“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” (Abraham Lincoln, 1809-65)
So, Mr Lincoln, I believe, was suggesting the importance of preparation before embarking on a task.
Using the same metaphor with me I arrived in Fort William last week…
“The axe? What axe? I thought you’d brought it….”
Relationships for me, being me, having my condition, are complex beasties for me. I’ll not elaborate at this point because I don’t want to drag others into this.
The conclusion of this particular round of not dealing with relationships was self harming – the relief given by the action was soon counteracted by the feelings of idiocy and self loathing that accompany such an act.
This was the day before I was to embark to Fort William and the scenic, quite challenging in places, but entirely walkable, West Highland Way.
The following day nothing much had settled. Ella asked if I still wanted to go – I replied, “Er…I dunno…”
Faint praise and all that.
I packed quickly, forgetting the little tool that tightened the screws on the mighty Wheelie III. More on that later.
Ella told me I didn’t have to go. I didn’t – but I did. I’m complicatedly predictable.
I met up with the lovely Lou at a Glasgow train station, admiring her kilt – black, clean, ironed – mine once looked like that.
She was all vital and ready to go – me, well, I felt if I faked it long enough I’d begin to believe it myself.
We arrived in Fort William at around 10 – we’d travelled along one of the most celebrated and beautiful railway journeys the UK has to offer and all we could see were the reflections of ourselves against the night sky.
There’d be plenty of scenery tomorrow.
I’d absolved myself of any responsibility for this little part of my ramble. Lou had the map, knowledge of distances, terrain, where to stay and all that kind of malarky.
Me, well, I thought our first day of seven and a half miles would be a gentle return to the walk.
Lou had limited time for the walk so we needed to get a wiggle on.
The Wheelie – it must be said – is a delight to walk with on the roads. Any weight pulled back on my legs as opposed to pushing through my shoulders and back.
I was quietly optimistic.
I shouldn’t have been.
To cut a long story short it all went something like this….
Hard slope and steps – very reluctant Wheelie.
Substantial rain – very reluctant wheelie – rubber handles came off.
Rocky and rough terrain – a number of screws came loose. The Wheelie didn’t fair much better.
I’d forgotten the little widget that tightened the screws.
One of the screws came off – and it all started to come to bits – see above.
My response was we’d lost the screw – the whole thing was fucked – end of journey.
Lou had other ideas. She has an awful lot of can-do attitude. She walked back about 100 metres and, not surprisingly since it was her, she found it.
She had some plyers that could tighten the bolt some of the way – so the start – stop/ tighten journey began again.
It was hard. It was very hard physically – mentally I hadn’t quite left bananaland. Lou was so positive – so keen to get us through – she was great.
At times I had to undo the waiste harness of the Wheelie so I could haul it up with my hands. At times Lou carried my rucksack (I’d invited Darth II along to carry the little incidentals) and at times she helped by lifting the back of the Wheelie to cross bits where the wheels couldn’t – these were mainly drainage gutters and streams that had grown with the somewhat inclement weather.
My gloves didn’t fit. They were new – the were waterproof – my hands had swollen (as they do after walking distances) – not in a comedic Kenny Everett (ask your parents) style – just enough for my hands not to get in.
Lou gave me her spare ones.
Light started failing and we were still miles from our goal – Kinlochleven. I suggested that we put our tents up next to an old wreck of a house and press on in the morning. I wasn’t terribly convinced either.
Lou and her positive attitude stated that we should press on and get to Kinlochleven and something to eat, have the promise of a bed in a hostel, breakfast – altogether a much better launchpad for the next day and the next 20 miles.
We contacted our loved ones and marched on.
In the darkness I began to vomit. I hadn’t been able to eat all day – I had a sandwich but couldn’t face it. I had some sacred Irn Bru and a couple of cans of lager from the previous night – we poured away the alcohol and most of the Irn Bru to save on weight.
I had to stop often to vomit. The world was spinning horribly. At one point I was lying face down and Lou woke me up – I wasn’t feeling terribly well. Lou had been speaking with the guy who ran the hostle – he was more than a little pissed that we hadn’t shown up yet.
I did the old, ‘…go on without me…save yourself…’ nonsense. Lou treated it with the disdain it deserved.
We finally got down into the village at about 10 – the 6-8 hour journey had taken us…me 12 hours.
Callum from the hostle came to meet us in his van. It was all pretty surreal as we found ourselves sitting in the kitchen with a bunch of twenty somethings.
In time honoured, don’t think about yourself Chris, fashion, I asked lots of questions about them. Anything really to get out of my head. Lou persevered trying to get some proper food in me. She was keen to get back on the road. I knew I was done.
Waking up the following morning I was still dizzy and mad. I had that feeling when you come off a spinny aroundy thing at the fair. I was coughing too. It felt I had something in my chest and I was using my asthma inhaler like it was going out of fashion.
With a little direction from Ella, I went off to see the local GP. I told Dr Ellis about my mental health problems and all the physical symptoms above. He was very thorough, apologising for the fact he had plenty of time because his was a small practice. He tested me for most things. On the peak flow breathing test I told him my lungs were particularly powerful – I normally blow the little pointer right to the end of the doofer (medical term, you wouldn’t understand) – when my breath only hit 700 that, to me, indicated I wasn’t firing on all cylinders. Also, when we did the shutty eye and touch your nose thing, plus the baby steps things, I staggered all over the place. I coughed horribly while he sounded my chest. He gave me a clean bill of health.
He asked me if I was a spotter (the medical equivalent of a secret shopper). I wish I was.
I gave Lou the story. She has seen me at both the top and at the bottom of my game. This was tricky because I was neither. I knew I had to get off the walk – sort myself out properly and then…only then could I restart.
We agreed that Lou would continue the journey and that Ella would, once again, come to my rescue. How lucky am I?
I felt like a prize pain in the arse. I felt I was doing Lou’s head in – I was certainly doing mine in.
Back in middle England I saw another GP. I’d been reading around my symptoms and a few of them pointed towards Lymes disease – especially after having over 100 tick bites – the vertigo, the new panic attacks (why I didn’t mention the joint pains is anyones guess). He said he thought not. He believes I have a virus of the middle ear. I’m taking travel sickness pills to alleviate the symptoms…
I was comforted by the GP’s words as I left…’If you’re still worried that you have Lymes, get a blood test when you get to Scotland. Don’t worry, not many people die of it these days…’
Lou completed her walk. She is an amazing woman. Someone I’m proud to call a friend.
Me? I’m off sharpening an axe.
I took the Wheelie for a 9 mile walk yesterday. My balance fluctuates, my joints ache and I’m still coughing. If I put my gloves on at the start of the day they fit. So that sounds like a plan.
This was the first time where I thought, ‘Fuck it, I’ve had enough, I’ll go back to my humble life of sheep stealing…’
Now though…I will be walking that mile.
Walk a mile folks.