LEJOG18: Chepstow to Monmouth

Apologies for no post on Friday-I wrote it but due to a bug on my iPhone it is lost in a digital limbo, constantly trying to upload but never getting there.

Today I returned to the saddle, and had a few surprises along the way. At breakfast in my slightly grotty B&B behind (£30, no beside lamp and matching tiger print curtains and duvet) I chatted with a guy who was cycling the route solo (no support team), and was also planning to take part in the California to Carribean section of the clipper round the world yacht race. He said he had retired early so that he could do these things while he was fit and able. Seemed like a good plan-I wondered whether this approach/attitude was one I could learn from back in ‘real life’.

The start of Offa’s Dyke was fantastic. A crisp morning, a little hazy but quite fresh, following the clearly signed path through farmland and countryside. I was relieved to be back on a well-signed route rather than the choas and luck of following random and inconsistent footpaths. It felt great, and I once again felt that I had stolen a march on the world.

And then I got ‘a little lost’. I was walking through a lovely old wood, with what I guessed were the remnants of the Dyke beside me (a pile of overgrown stones), and after a while I realised I hadn’t seen the comforting national trail acorn sign in ages. I knew I was going roughly in the right direction but after realised it was on a lower path than I should have been on. This was a little frustrating because the remnants of the dyke were on the upper path and I probably wouldn’t see any more until my last day on the trail: basically I felt i had messed up the entire point of the trail. I felt i might have well be walking anywhere-I might as well be bloody cycling it in three weeks rather than putting all this time an effort into a quest I was obviously not able to accomplish. I felt i might as well not bother.

During this internal tantrum the path officially split into two and I decided to take the lower, quicker route to make up the time lost. It was a lovely route beside a small version of the river wye, and by now the sun was shining hard making it even prettier, and it calmed down my private fit of self-loathing.

I sat down for lunch by the river, aired my socks and flexed my bare toes. Bliss. Just me, a tracker bar and the soft sound of the flowing water.

“Hello, which direction you walking in?” said a voice behind me. I looked around and realized that this was going to be an interesting conversation. The guy had a t-shirt with the unmistakeable outline of the UK on and words ‘end to end’ writ large.

This was Gaz: Gaz was also doing the same route as me, but as I subsequently found out doing it in only 60 days and with no breaks. He had started 8 days after me and was now effectively overtaking me. Luckily for my ego he had also spent 20+ years in the army where I suspect a certain level of fitness, higher than one I’ve ever enjoyed, is de riguer. Unluckily for my ego he told me about a guy one day behind him who was also doing the more demanding daily mileage and was 65. Not for the first time did I feel the runt of the LEJOG litter. As a result I was slowly losing the sense that I could create a stronger sense of my own self-worth through the accomplishment of this journey.

However, Gaz was great company and we swapped stories about the places and people we’d met on the way. I won’t bother sharing them because they would be meaningless and boring to anyone apart from us. We swapped tips as well, and I got the distinct impression that Gaz had a significantly lighter load than me, and had spent less through more canny purchasing decisions. This was becoming a concern after I weighed my bag at the weekend to find it was about 14kg, 2-3kg more than I had thought. I’m obviously going to have to be more ruthless in future.

We crossed through some lovely old woods with yew trees that Gaz told me were probably over a thousand years old. The ground was littered with bluebells and the white flowers of wild garlic. This felt more Robin Hood than LOTR, more medieval than primeval. We climbed steadily at a pace that was comfortably slightly faster than I was used to which meant we made really good time and got to a fantastic vantage point looking over Monmouth by around 4pm. Gaz made me realize that I could comfortably push myself a bit further, and that the benefit would be more time spent ‘smelling the flowers’ along the way. He always found the time to look around and explore his surroundings, whereas sometimes I’m guilt of just trying to get to that days finishing point as early as possible.

We parted company in Monmouth as we both had people coming to meet us. Gaz was very kind and offered to help me out with info and supplies from his support team as he’s doing the walk for the army benevolent charity and so gets bits and bobs of help along the way. Having a military connection is definitely a big bonus on LEJOG. I then sat down for a well earned pint. After a bit I started chatting to a guy in the pub who had previouly done one of the big continental walks that starts in Masstricht and works it’s way down to southern Spain-over 2,000 miles! This really was a day for feeling like an underachiever.

He was really nice and reassured me that my bag weight was reasonable and nothing to worry about. He talked about how he’d slowly made his way down the continent, sometimes just putting his sleeping bag under a hedge and staying there for the night if he fancied it, sometimes spending extra days or weeks in places if he liked the look of them. Apparently he did these big journeys every ten years or so after having worked hard on a project or business as a way of refreshing himself. It was a different, more cyclical approach to the guy I met at breakfast, one that I thought maybe suited my temperament more.

He asked me whether I had the ‘walkers high’ yet, when you almost trip out from the effect of continual solo walking, and described it as a stripping away of all your attachments and baggage until you lived wholy in that one moment. He described a realization that you’re not going to or from away but that you’re just travelling. We agreed that there wasnt any deep insight you could take back from this place into the real world, it was more a physical and mental refreshment that helped rejuvente you as a person. We also agreed that it was too early for it to happen to me just yet. A little part of me wondered whether it ever would, whether I was capable of letting go enough from the pointless thoughts and concerns which cluttered my mind. The problem was they had been there so long that they provided a sense of security and refuge, and letting them float away down a stream of meditative thought would be a massive and painful wrench. But it sounded like I would have to if I was going to get what i wanted out of this trip. And I thought the walking was hard enough!

I could have chatted to this guy, who’s name I never even learnt, for ages, but my ride arrived and I had to leave. All round it had been an unexpectedly interesting day.

2 Responses to “LEJOG18: Chepstow to Monmouth”

  1. 1 Gayle May 6, 2009 at 8:38 pm

    Underachiever? Pah! How many people in this country have even walked from Land’s End to Monmouth, never mind the whole length of the country? As a percentage of the population, a tiny number.

    And, as for the speed of other walkers, just think that for every person who takes two months over the walk, there are others who take three or four months. It’s your walk. You walk it however you want to, and be assured that if you’re not rushing through the countryside, you’re seeing and experiencing more of it.

    I don’t know if you’ve read Bill Bryson’s ‘A Walk in the Woods’, but I’m pretty sure that it’s in that book where he quotes the statistic that the average American walks just 1.4 miles per week… I don’t know how true that statistic is, but it’s still nice to think, as you cross the 1000 mile mark, that if it were true then you’ve walked further than the average American does in 14 years!

    • 2 brendanbolger May 12, 2009 at 8:32 pm

      Thanks for vote of confidence-i’m feeling a little less insecure now and
      happier with my (relatively) slower pace.

      Hope your having a good time on Scotland!

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