Coast to Coast: Children Welcome
We had been watching for them all day, expecting to glimpse them around almost every corner. My husband, Taido and the kids were joining us for the weekend. After five days and eighty miles, the distraction of their arrival was a welcome one, keeping my mind from focusing on the new aches and pains I was developing with each mile.
I knew as we left Patterdale that it would be a long time before we met them, but I was already keeping track in my mind of what time they ought to arrive in Shap and begin walking towards us.
We did not meet them in the mist as we hiked over Kidsty Pike from Patterdale.
We did not meet them on the descent to Haweswater, our final bit of the Lake District.
And we did not meet them as we walked the ups and downs of the trail that ran along the lake.
I kept spotting people in the distance and thinking, “Maybe that’s them.”
Then I would watch groups get closer and realize that my family was not among them.
The day was stretching on into the afternoon when we finished the five miles along the lake without spotting them.
It was on a bridge in the woods that Diane first spotted Taido walking toward us.
A sight for sore eyes, we were both thrilled to see him.
The kids were resting about a half mile back, refusing to walk any further. Taido stopped at an honesty snack box to grab them a treat. We saw several of these after leaving the Lake District, boxes full of cokes and candy bars where you could take something and leave money for the kid who had placed it on the trail. (Adorable.)
We hurried on to where the kids were. I heard them before I saw them, up in a tree being silly. Hot from the sun, they complained that they were already tired of walking. But then they quickly outpaced Diane and me on the last four miles to Shap. Racing further and further ahead, they stopped at the gorgeous Shap Abbey ruin to wait for us. Taido expressed concern at our slow pace, wondering aloud if we were going to be able to finish the walk. We were dragging the last mile after the abbey and then the mile through the town of Shap to get to our hotel.
Taido popped in a grocery store to get a picnic dinner while the rest of us went on to check into our hotel. It was after 7pm when we sat down in the back garden for our meal, and we fell into bed pretty quickly afterwards.
I was good and tired, and feeling a little daunted by the 21 miles that awaited us the next day, especially since the kids were less than enthusiastic about spending a weekend walking with us. Trying to remain optimistic, Diane and I kept reminding each other that it was supposed to be an easy, flat walk. The hills were behind us now, and anyway, if the kids absolutely couldn’t make it, Taido could take them the rest of the way in the car.
Yes, it was all going to be fine.
But then before we were a mile into our day from Shap to Kirkby Stephen, I was in a puddle of tears, feeling as though my brilliant idea to have my family come and hike with us for part of our epic journey was an epic fail.
Recently a friend of mine said something to me about someone who was facing an overwhelming series of difficult circumstances and events, and without meaning to, she enlightened me about why I get so upset when things don’t go according to plan. In talking about her friend, she said,
“She didn’t really fall apart like I expected. I suppose that since she was always expecting the worst to happen, she was not that thrown off when her life came unraveled. Because I’m an eternal optimist, I am devastated when hard things happen.”
I was definitely suffering from the unraveling of my own optimism about this portion of our walk. The kids told me before I left that they did not want to come. They wanted to spend their extra days off school doing what they feel all school holidays are made for: sleeping late, eating everything in the house, and playing video games. So I should not have been surprised that they all woke up in varying states of rebellion about the idea that they were going to spend the entire day walking over twenty miles.
But I kept telling myself that they would be happy once they got there. Down the road a bit, they would start to enjoy it like they do on our weekend walks back at home. Like they usually do.
I was pushing past their attitudes, even when we woke up and it was raining a little. It’s just a drizzle. It will burn off quickly.
I was remaining optimistic about the weekend even after I checked my email, which included two fairly disappointing rejections. I won’t think about those today. Everything will work out.
I might have even still been (fake) smiling at Diane when I informed her that Taido seemed to have misplaced his wallet and he was going to stay back to try to find it and meet us later.
I was really trying to hold on to the happy vision I had of my family joining us on the Coast to Coast as we laced up our boots, stood up on my aching legs and headed out into the drizzle with the kids.
All the excitement that I had carried in my heart on the trail the previous day about meeting my family had slowly drained out of me and I was spiraling quickly from, “Well, maybe this wasn’t such a great idea” to some ridiculous version of “All of life is ending.”
Not really, but sort of.
