On being half way – or not

Ok, well, we are half way through the calendar year. Nearly at the end of another academic year and nowhere near where I wanted to be in all sorts of ways. Earlier in the year I was storming ahead with ambitious research plans for my sabbatical, more ambitious plans for all the other things I’d do while not caught up in teaching and administration at work and with my bid to run 1000 miles this year. After a super successful December of running clocking up over 100 miles, January was the same (helped of course by Dopey) and then February and March also came close to the 100 miles mark. April was a little lower with tapering for London but still I clocked up nearly 60 miles. May and June were rather crap – I came in under 30 miles both months.

It’s not that I have just been sitting on my arse – although I have done rather too much of that too! So I didn’t run much in May, oh well, it was just after a marathon, perfectly justifiable rest. June – well, I started with some Washington DC running but then didn’t do much else. The running was all tourist running with lots of stops and excuses to catch my breath and if that didn’t work, I could always blame the heat. We did a few good walks on the rest of the trip and a couple of runs at Chesapeake Bay. Then we got home and I did nothing. I nearly pulled out of the Solstice Saunter on the 21st June because I didn’t like the idea of running 5 hilly miles on basically no training.

However, I did go do the Solstice Saunter and it was a beautiful run. It was hard but I ran quite a lot of it and just walked the hills really. I was expecting to be significantly slower than the year before but even with my stops for a few pictures along the way, a chat at the water station and walking the hills I was only about 5 minutes slower and I very much enjoyed it. Then I did no running for the rest of the month. I did do the 10k Leeds Legal Walk on the Monday after and I went to Pilates class on Wednesday and then we had a lovely 10 ish mile walk yesterday.

We drove up to Malham and parked up and walked to the cove. There were a few people about but not many and for a little while we had the cove to ourselves. We lingered and listened to the gentle gurgle of water and the birds. Then we made our way up the steps at the side of the cove to the top. We stopped to help some kids with a map who then got told off for asking for help. At the top of the cover we waited for the kids to get going and as we were about to set off a peregrine gave us a lovely little display before flying off into the distance. We crossed the cove and started our descent on the other side and because we were chatting went the wrong way.

We realised after about half a mile and doubled back and got ourselves back onto the pennine way and made our way onwards to Malham Tarn. There we sat at the water’s edge with a sausage roll enjoying the views before moving on. We headed towards Gordale Scar and started making our way down. I don’t really like down. We got to the first water fall and talked to a couple of people coming up – they said the next bit was wet and slippery and technical. We decided to turn back. When we got back to the top we had a little sit down and a look at the map. We knew where we were exactly but the path we thought we should take next rather than going all the way back to the road didn’t seem to be on the map. We took it anyway.

We walked along the ridge and eventually made our way down into the valley and bought an ice-cream at ‘Gordale Refreshments’. It was lush. We walked with it to look at Gordale Scar from the bottom. It confirmed that we made the right call not coming down the last bit. Lots of people were going up it and there was a bit of an audience and it was definitely wet and looked a bit steep and slippery. Up might be a possibility for another time but I am not sure I’d want to climb down it.

From there we walked on to Janet’s Foss and then back to Malham for a coffee and a chip butty and the Old Barn Cafe. It was a lovely lovely walk. We did very little for the rest of the day. Today was a complete waste of a day really. I never got going and got naff all done. At lunchtime Kath dragged my sorry butt round our sheep look and in spite of initially being anxious about actually running and finding it very hard it was good to be out and running. July starts more positively on the running front.

So half way. I am at about 420 miles. So about 80 miles behind my mileage target. I am disappointed. I started the year ahead and I let that slip. But I also think I can probably catch up if it turns out I want to. I’m not sure I do. I enjoyed the run today and I feel ready to run more again now but I might change my mind next time I run. So I am half way to wherever – it doesn’t matter. Let’s just see where I get to – miles, work stuff, other stuff. Or at least that’s what I keep trying to tell myself. In reality though I am grumpy. I am grumpy about the first 6 months of the year. I am grumpy about things not done and fitness lost and at the moment they are the things dominating my thoughts rather than the things achieved. Hm

Shenandoah National Park – hiking and a little bit of running

We entered the National Park in our trusted Neville at the most Southerly Point – at Rockfish Gap. We started our leisurely drive up Skyline Drive stopping at many of the look out points. We stopped a few miles in to do a short walk to the summit of Turk Mountain (all the trails we did have information on them on the website if you want to look). It was a really clearly marked and easy trail. I am not hill fit at all so it was a little more sweaty and huffy/puffy than I wanted it to be but it was a great walk. 

