ARE YOU TOUGH ENOUGH??

Easter Bank Holiday Weekend brought us the latest instalment of “Are You Tough Enough” – not the SAS version (although that looks pretty challenging) – but the “Are You Tough Enough to be John Withinshaws’ girlfriend” version. Blistering heat, gruelling conditions and a true test of grit and determination.

OK, so I can be a little dramatic at times…

I’m not sure if it’s as we grow into ourselves as adults, or as we grow into ourselves as athletes (or both) but the challenges we present ourselves with are getting more and more extreme. The purpose of our trip to the Lakes over the Bank Holiday weekend was to start the arduous and lengthy task of recceing (knowledge = power, confidence and foresight) John’s biggest target to date – the Northern Traverse – 190 miles self-supported Ultra, following Wainwrights Coast to Coast from St Bees to Robin Hoods Bay, April 2020, with 5 days to complete (on foot).

Picture of a map and Wainwrights Coast to Coast book
We had discussed various options of how we were to go about this, John coming up with the idea of carrying a temporary home on our backs for a couple of days and doing a bit of wild camping. We decided (I persuaded) that as novice wild campers and carriers of really, really heavy backpacks and that one of us deals really badly with the cold, that perhaps we should ease ourselves into the dirt-bag lifestyle and do an out and back of the first leg of the journey, then move along the route in the car and do the same from point 2. We decided to leave out the first section for now (St Bees to Ennerdale – approx 14 miles) on the basis this should be relatively easy to navigate – fresh, daylight and among other people. So – park up at Ennerdale, walk from Ennerdale for as far as we could manage, put up tent for the night, wild camp and then head back the following day. Sounds straight forward enough.
Hiking items laid out ready for packing for a recce of the Northern Traverse

Of course we had to buy a tent, a rucksack for me, a tiny stove, a new coat, freeze dried expedition rations and a poo trowel before we were set to go. I researched and studied maps like my life depended on it (I take my role as 2IC very seriously), made notes, and a book of Wainwrights route that a friend had lent us became bedtime reading. Be prepared. This is a good time to practice my own navigation too. I got out all the warmest layers I could find that wouldn’t weigh me down too much – never has my packing been so minimal and organised… and then….

Cue the hottest weekend of the year so far.

Ennerdale Water in the morning sun

DAY 1

My anxiety was a little through the roof as we set off on the Friday morning – I can catastrophize better than anyone I know and if anything could go wrong on this kind of trip, I will have dreamt it up as the worst case scenario. I put my heavy rucksack on, breathed deep, pretended all was going to be OK and trundled along behind John, who was full of his usual enthusiasm and already 10 spaces in front, even though we’d only been going 5-10 minutes. We set off up Angler’s Crag (on Wainwrights advice, rather than trying to shimmy round the very dangerous shale at the bottom) and I instantly realise that I’m in a bit of trouble. I can’t breathe going up the hill, I feel slow and sluggish, but more than that – I’m in excruciating pain in my shoulders (and neck) with the rucksack. I don’t think I can walk 20 minutes, never mind 20 miles. John recognises I’m struggling and insinuates I may need to adjust the pack.

“I can’t do anything with the pack – it’s just really heavy.” I think I’m going to cry.

He finds a couple of straps at the top that I didn’t know existed, pulls them tight, which brings the top of the pack into my shoulders rather than dangling/dragging 3 inches away.

“Oh…” that’s a little better. FFS Jenkins.

The journey becomes a little easier after that, although we are picking our way through stony ground initially, so it’s not fast going, and of course it gets hotter and hotter as the day goes on. As we hit the forest path on a steady uphill, I start to become a little conscious of how much water we are (or aren’t) carrying and hope to god we find somewhere to fill up.

Black Sail YHA hut in the Lake District, Cumbria
We reached the Black Sail Hut YHA after about 3 hours or so of walking non stop in the heat. Wainwright describes it as the loneliest of all Youth Hostels in Lakeland. Not on this day. It was like heaven on a hill, and there were loads of other people who clearly felt the same. Not only could we fill up our water bottles, there is also an honesty shop where you can make your own cups of tea, coffee, etc. and buy flapjacks and crisps.

