Dispatch from the Razor's Edge, the Blog of Michael Stephen Fuchs
The Longest Day
Pt ii: The Day Of The Longest Day
d) Heat Stroke Boogie
"Generally speaking, the Way of the warrior is resolute acceptance of death."

Right, so at the 17-mile checkpoint, major themes were shade, and foot maintenance. We both topped up with water – going dry out here could be a serious problem – as well as got a some food down our throats. But I also spent some quality time with my feet.

Long-distance walking, one gets attuned to the signs of incipient blisters, which have to be caught early. I'd figured that not walking tomorrow meant I could let them go; but I figured wrong. So – apologising in advance and profusely – I got my feet out of my boots and socks, busted out the Compeed, and got them into action on the blister-in-waiting raw spots.

My other accomplishment here was keeping to the resolution I'd made at lunch. I had been slightly anxious that Tim keep up the moblogging, after I'd alerted people that there would be moblogging. So at the halfway point, as the poor man was just sitting there in the shade trying to catch his breath and eat his sandwich, I wheedlingly said something like, "So, how about a moblog of our lunch spot?" and he said something more diplomatic than I had any right to expect like, "In a minute." Realising what a pain in the ass I was being, I resolved never to hassle him again about that on this walk. Basically, I realised the relationship was a lot more important than a bloody blog post.

So that's why you didn't get any action Compeed-application shots on the moblog.

Compeed applied, a little air on the feet, water topped up, boots laced up tight – good to go! I think these next three photos are beautiful, even if I say so myself.

Tim: <slightly slap-happy>Are we walking again?
Me: This might finally be the one where you're cursing my name before the end.

Using this turn of phrase obliges me to tell Tim the story about when I took Mandy on a bike ride up to Skyline Drive on the SF Peninsula and, as usual, I radically under-reported both the distance and especially the total amount, and steepness, of the climbing, and where Mandy stopped talking entirely about halfway up, and I at this point, mostly through hard experience, was at least smart enough to shut up and just let her do the climb, and but then we got to the top and it levelled off and also these amazing vistas up there opened up, and I ventured, "Now, see, isn't this a wonderful pay-off for all that climbing?" and Mandy replied, levelly, "I have stopped cursing your name surprisingly quickly."

I kept hunting for signs or posts that might take our photo, and then ran ahead and got all set up so Tim would only have to pause for a couple of seconds, which was about all I was prepared to ask of him I got this poor woman coming out of the port-a-loo, but I also got busted doing it Check the strength of that sunlight on Tim – and the shadow under him

We talk a bit about our awesome walk through the Scottish Highlands. Tim reminds me of something which I've totally forgotten: that I all but promised that I was done walking after that one.

Tim: Even at the time, I doubted you'd really quit.
Me: It's not too hard to be a lot smarter than me about me.

My feet feel a lot better. I suddenly remember reading something about getting one's boots and socks off for a few minutes being a good practice, one which I've never before followed.

This is the last time I try this; check, again, the strength of that sunlight

I'm kind of in the zone now. My feet and legs still hurt. I'm still panting on the hills. But it somehow has no affective, emotional content. I think I've broken through.

I'm not sure I can say the same, alas, of Tim. He's seems to me to be getting worryingly incoherent. I ask him something, and when he replies, he's speaking in tongues. I try a little monologue just to keep us distracted and keep morale up, but pretty soon even that trails off. We plod on in silence (and blasting sun).

Incoherent but still smiling Very cool souvenir shell casings I found. I'm embarrassed to admit I was only 'pretty sure' they were NATO 5.56mm. I've fired the Colt AR-15 (once), so have handled 5.56 ammo and casings. These seem a little small. But the stamp on the base includes '80' which I assume is a reference to the SA80, the standard assault rifle of the British military.

I didn't want to say so at the time, and I hesitate to say it now, but: Tim was starting to look worrying. His face was bright red, slick with sweat – and kind of puffy as well. Taking great care against any implication that anyone might be wussing out, I try to suggest that we can always pack it in. That we don't have to finish. I certainly want to get to the end; but not if securing that objective means taking casualties.

As you'll see from the next three photos, three things happened in rapid sequence.

View from under the bush The death of ink When we want your help, we'll kick your ass and extract it from you
  1. Tim staggered over to the verge and plopped down in the one bit of shade anywhere, which was beneath a thick bush. While I plopped down beside him, he pulled out a bag of crisps and started firing them down. "I don't even like crisps," he said. "It's just for the salt." Seriously.
  2. Quelle catastrophe, my pen ran out of ink. Major crisis.
  3. One of the event trucks rolled up – and pulled over to see if we were still alive.
Truck Guy: <Having determined we were alive, and not in need of casevac> You're doing great!
Me: That was almost convincing. Thanks for the effort.

We continue to sit in the shade. I try to relate gently to Tim that he is looking worryingly like a heat stroke casualty. We agree that it's nothing to do with stamina, or strength, or certainly with determination. He's simply having a physiological reaction – like altitude sickness. It's just going to happen to you or it won't.

Tim: I've never had a problem before. Then again, I've also never tried to walk 26 miles on the hottest day of the year.

He agrees that he's not dogmatically committed to finishing – he'll quit if he needs to.

Then he gets up and gets walking again.

Tim: I'm feeling better.
Me: Good. Because I'd feel very bad if you died. I'd be forever known as the Man Who Walked Tim Corrigan to Death. "Aye, ole Tim Corrigan used to be a great outdoorsman. Then that bastard Fuchs walked him to death."

There's no amusing dialogue from the rest of this section because we were too shagged to be funny; and if we hadn't been, I was too shagged to write it down, plus didn't have any damned ink.

Shagged – but defiant TC back in fine fettle
I think you can make out a little hobble there <i>Ooh, the pretty birdies…</i> <i>And hay… look at all the pretty hay…</i> Last checkpoint? Or cruel mirage? <i>Ooh, rusted things…</i>
Hit me with the Lucozade, yo yo

The last checkpoint has the air of an outpost at the edge of the frontier; and the woman running it the manner of a castaway. She seems like she doesn't see other human beings very often.

We mainly talk about the number of Hero Walkers who have dropped out – seven so far, out of a total of 58; and the number who are still behind us, which we're surprised to learn is actually 12. We could be doing worse. We particularly enjoy hearing about the two people who dropped out after four miles.

I probably shouldn't be eating this late in the walk, but it's something to do, other than pant and be exhausted, and in fact I nearly choke to death on a wodge of trail mix, which would have been a funny way to fail.

Next: "I Could Do Six Miles Upside Down With My Head In A Bucket Of Shit"

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