Reversing an old trek

Back in March, I went out for a bit of a trek. The sun was out with a chill factor in the mid-thirties, at least it was dry, underfoot was a different story. I was reversing a section of a trail I'd walked last year—I got more than I bargained for.

The North Downs Way is a trail which runs along a set of hills in the south-east of England. The 2015 trek was bearing west, this time I was walking in the opposite direction.

Caterham, where I began.

Normally I find my own way, not follow someone else's instructions. This time, however, I based the hike on another guy's walk (mainly to get from Caterham to the North Downs Way). Never Again!

The town is about 2 miles from the trail, via steep hills. At first his directions were fine, then it all went wonky. His instructions said, "dog legs to the right around some scruffy buildings." The thing was he didn't know his right from his left. I saw the left and just knew I should go that way, but followed his commentary instead. I should have ignored him and gone to the left.

After about two more miles I ended up in an industrial area (had to climb a fence to get in). It's entrance was direct onto a main two carriage road. I asked for help and was introduced to a man named Ian, who told me the best way to go. Thank you Ian.

More uphill winding ways and I was next to a bridge over the main road. There I saw the sign—finally. I had spent over an hour and 3 plus miles to get here.

This sign was the cleanest of the lot. From here they deteriorate into the unreadable. A white sign with black font is the official one and I wish the English would stick to that.

Along the way I ran across a vineyard. They have them in the mountains of Tuscany, so I guess wine grapes will grow here as well.

The North Downs Way for this section winds up and down hills, turning the 9 map miles into about 11 real miles. There are steps in a number of places. Somewhere around 3:30 pm I stopped at a seat and had my lunch. The mud you see in front of the seat was the general state of probably 80% of the hike. It was slow going and I had to use my Leki pole as a third leg, for a lot of it. My Merrell Moab's are not made for thick, clay type mud (interspersed with chalk and flint), I was sliding all over the place.

Keeping an eye on the sun, it kept getting lower and the temperature dropping all the time. I had allotted 4-5 hours for the hike, knowing the trail would be mainly mud and slower going as a result.

I should have been well past this point before the sun began to set. That hour or so lost, put me in a bad position.

Dusk was settling as I finally reached a point where my "guide" had decided to leave the main trail for something else—yet again. He did this too many times—I ignored them and just stuck to the real trail, I was not going to attempt his lack of 'left and right knowledge' again.

Darkness had descended, as I passed some sort of restaurant, I could not even see the sidewalk under my feet, I was now past my allotted walking time (should have been on a bus home by then). All signs of the North Downs Way had vanished into the Styx like void—un-seeable because of their color and dilapidated state. This happens on so many trails in the UK, that I've almost given up walking them (not to mention their Ordnance Survey Maps are over a hundred years out of date in many places).

I proceeded up the road in pitch dark, cars heading toward me with their brights on and after well over 2 miles stopped. It was near freezing and still a wind. I was seriously chilled and had run out of energy. I saw a cyclist heading toward me and asked him where the road led. It turned out I was about halfway to a town and had quite a few miles ahead of me. So I decided to return to the eating place.

Step by painful step (my legs muscles had run out of strength) and I reached a point where even my adrenalin had hit low and started to stumble, but managed to keep upright. I must have looked like a drunk, staggering down the dark sidewalk.

"I can do this," I said to myself out loud, "I can do this". My pace had slowed down to the point a snail could have passed me (with a big grin on it's face). I had to cross the road at one stage and continued on, eventually reaching the restaurant .

The people there were really great, thanks to you all. A waitress brought me some water and sat me down at a table. I tried phoning and after a few broken calls (poor connection) found a friend would drive out to get me. I had a slice of very nice Walnut cake, which helped, and waited for the ride.

Even inside the eatery I could not shake the chill, but the extra energy from the cake began to kick in and I went outside to wait for the car to arrive. A nine mile walk had turned into almost double that. I had brought food, and scheduled, for the 9 miles—but not for this and was totally drained.

No more following these so called wonderful hikers instructions. Usually I have a basic map, just use landmarks, rarely encounter any real problems and enjoy myself.

Why did I do this in the first place? Mainly for a bit of exercise and to see how well my Galaxy SII smartphone would handle the photos at 640x480 (not bad considering). I needed to test that, before setting out on my next trip (starting at Porto) in April.
Apr 14, 2016

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