It took us maybe an hour and a half to go up and come back down and there were some good views from the top. After that we continued our drive up to Big Meadow Lodge. We had lunch (with really poor service), drove back down to the waystation, visitor centre and shop and looked at that for a bit and then eventually got checked in after being told to be back at 3pm for our keys and waiting until 3.20. When we got to our room the housekeeper was still there. It was not a great start and we were both tired and a bit grumpy. 

We decided to head out for a little explore and were soon cheered up by chipmunks which are darting about all over the car park. We walked up to the Black Rock summit – an easy ten minutes from the car park and watched the weather blow in. We managed a selfie in a bit of a cloud gap but that was all we got. After a bit of a chill out we had food and a bottle of local white wine in the tap room and planned the next set of adventures.

6thJune didn’t start well. I struggled to wake up. Even after coffee I felt sluggish and sleepy. Probably the wine – which had been nice but clearly hangover inducing. We set off for a little run and it was so so hard. The plan was just to run down to the big meadow, have a walk round that and then run back up. I really struggled and as we turned off one trail onto another and started going up a little bit I felt really sick. I stopped and we walked a little. Kath had some polo mints in her vest and having one helped with the nausea. We saw a deer and that cheered me up.

We got to the big meadow and followed some little tracks through for a while watching some deer in the distance and people with ridiculously sized cameras watching the deer and probably looking out for bears too. Then we ran/walked our way back to our room and I had a little cry. I felt utterly crappy and unfit and like the best thing would be just to stay in the room and let Kath go explore. Then I got over myself and we went for breakfast and set off on the days adventures.

First up we were going to to the Hawksbill summit loop which would take us to the highest summit in the National Park via a looped trail that was described as moderate and busy in the guidebook that we had bought the day before. We pulled into a car park and then realised that we had pulled into the one before the one we were actually meant to park in. A quick look at the map determined that we could get to the summit from this spot and that it would take us up a fire road and would be an out and back walk. We decided to do that to avoid a busy trail and to give me some confidence. It was a nice walk up and while a little huffing and puffing definitely happened, it wasn’t too bad. We were rewarded with some stunning Blue Ridge Mountain views.

After the Hawksbill summit we walked back down the way we came and saw quite a few people making their way up now so we had definitely timed it right and chosen the right trail as there was a steady stream of people on the other one as far as we could tell. We drove onwards a little and stopped at the Skyland resort for a pee. It was a little early for lunch but we had read about a short easy trail which was only a roughly 1.5 mile loop and close to Skyland so we decided to walk that. It was called the Limberlost Trail and was a path aimed at families or those struggling to walk longer or more challenging trails. There were frequent benches and an activity sheet for kids at the start of the trail. We walked round listening to the birds and chatting. When we were done it was time for lunch.

After lunch at Skyland we drove back towards Big Meadows to do the Dark Hollow Falls walk as an out and back or, if we felt like it, with tagging on the Rose River Loop. The Dark Hollow Falls trail starts with a gentle but steady decent. It’s a definite trail rather than track with roots and rocks and later on some muddy sections but it really isn’t too technical. I was doing ok and really enjoying being out. I was thinking about how much trail running has taught me about my ability to do this sort of thing and some of those reflections formed the basis of my latest #Run1000Miles ambassador blog which went live today.

We arrived at the top of the Water falls – just above the Dark Hollow Falls where there is a little cascade. We sat for a bit on the rock, sipped some water and waited for the walkers around us to clear. Then we moved on. It was steeper downhill here and I had a few moments were I didn’t really want to be doing this. However, the setting was too stunning to consider not doing it. It was busy though so we just kept moving, stopping only to let people who were making their way up the path come past us. When we eventually arrived at the bottom we had a proper look at the falls. They are stunning and then decided that we would walk on.

We looked at the map. After having come all the way down the way we did we thought that going back up that way with the number of people and the steep bits would actually not be fun so we decided to walk part of the Rose River Loop but then pick up the horse trail that runs between Skyland and Big Meadows and walk back along that to the car park. That would avoid the worst up and should avoid people altogether. I looked at the map and declared ‘that sounds good because we are nearly at the lowest point now so should start gently climbing again soon’.

