AT HOME (April 2019)
Phew! Our 3+ week stay at home in the Pacific NW went exceptional well this spring. We tucked our trailer into storage during a drenching rain in mid-April and departed on the second day of hot weather the first week in May, but the rest of our stay was cool and unusually dry. Nothing like agreeable weather to make everything easier: doing chores, running errands, exercising, sleeping without air conditioning, and being in rush hour traffic. We slipped-in a short bike ride each week to help our bodies remember those demands and enjoyed a modest mix of trail and urban walking to retard our de-conditioning.
Bill remembering his sewing project from about 20 years ago with a perfectly matched chest pocket.
Bill was on a roll with his new found efficiency in confronting his treasure trove from the past. He dug his way out of a pile of chores and then approached the demons hidden in cardboard boxes tucked out of sight years ago. He finally discovered the tremendous relief of no longer sharing his mental or physical space with items that represent regret or lost opportunities. Finally, our ‘inventory’ was a better match with who we are now and we both reveled in the new mental and physical space.
I was buoyed by incremental success in taming my hypertension, envisioning a future without drugs and their demoralizing side-effects. My dairy-free trial begun 2 months prior was already a rip-roaring success with improvement in my blood pressure, gut, brain fog, skin, and osteoarthritis.
Acupuncture received both at home and in the desert over the winter was of clear benefit to me and the upcoming 4 months overseas without it would clarify my current need for it to control my blood pressure. Being able to think more clearly and feel healthier than I have for over a year under the burden of the anti-hypertensives was sheer ecstasy. I would again be doing 2 blood pressure readings sessions every day like last summer to follow its disturbing path, but anticipated smiling at the results more often than in the past.
ENGLAND’S COAST PATH – YEAR 3 (May 2019)
We again began our summer overseas on England’s Coast Path like we had done the previous 2 years. This was the third of 3 times on the route and we started where we stopped last year, in Plymouth, and headed eastwards towards the path’s terminus in Poole.
Our weekly mileage in 2019 didn’t hit 100 miles like it did several times in 2017 and 2018, but we were on the track a full 3 weeks instead of 2 or 2+ weeks. Like previous years, we both knew we were shedding pounds at the time though sadly in those 2 prior years, when we returned home 3 months later from Italy, we had gained it all back and then some.
But Week 4 in England this year, when we were in sightseeing mode, was payback time, especially for me. The 2nd morning after we’d completed the track, I ate about 2,000 calories in bacon and sausage. That was 6 sausage links and 10 back bacon rashers.
I discovered too late that the scrambled eggs on the hotel buffet table the morning before didn’t agree with me and learned that they were made with milk. So, the next day, sausage and bacon were the only fare that fit with my low carb, and newly, no dairy, diet. I was a bit embarrassed to make 3 trips to the buffet table but clearly the staff didn’t care. The Holiday Inn Express proudly promoted filling-up on the Cooked Full English Breakfast that was included in everyone’s room rate and is the traditional holiday food for Brits.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, my finicky gut purrs on fat, even fried fatty foods like bacon, as long as it is the native, unadulterated fat. (The much-touted as healthier, poly-unsaturated fat, turns rancid quickly and literally shuts my gut down if it is rancid.) And lucky for me, my body metabolizes saturated fat like it was a preferred food, leaving me with lipid profiles that make doctors coo. So, my massive breakfast of all fat and protein that left me comfortably full, not bloated, was neatly processed well before lunch time, when I was raring to eat again. Being dairy-free for 3 months had added to the current appetite problem: I no longer had the benefit of chronic indigestion to curb it.
Always hungry, but we were too early to dine in one of these enticing globes.
After 3 nights of feasting at our Poole hotel’s buffet, we relocated to London for 4 nights, where we declined to spend $45 a day for hotel’s breakfast for 2. We switched to making breakfast in our room with 3 medium, soft-boiled eggs each, several tablespoons of butter for me, and 3-4 ounces of sliced ham each that we bought the night before and kept in our mini-bar frig. A small avocado, a few sticks of celery, and my 3-ounce ration of blackberries, for possibly calming my hypertension, barely kept me civil.
The scales inside and outside of the basement fitness room at the airport Hyatt told the story: I was down to 117 lbs (53.3 kg), a number I hadn’t seen since college, and a solid 5 pounds below my new, steady-state, keto diet weight of 122, which is several pounds lower that my usual weight the last 5-10 years. And that was a week after we exited the track and days after I’d been a rampaging carnivore at the breakfast table. I can only guess how low my weight had gone. The new cold weather hiking pants that I bought 10 days earlier on the Path now looked like they were a size too big, but they would give me a crude measure of my weight changes over the next 3 months.