We had a rest, a cuppa and a bite to eat (crisps to get the salts back in and some delicious flapjack). This set us up in fine form for the climb up Seavy Knott, which is a very steep, stepped hill and a challenge with a heavy pack on your back (weight distribution – lean in). Steady away, take your time, rest when you have to.

Over the top we were treated to some magnificent views. The bonus of the hot weather was that we could see for miles and as John says, “your eyeballs just aren’t big enough to take it all in”. As we headed down to Honister I knew we had done the worst of the work for the day and started to relax a little bit. John bought me an ice cream at the Honister cafe – bliss.

View from the top of Seavy Knott in the Lake District

Seatoller was the next marked stop point in the notes, but there’s not an awful lot there so we headed straight to Rosthwaite, at which point we had covered about 14.5 miles, and walked for 7 hours or so. We stocked up with more water for camping and treated ourselves to a well earned pint.

Enjoying a pint of cider after a hot days walking in the Lakes

 

I have to admit it was tough to leave the pub. Feet were sore and hot and we still had a little way to go. John had earmarked a spot on the map a couple of miles away in Stonethwaite, but we had to walk past a campsite to get there – fields and fields (literally HUGE campsite) full of Bank Holiday revellers, relaxing, enjoying the sunshine, drinking beer, eating barbecues, children playing in the river…tempting.We found a lovely quiet spot, and then the next challenge – putting up the tent together – the maker and breaker of relationships. We make a pretty good team – John tells me how he would like me to help, and I do as I’m told. Saves millions of arguments.

It went up quick and easy and once happy with the tent we cooked our freeze dried expedition rations, drank a little Benedictine from the hip flask, had a baby wipe wash and settled into our sleeping bags before nightfall had even arrived.

DAY 1 – A HOT BUT TIRING SUCCESS

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Day 14 sober – Sunday stress

I’m not gonna lie, it’s been a tough weekend as far as sobriety is concerned. I feel like I’ve hardly slept and my fuzzy head is reminiscent of a hangover. This is not how it’s supposed to be! Foggy, anxious and tired. Bleurgh. I’m supposed to feel fresh and clean and full of energy!

The other half has been away since yesterday morning. I have avoided all invites (and all intincts) to party in his absence. I know he has been partying hard, however, and somehow this has taken me very close to pressing on that ‘fuck it’ button. I could drink alone, no-one would know…although hardly anyone knows I’m sober, so who cares except me?

I decided to make a beef stew and was contemplating buying red wine to cook with, and wondering if I could resist the urge to drink the rest. The shopping list started with ‘red wine’ and then promptly got changed to ‘red wine stock pots’. Stay strong. Breathe deep. I purchased pretend alcoholic beverages on my shopping trip in case the urge got too great over the course of the evening but they are still sat in the fridge.

Alcohol would normally fill the gap when the other half isn’t here. I don’t sleep well when I’m alone, hence the reason I feel so crap today. But, if I had succumbed to the drinking I’d likely feel a hel of a lot worse today. In ‘normal’ circumstances, I probably would’ve started drinking Saturday afternoon to fill the void, probably by myself, and probably more than a few glasses of wine.

I went to see my sister in York yesterday. I contemplated getting a drink for on the outbound train (1.30pm). My sister is pregnant so not drinking. I contemplated getting a drink at the train station before returning home, contemplated going to the pub with friends when I got back, contemplated buying tonic or lemonade to mix with the half opened bottle of vodka that sits in the wine rack and looks lonely. I woke up this morning contemplating a drink, contemplating going to the pub later, buying Guiness as it’s St Paddys day. I contemplated popping to the off licence for some bottles of strong cider, starting the day wrong. It’s only just 10am.

I think about alcohol a lot and it feels like a lot of effort to stay sober when I’m so tired. Kind of an oxymoron I know.

So, I am taking myself back to bed instead. I will meditate but I shall let myself drift off  if it happens that way. Hopefully I will have some thing else to think about when I wake instead of alcohol!!!

Day 9 – Why I love Sober Mondays

When your boyfriend (or ‘partner’ maybe a better word – as we’re grown ups and not 12…) suggests that you have another sober stint, but then it gets to the weekend and he needs beer to watch the rugby… what do you do?

