The Challenge I've Been Looking For

Some years ago, I discovered how much I love to walk. Not just walk, but walk long distances. Walking brings calmness, sense of mission, exploration and a weird sense of purpose. This is the unique ability of us, humans. We seem to have this inexplicable urge to explore, to see the world with our own eyes. For hundreds of thousands of years, we spread through continents, explored, discovered, concurred – all on foot. 

My dogs hide under the coffee table when they have enough of my mania. I mostly walk around where I live, and I have no recognised trail completion to my name. My fitness level is not much above average, and I am far from calling myself a “real hiker.”

Just a few days ago I finally found something that I knew I just HAVE to do. This does not happen to me very often; normally it’s more like, oh yeah, I’ll definitely do this someday! But this just popped out at me like something I recently started longing for – a sense of mission. England Coast Path is predicted to complete in 2020, so I have about 3 years to train and hike some shorter trails as part of my preparation.

England Coast Path is trail that will cover the whole of the coast of England, and upon its completion will cover 2795 miles (the well known Pacific Crest Trail is 2659 miles - it stretches from Mexico to Canada). England Coast Path is certainly not going to be a miniature one. I am only comparing these two for the distance; otherwise, I could not possibly find two more contrasting trails.

Pacific Crest Trail crosses boiling hot desert and freezing mountains. It ranges in elevation from just above sea level at the Oregon–Washington border to 13,153 feet (4,009 m) at Forester Pass in the Sierra Nevada.

Temperature ranges in England are nowhere near as broad. Winter time is the coolest, and usually the rainiest. In my estimation temperatures range between 0C at night and 12C during the day. Very occasionally, night temperatures might drop to -5 or even -7! Snow is a national disaster.

Summer is warmer, but never hot. Some Brits start overheating at around 20C. Very occasionally, temperatures would reach above 25C – that’s when I’m overjoyed! 

Generally, weather conditions are mostly damp, light showers and cloudy skies are more than common. However, heavy rain is unusual.

Sounds boring? That’s what you call a “mild climate.”

To continue my little comparison, Pacific Crest Trail covers vast amounts of wilderness, while England Coast Path will mostly cover beautiful countryside. Wilderness is scarce here; however, you can find some in our beautiful National Parks, most of which are located in northern parts of England.  And as for elevations – the highest mountain in England (Remember, I’m not talking about the whole of UK) is Scafell Pike at an elevation of 978 meters (3,209 ft.) above sea level and is found in the Lake District National Park in Cumbria.

This might not seem much; however English landscape is far from flat: beautiful hills cover the whole region, north to south and east to west. Taking into consideration that England Coast Path is what it's name says - a coast path, I wouldn’t expect total elevation to be very high. However, taking in consideration White Cliffs of Dover, Seven Sisters and the entire coast of Cornwall even with the highest point being low, the total elevation of this trail might just surprise us!

One huge disadvantage of this path compared to something like Pacific Crest Trail is that most of the land in England is privately owned and camping without necessary permissions is considered trespassing. On England's National Trails, National Trust owns most of the land; however, their bylaws prevent you from camping on National Trust land.

What does it mean? It means that  you can only camp in registered campsites and holiday parks. It makes it very difficult to plan this journey because you need to mark all the campsites in advance and once you reach the campsite and still feel like walking another 10 miles, you won’t be able to, because the next campsite may be more than 10 miles away. Not much room for improvisation. Not only that, but the cost of the whole journey increases by so much that it’ll make you wish you were an ultra-marathoner!

On the plus side, you will always have a warm shower and a food store nearby, although considering this is England’s coast we’re talking about here – I would be very surprised to learn there is a spot where civilization is more than 20 miles away…

Why England Coast Path?

Why not Pacific Crest Trail or any other long distance trail? Pacific Crest Trail got very popular after Cheryl Strayed’s best-selling memoir later turned movie Wild (2014). There are some beautiful trails in Europe, and my own fascination with hiking started with the movie The Way (2010) with Martin Sheen, covering the pilgrimage of El Camino de Santiago de Compostela, or The Way of St James. Those trails have been there for years, thousands of hikers completed them. 