Our journeys with food and hunger had been similar to each other in 2017 and 2018 on the Coast Path but in 2019, I diverged from our shared experience. Bill’s increasing hunger paralleled mine in 2019 but retreated when the big physical effort plummeted. He ate sensibly from the buffet table while I was in ‘vacuum cleaner mode’, feeling like I was sucking up everything edible (for me) in sight. The scales in the London fitness room told a different story for him: his weight was essentially unchanged from a month ago.
A batch of sausage from the neighborhood butcher in Weymouth.
On The Track
Aside from my “feeding crisis” afterwards, our 3rd and final year on the 600+ mile Coast Path, or SW Coast Path, went smoothly. We’d had unseasonably good weather all 3 years, knowing at the outset that we might be in rain many days each year. We didn’t walk the last 2 days of our 2017 segment that began in Minehead because of a blustery storm but only had 1 cold, miserable day in the rain last year. The forecast was terrible for the area when we left home this May, but by the time we were on the track, a “blocking high” from the Arctic had kindly driven out the predicted rain storms but brought bone-chilling winds with it.
“Lovely day” was the passerby greeting we received several times on the Coast Path on these first, cold, blustery days. We could barely stand when making the arc on a headland and “lovely” wasn’t a descriptor we’d been using. I finally decided the expression “lovely” would be translated into American as “Isn’t it lovely that it’s not raining!”
But we felt lucky again this year: it was a windy late spring but not wet. We walked in light drizzle towards the end of 2 days, but the worst was a third day of ‘driving drizzle.’ The ground barely got wet, but the oncoming walkers looked distressed and depleted from facing into the water-pelting wind.
The worst of it for us was finishing with grassy bits plastered in mud up to our knees. We only had time and energy to clean our rain pants, packs, and jackets that evening and let our still-damp shoes slough almost all of their mud on the trail the next day. We finally tackled the residual mud on our shoes the following night with a small brush that I always pack for cleaning such messes.
Barb sheltering on trail: Thank goodness that we could get a much-needed afternoon snack with some shelter from the driving drizzle.
The weather is a wild card for everyone, everywhere, almost no matter what one is doing. The best we can do with our 4 months of pre-booked travel is carry versatile gear, obsessively check the daily forecasts, and position ourselves the best we can. On the wettest day of our 3 weeks, we headed out in our rain gear with everything in our packs bundled into plastic bags to minimize the mess of drying things out that night. That proved essential because there was little space for hanging, draping, or spreading items in our room when we arrived at dinnertime.
We carried the equivalent of flip-flops in our packs that day, which, as expected, preserved the welcome from our B&B hostess that evening. The first thing she did was stare long and hard at our mud-caked shoes. We sat chatting with her on her doorstep, removing them before venturing on to the light blue carpet. Once we had arrived in town, we’d removed our muddy rain pants, placed them in plastic bags, and stashed them in our packs. I’m sure she wondered how we could have such terrible looking shoes and clean pants, but she didn’t ask. And to add to the ease to the anticipated difficult day, there had been the planned “standing lunch,” which could be reached from my pack’s outer pockets and wouldn’t require any messy maneuvers, like opening a can of oil-packed tuna.
We were lucky: passage through this military firing range was allowed when we were there.
Bill burns himself out pre-booking every night of our now 4 months overseas. It is a gargantuan winter task that requires a variant on 3D logistical planning. We need a place to stay every night because we travel in high season, on holiday weekends and sometimes in remote areas; we may need local transportation; and we always need food markets at least every 2 days but preferably daily. Then there are issues specific to England, like seasonal ferries that are required to complete the track without making a 10-15 mile detour or military firing ranges with seasonal schedules, which Bill didn’t know about this year. Unexpected holidays are the bane of our traveler’s existence—we know most of them but even this year we had to do a quick Plan B for an unexpected one.
One of the compelling features of walking the Coast Path is the luggage transfer service availability. It’s not cheap but it is affordable. We start the season with 55 lbs. wheeled duffels with extras stowed in them like bike parts, so it’s a make-or-break service for us. We carry a small hand scale to make the weight cut-off each morning and sometimes must carry a bit of our extra food in our day packs that usually weigh 10-12 pounds, to stay just under the line.
