Dispatch from the Razor's Edge, the Blog of Michael Stephen Fuchs
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C2C Day 4 - Breaking Through
Grasmere -> Patterdale

"In truth, the way matters but little; the will to arrive suffices."
         - Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus

     So, our acute food problem so far had largely consisted of three parts: 1) breaking camp and leaving town before anything opened; 2) getting into the next town after everything had closed; and 3) not packing nearly enough trail food to get us from one to the other. And it's when you're out on the trail, and you've already hiked three hours before breakfast time, and there's not a town in sight, that you really need a miraculous culinary innovation such as:
Mark Pitely's Famous Self-Immolating
Strike-Anywhere Bacon!!!
     That probably could stand a little annotation. Suffice it to say it was the first of a number of fantastic product/marketing ideas Mark developed on the trail. (The sheep sleigh, while clever, probably wasn't sufficiently commercial.) Also note that a veggie version of self-immolating strike-anywhere bacon was agreed upon.

As it was likely to be a while before this product hit shelves, we had to make other arrangements. Luckily, we found we had solved our food problem – in all three parts: you'll recall from yesterday that we got into Grasmere early - early enough to eat two big restaurant meals and (importantly) stock up massively with trail food from the shops. As well, since we stayed indoors and in beds, we had no problem sleeping in until the enormous and tasty YHA full breakfast was served.

Bellies and bags both full of food, we hit the trail again. And, boy does that make a difference.

So we got cracking out of town. Notes here say: "Beautiful morning for it, cool, overcast, stone walls, stone cottages, hills. ubiquitous sheep." On a brief stop, I took this portrait of my companions (a fine one if I do say).

As we walked, I realised that a good 20 hours of rest in Grasmere (including 12 of sleep) had significantly de-inflamed my knees. Overall, I was feeling very good. Moreover, I was starting to feel bloody-minded: I figured if yesterday didn't stop me, then no future days were going to. I was in the pipe.

As well, today turned out to be the recovery day we'd thought yesterday would be: 10 miles, with an easy up and down. Though, I did note that on any other week this would have been a murderous climb. I'm not sure what our looks here conveyed: perhaps that we were getting grizzled. From the top of the climb, we had a nice view back down on the whole valley of Grasmere behind us.

Then it was another high-ish traverse. We passed these falls. The grey sky was big. As we walked, we continued the fantastic pun wars we'd begun instigating in the first few days (mostly centering around, I'm afraid, sheep). I hadn't had world-class pun-battling in way too long. Overall, it was – as my notes note – "good day!"

It was also along here that we were passed by a nice, small, bald Englishman with a GPS strapped to his torso – one whom we'd encountered a couple of times before. It turned out this was his 3rd C2C (solo this time). Moreover, he would be taking one of the alternate sections of today's route: the peak of Hellyveln – as well as Striding Edge. He described this route as, and I quote, "gruesome". Our guidebook described it thus:

"If weather conditions allow, [this option] should be seriously considered instead of the simple trail down Grisedale. After all, it would be a shame on this, the penultimate stage in the Lake District, if you didn't try to climb as many peaks as possible. The climb is arduous and, having reached the top, you then face a nerve-tingling drop on a crumbling slope followed by a tightrope walk . . ."
     Memo from us to guidebook writer: Sod off. After the last couple of days (and having survived them) we all found ourselves feeling starkly disinclined to seek out any extra inclines. And so the GPS guy headed off on his gruesome detour (DK). That's him in blue. Yowza!

In good spirits from our unanimous decision to wuss out, Mark illustrated this POV of an avalanche victim. I suppose everything is funny until it happens to you.

Settling into the walk, I found I was enjoying the work, the physicality of it, again. I figured I definitely had the juice for the whole haul – as long as I continued to have working equipment (i.e. knees). I felt like a machine again, one increasingly adapted to this amazing environment.

MF: Yep, you can't get this from the health club – huffing on your stairmaster.
     On that note, we reached Grisedale Tarn. Oh my. We all paused to ogle and/or scribble reflections (DK). As we walked along the tarn's edge, I realised we were probably never going to be in that spot again in our lives – and it was madness to race right past it. So we called a totally unnecessary break beside the water.

Though Darby also called for "elevenses", i.e. mid-morning food. As we were never again to allow ourselves to get low on food, this established our eating pattern for subsequent days: breakfast, second breakfast, elevenses, lunch, tea, and dinner. And snacks. I did some calculations at one point and figured it was conceivable we were burning 8,000 calories a day. (You try eating 8,000 calories.) Darby thought this was high. But we agreed that moving your body weight plus thirty pounds up 30% grades for up to 8 hours a day is going to require some fuel.

On that note, and while stuffing our faces, we began discussing the horrors that awaited us tomorrow: the infamous Patterdale to Shap leg. Darby confessed that this was the one that had been giving her the howling fantods ever since she started reading and planning. It's a 16-mile day with an enormous ascent, an enormous descent – and absolutely nothing resembling civilisation along the way. Once you set off, it's Shap or bust. (Or die on the mountain.)

Lapsing into silence we stared at the sheep on the opposite, sheer, slope. After a while, we were able also to pick out some mad hikers coming down that path – including one guy jogging with his dog! Fell runners – they're lunatics! Anyway, overall, it was a totally lovely stop.