And off we went. Down. More down. And then more down. Clearly I can’t read an elevation map. We were not in fact nearly at the lowest point. We were about half way down at this point. We wound our way along the river which was a stunning and set to a wonderful soundtrack of trickling water which got stronger through the cascades and quieter in the pools. We spend about a mile and a quarter going down a fairly technical trail. Every time it evened out and we spent a bit of time walking alongside a pool or slow flowing sections we thought we were at the bottom and then came the next cascade. Eventually we were as low as we could go though, crossed the river over a bridge and started going up.

We came to some more water falls. They were busy again which struck me as odd because on the trail itself we hadn’t really seen anyone at all. As we made our way further up a family coming down told us that they had just seen a bear. I was a bit scared and excited at the same time. We kept our eyes open but there was no bear to be seen. I wasn’t sure if I was relieved or disappointed.

Once at the end of the trail we needed to find the horse trail. The map in the book turned out to be inaccurate but luckily we had the paper map the visitor centre had given us. With the help of that we found the trail and continued walking up hill a while. We were a good mile or so into the trail, maybe even more when we say our bear. There it was. Maybe 60 metres off the trail munching on leaves. It knew we were there as it looked over a couple of times. We stood and watched, in awe. I felt very grateful for being allowed to be in its space, to watch it and to share a brief moment with it. Then we moved on and left it to it. Given how quickly it could just disappear from view even while we were watching it, I am sure we had probably been seen by quite a few bears all day – this one just chose to let us see it.

After a shower and some tlc for my really quite impressive heat rash we bought some Limberlost Lager to celebrate a good day of hiking (and having hiked the trail of the same name) and sat with that in the Great Room in some rocking chairs to talk about the next day, plans and to wrap our heads around the fact that we had seen not only deer and all manner of birds including a peregrine but also a black bear. It had been a 38000 step day though so we didn’t last very long before falling into bed.

Pen-Y-Ghent Adventures

Today was a perfect day. We decided fairly last minute to hike one of the Yorkshire Three Peaks and that we would do Pen-Y-Ghent, partly because it’s logistically easiest from here and partly because that’s where we’d start if we did all three so it would be a good way to recce the things like the drive there, parking and the start of the route because those are the things that stress us out the most. Navigating and hiking the route itself is actually not worrying!

We set the alarm for 5am and were planning to head straight out but things took a little longer because there were some small mammal organs and little pools of blood to deal with (thanks Einstein Cat). On the drive we chattet about the familiarity of the landscape, about some work stuff and toxic masculinity, the glorification of busy-ness, power and corporate bollocks. It felt like a good day, we both had our sense of humour and anxiety levels were low. Also, I think we got to Settle before I was really awake.

The drive just took 50 minutes and we got a spot in the National Park car park, sat in the car and had a banana and then headed out via the toilets. We walked along the road in Horton in Ribblesdale back the way we had driven in. We could have used a little footpath that went off to the left but instead followed the route description I’d written down and followed the road round to the left, crossed the Beck and then turned left along the road. We walked along the road for a little while following a bloke and what I presume was his lad. We could hear two women talking, well bitching, behind us and as they got closer we could also hear that they had music playing. We slowed right down to let them go ahead. I really don’t get the music thing – it’s just rude and obnoxious. If you want to listen then use headphones but why you would want to drown out nature’s sounds I have no idea!

A couple of groups overtook us and asked how many peaks we were doing. It seemed like an odd question to ask somehow. Mostly people were attempting the three peaks. We continued up the road until we came to a gate into a field with a well marked and trodden track. As we made our way up the track I did a mental check of how everything felt. My boots seemed good, tied about right and giving support, my new walking pants felt comfortable and weren’t pinching anywhere and seemed to give a good range of movement and the pack was sitting nicely on my back. It’s quite small really but I managed to get everything in it. I had roughly 2 litres of water in the bladder, my waterproof jacket and my Alpkit warm running top as well as our cheese sandwiches, crisps, apple and our camera. So while not heavy really it was still more weight than I generally carry because of the water.

It wasn’t long before I became aware of my lack if hill fitness and I had a brief moment of utter frustration. Being able to run quite a long way on the flat does not mean you can walk up a big hill! I was huffing and puffing more than I wanted to and very very briefly I doubted my ability to get to the top. But obviously turning back was not an option. I concentrated on looking at the cotton grass, some sheep in the distance and trying to work out were the curlews I could hear were. The views were stunning. Behind us we could see the quarry and Ingleborough in the distance and ahead Pen-Y-Ghent was looming. We kept passing a guy walking up on his own but with a group following (they weren’t ready at the agreed time so he left them and set off) and then he’d pass us and we had a little chat each time. The path is easy to follow and easy to walk in terms of terrain really, some of the steeper sections have steps and there was nothing tricky at all.