Do you fold and join in?

Do you get cross and agitated at the beer betrayal? (B*st$#d, we had a deal!)

OR, do you remind yourself that sobriety is an individual process and any vows should be taken to oneself, not as a commitment to others.

I chose no.3. I made no fuss over his choices. I reminded myself that alcohol would not enhance my watching of TV, but bought myself some non alcoholic beers in case I got any irritable alcohol  envy … and watched the rugby. I passed the first test.

I love waking up on a Monday morning feeling completely fresh. I feel a bit virtuous and smug, and love that I have had my self care at a maximum. Any rest has been proper rest. In contrast to the last time I had a sober stint, I was really looking forward to my first sober weekend, instead of dreading it. I knew what to expect and I welcomed it. Rather than viewing it as deprivation, I now see it as giving myself something back.

Monday went quick this week. I was in work early, meaning I get to leave early as I work flexi hours, and the whole day went pretty smooth. Cooked a healthy tea, went for a workout and genuinely feel this is how all weeks should begin.

By the time Tuesday comes around, instead of just feeling like I’m returning to normal after a heavy binge at the weekend, I am quite literally buzzing with energy.

The difference is remarkable, I just cannot quite workout why I’ve not chosen this as a lifestyle. Who wouldn’t chose this over the hedonistic party animal that takes half a week to recover?

Life in HD, or life in a big fuzzy whirlwind?

Time to fly without being high

Day 1 of sobriety – again.

I had a few drinks yesterday to clear the fridge, get rid of the booze and dull the hangover. I am therefore not waking on Day 1 with quite as clear a head as I would wish. I could’ve poured the drink away, or donated it to someone – but I opted to spend my Sunday afternoon slightly pissed watching films and hardly moving from the sofa.

I have recently been longing for that smug sober Sunday feeling, waking with a fresh head and a clear mind. I am looking forward to all those feelings that come with being sober. Will I find it hard to ditch the booze this time around? I don’t know. I’m kind of looking forward to being free of it at the moment.

I’ve started reading over all my blogs I wrote during the Sober Eighty challenge last year which is quite interesting. I am excited as to what the next 3 months have to bring.

Day 1 of 112.

 

The book isn’t going to write itself

I’m 42 years old this year and I haven’t got a bloody clue what I want to do with my life. I mean – I thought I might’ve found my life’s purpose by now. One thing I am sure of, is I hate my current job and I have no idea how to get out. I feel trapped. Sure it pays the bills, but if it were a competition between the job and watching snails race… or paint dry…or any other of those synonyms that explain how excruciatingly bored I am at work… How do you start a new career at 41 if you don’t even know what you want that career to be?

I have tried many ways to work this out. I have delved deep into my soul. What makes me happy? What am I good at? What can I do with my one wild and precious life? This soul searching resulted in a massive heart to heart with my partner last night, who cuddled me as the tears fell and the frustration came pouring out. He asked of me the same questions I have been asking myself. I do not know the answers. Yet.

As we followed my ideals and dreams, we ended up taking a journey to live in the Lakes (for the outdoors and running and hills) with a hippy shop selling crystals and beautiful jewellery and books. There was a room for holistic treatments and also a big space at the back (with a wooden floor) for Yoga, meditation, art classes, creative writing workshops, etc. He said dream big. I don’t think he was expecting that I have got to 41 and my big life’s dream is to be a hippy.

I think I have been waiting for some divine inspiration, something to fall out of the sky so I can say, “yes, that’s me, – I want to do THAT”. I am happiest when my brain is active – or the opposite – when I can lose myself in the creativity. I love writing, but have been suffering huge writers block from the moment I decided I wanted to write. I love painting and drawing – and yet I have not picked up a pencil or a paint brush in years. These are things I need to remedy, not least as they are the things that make me most happy.

I have realised that I cannot wait for the magic opportunity to land on my doorstep. Hoping and dreaming is not enough. I need to take the time to create the life I want to lead. I need to take steps to start. After all, the book ain’t going to write itself.

