I’ve written about Little Walks, and of course about walks in general. Now I think I’m ready to talk about Big Walks.
Big Walks, to me, are the ones that take days and cover dozens or even hundreds of kilometres. I’ve been thinking about this often for a couple of years. I’ve always had a travel bug and that’s usually been satisfied in holiday and business travel by car or plane or train. I’ve been lucky enough to visit and immerse myself in some wonderful places, many of which have also featured as locations for memorable walks – London, Paris, New York, Sydney, and more.
That’s all well and good, but I’ve decided that I also want to combine the intimacy and pace of walking with the delights of visiting places and exploring new things. Big Walks are a way to do that.
My bucket list has several of these, some decidedly Bigger Walks than others. My ultimate Big Walk is to journey from John O’Groats at the northern tip of Scotland to Lands End at the south-west tip of Cornwall. It’s about 1450 km by the shortest route and I reckon it will take me several months. I have a thought that it would be cool to do it the year I turn 60 and that’s coming up in a few years, and that thought has spurred me to start planning some shorter but still Big Walks to build up to this Biggest Walk.
I’m going to start with a walk that combines some town and some country, and takes in a part of the Bruce Trail, the whole of which is on my Bucket List. This first Big Walk will be from Toronto to Niagara-on-the-Lake, by way of the Waterfront Trail and the Niagara portion of the Bruce. It’s going to be around 160km depending on stops, and I’m giving myself 6 days to do it. Since it’s in the Golden Horseshoe near Toronto, it’s close which makes the logistics simpler – in fact I think the first night I can actually sleep at home because I can walk to Port Credit, GO Train home, and then GO Train back to Port Credit to pick up the next day. Still, it is going to be my first Big Walk, and that’s going to be a test of whether or not I can really do this.
That’s why I’m now in training mode. Working up to a Big Walk will take a lot of preparation to minimize the risk of overdoing it and injuring myself. I’m going to take progressively longer walks carrying some weight – 10k, 15k, 20k, and on up to 35k. Then 20-30k on back to back days over a weekend, and then back to back to back including a Friday too. Start with a load of around 4-5kg, and then up it gradually to get to around 10kg. My goal is to be able to carry 10kg over about 30k-35k in about 6-8 hours of walking day after day, and do it comfortably without wrecking my body.
Preparation also means planning the Big Walk. I’ve been looking through guide books and pouring over Google Maps to figure out distances so that I can look for accommodation. That part is important because I don’t want to carry camping or sleeping gear, so I’ll need a bed at the end of each day. Some Big Walks will make that easier than others – there’s an inn or a pub every mile or less in Ireland – but others will take some ingenuity, like the northern end of the Bruce Trail. If you’re going to walk from bed to bed while covering a decent distance per day, then you need to figure out where those beds will be and whether you’ll need to book ahead. There’s also the weather, so you need to look at seasonal average temperatures and rainfall to pick a suitable time of year, and then look at the medium and short term forecasts to pick a good set of dates. And of course there’s the walking conditions and terrain to plan for, and food, and getting to and from the start/end points. It’s all going to add up to some serious planning time.
These walks won’t be easy, especially since I’m already over 55 years old as I start trying them – a senior citizen by some definitions. I reckon I’m in decent shape for my age, but still, my knees and hips and back are often pretty creaky. My feet hurt most days, and I’ve got a wonky shoulder I separated years ago, and scar tissue from a torn calf muscle that still bothers me. And let’s not forget the heart scare I had a few years ago ….. At any rate, you get the picture. I’m not getting any younger or healthier.
But those things are the challenge of a Big Walk. It’s not just doing it, it’s preparing and planning and pushing yourself to do it. If it was easy, a proverbial walk in the park, then I wouldn’t be interested. Now that I’m semi-retired I have some time, and our son is soon heading off to university. My wife is semi-retired too, and we’re in a comfortable place financially. And deep down, I’m also thinking about my friend Paul who passed away far too young, and about the cancer scare my wife went through a few years ago, and just it boils down to carpe diem – seize the day. They call it a bucket list for a reason. Time to start crossing some things off that list.