This weekend saw a break from cycling – my Dad invited me, my brother and my sister to the Lake District to join him in hiking up to one of my Mum’s favourite peaks on her birthday – the same peak they climbed last year. I toyed with cycling up and back, but knew my head would be all over the place and decided to take the train and have some time off the bike.
My life has become so centred around cycling and my bike that I honestly don’t walk very far and my most recent experience of hiking was several years ago when I was overweight, so my walking kit is old, doesn’t really fit any more and (it turns out) no longer very waterproof.
Fortunately, the forecast changed at the last minute to a relatively clear morning, with heavy rain sweeping in as we were due to be finished. There was heavy cloud cover and the air was wet and cold, but the initial climb was easy enough and I found myself bounding ahead of my family, stopping every few minutes to take pictures and let them catch up. It seems that climbing fitness on the bike transfers nicely and I even kept pace with some fell runners for a short while.
We made good time to the summit and set about finding the spot that Dad and Mum had stopped the year before. She loved watching the boats on the water and we stopped for a while to have a quiet reminisce and process our thoughts. Unfortunately, cloud quickly enveloped the view and we were left alone with our thoughts in a cold, damp mist. Mum would have found the weather appropriate and Dad later found the photograph from the summit a year ago, with Mum looking suitably windswept and cold. It’s nice to know there’s another place I can go to feel close to her and somewhere any future grandchildren can visit to get a sense of who their grandmother was.
With the view lost and the weather turning, we decided to crack on and complete the hike, setting off into the milky haze. The path kicked up again and I think we all quietly felt we might have bitten off a bit more than we could sensibly chew, but we’d started and there had to be a downhill eventually. It was oddly fitting and it felt like something Mum would have approved of.
When the path did eventually level, we were all fairly tired from the 600m of climbing and scrabbling over loose slate. With no visibility, and a mix of smart phones, written instructions and a paper map, we found our way across the top and set about trying to find the wooden fence that acted as a way marker for the descent. After trudging around in circles and scrabbling down steep, slippery slopes, the haze momentarily lifted and we spotted the fence to our left – right where it should have been and just hidden from sight in the gloom.
Of course, we optimistically assumed this meant the tricky part was over and we just had to amble down the side of the hill and back to the hotel. Only, the path down was via an old slate mine and the surface was loose, wet and slippery. Our pace slowed to a crawl and I found myself gravitating toward the rear, worrying (completely unnecessarily) about my Dad and the potential for him to lose his footing… of course, he’s a far more experienced walker than I am and I probably should have been focusing more on my own footing…
We eventually made it down and spotted the hotel just as the rain really started coming down. It was as if the weather had been waiting for us – sure, we were soaked, but we hadn’t needed to endure the discomfort of heavy rain. A longer walk than I think my Dad had expected, but probably what we all needed – long enough to give us some time alone with our thoughts and tough enough to be cathartic.
While my body held out well for the hike itself, I’ve been in bits since! My upper body is typical of a cyclist and carrying a (fairly light) backpack for hours on end has left my shoulders sore and parts of my legs that I don’t normally use feel tight and ache. Descending, in particular, seems to put extra stress on the knees and a whole range of stabilising muscles that don’t see use on the bike.
I had hoped to get a long ride in on Wednesday to clear my head, but my body simply wouldn’t let me. I’ve been suffering a light cold and between my sore head and broken body, I spent much of the day in bed recuperating.
I’m toying with the idea of doing an 800km round trip this weekend to take advantage of the positive stress balance I’ve built up and practice multiple 400km+ days on the trot. Hopefully this pans out. Otherwise, there’s a 300km audax in Kent the following weekend that I’m eyeing up and (if I remember to get the entry in…) there’s the Severn Across at the end of the month. I’m acutely aware that the race is quickly approaching and I’m yet to really test my equipment under race conditions and see how my body reacts to the stresses it will be under.