 

Flu perspective

So this week I had a couple of days off work with a feverish virus and chesty cough – meaning bed/sofa rest. I just love it when people “soldier on” at work and bring their germs in to share with everyone else. Yep, well done Shirley, you’ve earned brownie points for coming in while you’re dying of flu.. sure the bosses were very grateful. Maybe not so much for the wave of the next 9 people in the office getting sick from your germs and then having to take time off work.

I thought I had got away with it. I was quite smugly wandering around life, safe in the knowledge that I’m fit, I sleep well, my diet is good, and I take lots of vitamins. “This flu ain’t getting me.” And then it appeared, out of nowhere and struck me down in a flash. Teach me for being flu cocky. This one’s a beast!

My eyes were too hot, and the headache too harsh, to read. Even phone scrolling social media was tricky.  Bright lights. What to do then, to fill the gaps between fever induced snoozes?  I hate daytime TV, so I was drawn to Netflix and Amazon Prime for company. I must’ve been pretty out of it on Day 1 as (after at least 20 minutes of flicking through) I managed to pay £4.99 for a film which I now own but will never ever watch again. I only made it through the first viewing by sheer stubbornness as I had paid for it and was determined to get my money’s worth.

Choices got a little more careful after that – “free” being the first prerequisite for viewing. But I’ve also been doing a lot of soul searching of late, feeling at a strange transitional point in life where, I quite simply do not feel fulfilled in my work/career and am not sure which direction to turn. What’s the next step?. #midlifecrisis. I also have my first Ultra in 3 weeks and am quite frankly shitting my pants but trying to remain positive. So these were my good choices to lift my spirits from my poorly bed;

1. “Eat, Pray, Love” – I love Elizabeth Gilbert as an author and don’t think this is a bad representation of the book. I have seen some totally good books ruined by films. This one’s pretty good though. And, yes, who wouldn’t like to spend a year travelling to Italy and India and Bali and write about their experiences. If I didn’t have any financial obligations and my other half wanted to come too..

2. “Running for Good” – a documentary about Fiona Oakes, a remarkable story of a Vegan runner with no knee cap (this astounds me) who has broken world records. The film is about her journey on the Marathon des Sables but to be honest I was more awestruck by her selfless nature and loving, giving kindness than I was her achievements. Don’t get me wrong, the lady has done some amazing things, but she does it all to raise awareness so that she can fund the animal sanctuary that she runs. She cares more about the animals than she does herself. It’s amazing what you can achieve when you have purpose.

3. “Fyre” – the greatest party that never happened. The moral of the story – don’t believe all the hype you see on social media. This just confounds my opinion of how easy it is for people to bullshit the rest of the world via the means of social media. How easily we are “influenced” by crap. How do we decipher what is real and what is fake anymore?

I wanna go where the people go…

Wish that I could be like the cool kids….

Maybe not.

4. “Made to be Broken” – tale of Ultra Runner, Karl Meltzer’s attempt to break the world record on the Appalachian Trail. That’s 2,188 miles (3,523km) in less than 46 days, 8 hours and 6 mins. He smashed it!

…So my first Ultra attempt at 35 miles (in 3 weeks time) would be less than he would cover in a day…

You don’t get to see an awful lot of the AT in the film, and it’s difficult to feel a connection to the man. Perhaps as it’s so far ‘out there’ it’s difficult to understand. They did interview some people walking the trail though. A through hike takes an average of 5-7 months. Now that would be the adventure….

And finally,

5. “Tony Robbins: I am Not Your Guru”

Yes you bloody are Mr Robbins. Motivation and Inspiration personified. It’s a good documentary to watch, not least if you’re feeling a bit sickly sorry for yourself and disappointed that you are not fulfilling your soul purpose in life because you don’t know what it is, and frustrated that the Universe has not yet given you a clear sign. This woman stands up after he asks if anyone is suicidal (because statistically something like 12 out of 2500 in the room are!!). And she tells this tale of how she was raised within the “Children of God” which, in my humble opinion, is a sick cult that brainwashes people to believe that in order to spread the love of god, you need to express your devotion through sexual acts. From the age of six, she was required to have sex with other members of the cult. Six years old. And here I am moaning about the flu and feeling frustrated with life. Perspective.

It’s all about perspective. More on my life lessons from Tony in the next blog.