I awoke this morning with some serious stomach cramps. The kind of stomach cramps where you feel a lengthy stay on the toilet seat is going to be required and yet when you get there... no dice. Now... I know I’m turning into the grumpy, moaning old man from hell – whinging about everything and anything including my bodily movements – but this start to the day is going to become very relevant a bit later on... unfortunately.
Despite my minor health gripes (!) I got myself sorted out to go for a bit of a training walk with the intention to go on the pavements from Dunstable to St Albans Cathedral and back again. The fantastic team at Sealskinz had sent me some top of the range hiking socks which were unbelievably comfortable and Super Wife had managed to get hold of some new cushioned insoles for my heavily battered hiking boots. I donned a black hoody with my bright orange MS Society t-shirt worn over the top of it and I was out of the door by 5am.
I walked in the dark down Luton Road and then Great Northern Road, with hardly a car in sight and only the occasional glimpse of a feral cat in the streetlights before turning onto High Street South and up the A5 in the direction of Downside. I came over all nostalgic as I passed the newsagents opposite Periwinkle Lane having seen the early morning newspaper stacks set out for putting together through the dimly lit front window. Memories of being about 12-13 years old down at old Cliff Thompson’s newsagents on Chiltern Road at 4am, before school, loading up two huge luminous yellow sacks with papers and straining against the weight as I stumbled off into the cold morning darkness. It was tough work for a youngster but it was the only way to make £14.50 a week at that age. As I made my way up the A5 the trip down memory lane continued to play in my mind as I passed the garages on Southfields Road where I had spent many an early morning in miserable weather with my father in law to be loading scaffold towers that he stored in two or three garages onto the flatbed of a transit. Even the simple act of passing the partially lit Highwayman pub triggered the recollection of having to get up around 4 to 5 in morning when I lived and worked at the Nags Head in Dunstable to meet the draymen bleary-eyed and yawning like a mad man. I used to just about have enough time to get the barrels and boxes in position, Brasso the pumps and fixtures, clean the optics and then run upstairs and get changed ready to dash off up West Street to attend Queensbury Sixth Form – that was on the occasions that I did attend to be truthful. The good thing about all these random thoughts swimming around my head was that they were taking my mind of the searing pain that I had begun to experience on the left hand side of my abdomen.
I ignored the discomfort and plodded on up the A5, past Manshead School, past Turnpike Farm, wandering in the beginnings of the morning light on the never-ending tarmac trail with green hills to my left and yellow rapeseed fields to my right.
I carried on past the Packhorse pub sitting stranded on its plot entirely surrounded by a triangular junction of roads; past the caravan plots on my side of the road with the guard dogs who clearly don’t bearded walkers wearing bright orange coming near their patch; and onwards along the wall of Cell Park towards the subway at Markyate.
Markyate itself appeared to have come to a grinding halt, with its main street cordoned off and clearly a large amount of works underway. Not that it particularly affected me at all as I clung to the A5 walking in the direction of River Hill. The one thing I have noticed about walking this route is that this stretch of road feels so long! In reality the distance between Dunstable and St Albans is only around 12 to 13 miles which is not particularly long in the context of all the training I’ve been doing, but the sheer monotony of trudging along the soulless A5 makes the walk feel quite literally twice as long. You have to remind yourself to lift your gaze from the pavement in front of you and up to the quite lovely countryside that lays just to your right in the general direction of Flamstead. It’s a lesson that I intend to take with me for those first 4-5 days walking down the A99 from John O’Groats at the start of my Little Stroll.
Having past the rows of saplings and mature trees that line the considerable plot of Majestic Trees and the hot pink trimmed log cabin façade of the Waggon & Horses, I eventually came to junction 9 of the M1... where I promptly spent the next few minutes vomiting profusely into a hedge near the end of Watery Lane. Stay classy Mr Redmond... stay classy!
Once I’d managed to compose myself, I decided that the worst of my feeling unwell was probably behind me and as such I began the steady ramble up the steady hill from the M1 to the edge of Redbourn, passing as I did so the Hertfordshire County Showground – empty fields this morning but still lined with Union and Hertfordshire flags hanging rather forlornly in the absence of a morning breeze.
As I plodded down Dunstable Road leading onto Redbourn’s high street I remembered to take a quick pick and post it to Twitter – social media whizz kid that I am – and I attracted a few loud good mornings from the passing elderly gents, papers tucked under their arms, who had obviously decided that a man in a bright orange charity t-shirt constituted no threat, regardless of how transient and wild he might look.
It was as I emerged from the other end of Redbourn, crossing the roundabout towards the Chequers at the bottom of Redbourn Road that things began to take a turn for the worse.
At this stage I’d covered somewhere between 9-10 miles and physically I was firing on all cylinders bar one. My feet felt fantastic – the Sealskinz socks working their protective magic like a dream. The insoles were holding up nicely as well but I did notice that my boots felt a touch tighter than per usual at the toe end – not enough to have bothered me as yet but potentially may have been problematic at around the 20 mile mark.
The real issue – the more pressing and alarming issue – was that my stomach cramps had gone into overdrive. Have you ever experienced that sweat inducing, goose bump raising, chill down the spine feeling that comes with tensing every muscle fibre of your being to avoid the indescribable? I staggered on for nearly another mile before circumstances overtook my bravado and I resorted to crashing through a hedgerow, stumbling down a ditch and providing the edge of some poor farmer’s field with a touch more fertilisation than he probably would have bargained for. I emerged about five minutes later shaken and stirred but in orderly fashion and thanking my lucky stars that other than a few speeding vehicles there had been no one around to actually cast eyes on my moment of indignity.
As stupid as it may now sound when writing this blog from the comfort of my armchair, I was still at that time thinking of carrying on with the training walk. I reasoned that if this had occurred on the big walk itself I would have no option but to down a handful of Immodium and crack on regardless. In reality this was a training walk; I was still feeling like I could have a repeat performance of the M1 incident at any moment; the muscles in my neck were right royally strained and I had work to be fit for on Monday. I called Super Wife to ask for instructions – the trait of the experienced married man – and was told in no uncertain terms to stop being an eejit and get straight on the bus back to Dunstable. I still needed to pick up Niamh from my mum’s house and then walk her back in the buggy nearly two miles across Dunstable and then take care of her for the rest of the day. The priority therefore was to get my poorly butt back home pronto.
I wandered back to the bus stop at the end of Punch Bowl Lane just down from the pub which is currently in a state of ruin that closely mirrored the state of my own decrepit intestinal system. Thankfully I didn’t have more than a few minutes to wait before the number 34 bus trundled up – my salvation.
By the time I got back to my own house later that morning I had walked about 13 miles – pretty disappointing really – but in the circumstances not too bad I suppose. The one thing I can take from today’s walk is that I can rack up 10 to 11 miles in just over 3 hours and with very little after effect. Push comes to shove on the big walk – if I can nail 15 miles in the morning before 10-11am then I could always rest up for as much as a few hours before dealing with the other 7.5 at a leisurely rate.
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