Hike Northbound through Britain with Daryl May
Click for Southbound hike
Both shots were taken between Dunbeath and Wick. You can just see wool on the closest fence
DN55 Dunbeath coast view
DN55 Clouds near Wick
Days N45 - N56                                                                 Scottish Highlands
Day N55 - Dunbeath to Wick
Day N54                 Introspection about aches                      Day N56
  Northbound Home
    Start hiking here
    English West Country

    English Midlands
    North of England
    Southern Scotland
    Central Scotland
    Scottish Highlands

Southbound Home
Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Time of departure: 8.15 am
Time of arrival: 4.30 pm
Place departed: Dunbeath, Highland
Place arrived: Wick, Highland

Miles: 21.4
Cum miles: 910.2
Percent complete: 98.1

Bed sign Wellington Guest House, Wick  ***
Cost for bed and breakfast: 30 ($60)
  Overview of both hikes


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My Toremore Farm upstairs bedroom was icy, but the kitchen downstairs where I breakfasted was warm, and the breakfast warmed me further. Mrs. MacDonald is one of the rare landladies who cooks a sausage right through and does not just brown the outside.

It was cold on the walk, and the breeze added wind chill factor for a result close to freezing. Rain clouds were interspersed with fluffy white ones and a little blue sky, and I was just plain lucky not to encounter more rain than the little that I did.  But the weather was far from comfortable.

A road sign at Dunbeath indicated 19 miles to Wick, while my mapping said 22 miles. The farmhouse was a mile north of Dunbeath, so the road sign promised a long 18-mile day, while I had expected a longer 21-miler. The difference was equivalent to more than an hour at the end of a tough day, so I was glad to believe the road sign. But my mapping and later road signs turned out to be correct.

Perhaps due to the misleading road sign, today was a day that seemed to last forever. It was nearly all roadwork, and the traffic seemed especially aggressive. Chatting to a mailman he said it would be a shame to get run over so close to the finish. He reckoned that earlier would have been OK, and probably desirable, but not now.

The road surface was hard and hurt my feet at the ankle, and the steps up to the grass verge to let a vehicle pass, and down again after, also took a toll a hundred times over.  I was ready to greet my destination about halfway through the day when I still had four hours to go. That's a quite common feeling for me, but today I felt it strongly. A couple of end-to-end bikers reckoned they'd be at John o’Groats in two hours. For once I envied them.

I arrived in Wick in the early evening, and thought I detected a frontier spirit to this town, because it is rather isolated.  But it now has a spanking new, large Tesco store, so I am sure it has all amenities. Once a significant fishing center, it still has a sizable harbor.  I found accommodation at the Wellington Guest House, which you enter by asking for it in a fish and chips shop near the bus station, and they lead you out the back to a perfectly comfortable little B&B complex.

Overall, my body felt really in quite good shape.  I’d lost weight in my legs, my midriff and my buttocks. My calves and thighs seemed to have more muscle (duh), and the calves were well tanned. My back was not hurting more than it did at home. My shoulders ached but I was sure that that was temporary.  My feet were blistered and swollen, and my ankles were sore, but I didn’t think they were injured.  My knees were actually better than before I started.  My stamina was good, and my walking speed had increased. As I said to Jenny once, if I don't suffer an injury, I'll be fitter than ever. At this point, I did not realize that my abdominal lump was actually a large hernia, so ignorance protected me from that worry.

Roland Mueser’s book about the Appalachian Trail (referenced on day N36) reports that walkers increased their foot size permanently. It was too early to tell at the time if my swollen feet were going to be permanently bigger or not, and later I doubted that they were.

With just one more day ahead, I looked ahead to people back home asking me how hard this hike was.  How would I answer that question? I decided to give them an honest answer rather than a cool one.

The truth is that this hike has been the hardest sustained exertion of my life. Every day has been exceedingly hard, and the sequence of exceedingly hard days has been overwhelmingly hard.

To break this down, a single 5-mile hike carrying a 10-lb pack would ordinarily be a "significant" exertion for me. My current 20-lb backpack (and 3-lb bellypack) would make that 5-mile hike "very hard". To then extend it to 10 miles would be "extremely hard". At 15 miles, I'd call it "exceedingly hard" and I'd worry about injury, and expect to have to take it easy for a day or more.  To then do that exceedingly hard hike almost every day for eight weeks would take (and has taken) me to my limits, where only luck avoided injury and only single-mindedness kept me going. Jennifer used generous words like “relentless determination”, but I think “obstinate” might be a good word too.

The reason for this application of will?  I'd been assisted by the obviousness of the goal.  With start and end points so defined, it's easy to see what the job was. It would have been far harder to do 56 days of hiking when the goal was unknown than 56 days of hiking when I could calculate percent completion. Once I committed myself to do the hike, quitting was not an option.

Oscar Wilde said: “Life is too important to be taken seriously.”

But I think: “Hiking is too much fun to be taken lightly.”

Had I enjoyed it?  On a minute-by-minute basis, the answer was a qualified "yes". That meant "yes" sometimes and "no" sometimes. But on a "total experience" basis, the answer was an unqualified "yes", because the sense of overall achievement was easily enough to outweigh any minute-by-minute minuses.

There is an old saying that seems to have faded away, and it shouldn't have, because it's a great truth. You get out what you put in. I put a lot into this, and it gave me a lot back.
Day N54                      2007 and 2008 Daryl May                       Day N56