Yesterday we walked the Stroud Five Valley’s walk – 21 miles up and down the hills. It was our second attempt. Last year we managed the whole thing, but limped home in significant pain, a long time after the last buses had gone and the checkpoints closed. This year my lad bailed at 19.55 miles, and came home on the bus with a certificate, while Tom and I managed the whole thing and strolled past the last checkpoint with it still open.
After last year we spent a lot of time discussing what had happened and how we could improve on kit, pacing, and food. All of that went to plan, and made a definite difference. The lad of course is bigger, and that helps, but in addition we’ve spent the year improving our stamina for longer walks, and our ability to get up and down the hills. My thighs are still not what they could be in this regard, and my aim is to do it next year in the time and with considerably less pain! Working with a body that is prone to fatigue and pain at the best of times, meant that pushing to do this was an enormous challenge. I was very nearly thwarted by sleep deprivation a week ago, but was able to pull back from there, although it was a close thing.
It’s a lot easier doing a tough walk when you know what’s coming and can pace accordingly. Simply having done the route last year changed our relationship with the journey. One long climb with four different spots that look like the top but aren’t put a huge dent in morale last year. This year we approached it saying ‘right, you bastard….’ and found it easier just because we weren’t caught out by how much there was to do. Still a tough hill, but it didn’t break us because we knew what it was. Often it’s not what the body can take, it’s what the head can persuade the body to take.
One of the biggest impacts for me was the overall change in relationship with the landscape. A year ago, and there were many places on the walk that were unknown to me. I frequently didn’t know where I was. This year I knew at all times at least roughly where I was in relation to everything else. Every view revealed a familiar feature, and there were many points where the route crossed other walks I’ve taken. There might be more sense of adventure walking in an unfamiliar place and not knowing what you might see next, but a long journey through a familiar landscape is a much easier thing.
Much of this is to do with thinking. If everything is unfamiliar, there’s a lot more mental processing involved, and this is tiring. I suppose if you don’t really look at the landscape, this isn’t an issue, but I wouldn’t be much of a Druid if I went through the countryside in a state of cheerful oblivion just following the route markers. There were lovely surprises in the form of little paths I’d not known about. We saw deer, buzzards and ravens despite the number of people around.
Today I hurt, but nothing like as much as I did at this point last year. I’ve learned to pace, to recognise that my body can’t do everything, and needs gentle treatment if I am to accommodate anything more ambitious. If I am careful, I can keep body pain down to tolerable levels, and I can do the odd outrageous thing. If I choose carefully, I can do what I intend, and if I try to do everything I can end up able to do nothing. I’ve learned a lot about recognising and honouring my own limits, and the consequence is that sometimes I can push those limits to good effect.