Yesterday, April 17th 2019, after walking 54 miles from the start of the Offas Dyke path on the Sedbury Cliffs all the way to Hay on Wye, I quit.
A few weeks a go me and my best friend, Jordan, attended a talk from Cpt Louie Rudd who had recently just completed a traverse across the Antarctica. He’d done it solo and unsupported and made the 900 mile journey in just 56 days. All this whilst pulling his 135kg pulp (sled with all his belongings). It was incredible to hear Lou speak about his adventure and what it took to become the first British person to complete such a feat. That was that, the seed was planted and me and Jordan wanted our own Adventure. Something not quite as big, just a mere 177 miles from the South of Wales to the North. It was decided, and we would be leaving in 19 days.
For the next 19 days I kind of forgot about the up and coming adventure and was naive enough to not think about it, let alone look at planning and properly preparing for what would be something far more challenging than I had ever anticipated. The only real planning I did was a read of some blogs, a couple of books just to give me an idea of what was I was facing. As side from that, I purchased a few items that I’d need and booked my train tickets.
Our First Mistake
Before we set off we gave ourselves a week to complete the entire 177 mile trail. This is about 5-7 days short of the recommended 12-14 days for completion. This was based upon other time constraints and us not wanting to be out on the trail for too long. Essentially completely underestimating and disrespecting the challenge ahead. That mean we’d need to be covering 25 miles per day, for 7 days straight. Realistically, this probably would have been fine if a) the trail was flat and b) we didn’t have 18kg backpacks.
On Monday we arrived into Chepstow with a 2 mile trek out to the start of the trail head in Sudbury Cliffs. Knowing we’d have to trek those exact two miles back once we’d actually got ourselves on the start point. With us getting the train down and then the additional trek out of our way, we were about 4 hours behind, which we knew we would be on the first day. By the close of day one we’d managed 17 trail miles and 19.5 actual miles.
This is where it truly started to get to me, like a little bug inside my brain eating away. Telling me this was not possible unless we wanted to spend 10+ days on the trail, of which I physically couldn’t. For me this is perhaps the biggest lesson to be learned. And that is to manage your expectations and goals. Setting to high of a daily goal meant we were completely demoralised and behind from the get go. With those negative thoughts playing havoc when all you’ve got to do is count your steps for 12 hours a day.
Lesson: Next time set goals that are achievable and if anything, easily exceeded. Thus giving momentum and not taking away motivation. Big goals are great, and they have their place, but they’ve got to be broken down more realistically. From the get go be clear about what you want to get out of said challenge and set yourself up to win, not fail. For me, if we’d have said from the get go that we’d take 10 days, mentally I’d have coped much better. As by day 3 we were ahead of that schedule.
Why I Quit
If you know me and/or have followed me for some time you’ll know I’ve done a fair few challenging things in the past couple of years. Of which, I’ve never quit. I built a business from the ground up and eventually sold it. My first running race was a 22.6 mile one up and over Snowdon and I ran a Tough Mudder for 8 hours straight doing over 100+ obstacles and 33 miles. So I’ve got the mental fortitude to set my mind to something and complete it. It’s part and parcel of being so stubborn, it’s what helps me get through things I never thought possible, and this time was no different.
Here’s what I want you to imagine.
Get your walking boots on and head out for the slowest mile you could possibly walk, then head home. Boring, right? Next, grab your medium-sized dog (15-20kg) and put him on your back. Go back outside and walk that slow mile again. Tough, right? Now, come back inside, smash two wine bottles into your boots, lump the dog on your back and then head out for that slow mile again. Got it? Yeah pretty rough isn’t it. Now do that for the next 30 miles. I don’t say that to get sympathy or to be a dick, it’s just the only way I can sum up how my feet truly felt.
When I got into my tent on day two, after 20 miles on the trail, I genuinely could have sat there and cried. The blisters on my feet were something I’ve never experienced before. They were between my toes, on both little toes, both heels, you name it, it probably had a blister. I can only see it being a combination of new socks and the additional 18kg backpack weight. That and the forever uneven terrain across sheep fields etc.
The worst thing about this? Physically I feel so fit. Fitter than I have done in a long, long time. My body and legs were holding up great and felt strong. But with every step there was pain, a huff and a grimace. Even when taped, plastered and layered they just got worse, and worse, and worse. It was so frustrating to be held back by something so fickle and easily prevented. Mentally I was slowly breaking down. Finding it hard to get into my usual zen of counting steps, instead getting angry and upset that I was in such pain.
Do other people have blisters like this and get on with it?
Is it normal to be in this much pain?
Am I actually in pain or am I just making this up?
Thoughts went round and round my head and ultimately I made the decision to quit.
Between stubborn or stupid?
Being stubborn comes easy to me. Thanks Mum! But usually this is what I rely on to get me through the stupid things I’ve done and achieved in the past. And I know I’ll continue to recall and use this to be successful in my future too.
But there is a fine line between being stubborn and just being stupid. This adventure was about spending time with my best friend before I leave the country for 12 months of travel with my beautiful girlfriend. It was meant to be fun, enjoyable and something we could talk about for years gone by. What it wasn’t meant to be was a challenge or something I was going to pour my heart into for a greater cause. That said, I was worried about doing future/further damage to my feet when we’re leaving for a year-long adventure next week.
For me to continue I truly believe it would have been stupid to do so. To grim and bear the pain, for what? Perhaps if there was no immediate plans for something bigger and greater, I might have continued. It just began to be a stupid idea to risk longer term injury when we’ve got so much lined up in the future.
Lesson: Knowing when to say no is useful. Very useful. It’s not a sign of weakness, it’s not embarrassing and you should not care what others may think of you. Knowing your own body and it’s capabilities but also lining them with future goals/the bigger picture is super important. Sometimes putting your head down and ‘just getting on with it’ isn’t necessary, especially when you’re actually suffering.
For me this is not failure. For me to be able to trek for 3 days completely self supported, with an 18kg backpack with zero training, I’m very proud and pleased of my efforts. My injuries could have been managed better, but they weren’t and inevitably once on the trail they were out of my control. But ultimately I feel frustrated and annoyed that I could not complete what I’d set out to achieve. Thus, I will be back and I will complete the whole trail unsupported one day.
Next for us is a 3 month trip around Europe, sleeping in our lovely motor home and cycling to bakeries to eat lovely pastries. Essentially we’re taking it easy, enjoying our time together and seeing as much as Europe as we possible can in the 3 months we’ve got.
Our next big adventure starts on my 26th birthday when we set out to cycle across America. That’s the big one, and that’s the motivation. But we’re already planning and penciling in more through hikes as this experience has only ignited more of a fire within than dosed the flames with doom. I’ll do something big one day, and when I do, I’ll look back on these 3 days in the Welsh countryside and be thankful that I quit.
Lastly, I just want to openly apologise to my best friend, Jordan. Who unfortunately sacrificed his adventure and his week too. I’m lucky enough to have a best friend that is willing to take on stupid and crazy things just like me, at the drop of the hat. I know he was excited for this trip and for the challenge ahead, so I apologise to him for spoiling for what was a greatly anticipated adventure. Thank you for being my friend, until we adventure again.
Thanks for reading my explanations and thoughts on what has been a tough but great 3 days on The Offas Dyke trail, and 3 days that’ll fuel me for the rest of my life.
PS – Here’s just a few of my favourite shots from three days on the trail.