London-Brighton Training Walk: Lessons Learned

Added: 11-5-2006

Well, the first lesson is that if you want to read about this walk in the correct order, please scroll to the bottom. Yes, I know this is not very user friendly, and that if you carrying on reading this section you will have a pretty good idea of how everything ends, but apparently that’s the way these journal things are constructed – most recent entry first.

So, yes, lessons learned. I believe it is always appropriate to have a post-mortem on expeditions so that wrongs can be righted in future etc. Let me see…

  1. Walking 18 miles on concrete sucks. Why this should come as a surprise I don’t know, but nevertheless I proved it is still true despite having done it before. Obviously it is only going to be pavement on the way out of London, but it still hurts. Thankfully most of the ADT will be trail of some description but there will still be plenty of concrete, especially through cities such as Cincinnati. Therefore I note that foot inspections should be carried out more regularly and a more regular system of breaks instituted. I think this might be easier with two people involved
  2. Walking 18 miles next to heavy traffic sucks. Yes it does. Although I could have guessed this one as well at the start.
  3. I will need a different pair of boots fairly soon. This is good information to have gleaned from my training walk, and I shall beginning looking for a new, more breathable pair immediately.
  4. Hips do not immediately take to new rucksacks, even if the new rucksack’s hip belt is the type that you bake in an oven to mold to the wearer’s bodyshape. By mile 17 I was feeling a little sore, although I know from experience that the flesh around the hips kinda hardens up after a week of incredible pain. After that, it’s all good.
  5. Due to weight concerns, Dave and I were not sure about taking the Platypus hydration system that fits in the rucksack and lets you walk and drink at the same time. I am now convinced that we should take them, as trying to get water out of the rucksack on the go is a pain.
  6. My brand new Merino wool t-shirt lived up to its reputation as being odour-repellent, lightweight and breathable. However, it also didn’t like being surrounded by the rucksack hipbelt and appears to have ‘ruffled’ as a result. £45?!! is this supposed to happen the first time it is used?
  7. The non-chaffing walking underpants that the library school bought for me are magic. Cheers people!
  8. I need to buy a digital camera as soon as possible so all you people can see such fantastic places as Croydon, Pistols Wine Bar and Stoats Nest Road.
  9. Perhaps 18 mile days are a little too much to be getting into too soon. I think some leisurely days will be more ‘us’. I have no idea how Ken and Marcia Powers managed to average 21 miles a day on their 9 month thru-hike of the ADT, fair play to them. It is a truly amazing acheivement.
  10. I cannot soak my feet comfortably in a sink.
  11. National Rail Enquires are really awful.
  12. Middlesbrough are really, really awful. Either that or they were good before I watched them and then became crap because I tuned in. Sorry.

So yeah, that’s about it. Next week, Switzerland. Mountain training. Only for the headstrong. Will Dave get his passport back from the US Embassy in time to go? The tension mounts.
Stuart                                        Have a comment? Please sign the guestbook

Merstham - Horley

Added: 11-5-2006

In hindsight, I probably tarried too long in The Feathers. The beer was tasting good, the sun was beating down, the pub was pretty nice indeed and the music they had on was excellent. I’d walked in to the sounds of a Roy Budd tune (from the Get Carter soundtrack) and then proceeded to hear a pretty good mixtape which had a remix of Rotary Connection’s ‘Black Gold of the Sun’ on it, along with that Jazzanova remix of Shaun Escoffery and also a DJ Shadow tune I’d had in my head all day. I was only too happy to stop, especially as I suspected my feet were revolting in my socks.

But I needed somewhere to stay. I called Dave who informed me that if I could get to Brighton there would be somewhere for me to sleep. Cheers. Then I got the number of a B&B in Redhill, two miles down the road, but the guy on the other end said that all of Redhill’s (3) B&B’s were full and I should go to Horley. Something big on obviously. He also said that Redhill used to have 9 places with rooms for the night, and even Merstham had 3, so my idealised visions of country towns and villages being able to put up passing strangers were not too far of the mark. In the 1970s that is.

