store – and neither gets caught, nor wakes with a stomach ache.

We rolled ourselves back to the hostel, washed filthy socks, laid out with them in the yard, reading and writing and drying through the sunny afternoon. Mark and Darby went back to town for dinner, but I couldn't be arsed. We all slept for hours and hours and hours. In beds.

Tomorrow: Day 4 - Grasmere to Patterdale (10 miles)

  coast-to-coast walk     hiking     humour     mountains     photography     pitely     skeet     walking     dargbles  
close photo of Michael Stephen Fuchs

Fuchs is the author of the novels The Manuscript and Pandora's Sisters, both published worldwide by Macmillan in hardback, paperback and all e-book formats (and in translation); the D-Boys series of high-tech, high-concept, spec-ops military adventure novels – D-Boys, Counter-Assault, and Close Quarters Battle (coming in 2016); and is co-author, with Glynn James, of the bestselling Arisen series of special-operations military ZA novels. The second nicest thing anyone has ever said about his work was: "Fuchs seems to operate on the narrative principle of 'when in doubt put in a firefight'." (Kirkus Reviews, more here.)

Fuchs was born in New York; schooled in Virginia (UVa); and later emigrated to the San Francisco Bay Area, where he lived through the dot-com boom. Subsequently he decamped for an extended period of tramping before finally rocking up in London, where he now makes his home. He does a lot of travel blogging, most recently of some very  long  walks around the British Isles. He's been writing and developing for the web since 1994 and shows no particularly hopeful signs of stopping.

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ARISEN : Operators, Volume I - The Fall of the Third Temple by Michael Stephen Fuchs
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