After blood tests and an ECG, I have been decreed fit and healthy by my GP so on Saturday I set off for a long walk in the rain. I didn’t particularly want to walk in the rain but it was the only opportunity for exercise after a week of work and general busy-ness. It was one of those dark and murky mornings where constant low-level drizzle was punctuated by sporadic cloudbursts.
Not surprisingly, there were few people out and about. Apart from three cyclists, two joggers and some deer, Ashridge forest was mine and it was a rare opportunity to enjoy a morning of solitude.
After many weeks of feeling tired, run down and with aching joints, I felt fit and pain-free; the ground fell away beneath my feet and the miles passed quickly.
As I walked, my thoughts returned to a question that several colleagues and friends have asked, since my collapse on the London to Brighton walk: “Why do you do it to yourself??”.
I walk because it’s free.
I walk because I’m free.
I walk because it’s the most natural thing in the world to do.
I walk because it is an opportunity to be alone, uninterrupted. I’ve always walked to escape: as a child, solitary walks in the countryside were a vital relief from social and academic pressure. They still are.
I walk because it is an opportunity to stop living in my head and to be a physical being for a while. I spend a lot of the week focusing either on my mind or on other people’s minds. Sometimes it’s good to forget the mind and just BE.
Conversely, sometimes I walk because it’s the best time to think freely and creatively.
I walk because there’s always something new to see, hear and experience.
“OK”, I could imagine my friends reply: “So why do you push yourself so hard? Why aim for these ridiculous targets? Can’t you just do short, slow walks??”
I walk because I like the challenges: I was once an unfit, un-athletic lump and I get a buzz out of setting and achieving tough goals.
I walk because I love the camaraderie of walking with Caralyn. Walking and talking is an excellent form of therapy, especially if you have a long distance ahead of you. In those circumstances, with plenty of time to be filled, you can talk and talk to your heart’s content. Conversation becomes less censored, less guarded, more interesting.
I walk because I love being part of the “machine” that forms when Caralyn and I walk. We march in unison, arms and legs swinging in time with one another and that rhythm forms its own hypnotic momentum, propelling us forwards and filling me with a sense of power and invincibility that I rarely feel when walking alone.
I walk because I love adventure. Adventure doesn’t have to be hugely dramatic but it involves change and challenge, stimulation and unpredictability. My life is richer for having experienced the cheering crowds of the New York marathon and the buzz of night walking in the London Moonwalks; for facing my ridiculous fears and walking through herds of cattle; for wading through mud and rain; for overcoming discomfort and pain; for glimpsing kingfishers, herons and goldfinches; for hearing cuckoos and woodpeckers; for all the sights and sounds and random encounters.
There are probably a hundred other reasons but these were the ones coming to mind as I walked past the Business College, and back through the dark woods before descending into a muted, rainswept Aldbury.
The path took me on through misty fields of thigh-high wet grass studded with poppies and ox-eye daisies. Despite being soaked through, my spirits rose and, knowing I was utterly alone, I couldn’t resist singing a little song or two as I walked. Then, at Tring station I turned left along the canal and followed it all the way home.