Walking into Redemption

The image in the header of this post is from last weekend, during a glorious day walking in the hills.

This following image is taken from a similar place on the same path in September 2020 which was the last time that I was out and about in the fells of Cumbria.

The difference in my feelings between these two days is stark. The scenes are similar, but I was in a different place altogether.

I have been trying to complete a set of 214 hills known as the Wainwrights for several years now, and in 2020 I was down to my last few. At the start of the year it seemed that there would be no reason why I couldn’t tick of the last few and celebrate a goal completed. But this was 2020 and the year of a pandemic and the associated restrictions.

Personally, the impact of the pandemic has been minor, there are things that I’ve wanted to do but not been able, but mostly things have carried on as normal. One of the areas that I’ve found the most difficult, though, has been the restrictions on access to the mountains. I wholeheartedly agreed with the lockdown measures, but that didn’t stop me missing the feeling of walking a path to a summit.

In late 2020 there was a short window when we were allowed to get out and climb. I was so looking forward to parking up, putting on my boots and heading out. I set out early and made the journey to my starting point in good time. As I crossed passes that gave a view of my destination, I was delighted to see that the peaks were free of cloud. Further along the journey the road runs alongside a lake that was mirror flat calm. It was going to be a wonderful day.

I parked up, put on my boots, checked my gear and headed out.

Part way along the path I was starting to warm up and it was time to take a layer off. A feeling of dread gripped me as I opened my backpack to put in the removed layer – where was the blue waterproof bag that had my lunch in it? This was going to be a long day and I was going to need some food at some point. Emptying the contents of the backpack onto the fellside just confirmed, sadly, that the food was back in the car. There was no choice but to return and pick it up.

Yomping back was frustrating and so was opening the boot of the car to see the bright blue lunch bag directly in front of me.

Heading out for a second time my steps took on a frustrated stomp. It was a beautiful day that may well be the only day for months that I would be able to this, and I was still in the car park.

Half a mile or so out of the car park the back of my legs started to feel wet. It took me a little while to realise that this wasn’t a splash of water, or even sweat, it was coming from my backpack, lots of water dripping from the base. For the second time dread washed over me as I reached into my backpack to realise that the drinking bladder had come apart and most of the water was now sploshing around inside. I took the bladder out, fitted it back together, but there was precious little water left. Fortunately, I had some spare clothes in another waterproof bag in my backpack, so I changed, emptied the rest of the water out of the backpack, checked that I was definitely carrying a spare drink in a bottle and, even more frustratedly, head out again.

I few miles further along and only about a half of the way up my back started to spasm. I’ve had this before in my lower back, it’s the result of too much time at a desk, but this was higher up and far more painful. When I get a spasm in my lower back I just need to slow down and walk through it, so I carried on. I slowed down, then I slowed down some more, eventually I was walking ten steps then breathing for ten breaths while I stretched, then walking ten steps. It was pitiful and my head was a swirling mass of frustration. Instead of enjoying an exhilarating walk in the mountains I was walking in treacle with a whirlwind in my head.

Eventually I listened to my body and sat down.

I looked around myself and couldn’t see the beauty because the mist of frustration was too thick.

I felt shame for wasting a glorious opportunity.

As I sat, I wrapped my arms around my legs and wallowed in the emotional and physical pain of failure.

I didn’t post any pictures that day, I didn’t want anyone to know that I had given up.

I’ve carried some of those feelings around for months. Last weekend that all changed.

The first real opportunity for many months arrived and I was determined to revisit and redeem that day of frustration, shame and pain.

I set off from the car park and triple checked that I had my blue lunch bag, I also checked a couple of times more after I’d begun my walk.

I’d replaced my water bladder, which was sitting comfortably, and without leaks, in a new backpack.

After some more research and conscious of my previous back problems I travelled a route which started in a different place.

It was wonderful. A fabulous spring day of blue skies and crystal-clear views across the Irish Sea to the Isle of Man, north to Scotland and south as far as Wales. The views from the summits and ridges were spectacular across the Lakeland fells.

Part way down I sat in roughly the place where I had submitted on my failed visit, and took a picture, the one in the header. I reveled in the sense of achievement, of having achieved what had been so frustrating. I felt the shame lifting as I succeeded where once I had failed. The weight I had been carrying for months was gone, I walked into redemption.

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