Finally, we mustered the will to saddle up, resumed skirting the tarn's amazing shore, reached the end, and exited – beginning the descent to Grisedale Valley below – Darby illustrating the classic hiker sock-drying technique here. Mark got a kick out of it (or something).

Once into the valley, we stopped for lunch before a climber's hut by a waterfall – and beneath a fell, naturally. I was feeling in awfully fine fettle. As we got going again, I realised this was the feeling I'd come looking for. I'd broken through.

Whereas the feeling Mark had come looking for was clearly that of not having his 35lb pack on his back all day. Yes, that's right: in Grasmere he discovered that the YHA would ship his pack in their shuttle van to the next YHA on (in Patterdale) for the negligible price of 2. He was on that offer like Oprah on ham. He only had to suffer a little ribbing (briefly):

MF: Mark, we're going to put you in the little tent tonight. Only people who humped their own gear get to sleep in the big comfy tent.
DK: Be careful about sitting up.
MP: Actually, they're both my tents. What I may do is set up the little one inside the big one. And you two can fend for yourselves.
     We continued downward, finally reaching the valley floor and crossing a dandy bridge (DK). There were sheep! Mark did look a little set upon there. Perhaps he just needed to get a pebble out of his shoe. We hardly minded stopping. It was stupidly beautiful. Here's another dry stone wall on an incline. Here's Darby's bottom.

Finally, we spotted the first farms outside of town, flanked by fells. We approached. We were greeted by nice sheep.

MF: This is almost self-parodically pastoral.
     While I was scribbling and shooting sheep, Mark and Darby rested beneath a gnarled ole tree. We then carried on together, past a Hawthorne tree and fields of bluebells. We passed through a gate. I admired Darby and the vista. I made Mark admire me and Darby and the vista. Finally we spilled into town proper.
Henry Stedman (in our guidebook): "Patterdale is little more than a meandering collection of houses strung along the A592. Nevertheless, it's a cracking place."
     How right he was. We nearly immediately passed a pub – the White Lion. At my urging – I found myself very keen for some willful mid-day drinking – we sat down on their patio for drinks. Ah! The pause that refreshes. From my notes: "beautiful day - pleasingly pissed on 2 pints" We also had no cause whatever to complain about the White Lion's business hours.

Eventually, we ambled down the road (the town's one road) to the YHA to retrieve Mark's bag. We were all slightly surprised to find it there – just like magic. By this time, it was idyllically sunny out with a surfeit of chirping birds. Even better, on the way back we found there was a (from notes) "kick-ass general store! trail mix, bananas, Braeburns, flapjacks, chocolate-covered vegan oat biscuits!" We now all shopped like store contest winners. Also, Darby made her daily phone call.

And but so Patterdale has one camp site. But what a camp site it is! Finding it, we walked down the long winding drive to Side Farm – where Wordsworth was once a regular visitor. We took a group photo so we didn't miss out on taking our places beside Wordsworth.

I found they had a totally stellar rooster. I found it pecking around a picnic table where a nice lesbian couple were eating. One of the lesbians and I circled cagily with our viewfinders up, trying to get shots of the rooster. I like roosters. I like lesbians.

So the camping area was on the banks of Goldrill Beck – a stunning setting. We got the tents going. Mark and I decided that this was the best camp site ever – better than anything we had in Africa. Enjoying it fully, we threw a little Blister-Treating Party for ourselves – with an expert Blister Symposium by Dr. Kimball. That done, we got busy lying around in the grass, resting, enjoying the day.

MF: This is the best afternoon ever.
DK: <nods in dreamy agreement>
     As a final note: across the river lay the town of Ullswater – after a trip to which Wordsworth is said to have been inspired to write a little poem:
I wandered lonely as a cloud,
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host of golden daffodils,
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
     I lay in the grass on my back, watching the amazing clouds go by, wondering if they were very much like Wordsworth's.

We finally roused ourselves to leave – dinner at the White Lion called. (It called from the White Lion because it was the only place serving dinner.) Beer and food were grand (we sat indoors this time). On our way out, we were button-holed by a retired American professor. He wanted to know if we were students. (Darby is, sort of – finishing a doctorate in nuclear engineering while working full-time.) He expressed amazement that he overheard nearly our whole dinner conversation – and didn't hear a single instance of the word "like" used as a pointless interjection. We were well flattered.

MF: What brought you to the Lake District?
Prof (looking surprised): It's the most beautiful walking in the world.
     Mark had picked up a flyer for a full-service baggage transport service. While we lingered, he went out and arranged to have his big bag picked up and transported the next day. We figured it was probably a good day for it, because while we were waiting, three wrecked-looking guys with walking poles clomped into the pub.
MF: Good walk today?
3 Guys: [muttering grimly] . . . Hard . . .
DK: They're coming from the East. From Shap.
     But Patterdale to Shap was for tomorrow. For now, we strolled back to the Farm in the dusk. On the way in, we admired the main house. But we did not think too much about the mountains it nestled beneath – the ones we'd have to get across in the morning.

"sitting on lawn eating chocolate oat biscuits in the last light."

Tomorrow: Day 5 - Patterdale to Shap (16 ass-smashing miles)

  coast-to-coast walk     camping     food     hiking     humour     photography     pitely     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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