7 days ago I set of on the first leg of my journey. For the weeks before, as I planned, rested and prepared, the idea of trying to walk to another continent continued to feel somewhat distant, almost fictional. Then last Friday I stepped out my door and suddenly it all became weirdly real.
The first few days flew by. I wandered with my friend George along footpaths which zigzagged through quant villages and farmers fields. We walked slowly, stopping by lakes and rivers to eat food and brew coffee. Occasionally we strayed from the path, often heading to pubs for well-earned pints and, at one point, wandering the opposite direction just to play on a giant rope swing.
On Sunday the high began to come crashing down. As George left to return home the reality of what laid before me started to sink in. What’s more, be it from dehydration or food poisoning I’m still not sure, I started to feel ill. By the time night fell and my ferry crossing neared I was tired, queasy and my knee had started to hurt.
I begrudgingly dragged myself to the terminal where I waited for my crossing. After a couple of hours had passed I was allowed to board, at which point I was told my bag was going in the hold. Unprepared, I quickly grabbed a plug and battery pack out my bag before being ushered onboard. It wasn’t long before I realised that there were a lot of other things I should’ve taken with me, namely a sleeping bag, pillow, camping mat, earplugs, jumper and toothbrush.
It’s fair to say I did not get a great night’s sleep. Instead I spent the night reconstructing my make-shift bed, made from two very hard, U-shaped chairs pushed together, to try to find the most comfortable position. Too close together and I would end up trapped in a small, oval-shaped prison, such little space available that my legs would be left awkwardly sprawling out the top; too far apart and I’d find myself constantly falling into the crevice I had created. At one point I scrapped it all and just laid straight down on the hard, wooden floor, head tucked under the chair to block out the light.
When the ferry pulled in I stumbled off, head aching, half-asleep, knee notably more painful than when I set off. I waited, collected my bag, strapped on a knee support and walked out. Almost immediately I was met by a intense pain. It took less than 200m of agony before I tore off the brace, gripped my hiking poles and limped onwards.
Unable to walk very far but craving rest I mapped my way to the nearest park and, like a zombie than had just spotted its prey, moved longingly towards it with a slow yet determined, lopsided hobble. Some 20-something minutes later I found myself in a small green area in front of a theatre. I layered up, wearing all the clothes I could to combat the cold and curled up under a tree, tent functioning as a pillow, my hat guarding my face from the soon-to-rise sun. For a few hours I slept on and off, occasionally rolling over to be awoken by the bumpy ground, cold air or sunlight peaking through.
When eventually I decided it was time to move, I stood up and brushed myself down, still shaking from the cold ground. I checked the time on my phone – 20 to 8 – and googled to find the nearest campsite. With my knee still throbbing and my eyes heavy the decision was already made for me that it would be a day of rest.
Little did I know it would be the first of many. When 2 days later my body felt revived, I marched out with a spring in my step and a renewed sense of positivity. I was rested and ready. Someone should have told my knee that however, as I only made it around 3 miles before the pain really kicked in. Once again I found myself immobilised, awkwardly trying to stretch as I laid down on a gravel path, hoping the pain would go away. Eventually it eased enough to drag myself to another campsite 3 miles down the road.
Now here I am. Resting, waiting, passing time, relaxing and just generally being really bloody bored. I’m in a beautiful spot, sandwiched between a lake and a river in rural France, surrounded by greenery. Yet no matter how hard I try to stay positive, waiting here feels more like a test of endurance than a holiday.
What’s harder than walking 2,000 miles? Not walking anywhere, it turns out.
For now my body will not allow me to continue. So I have to wait. Those who know me well will be aware than when it comes to sitting still and being I’m about on par with an under-slept, hungry toddler. Be that as it may, until my knee gets a lot better, that’s exactly what I’m going to have to do.
I’m not ready to give up yet but time will tell if my knee feels the same way.