So when we last left our heroes, they were hiding out from the marauding solar death ray beneath the canopy of the 20-mile checkpoint, lapping up Lucozade and choking on trail mix, reaching down deep for the necessary sack to tackle the final 6.2 miles.
Finally, we steel ourselves and set off. (Initially in the wrong direction, but that's soon remedied after we make out the frantic shouting behind us from the checkpoint.)
Me: I could do six miles upside down with my head in a bucket of shit.
Tim: Hmm. That actually might be preferable. It's a toss-up, really.
Me: <spluttering with laughter and writing this down>
Tim: My mission for the remainder of the walk is going to be to make you exhaust the ink in your back-up pen.
I'm sort of tromping around well off the path to get that third photo up there, the one of the flower when I pause to consider the semantic content of the first photo.
Me: Well, that's one less thing.
As we plod along, increasingly in silence, I sort of obsessively work at getting my keychain knife which has the hotswap emergency back-up pen in it attached to the spiral binding of the notebook. It's giving me something, other than the pain, to focus on. I seem to recall something in Krakauer about climbers obsessively fiddling with something to shut out the fact that they're freezing and dying.
Tim relates to me the horrifying details of the climbing disaster from the book and movie Touching the Void. This makes me feel like, Okay, maybe we don't have it so bad.
As you can see, these poor bastard cows have swarms of flies drinking from their f&^%ing eyes. All they can do is flick their ears forward to try and scatter them, which works for about 5 microseconds. I realise, again, that, Okay maybe we don't have it so bad.
We pass that cheerful bastard in the truck, who is parked in the shade, and who gives us a big, cheery thumbs-up. It reminds me of marathon supporters who stand there all afternoon clapping and shouting out, "Way to go, <name_on_shirt>! Looking good! You can do it, <name_on_shirt>!"
He also tells us we're only 1.5 miles from the end. This is soon revealed to be a vile, contemptible, bare-faced lie.
Tim: Because, really, why would you? Ever?
True; true. We pass this military base:
My feet are now telling me all about it with every single step. It's also 4.45pm and I still have not urinated one single time all day. To my abject horror, I now find myself compulsively licking the salt from the tops of my hands. This is full-on reversion to an animal state.
Tim: Me, too.
Blessedly, there's a little shade through this stretch.
We are in agreement that this is a seriously goddamn long 1.5 miles. In fact, I'm convinced we've already walked farther than that and with the finish nowhere in sight. But I'm also half-delirious, so Tim and I agree that the mere fact of me being convinced of something means jack.
We find ourselves way down some horrifyingly down-market residential street when we realise neither of us has seen any of the triangular, blaze-orange way-markers for some time. We peer forwards and back no way-markers. This late in the day, taking a wrong turn, or getting lost, would be a crushing setback unthinkable, really. But then again, we're too shagged to be horrified, so the prospect isn't so bad.
Tim busts out his iPhone with onboard GPS.
Me: Suddenly, that thing completely pays for itself.
Tim concludes that we somehow overshot. We try to brace ourselves for turning about and going back the way we came when here comes the cheerful bastard in the truck, trailing a big cloud of cheerful dust behind him. It turns out we're going the right direction after all. The GPS wasn't wrong Tim was just reading it, essentially, upside down. In our current state, user error is going to be the norm.
Shortly afterward, we're able to make out the Stonehenge car park in the distance.
Then the shimmering finish line. (Mirage?)
We roll into the finish area right at 6pm. Ten hours. Not terrible.
We fall down in the shade and fire down some of the snack buffet they've got laid out. I don't move for a long time.
When I do move, it's to pour myself in the back of the minibus which is you'll recall is right where we came in. I loll around weakly in my seat. I'm utterly done good for absolutely nothing now.
Eventually, I vaguely sense others piling in including Tim. A lovely breeze comes in as the bus starts moving. Tim points out, inexplicably to me at first, how close we came to walking 30 miles. I really don't get this at all, until he suggests, with a grin:
I laugh and agree that to do so would be a profound existential act. A clenched fist shaken defiantly at the Gods.