The first time I visited the Lake District with my family, it rained for almost all of the three days we were there, and I still drove away madly in love and scheming about when I could get back.
The bright green, grass-covered trails and lakes surrounded by autumn colors left me wanting more, despite the bad weather. Even the smallest break in the clouds convinced me that the hills above the hostel where we were staying were some of the loveliest in the world.
When I look back now, I can see from hindsight that the weekend of rainy walking in the mud and mist unlocked something in me that I did not know was there. I already knew that I loved hiking, but I didn’t know how much I loved walking.
And not just the walking, but the whole culture of walking. I loved that we were staying in a hostel full of other people who had come to walk in the rain. They were all more prepared than we were. We were walking in jeans instead of waterproof trousers, so I watched these hillwalkers closely as they put on their gear and headed out into the surrounding mountains, undaunted by the pouring rain.
The hostel had a drying room that filled up with dripping trousers and wet, muddy boots at the end of each day. People lounged around with maps and guidebooks in the evening, sharing pints and trading stories in the bar.
Every hike we did that weekend was recommended to us by someone else we met there in the hostel, and then we would report back in the evenings about how we had gotten on in the rain.
Before we came home, I picked up a book about walking in the Lake District at a small bookshop in Cockermouth (yes, that is the actual name of a town). It was called A Coast to Coast Walk. The more I read, the more I was determined that I would do this walk all the way across England, weather and creaky knees and all.
Less than a year later, I was back in the Lakes with a dear friend. I had found the most important piece of my puzzle, someone who was willing to do it with me. Or someone who was foolish enough to believe me when I said that it would be a grand adventure worth the effort.
As we trained for the walk in our own separate towns, we both wondered if there was any way to ever be ready for the challenge of walking long distances for many days strung together in a row. There were many unknowns for both of us about what it would be like.
But something wonderful happens when you say, “Yes. I will do that.
I love that feeling.
Once you say YES, you have an adventure waiting for you. It’s no longer hypothetical, but now there is an actual moment in time to which your spirit rises over the weeks and days leading up to it. You have a season of preparing, which for me always leads to a feeling that I will never be prepared.
But the days pass anyway, the ones where you do a long walk to get ready and the ones where you do not because life gets busy. And whether you walk every day or every other day or once a week, the days all come and go and eventually, the moment arrives.
A plane ride across the Atlantic.
A train ride to a village.
A taxi to an even smaller village.
And then all of sudden you are sorting out gear in a bed and breakfast, lacing up your boots, strapping on your pack, and walking out into the cool of a September morning.
This is the moment you said YES to all those months ago.
I said that YES in my heart when I first stood on the shores of Lake Buttermere.
That YES carried me with my friend all the way across England.
And I’ve repeated that YES every time I go for a walk.
Epic journeys always begin with small steps, one foot before the other, over and over again.
The path is before you, waiting for you to walk it.
Those first few steps of a long walk are so beautiful to me, full of expectation and hope. You take them in faith that they will convey you on a journey that is well worth your time and effort.
And then another one.
All these steps are small affirmations that you are on your way to somewhere, all part of a larger affirmation that to lace up boots, open up the door and walk out into the world is a brave and marvelous way to live.
I hope you are saying YES to something your heart desires this year. To getting outside. To being with friends.
I’m saying YES to more walking this year. In addition to wandering in Spain and Italy again, I’ll be heading back to the Lake District, so give me a shout if you want to come wander some hills with me.