I wanted something new, a trail where not many people claimed fame for thru-hiking the whole lot. Just to be at the start line on the day of trails completion would mean the world to me. I do not intend to be the first to complete it – I’m sure there will be plenty of ultra-marathoners lined up to beat each other’s records. Sure, I get the fascination of taking your abilities to the limits and testing yourself out. I think ultra-marathoners are awesome, and probably some of the toughest people in the world, mentally and otherwise. However, I cannot help but think of all the great experiences I would be missing out on if I were to start doing the maximum amount of miles I can possibly cope with. It would make it difficult to have a conversation with a random person you meet on the path, to go for a long joyful swim in the sea, relax on a beach once in a while… It would completely take away any ability to improvise. I couldn’t even take time to snap enough pictures! 

For me, it’s not about speed – it’s about the journey of self-discovery.

Why not Trans Canada? Well, Trans Canada Trail should be completed late this year (2017), and it’s a great opportunity if you’re looking for a new MEGA challenge. Once completed it should cover 15 000 miles or 24 000 kilometres from the Atlantic to the Pacific to the Arctic oceans. This trail is definitely on my list, probably a while AFTER I complete England Coast Path. Possibly when I'm a lot older, wiser and financially secure.

Am I sensible not to take it on as my first super long distance challenge? Well, no – the truth is if I had the finances ready and some friends in Canada kind enough to send me emergency parcels, I would be up and off to Canada next month… or maybe not - it would take me about 12 months to convince my fiancée that it’s a good idea and that I’m not going to die there. I am not a sensible person, and I am most certainly way overconfident in my walking abilities. I’m also not so good at dealing with the cold. That would be something I would seriously have to work on building up to...

When I heard about Trans Canada in 2016, I immediately wished I knew about it three years ago so that I could be on my way in 2017. However, it might have worked out for the better, since for a sensible person it takes months or even years just to plan a hike like this. 

So I recently started looking at South West Coast Path in England, possibly for this summer of 2017. The South West Coast Path is England's longest waymarked long-distance footpath and a National Trail. It stretches 630 miles (1014km) long. It’s breathtakingly beautiful, and what really makes it doable for me (financially and support wise) is that it’s close to home. If Andy (my boyfriend) couldn’t come with me, he can certainly visit me without much hassle. It makes a huge difference to me, at least for my first “over 500-mile” hike.

And then, I learned about England Coast Path…

Once England Coast Path is completed, the South West Path is going to be a part of it. Even better, the part of the English coast that I’m currently happily living on will also be a part of it! I walk a tiny stretch of the path of my mission nearly every day!

In March 2017, it will be ten years since I moved to this country, yet I’ve seen so little of it. I feel like I owe it to England, owe it to myself to experience more of her character and her beauty. This has been in a back of my mind for a long time, yet I never thought about it enough to plan anything more than a trip to a near-by National Park…

When I found this path, and it jumped at me like an absolute weird sign of a must-do mission. What a great way of doing it! What a great way of experiencing more of England!

For me, England Coast Path checks all the boxes: it’s longer than Pacific Crest Trail (ok, be it nowhere near as challenging) and it’s equipped with plenty of camping sites with hot showers and food stores! It might sound really bad, but I’ve never been a very outdoorsy person before, so it might prove to be a really nice gentle balance for a long hike like this. It’s never too far from my boyfriend, in case I get sex and cuddle starved, also in case I miss him as a person (yes, he’s more than just a brilliant sex-machine) which I’m sure I will.

And expenses… well, I guess I will just have to work at it – let it be part of my three-year mission to sort out my pathetic income, because I am not doing well enough at the moment!

This concludes my reasons for being so fired up with the completion of our brand new England Coast Path.  

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