One wacky walk

One very long weekend, one very long book, Don Quixote (though the book took rather longer than the weekend - review for that will be coming shortly) - the elderly knight errant, Don Quixote, will now be inextricably bound up for me with another very long journey - Trailwalker 2017, which I took part in this weekend as one of the support crews.

Four heroic librarians from my place of work decided to walk 100 kilometres in under 30 hours to raise money for Oxfam and the Gurkha Welfare Trust (there's still a chance to donate, go to the team's Just Giving page). Three men and a woman set out to do the walk, along with four fellow librarians as support crew. So it was down to the South Downs in July, what could possibly go wrong?

I had been down a few weeks ago to reconnoitre the driving route. It was twisty and turny, but generally ok. The weather was glorious. It would be fine....but of course, this was England in July. By the time the team got to their campsite it was raining. One team trying to get a very large tent up in a very small space in the pouring rain was a scene worthy of Carry on Camping. The evening closed with a lot of piping hot pasta, some serious snoozing, the sound of the generator and the local A-road, and some fatherly advice through the tent wall from an unknown father and son team about sock care.

The following day dawned bright for a wonderful start, and despite last minute nerves, the team strode out proudly. But then the rain started again. Check points turned into skid-pans as parking lots became mud slides. All three of us support crew drivers had never driven an automatic before, and the rental car was "interesting" to say the least on mud. As the night drew on fog set in - I woke from a doze in the back seat to see a Gurkha silhouetted against a bright white backdrop - the sight of fog against arc-lights creating an effect worthy of German Expressionist cinema.

The night became more and more peculiar as sleep deprivation set in - a lone tramp helped himself to tea at a remote checkpoint, one lady sang "Don't stop me now" in a desperate manner, and a driver attempted to argue with a Gurkha (sure, that was going to work). We saw our team and two valiant support crew off at the penultimate checkpoint, with reassurances that it would soon be light. And by the time we reached the last checkpoint, there was the sunrise over a picture postcard white windmill, at long last some sleep, and then the sight of our team heading towards us over the hill.

Favourite moments - the dachshund that yapped his team in and out at each checkpoint and Bertie the 10 week old spaniel pup, who became a bit of a favourite with everyone. The camaraderie of working with so many great people in a brilliant enterprise. The stoicism under pressure of the team who did the walking, and the enthusiasm of my fellow support crew members. Lying under the stars looking up at the sky, noticing that the reflection of light on wet grass looked like fairy lanterns. Listening to a Scottish team compare stew recipes. Discovering that it is possible to drive an automatic on a skid-pan (even if you've never done it before); and that it's a great privilege to be pushed by a team of Gurkhas (all of whom were absolutely delightful, and completely unflappable). The joy of seeing the team going side-by-side through the finish line. All happy, exhausted and injury free (except for some humungous blisters).

The attrition rate had been brutal - around 20% didn't make it to the finish line; but "Don't stop me now", dacshund and spaniel, a team of bumblebees, and some fellow German support workers that we'd bumped into earlier were all there. There was a wonderful feeling of community, some seriously good curry (and the most enormous hot boxes for rice I'd ever seen in my life), and a sense of a job well done.

Driving home chatting about travel writing, the experiences of the weekend, why you should never marry a doctor, the highs and lows of the journey, friendships formed, and a sense of awe at what the team of walkers had achieved. It was one incredible weekend. Lesson learned - deciding on impulse to do something completely out of your comfort zone because you've just broken up with your partner is probably going to be a good thing. Don't chicken out, you won't regret it.

Don Quixote also decided to do something out of his comfort zone, more on him anon...
The last checkpoint. The Trailwalker 2017 Support Crew (me on the far right)


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