There was only one thing for it. First I asked the barman how to get to Horley but he didn’t know (it’s only down the bloody road). Then I called National Rail Enquiries about how I got from Merstham station to Horley station. Despite calling from outside Merstham station I was reliably informed that Merstham did not have a station and had I considered a bus?

At this point I noticed blokes sitting on a bench looking at me, one of whom had an enormous hole in his jeans near his crotch. How do people go out like this?! I moved on, figuring I could work out myself how to get to Horley using the age-old techniques of studying the timetables on the station walls.

After a quick ten minute journey on the train I wobbled into Horley. Now Horley looked an ok kind of place and after asking at the nearest pub I was directed to a street full of B&Bs nearby. I selected the Southbourne Guesthouse which was a wise, if slightly expensive choice seeing as the only room they had was a family room. After unpacking, it was here that I realised that my training walk was over.

Somehow I had managed (and this has never happened in years of walking) to get a huge blister on the underside of each of my feet. The blister on my left foot was large enough to have its own economy and transport system, and the one on the right wasn’t far behind. Normally I get blisters on toes, or heels, so to actually see these fellas close up was a bit of a shock (I’d been putting off looking at them for a bit, so I could cover the last few miles into Merstham. Maybe not the best way to go about a walk, but at one point there I felt that if I stopped, I’d be sleeping in a ditch. And not for the first time.)

After unsuccessfully trying to soak my feet in the sink (an awkward operation) I gave up and just sat in the shower for ages. This was A Good Thing. I sent out a pathetic text message to a few people asking for blister advice and came to the conclusion that it was more important that I be able to pull dance moves during the weekend in Brighton than it was to continue walking down the fairly dull A23. This decision having been made I repaired to the local Italian restaurant for some Pasta (the carbs!), the local Threshers for a couple of beers and then back to my room to watch the UEFA Cup Final. My, aren’t Middlesbrough rubbish?

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Coulsdon - Merstham

Added: 11-5-2006

Leaving Coulsdon I caught sight of a spectacular piece of madness, namely a young van driver removing his t-shirt while doing 50mph on a busy road. He made an almighty serve once the garment was removed, almost going up on the pavement, but righted himself at the last minute and continued his day. It is an unwritten rule in England that if the sun appears for more than ten minutes in a row then a large proportion of the male population must remove their tops, more the better to achieve the shade of red beloved by football fans.

Unfortunately for the walker, there are extensive roadworks outside of Coulsdon and a lot of to-ing and fro-ing between the different sides of the road ensued. OK, I know that many people aren’t stupid enough to walk down the A23 but it would be nice if there were some consistent pavement facilities for those of us on roadwalk training expeditions. Anyway, I jumped back and forth until just past a Little Chef about 3 miles outside of Coulsdon – and then the pavement just ran out. As is normal in these situations, the sign for a footpath simply took me into the garden of a rather posh house surrounded by CCTV cameras. Not a good look. I got agitated, my feet hurt and I contemplated hitching. I moved up the grass verge of the A23 wondering if it was an appropriate place to get killed when, right on cue, a police car drove past me and immediately slowed down. I backed up.

After another fruitless search for the non-existent path I bit the bullet and crossed onto the tightrope-of-a-verge of the A23 (sorry mother). So far so good. At this point about three police cars went past and did nothing, so I figured that was the signal to proceed and on I went.

The next bit of the journey was tough going on the feet. I was rocking that old-man-who-just-got-off-a-ship walk and things were beginning to hurt. My new rucksack was taking some time to become comfortable and my hips were complaining about the rucksack belt. I have learned that all of these ailments disappear in time when doing a long walk, you just have to resign yourself to being in pain for a large part of the first week of any activity. Anyway, I was much cheered by a milestone that practically gave me the exact distance from Westminster Bridge in London – I’d gone 17 miles since 8.30am and it wasn’t yet 4pm.

