Lessons Learned From Walking 100 Miles Alone
One week ago I went for a walk. I would call myself a fairly dedicated walker – getting my 10k steps a day is like brushing my teeth. I can rely on myself to get it done.
But unlike brushing my teeth: I really enjoy it. I do my best thinking when I walk. My morning walk sets me up for the day: if I miss it I feel ‘off’. I can always rely on an afternoon stroll to clear my head and perk me up.
But walking for longer than an hour in one go isn’t something I’ve practised. Even on walking-heavy city breaks I always find myself in a cafe or taking in my surroundings at regular intervals.
Spending one week walking 100 miles alone was new territory. It’s what people with large dogs and waterproofs do.
I’m from Croydon. My nearest green area takes all of 10 minutes to walk across.
But now I live in Brighton, I figured I should take advantage of the green area that begins just a few miles away.
The South Downs.
Running from Winchester to Eastbourne, a well-signposted and well-walked trail stretches around 100 miles. It sounded like the perfect ‘beginner’ long distance walk to attempt (plus I could get a certificate if I finished it – which would be my first physical achievement in all my 27 years of being able to walk.)
Walking 100 miles alone sounded delicious to me. Over the past few years I’ve grown used to travelling alone, and enjoy it as much (sometimes more) than travelling with others.
My introverted nature uses this intense alone time to recharge. Combining being in nature AND walking AND being alone sounded like the ULTIMATE recharge.
But I didn’t expect anything else. I certainly didn’t expect a walk to teach me anything.
It wasn’t always a walk in the park (oh jeez…) but the lessons I learnt from the difficult moments; the moments where I’d be looking through teary eyes in disbelief that I STILL had 6 miles to go to get to my accommodation; were 100% worth it.
These are all lessons that you could (and probably have) read or heard elsewhere – they didn’t come as surprises to me anyway – but it was EXPERIENCING them first hand that made them really sink in.
So read them, take them on board, but I would strongly recommend taking your own long walk (erm, not necessarily 100 miles but whatever feels long to you) to see if you experience any of them first hand.
What I Learned From Walking 100 Miles Alone
1) Be Present
My walking days began at around 8:30-9am, and I generally reached my accomodation between 4–6pm.
After the first day, there were no opportunities to stop at a nearby village pub for a pint (er – of soda water) or a brief sit down.
After an hour on the path, my mind would get… itchy. I would get sick of my repetitive, unhelpful thoughts, sick of the rubbly, uneven surface, sick of the weight of my pack… and time would crawl.
These were the times I went to my years of practising mindfulness.
Noticing sounds around me or bodily sensations always seemed a bit fruitless in sitting meditation – I prefer focussing on my breath or a mantra to get my focus on.
But out in an ever changing natural environment, noticing every little thing, without judgement, totally transformed my experience.
No longer was I bored or impatient or in discomfort: I was just taking in my environment one step at a time – and I would find myself in a state of bliss.
Finally – this mindfulness stuff was paying off!
2) Be Patient
Being patient isn’t something I’m skilled at (I’m working on it) but on the walk I had no other option.
There was nothing I could do to make my cosy B&B closer to me. Nothing I could do to make my hooves trot any quicker (especially not after doing my knee in).
Huffing and puffing and cursing the sky just wasn’t going to make time go any quicker. I tried this a good few times – just to be sure.
So, I had no choice but to be patient. I knew if I kept going I would get there – eventually.
This is something I think all entrepreneurs and small business owners need to remember when it feels like things are moving at a snails pace.
3) Have Faith
There were a few times I wasn’t sure if my dastardly knee was going to let me finish the walk. There were times I wasn’t sure I’d find the B&B.
In those moments, I knew worrying harder wasn’t going to help, so again, I was forced into a healthier mindset.
Having faith that somehow, things would work out in the end. They always do – even if there are some dark moments on route.
I’m not entirely sure what I have faith in – it feels more like life is this movie I’m in, and you know that the hero can’t die. He can go through some crazy shit; but he can’t go anywhere until the movie ends. Knowing that was enough to keep me watching.
4) Ask for Help
I didn’t have to ask for directions, thanks to the regular signposts keeping me on track, but I had other questions about functioning in the countryside.
Like, where does one get cash out? Apparently trees don’t have ATMs embedded in them – yet.
There was always someone to ask, and I learnt quickly that no matter how retarded my question sounded in my own head; it was better for me to look the fool when asking than to totally become the fool later by not asking.
5) Accept Help
When I came down to breakfast at one B&B, hobbling and generally prompting sympathy for my knee from anyone who enquired about my wellbeing; I didn’t actually expect anyone to help me.
Amazingly, a very kindly gentleman from Sheffield came to my rescue and offered me his knee support band. I felt some resistance: what if he would need it later in his trip? How could I repay his offer?
But I remembered one of my more recent deals with myself: be more accepting. When something is offered to you, out of sheer care and generosity, take it!
Repay them if you can; if you can’t then pay it forward to someone in need who crosses your path.
6) Things Happen FOR You
Still harping on about this knee problem I developed on day 2: there were a few ‘hiccups’ I encountered during the week that at one point in my life would have left me wailing ‘WHY MEEE?’
Instead, I remembered Mr Robbins’ wise words:
Things happen FOR you, not TO you
And I started to see the lesson that some minor disaster taught me or reinforced in me. They weren’t always screamingly obvious, nor did they reveal themselves immediately, but there ALWAYS was something to be gained from them.
7) Notice the Little Things
It’s easy when travelling anywhere to focus on the big wow moments. The ornate cathedral. The epic sunset. The magnificent views from the top.
But what about all the little things on route?
When much of my journey was sprawling fields and pokey woodland paths, I didn’t have the usual big landmarks to keep me going. Instead, I started to notice all the little things that dotted the way.
A butterfly. A gnarled yew tree. A patch of sunshine through leaves.
It became part of my ‘being present’ practise, but also just enhanced my appreciation of the entire journey. It helped me remember that it wasn’t about the destination (a kiosk in Eastbourne – not terribly impressive anyway) but the journey itself.
8) This Too Shall Pass
An old, and possibly overused adage, but one I love nevertheless. Whether it was the pain in my knee, which flitted between being cripplingly intense to a dull ache I could easily overlook, or the seemingly endless beauty of nature in front of me: I tried to remember this phrase.
9) Slow Down
Weirdly, the day I decided to take my time, stopping to have a water break and a brief sit down every hour, was the day I got to my destination the quickest.
At least, it felt like the quickest: each hour went by in a flash. My body wasn’t struggling, and my mind followed suit.
It sounds counterintuitive, but as someone who is a lifelong rusher-of-things, it felt like a welcome relief once I let go of trying so hard to go faster.
It’s another lesson I’ll be taking with me and applying to daily life.