Once Bill books all of our lodging for England, he emails our itinerary to the luggage service with the addresses and phone numbers of every stop. They’ve performed flawless for us all 3 years. They call our next host to arrange to drop off our bags at night and to make a pick-up the next day. Some of the hosts have never had guests use this service before and they must tear their hair because of the extra layer of effort sometimes required of them, but the transfer company somehow soothes them: no host has ever complained to us or refused to participate. The luggage transfer service creates a unique opportunity for us to do sustained, long distance walking with day packs.
We held-out until the 8th consecutive day of walking this May on the Coast Path, then one of us finally dropped the flag by saying “Shall we listen?” That was code for “I’m bored; are you bored? Shall we distract ourselves with our audio books and language lessons?” There was an instant nod and “Yes” and we were both off down the Grand Canyon rapids in Kevin Fedarko’s “Emerald Mile” that was recently recommended by a friend.
A truly epic story of an oar-powered speed run with endless detours into American history, hydrology education, and river guide culture. This was an 18 mile walk for us that day with plenty of gain under heavy overcast skies that included a couple of hours of light drizzle, so the distraction was more than welcome. We both whizzed through the rest of the “Emerald Mile” and then I re-listened to a keto diet book. Soon, that was that for listening on the track because things got a little chaotic, especially for me.
Fortunately, there was no basking when we were on the trail. Adders are venomous.
Dartmouth: gull-proof sacks instead of bins on the narrow streets for garbage pick-up day.
Plumbing can be complicated.
I stopped taking the 2nd of my 2 high blood pressure medications on May 17th, which was a week into our trek, and immediately felt much, much better and was thrilled with my renewed aerobic capacity. But in hind sight, I started to have a bad reaction to the too-abrupt drug withdrawal 3 to 4 days later. First, I was only tired and weak feeling. Then on the first day of those vague symptoms, I hurt my knee on a big down step but managed to finish the last few miles using poles. Bill had a too-big of day scheduled for the next day, but we cut it in half by taking a bus and I managed on the track because though it had steep pitches, there were few jarring stairs. My BP went higher, I had headaches, and felt little worse. And then, like a fever breaking, after about 3 days, I slowly felt better and stronger, though it took about 2 weeks for my gut to fully recover from going off of the drug.
We stayed with friends as planned the next 2 nights. I’m afraid I wasn’t very good company with feeling slightly ill and a being a bit restricted on the stairs with my knee problem, but the scheduled day off the track was a lucky coincidence for my new needs.
The evening of my knee tweak, Bill noticed that a wheel on my suitcase was shredding. Our friends kindly drove us to several places so we could replace it with a 100 liter wheeled duffel, a little bigger than ours and a hair under the airline limit. They had only moved to the area 6 days before, so kindly called their son-in-law to find a better sporting goods outlet when our online research didn’t get us to a suitable store. Even with that, the outfitter only had 1 large duffel and we lunged at it. It was a crisis barely averted, but it was completed resolved, thanks to the generous help of Des and Penny.
Urban eye candy for Barb.
We walked on the track with our English friends the day we parted and later learned that they both picked up ticks that day, near Lyme Regis. Neither had ever had ticks before, unlike us who had seen too many burrowed into our skin during our first year on the Coast Path. We hadn’t been doing tick inspections at night this year but were fairly confident that we’d escaped the little buggers with our long pants tucked into socks or gaiters and liberal use of our favorite tick spray every day.
“What’s The Best Part?”
“Which part of the Coast Path did you like best?” isn’t easily answered. Like anything that you spend hours doing every day for weeks, the details become a blur. And variables independent of the place itself can hugely color one’s impressions, like the weather or chance encounters with strangers.
We ran to hop the waiting ferry to Poole after finishing the path.
Bill started searching for an answer to the “What’s next?” question before our first year on the track in 2017 and still has no answer. We’d like to do more walking in England and are relieved that our friends would like to meet up with us again even though we can be rather high maintenance for them.
England has a number of enticing long distance tracks, but May is our available time slot and all the walking enthusiasts Bill has consulted over the years agree that going farther north than we’ve been in May is highly likely to disappoint us because of the risk of rain, which is of course why he picked this Coast Path route. My casual “We could go the other way on it” was actually received well by him, and we may just do that.
May is a challenging time of year for hiking: it’s too cold and snowy in the mountains and too hot in the deserts. Rain is always a risk in the intermediate climates like England’s coast, but rain is more manageable for us than the weather extremes. And this long-distance route with food and lodging at frequent intervals, plus the luggage transfer service, makes it a unique opportunity for our level of ability and appetite for endurance hiking.
As for this season, “What’s next?” was a bit of sightseeing in Poole and London, which is featured in the next, short piece. Then it would be on to the Italian Dolomites for the summer.