Today I did a short walk along the lanes, with two of our older dogs. It wasn’t a complete amble, but I wasn’t really pushing myself for a mins/mile pace either. I hadn’t really done much for the past four days, for various reasons. I wasn’t home for three of them, and then yesterday, doing something really simple, I felt a sudden spasm in my back. I could barely stand up straight, and taking a full breath was agony. The spasm was in my upper back, level with my chest. With painkillers, duvet and a hot water bottle pressed against the sore part of my back, I spent the afternoon on the sofa, watching crappy films, and feeling guilty that I wasn’t out there walking, or on the computer working. My back felt better this morning, not back to normal, but more available movement and less pain. I hesitated whether to walk at all this afternoon, but I felt a hundred times better afterwards, and my back felt more supple, so I guess it was the right decision. Sometimes I despair that I’m wasting my efforts, that I’m never going to get really fit, that I’m never going to do the ascents & distances I aspire to. Then I just have to look back at how immobile I was when I started, how gasping along a mile on good ground in 40 minutes felt like a major achievement, and then I can appreciate how far I’ve come. I do feel on the whole I am making some progress and feeling more confident about trying longer distances each time we head out.
Up until now I’ve just been working on getting out walking, both on the lanes locally during the week, and also out exploring the all the local walking havens that have been almost on my doorstep all these years. However, the idea of tackling a proper long-distance route keeps popping up, and subconsciously I keep finding myself travelling over to the ‘waymarked trails’ sections of various Irish walking websites, instead of keeping myself firmly on the loop walks pages…on a recent trip to the , I was delighted to stray on to the Slieve Bloom Way for a while. Turning back and heading home, given our time restraints that evening, was the sensible thing to do, but I dearly wanted to just keep going, to carry on from finger-post to finger-post, and just not stop. A new and refreshing outlook on my walking, and a notion I am happy to welcome into my head space!
I primarily talked to myself about doing a decent day walk, confidently planning a full days walking for some mythical future date, and initially looked at the Offaly Way, even though it is 38km in length and more importantly graded ‘easy’ – the perfect introduction to the world of long-distance hiking. Its local enough that I figured we could split it into 2 days, and drive home each night, or throw everything into the camper van and make a weekend away out of it. However, I then found a review somewhere hinted that at least half of it was road work, and I faltered a little there, as I think I would find 17km or so on roads fairly boring? I should add, that the roads are local roads, and I’d know them well from driving them fairly regularly – so it’s not as if the road routes are showing me new sights etc – does that make sense? I’d probably be happy to do all that road work in an area I’d not visited before. (But I do find I struggle on roads at the best of times, with shin pain and sore ankles after a mile or two, regardless of my footwear). I should also add that the Slieve Bloom website has stated that no dogs are allowed on the Offaly Way, which is an additional black mark against it in my book.
With all that in mind, I moved on from the ambitious day hike goal. I incorporated the camper van firmly into the planning process and I’m now tentatively looking at a good 3/4-day hike, or just a few days walking in another part of the country. Next Spring or Summer looks like a great target to aim for. I’m not generally a weather wimp, but the thoughts of dealing with wet, mucky gear & equipment, along with wet, cold us, in a small VW camper, over several days, in the winter, is not something I could honestly or easily look forward to.
I feel the Slieve Bloom Way itself is more than worthy of a mention in this planning phase too! It feels less adventurous, mainly because it’s on my doorstep, and an ‘adventure’ is something you do or have somewhere else isn’t it? But that is a silly way to look at it. It is a well-respected 60km waymarked circuit over, across and around the Slieve Bloom Mountains, typically done over 4 days, and is a perfectly acceptable long-distance trail to add to the list of potential goals. The fact that it is local is totally irrelevant.
Obviously 3/4 consecutive days of long walks are a far cry from what I’m doing at the moment – so this is a goal. But if I don’t set myself a goal, and a date to work towards, then I fear I will just find a rut I’m comfortable with and stay in it. For example, I’m quite happy with 5-10km ‘moderate’ trails at the moment. They are hard enough that I’m finding them a challenge. It is satisfying to return to the car park, in one piece and I feel that I’ve achieved something. It would be all too easy to just stay there, and not consider longer, harder trails when planning our outings.
We are hoping/planning to do the Slieve Bloom way over 4/5 weekends this autumn, doing a section in a day, each weekend, and I think this will be great for me to see how I cope mentally and physically with the longer distances on a one-day hike. I also drove past the Galtees on the M8 the other day, and caught an enticing glimpse of Galtymore amongst the low clouds – which has inspired me to try at least one silly ascent this coming winter, and take myself completely out of my ‘Moderate trail’ comfort zone.
Do you have any specific walking/hiking plans or goals for this coming winter or next summer?
- Slieve Bloom Mountains (discoveringisland.wordpress.com)
- Slieve League (jauntsandsojourns.wordpress.com)
- Really intense vegan hiker walked 2,650 miles in two months (and then cried) (grist.org)
- Top ten hiking trails in Ireland – PHOTOS (irishcentral.com)