Ridgeway 40 – part 2
Checkpoint 4 was 20 miles into the route and we decided we deserved lunch by then. We sat down next to the Ridgeway halfway up Uffington Hill (you can see the Ridgeway climbing up the hill on the first photo) and immediately became an object of interest to a flock of curious sheep. They quickly decided that we were not that interesting, though.
My friend found she had a huge blister on her foot, but other than that we were fine. Then. It was as we were nearing Checkpoint 5 that I started to feel as if my legs were to fall off at the hip joints. Were I but to know that this was going to be the least of my troubles.
At mile 25 or so I started to feel a twinge in my right knee. I realised that I had felt that twinge a few times before, usually when running upstairs or swimming, but it never lasted long, so I had paid no notice. I had to pay notice now, as the twinge developed, over several miles, to very serious pain. Now, I do think that masking pain with medication and continuing with the activity that had caused the pain in the first place is beyond silly, but I was prepared to make an exception here (while still admitting that it is silly). It took about half an hour for the painkillers to start working, but when they did they helped a little.
I grew up in a hilly country and have always had a desire to know what is beyond the horizon, beyond the next hill, the next bend of the river. This was part of the attraction of the Ridgeway walk: here you looked ahead and knew that you were going to find out what is beyond the next hill and looked back and knew you came over the hills now blue with distance. Interestingly, I found that people who grew up in a flat country often do not share this curiosity. Of course, when you know that wherever you look you can see for miles and it is still the same boring combination of flat fields and roads, you do not necessarily have the wish to know how far they continue. I know I don’t. (All right, I admit it, I am prejudiced against flat landscape, but then I spent five years in Berlin, so I have a good reason to be.)
We came to Checkpoint 6 to find there was a birthday party in progress. The cakes (and chairs!) they had there were very welcome. I was continually checking my watch to see whether I can take another dose of painkillers, but did not dare to yet.
After Checkpoint 6 I stopped taking photos. The sun was going down anyway. The painkillers took longer and longer to work. I suppose it is because human body under physical stress preserves energy supplies by shutting down nonessential processes, like, unfortunately in this case, digestion. There was an ambulance at each checkpoint and I was telling myself “Smile, or they’ll retire you!” I am sure my smile became more and more glassy with each subsequent checkpoint, but I was not retired from the walk. By Checkpoint 8 we were not talking much, each of us concentrating on putting one foot in front of the next. We later found out that both of us thought that because the other one was not giving up, it must be possible to continue… The sun set just as we left Checkpoint 8 and we took out our torches. It was encouraging that we overtook several other walkers, but nothing could take my attention from my right knee.
At long last we hobbled into Streatley and continued along the road. I had never been on such autopilot. There seemed to be a short circuit from that part of brain that controls movement to my legs and feet, bypassing any thought process. A car stopped and the driver asked me directions. It took an effort to stop and switch on my brain, but I managed to mumble that I was not local and went on. She glared at me, but I really did not care. We came back to the hostel, thirteen hours thirty nine minutes after we set off from Overton Hill. There was a marshal standing in front of the hostel and we asked where we should hand in our cards. “Just up these stairs”, he said cheerfully. I beg your pardon? We had just walked 40 miles and you want us to walk up stairs?! We did, of course. We wanted official confirmation of our achievement and I wanted a badge, too.
Here I must say that the cook in the Streatley YHA is superb. We had dinner, designed specifically to be eaten without much chewing, and went to get some sleep. I quickly realised there was only one position in which I was able to lie and if I moved an inch I would scream, so I padded my leg with clothes and blankets so that it would not move (that First Aid course is proving really useful!) and managed to get some rest. In the morning the knee did not hurt (!), but the muscles around it, which must have been working hard to compensate whatever problem there was, were very, very sore. I knew I would be using an ibuprofen gel instead of body moisturiser for days to come.
We set off the hostel to catch our train and spotted a young lady with a backpack going in the same direction. We recognised her from the walk, but even if we had not, we would have known she was a fellow Ridgeway 40 walker – she was limping.