Saturday, 25 July 2015

Dunmere

Nearly there now, though going over Bodmin Moor was rather disconcerting. Sitka spruce plantations, dry stone walls, bracken, gorse, sheep. I thought I was back in the highlands again. In fact though the flowers held the clue: the gorse (in full flower in the highlands) had completely gone over, and the foxgloves were down to their last few florets at the end of long flower spikes. Also the sheep were all shorn, and the lambs almost as big as their mothers.

Today was the day to which words such as 'challenge' and 'battle' were most appropriate - nearly ninety miles and a constant series of sharp ascents and descents ( we climbed a total of 5,500 feet today apparently) and all in the face of a consistent headwind. I had known this all along of course (apart from the headwind), and a part of me had been dreading today, and wondering if I was physically up to it. Yet the odd thing was that in the end it was a bit of an anti-climax. Yes it was hard, and yes, some hills had me pretty much at the limit of what I was capable of. But the fact was, each hill was just another hill, with nothing particularly special about it. And at the end I didn't get a great sense of elation at having passed a personal milestone.

The thing is, (and this may sound odd coming from someone who has recently done the London to Brighton 100k single-day walk and the JoGtoLE end-to-end cycle ride) that I have realised that challenging myself physically is really not something that motivates or even interests me hugely. Yes, I am competitive and yes, I am pleased that I have demonstrated to myself that I can do it, but I have no interest for instance in doing this cycle ride again and beating my time. Or running a marathon. Or anything of the sort, really.

Some people clearly are hugely motivated by discovering and then extending the limits of what their bodies are capable of. I admire such people, but I am not one of them, I have realised.

So why did I do this? It's a big question and I haven't quite got there in answering it yet, but some of it certainly is to do with getting a sense of the whole country - how it changes and how it connects. Some of it too was probably about the symbolism of setting myself a task that was long and arduous and then ensuring that I achieved it. But some of it was almost akin to mindfulness, I realise now. It takes a while, but eventually you do stop thinking about the pain in your backside or the ache in your ankles, or about how far there is to go and how long this climb will last, and you just let your mind go free. And you see and hear and smell things and the incessant rhythm of the pedal-turns frees your mind. For a while. Until the burning in your legs is so bad you can no longer ignore it.

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