At the end of this section of the route you exit the field and land on the Pennine Way. From here it’s a fairly sharp climb up to the summit of Pen-Y-Ghent so before we started that we had a little breather to take in the views, have a drink and focus. I wasn’t sure how I’d be, sometimes I’m weird with heights and we were definitely going up! The path up is actually not really tricky. It’s mostly easily navigable steps with secure footing and plenty wide enough. There are also plenty of places where you can step off the path and let others through. It is fairly steep though. Well, there’s a steep section, a brief levelling off and then another steep scramble which is a little (but really not much) trickier with some steps up which pose a challenge if you have short legs!

This bit was the bit I liked least because there were too many people. I found it physically challenging but that’s fine, it was more the pressure of having people coming up behind me as well as some people slower in front and not quite being able to settle into my own pace and just keep going so instead I had little bursts and then stood in for a breather meaning we got caught up in people. Once the steep section is done, it’s a gentle, well paved slope up to the official summit. There were people everywhere so we didn’t linger but instead crossed the style and turned right (actually continuing straight along the top of Pen-Y-Ghent) leaving everyone else to tick off their peak and rush on to the next one down the Pennine Way.

We were heading towards Plover Hill (If you think of Pen-Y-Ghent as being the shape of a crouching lion as some people apparently do then Plover Hill is the Lion’s backside basically) now walking on a far less well defined path on softer, bouncy, boggy ground. There were some ankle breaker holes around and some of the steeper downhill sections unnerved me a little because I still have this irrational fear of going downhill. However, almost as soon as we turned off the Pennine Way the people noise disappeared. A few more steps and it was just us and we could linger in quiet harmony as we watched a couple of skylarks playing. We walked on and came across some egg shells and wondered what they were from (they’re Grouse!). Nearby was a grouse turning his back on us and further on another watching us from the wall. We saw more skylarks and curlews and heard more grouse as we made our way down and then a little way back up the wall line towards Plover Hill. No plovers though but one or two lapwings. We climbed a style and then found somewhere to sit and have our picnic overlooking the next little dip in the landscape. While we were munching our cheese sarnies we looked at the map to check our way down.

The wind seemed a little nippier here so we didn’t sit for that long. We set off down the hill – again some steep bits presenting a bit of a mental challenge for me. Kath held my had down some sections but unless you’re as much of a fruit loop as I am, the terrain is fine, the steepest sections are basically stepped and secure underfoot. I imagine it would get really boggy if wet and some sections would get rather muddy and slippery but today it was perfect. Still no people, just sheep!

Once we got to the bottom and right into the dip we saw the Pennine Journey path, turned left onto it and then basically followed it all the way back into Horton in Ribblesdale. For the first part it was just us and some sheep who were confirming the stereotype of sheep being stupid. One ewe in particular ignored all of the space on either side of the path and insisted on running away from us with her lamb. She obviously came to the edge of the area she is hefted to because eventually she stopped as if she had hit an invisible wall and turned up the steep banking towards a wall and then started running back. Definitely a little highly strung.

As we got close to where the Pennine Journey and the Pennine Way join we could occasionally hear voices drifting over from the summit and from people making their way down from it. Eventually we crossed a wide track where a good few people were congregating before moving on to Whernside, went through a gate onto a wide track and made our way down it for a while until we arrived back in the village. We thought we’d have a coffee at the Pen-Y-Ghent Cafe but it was closed (apparently it is closed until further notice) so we walked back to the other little cafe on the other side of the road. Then we walked back to the car, had a sausage roll and then drove home. I didn’t set my watch to track the walk until we were a way into it so we probably covered around 8ish miles, a little over maybe. It was a great way to spend a morning!

The rest of today has been lazy. We did some more holiday sorting/planning and we walked down the hill to East Riddlesden Hall for coffee and cake and then to water Mum’s plants before walking back up. That walk up was actually really good for me because I realised that our morning adventure hadn’t really made me tired, I didn’t feel the walk home from Mum’s any more the I usually do. I reflected on how the hike went and yes, I absolutely was huffing and puffing going up BUT I recovered really quickly and I wasn’t tired, just out of breath, I felt strong and I didn’t feel tired. Hill fitness is a special and possibly illusive thing but I think it might be a thing worth striving for and I might huff and puff a bit but the three peaks are absolutely doable so watch this space.