So. In exactly 12 hours from now I will be setting out on my 81 mile hike from Epping to Harwich. I’ve written about the logistics and the why here. Right now I just want to say how nervous I am. Not the butterflies-in-your-tummy type of nervous of the unknown but the sort of nervous where my mind is alert to every muscle twinge and joint pain, fully aware of how unprepared my body is to walk 20 miles a day for 4 days in a row.
I’ve done things like this before. I walked 100km without sleep in 2015 to fundraise for the British Heart Foundation. I came in last after 32 hours and milked every refreshment stop for all it was worth but I walked every single step and that finish was amazing. I’ve hiked one of the most challenging sections of the Appalachian Trail – 70 miles of the Great Smoky Mountains – three times, carrying a 25kg pack each time, leading groups of young people and sleeping for 6 nights on wooden platforms in open cabins. I’ve jumped out of a plane, twice.
But there’s still doubt. It’s a long way in a short time and I’m scared of the pain that I know will come, but that’s not what terrifies me. What’s really getting to me is what’s lurking in my head. My own voice telling me that I shouldn’t do this to my body, that my head cold is in fact an infection in need of antibiotics, that the back pain is a kidney stone, that I’m doing irreparable damage to my knees. And that when I go home to my own bed each night I won’t be able to get back out there, that it doesn’t really matter if I give up, that everyone will understand.
I have taken considerable steps to cushion myself from my brain. I have chosen to hike for EWAG, a charitable fund that I volunteer for, that I am passionate about, and so that people’s donations will fill me with enough guilt to outweigh the quitting. I have invited people to join me and, all being well, I expect to have companions for almost the entire route. I will be meeting some of them for the first time and am excited to spend time with everyone who comes out to walk with me. I have planned my route and my kit and my support drivers to be forgiving.
But I gave up once before. On a 3 Peaks in 24 Hours attempt in 2016 I allowed the pain to beat me. After summiting Ben Nevis, a painful descent far behind my fellow challengers sent me into a depressive wormhole and by the time we reached Scafell Pike I had convinced myself I wasn’t going to make it. My usually competitive spirit fell by the wayside as I gave up trying to prove myself to the people around me. Not even plugging into the Tough Girl podcast got me going again. I lasted an hour before deciding the pain wasn’t worth it. I didn’t even try Snowdon. It just didn’t matter.
I’m writing this post now to pour out my thoughts in the hope of a good night’s sleep. This hike is as much a mental challenge as a physical one and I’ve learned that I need an agenda that’s more important than me. My 3 Peaks attempt last year failed because there wasn’t a bigger reason. I wasn’t fundraising and I didn’t have other people depending on me. I was using it as training. I didn’t have much to lose.
This time I have a lot to lose. Essex Girl pride is driving me. A desire to prove that the outdoors is good for my mental health. A need to show that Essex Girls are more than the stereotype, more than the dictionary definition. A wish to stand up and be counted on International Women’s Day. So I have some confidence, despite my apprehension. But to you who might send a supportive message, please do. I promise that it makes a huge difference. It really will keep my mind strong and that’s what keeps my body going.
Wish me luck! xx