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Ancient Feet: 46 - Halfway Point

Alan Nolan and his talkative mates reach the half-way point on their Coast to Coast trek.

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Keld was not only the halfway point in terms of distance, but also in terms of time and it seemed appropriate to complete an appraisal of our performance so far. During the remaining six days, we would not encounter anything as strenuous as the terrain we had covered in the first half of the journey but there would be at least two long days in terms of distance to be covered. Were our bodies and minds equipped to cope with another six days of relentless pounding?

I considered each of my colleagues in turn. Paul seemed to be
managing without any trouble and, although appearances can be deceptive and he is the type who would not tell the rest of us even if his leg was falling off, I had little doubt that he would reach Robin Hood's Bay. I believed I had discovered the secret of his success, the 'sold out' signs in all the pie shop windows giving the game away.

Tom was being held together by bandages and sticking plaster and supported by poles and, although he had completed the course nine times before, it was clear that he was taking it very
steadily and walking at his own speed. As long as his creaking body stood up to the strain, he would achieve his ambition to do it ten times, thereby creating a new record for a sixty-nine year old living in his house!

Following his cramp attack on the first day, Joe had come to his senses and walked at a less ambitious pace, forming an 'almost septuagenarian club' with Tom and adopting all of Tom's methods of keeping himself together. He had been awarded his Frequent Farters card which provides him the privi-lege of using a special lounge at any YHA establishment. As long as he continued to track Tom, aided by his regular turbo-boosts from the rear, he should reach the North Sea coast.

That left Don, who seemed to be managing better as we went along. There could be a number of reasons for this. Firstly, his pack was getting lighter as he ate his way through the corner shop he was carrying. Also, it was possible that he was surreptitiously discarding unwanted items along the way, although I thought this extremely unlikely given his hoarding mentality. Secondly, six days of walking had made us all stronger so, barring accidents, Don should make it too. All the hard walking was now behind us and, although we still had some long days ahead, there were no more really steep sections.The only threat I could think of was Don's temperament. We didn't want any more tantrums and threats to go home.

I thought I detected his head thrust forward a little and his pace quicken slightly. The footpath on our side of the river was very narrow, winding between the trees about twenty yards above the water, and the drizzle made the steep slope very slippery. Tom and Joe seemed to be managing this more comfortably than us, perhaps because they are shorter and did not have to do as much ducking and weaving to avoid the branches and tree roots. Don continued to grumble that he didn't think it was the right way and, as I had no idea, I kept quiet. Again, if Tom heard Don's grumbling, he did not respond but the gap between us seemed to be increasing.

'Fuck,' Don shouted suddenly as his unwieldy pack caught on a branch and he was yanked back. 'Tom, are you sure this is the right way?' he shouted. There was no response, but I sensed that Tom's head went down a fraction and his pace quickened.
We continued to make our precarious way along the slippery path, concentrating intensely so as not to lose our footing.

'Fucking hell,' Don shouted, louder than before, as he slipped on the mud and was just about able to stop himself slithering down the slope to the river but unable to prevent his new breathable, wickable, water-repellent, UV protected shorts being covered in mud. 'Tom, I'm sure this isn't the right way'We were now only catching the occasional glimpse of the other two through the trees but again I sensed Tom's head drop another fraction and his pace quicken.

'Fucking bastard shit,' Don yelled at the top of his voice as his pack snagged on another branch and he was almost yanked off his feet. 'Tom, this is definitely not the right way' They were so far ahead now that we could not see them at all, but I knew that he had moved up yet another gear. On we went, slithering forward.

'Ow. Fucking nettles. I've been stung,' Don thundered.'Tom, we're going miles out of our way'

Don is one of those blokes who is so nice that it is a surprise to hear him swear. In fact, it is so unexpected that it sounds unnat¬ural and walking behind him now, watching him working himself up into such a paddy was quite a revelation. I realised that this must have been what he was like on the previous Saturday when Tom said he had 'thrown his rattle out of his pram.' Again I thought that Whinger Spice would have been appropriate but, now that I knew he was preoccupied with other troubles, I was prepared to make allowances.

His grumbling was making me wonder whether my appraisal of his physical and mental condition had been too optimistic and whether he was about to sit down and refuse to go any further but, before that happened, we emerged from the woods and followed the footpath close to the riverbank. Unlike us, Paul must have crossed the river at the footbridge because we could now see him on the other side. He crossed the river at the first opportunity and we walked together, and this was the first time that all five of us had walked together for any distance throughout the entire journey and it felt good. I don't know what had happened to change things, but Paul would walk with us for the rest of the trip. Either his pie order hadn't come through or he had broken his leg, I decided.


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