You know how it is. Somehow even my future as a writer began to be in question as a result of the fact that it was raining a little and that my credit cards were being cancelled.
The way I can connect the dots of a difficult morning into a trajectory that obviously means I am failing at all of life is actually kind of impressive.
Cut to me crying on the trail to Diane as my kids, the ones who say they don’t like hiking, are a half mile ahead of us already.
Diane prayed me through my snotty sniffles, as she has about one thousand times in our life together back in Arkansas. In fact our friendship began in earnest when I was my most desperate as a parent, coming to her for help.
I finished crying and she finished praying and we carried on. Just as we had every other day, one foot in front of the other, but I felt a little bit lighter.
We walked through farm after farm. And then moor after moor. The terrain was easy, just long.
I do love English farmland. I was reminded of St Cuthbert’s Way, so green and bright. So many sheep. Rock walls for miles and lots of stiles.
It was still drizzling when Taido caught up with us. He had parked in Orton and walked back to us. Cash withdrawn and banks informed, he was over the wallet loss and ready with a picnic lunch, which we promptly gobbled down in a bus shelter in Orton.
We had come eight miles so far, and I thought that maybe Taido and the kids would just drive the rest of the way and meet back up with Diane and I later. Taido said they would keep on for at least part of the way and he would walk back and get the car when it got to be too much.
The afternoon was kind of blissfully monotonous. The drizzle stopped and we meandered without saying much. Diane engaged each of the kids at different times along the way, except for Cole who kept well ahead of us all day.
I had the opportunity to introduce them all to some of our fellow Coast to Coasters. We told a few stories and I heard a little about their week back at home. Around 4pm, the sun even came out. Taido turned around to go back for the car and after a while the kids, began to watch for him. They were tired, but they weren’t coming unglued. Cole carried Simon on his back for a bit. Taido parked the car at a spot where the trail met the road about two miles from the end. We could see Kirkby Stephen in the distance. I was so proud when I realized that the kids had walked over 18 of our miles with us. Diane and I threw our packs in the van and ran the last two.
As we came into Kirkby Stephen, we were singing. Literally. I can’t remember what song we were singing, but it was some version of praising the Lord for how the day had completely turned around from that morning. We came around a corner and a sweet lady in her front garden said, “You’re the first people I’ve seen come into town on that trail singing! That’s for sure!”
We laughed, saying we were just grateful to have made it through the day and she told us that we had an easy walk ahead of us tomorrow. “Even I can still climb that hill you’re going over next,” she said, “I was up there last week and it’s really lovely this time of year. And you can expect good weather as well.”
We met Taido and the kids for fish and chips in Kirkby Stephen, at a place where Wainwright used to eat. His picture was on the wall, one of many we saw along the walk. Everyone ate every crumb of their dinner, and they were all delighted with the prospect of getting into bathtubs afterwards. As we said goodnight, no one even complained about getting up the next day to walk again.
Somehow after twenty miles, twelve starts to sound not too bad.
We had a small hill left to climb, Nine Standard Rigg, and Taido said that after we climbed it, he would turn around and get the car and drive around to the end.
We were up at the top before noon, taking in the views from the nine rock piles on top of the watershed in Yorkshire. It would be all downhill from here.
The boys ran down the other side, with Simon chasing after them for most of the afternoon. Everyone had hit their stride, and even our picnic lunch seemed happier.
About three miles before the end, we passed Ravenseat Farm, where Sarah and her seven children serve tea from their kitchen on the grass. It was like a scene from Jane Austen, being served tea and hot scones with homemade jam and clotted cream. We sipped our tea while Simon played with the puppies. Loads of people were stopped there for the walkers’ garden party with a parade of tea trays coming out of the farmhouse kitchen.
The dreamy, delightful afternoon tea carried us the rest of the way into Keld, where we ended our days of walking with the children with a big spaghetti dinner.
By the time we told them goodbye and they drove back home to Aberdeen, I was sad to see them go.
They had gotten us to our halfway point.
We felt ready to take on the next hundred miles, grateful that they had shared a portion of the first hundred with us.
Our Coast to Coast walk was made possible in part by the good folks at Macs Adventure, who were wonderful to work with and who should in no way be held responsible for our tendency to get lost or our ridiculous YouTube videos.