With less than 20 days until my departure, the prospect of walking 2,000 miles is becoming ever more tangible. I’ve begun to hone in on the details: scanning through the route to hunt for amenities and obsessively analysing every piece of equipment I’ll be bringing, be it a tent or toilet paper. Over the last few days I’ve begrudgingly tried on more pairs of shoes than a shopaholic on payday.
Meanwhile I’ve been hunting for solutions to some of the bigger problems that lay ahead. Before I even take my first step, travel restrictions and injury threaten to bring my trip to a halt.
Hiking during COVID-19
How the world has changed over the last 5 months. When in March I booked a flight back to the UK, I, like everyone else I knew, had absolutely no idea of what was to come. I packed a rucksack for a 3 week vacation in Spring, cramming it more full of food and coffee than clothes. Who could’ve foreseen that almost half a year on I would still find myself back in England, stranded 6,000 miles away from the life I’d set up for myself in Vietnam, still unsure as to how many weeks, months or years it would be until I could fly out again.
In 2020, travel sits somewhere between risky luxury and utopian impossibility. So it’s not been without a healthy amount of scepticism, doubt and worrying, and a great deal more forward planning than I am used to, that I’ve decided to go through with this hike.
There is a lot to think about. Firstly, I’ll be sleeping on my own, wild-camping at any and every possible opportunity. Occasionally whilst crossing cities, or when it’s time to enjoy my fortnightly shower, I may be forced to stay in hostels or campsites. As luck would have it, the smell of my BO after a few days without cleaning should ensure that no one comes with 2 meters of me.
I’ll be living mostly off-grid on a day-to-day basis. Roughly once per week I’ll be forced to stop at a cafe, bar of restaurant to charge my battery pack and phone. I’ll briefly touch base with civilisation once every day or two to collect water and buy food.
When I do run into fellow human beings, I’ll be ready. Hand sanitiser and a face mask will take pride of place in the quick access pockets of my bag, occupying space previously taken up by items like penknives and a lighters which I once considered the most essential.
Border closures, quarantines and local lockdowns are set to be one of the biggest issues I’ll face. On Thursday, the government announced that a 14-day quarantine would come into place for those returning from France, giving just 1 day’s notice to holidayers. France has unsurprisingly said that they will retaliate and it’s now looking likely that I’ll be forced to quarantine after crossing the channel. As you can imagine, that’s gonna throw a spanner in the works.
To top things off, the FCO is currently advising against non-essential travel to France and Spain. Whilst this doesn’t actually stop me going there per se, it does invalidate any insurance I get. That means unless things change, I’ll be doing the whole trip with no cover.
Over the last week COVID has not been my biggest concern. My dodgy knee, which I first injured just before lockdown, has recently started to play up again.
By the end of a 12-mile hike last week, walking on good terrain and carrying no gear, my knee began to give way. About 2 miles from home it stiffened up and lost strength and before long I found myself doing an awkward, lopsided semi-hobbled shuffle.
It’s hard not to be pretty worried about whether you are up to the physical challenge of a 100-day trek if you can’t even comfortably make it 12 miles without a rucksack on. When I signed up for this, I certainly didn’t envisage myself hopping most of the way.
Be that as it may, I’m not about to call it quits. My stubbornness has manifested as determination and I’ve been doing all I can to make sure my knee can survive the journey. I’m stretching for 20-30 minutes, 3 times per day. I’ve scheduled my hiking, alternating between short walks and longer treks. I’ve stopped doing impact sports. I’ve booked an appointment with my GP. I’ve bought a knee brace and some painfully uncool, old-man walking poles. Let’s hope that it will be enough.
Either way, come rain or shine, plague or pain, in a few weeks I’ll be heading South.