Julie and Rich are from California and first started their walking journey in 2008. Since then, they have been on many walking trips and have definitely got the bug for it. Read on if you want to find out about their favourite adventures and and biggest surprises along the way!
What is your walking history?
In 2008, thanks to the guidance of Sherpa Expeditions, we put our “boots on the ground” for our first, very long walk, the Coast to Coast
across England. Though we had been hikers and, generally, spend a lot of time outdoors, as most folks in California do, we had not done a long-distance walk. The 192 mile walk from St. Bee’s to Robin’s Hood Bay couldn’t have been a better choice.
Why did you choose to walk where you did?
The UK is a perfect place to walk, in particular because of the attitude of the country towards walking across what, in the US, would be private land. There is both a respect for the land and a willingness to share access to it. At the time we did the walk we managed about 15 miles per day; now it would be less! The terrain was varied, from deep muck and bogs to gravel trails; the weather a mix of everything from rain to drizzle to sun. We learned the importance of having all tools available to make one’s way when dense fog made using certain tools impossible. Nothing like a paper map when all else fails. We also learned that the trails as described in the notes and even maps can change after the information has been shared by Sherpa. Flexibility and adaptability are key, though they can be learned on the way!!
How did you prepare?
Our preparation for that trip was intense as we had no idea what to expect. We walked every weekend for six months and did back to back long walks across San Francisco in order to get a sense of what walking daily might be like. In the end, our preparation paid off but, as I will note further on, such intense training is probably not required (since 2008, with a walking trip almost every year, our regimen has become considerably more limited and we rely on our daily exercise to keep us ready. Of course, readiness is affected by age and that has increased since our first walk!)
Also, in addition to building stamina and strength, there is planning for what one should pack. Although Sherpa and other companies provide lists, determining what and how much you will need and how you will limit it to one 20 kilo bag takes work. Over the years we have scaled back our tendency to “overpack”, learning that things can be purchased on route. One critical factor is how one can wash clothes and, more importantly, dry them!! On some of our trips there were clothes lines and the ability to wash in large sinks but, for the most part, one relies on hotel or B&B small sinks and decorating the room with laundry to dry, using hair dryers in emergency, and the heat racks that are for towels but work well for socks too! There are places that will not allow you to do laundry in your room but they are few and far between.
What was your favourite destination?
It has been 11 years since that first long walk. During that period we walked the Camino de Santiago in Spain, the islands of Kerry and Beara in Ireland, the Via Fracigina in Italy, the Dordogne
in France. There were also treks in Nepal and a bicycle trip from Berlin to Copenhagen. This year we just returned from walking across Scotland on the John Muir Way
. Although it has not always been the case, we have sought walks that were destination based, the Coast to Coast walks being the pinnacle of that kind of walking. There is a great deal of satisfaction in walking across a country, most particularly the chance to immerse ourselves in the variation of the lands, the economies, the cultures, the history as we cross.
What has been the most challenging aspect?
Each walk we have taken has challenged us in different ways. On our first walk the challenge was simply to persevere, to walk daily, rain or shine, through rabbit holes, peaty soil and getting lots in the fog. Walking in Italy, from hill town to hill town in Tuscany, challenged us to walk UP hill at the end of every day !! And the hills were steep and long. Whew! And walking the John Muir Way in Scotland challenged us because there were unexpected obstacles and diversions that added to the length of our days when, as you might have guessed, our energy was flagging.
Best food & drink?
Each walk has had different culinary offerings the best of which were found in France and Italy. The other walks, including our most recent walk, seemed to have the same menu during a good part of the trip. The variations came when we came to a bigger town or city (like Edinburgh) when we could enjoy cuisines from around the world. As walkers, a hearty breakfast is critical and, though the delicious food found in Italy and France made for lovely dinners, the breakfasts were largely something sweet and coffee, so sometimes we found ourselves supplementing with local cheese and fruit. We also brought an array of protein bars to carry us through the energy gap. England and Scotland win the prize for a substantial breakfast albeit one filled with not such healthy sausages, pudding, hash browns as well as eggs, beans, bacon, tomatoes. It should be noted that in the UK one could get a vegan, vegetarian, lactose free or gluten free meal everywhere too, if required.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of these walking trips, from our first to our most recent, is the level of detail in which we immersed ourselves as we walked. The myriad questions about what we are seeing made for a very stimulating experience in every case. And, although not an entire surprise, indeed a great pleasure, is the kindness of strangers. We have been rescued from bad judgments, bad weather, bad signage and fatigued bodies by so many folks whether we could speak the same language or not. The best example of the kind of help we received was during our Coast to Coast walk when, upon arriving in a tiny village, it appeared our supposed host was in crisis and had locked his inn. At a loss for what to do, we were approached by a local woman who invited us to stay with her for the night and she arranged for dinner as well. What’s not to like about that!
Obviously I could write on and on but, if you take away nothing else from what I have written, know that long walks, supported by having your luggage carried, your lodging taken care of, and your routes provided, is the best way to see the world step by step!!