Although I was faltering. I moved into the small village of Merstham in a mind to find somewhere to stay for the night. I stopped at the Feathers for a pint of Erdinger and asked about for accommodation. Nothing was doing at all, and the barman gave me the sort of look reserved for mad people when I asked if the pub had any rooms for the night. I was forced to agree that it was not the 19th century anymore.

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Balham - Coulsdon

Added: 11-5-2006

After Balham I continued the long walk out of London on the A23. Highlights included Streatham High Road, which was a very long walk filled with nail salons, greasy spoons and Internet cafes (the last Internet cafes for a long time). At the end of the high road I moved into advanced hiking mode – the wearing of shorts, facilitated by some hidden zips on my new hiking trousers and some unseemly fumbling with my boots. The weather was fantastic, even if the fumes from the traffic were an unwelcome counterpoint.

After Streatham  the next town I noted was Croydon, a place I hope I never have to walk around again. Wonderful scenery – industrial estates, car showrooms, giant supermarkets and chav-infested bus stops. My appearance in this area (sweating bloke in shades, carrying large rucksack) caused the same degree of consternation to the locals as Martian fighting machines erupting out of the ground, and I swiftly moved on, although not before a car of lads had pulled up besides me and asked me if I was looking for work. Quite what work they had in mind for an obvious hiker I did not know, although I fantasised from their shiftiness that they wanted me for a getaway driver or something, an inkling backed up five minutes later when I saw their car squeal away at top speed out of a Sainsburys car park.

At this point my feet started to tire of the pavements. Luckily for me, just past the industrial-sized TGI Fridays and the equally impresive Airport House (20th May, Blues Brothers Night!) on the edge of Croydon there was a large swathe of green playing fields,  (short-lived) relief for my feet after miles of concrete.

I kept on, past newsagents keen to advertise the first sighting of Theo Walcott’s bird, and eventually I descended a long hill into Purley, a place which looked nicer than I imagined. I wanted to stop for a pub lunch, but not yet, so I kept going, pausing only to apply plasters to a blister on my right little toe. I went past Stoats Nest Road and asked a bloke whether there was a pub ahead in the next village. He practically collapsed into laughter, although not before he had revealed the existence of a wine bar in Coulsdon.

And indeed it was in Pistols Wine Bar that I had my lunch – a ham roll from the extensive bar menu of ham, cheese or salad rolls. I asked the barman how long it was to Redhill, the next town along, and he said it was way too far to walk. I pressed him, and he eventually revealed it was 5 miles. The papers yesterday revealed that we walk far less than we used to – since the mid-1970s the average number of miles per person travelled on foot each year has dropped by around a quarter. No wonder five miles seems far too far to walk for some people.

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Added: 10-5-2006

In an effort to see if it is possible for me to walk more than an hour without collapsing I am on the road. London to Brighton, about 50 miles or so along traffic infested streets. it’s a really beautiful route – not.

I set off this morning from central London and as of 10.00am I have reached a bacon butty-selling cafe in Balham. all is good. I have on my new trekking clothes which have led me very quickly to the conclusion that I shall never look cool at any point during the next 18 months, and I am carrying my new rucksack, the complexity of which is rather daunting (I seem to be trailing about 300 straps). I have no map, which is an idea I quite like because I get to put to the test an inclination that I am always able to navigate by some sort of internal compass (something that I think Dave is missing, as yesterday he managed to get lost in Covent Garden). on the other hand, getting out of London without a map isn’t the hardest job in the world – these street signs are really quite handy.

so anyway, I’m gonna try to use the wonders of the UK’s Internet infrastructure to keep this part of the journal updated over the next couple of days. I don’t know how long it will take to get to Brighton, I don’t really care and the feeling of being able to just walk again is really rather good. all I know is that I have to be in town by Friday afternoon to meet my sister for a drink and then to attend our huge and impressive benefit gig on Friday night (please come! all for a good cause! Dave’s band is playing travelling-themed cover versions, and apparently I get to wear dungarees. SMS or email me for more details).

finally, many thanks to all the shop assistants in Covent Garden yesterday who helped us spend shedloads of money (yes Paul, that’s you). new hiking equipment doth make a man excited…

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