August 2020 was set to see me cross the finish line of the Clipper 2019-20 yacht race. Instead, the weekend that was scheduled to be a huge public home coming was experienced quietly at home with friends. These were friends I’d first gone to visit at their home on the Isle of Wight straight from my Clipper interview in September 2017, so it felt appropriate to be with them to mark the date.
It is very surreal to think of the race and especially try to imagine the official race finish weekend in London’s Albert Dock. Thankfully two members of my team (Nick Binks and Diego Rodriguez) took the initiative to organise an online reunion of crew for the following Saturday. I must admit to feeling very ambivalent about joining my crew for this online ‘event’, but having done so, I am so glad I did.
There were 26 of us from Team Punta del Este logging in from all over the world: India, Philippines, Australia, Netherlands, Germany, USA, Colombia, Uruguay (obviously), Channel Islands, to name a few. I was very impressed by Fi for staying up half the night in Sydney just to log on.
It was emotional to see and hear people I had intensely trained with and then heard nothing from for most of this year. I loved seeing my team mates faces and it was eye-opening to learn that a number of my team are still living through full ‘lockdown’ in their home countries. Two of my team never made it home to the UK and our Skipper, Jeronimo (affectionately referred to as Jero by some crew who got to race with him), is still in Subic Bay looking after the 11 abandoned racing yachts. He informed us that it’s been an emotional roller coaster for him and frustrating not to be able to sail. He also told us that Clipper are still determined to resume the race from the Philippines in February 2021, but to many of us crew with outstanding legs to race in, we are less confident this will happen. The Clipper race is still very much in limbo, but I really pray to be able to move beyond the liminal zone with a definitive outcome from Clipper HQ by November. Like many crew, living in limbo is having serious repercussions on (un)employment and family.
I think on a very unconscious level this suddenly aborted race, which had been such an intense part of my life’s focus and planning the last three years, has been a big strain. We’re all experiencing uncertainty in our lives at the moment, but the indefinitely postponed Clipper race just adds to the uncertainty already initiated by covid-19.
So, in a desire to ground myself, take stock and experience some of life in the raw that I had hoped to do living/racing across two oceans, my husband and I very casually and spontaneously decided over breakfast in early August that walking from one sea to another would be a good way to mark what would have been race finish and finally surrender all the hopes and plans we’d had for 2020. This included the final piece of THE plan’s puzzle – to walk the entire GR10 over 3 months together upon my return to these shores – after Easyjet cancelled our single flights to Bordeaux a few weeks’ ago. Instead of walking from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea for 60 days across the Pyrenees, we’re now going to hike from the Irish Sea to the North Sea for 190 miles over 18 days along Arthur Wainwrights’ Coast to Coast (C2C) route. I am happy that I finally have an opportunity to wear and test out some of my Clipper kit: my (supposedly) quick drying, high-wicking, odour-reducing merino underpants, socks and base layers, as well as utilising the waterproof dry bags, head torch and notebook (it was meant to be my log book for legs 7 & 8 of the race, but will now be my walking journal!). I am happy to be putting some of my Clipper race kit to good use, including my body, which has been very sedentary for most of the spring and summer.
In many ways I think walking the C2C will be harder than the GR10, because the English weather in the Lakeland Fells and Pennines can be utterly miserable and walking on peat gruff and through peat bogs is very, very hard going. Added to that challenge, is the new challenge (to us) of carrying 16kg packs that contain all our necessary gear: tent, sleeping bag, mat, stove, fuel, water, dehydrated ‘meals’, first aid kit, map, compass etc. In fact, getting ready in the little amount of time we had rather reminded me of the huge challenge of victualling the Clipper 70 racing yachts during a very intense week at Gosport last August!
So this August bank holiday Dave and I will set out by numerous local trains to reach St. Bees, (wearing our face masks obviously) and on the 1st of September, just before our joint birthday and the autumn equinox, set off on foot to climb up into those extraordinary Lakeland Fells full of anticipation and very full, heavy packs. We anticipate reaching the shore of the North Sea at Robin Hood’s Bay on September 18th. However, as this year has taught us all, this plan may have to change. Better to depart prepared to go with the flow according to weather, health and local lockdown’s I expect.
Given I was blessed to be raised in Edale within Derbyshire’s Peak District national park – where the story of the modern walking movement began in 1932 with the Mass Trespass on Kinder Scout – it’s perhaps not surprising that I have grown into taking up long-distance walking as my preferred way to spend annual leave. Growing up, my siblings and I roamed Kinder Scout; be it with mum for a picnic after school, or on the annual primary school walk to Kinder Downfall led by the vicar, or alone as moody teenagers when we usually stormed out the house in a huff. I have run those hills, hidden in the peat gruff writing unrequited love letters and on more than one occasion, dreamt of far-flung adventures inspired by the many outdoor enthusiasts I met whilst working in both the village pubs. I have signed a fair number of those Pennine Way completion certificates when working weekend shifts at the Nags Head. Many walkers are drawn to Edale to start or finish the 272-mile Pennine Way – inaugurated by the Ramblers’ Association in 1965 – but I have NEVER been drawn to walk the Pennine Way! I know Edale residents who have done it, but their narrated experience in the pub upon return, confirms my worst suspicions about the route. In fact, Wainwright himself famously declared that:
“I finished the Pennine Way with relief, the Coast to Coast walk with regret. That’s the difference.”
(Arthur Wainwright, June 1972)
Meanwhile, I have no idea if and how I’ll finish the Coast to Coast (just like the Clipper 2019-20 race then!).
Dr Rumble rambles on 😉