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Why We Walk Long Distances


Bill Orme - from Striders 95

As I will be hosting these pages I thought I should first introduce myself and my wife Nedra. We are 68 y.o. Australians who first became interested in long distance walking in our 40s when we decided to slow down after a hectic professional life and four children. Since then we have walked over 35,000kms around the world, mainly doing all preparation and research ourselves (with much help in route selection from both Alan Castle and Peter Robins of the LDWA).

Our first walk in total innocence was to follow Hilaire Belloc in his 'Path to Rome' from Thun in Switzerland through the Seffinenfurke pass to the Rhône. Emboldened and enchanted, we then did a family trek along the Tibetan border and followed with a year off walking from snow to snow, 3300kms through Europe. We enjoyed it so much we then decided to walk four to six months each year and only work in between. But, as work began interfering with walking we now only do charitable work to allow greater flexibility.

We graded our walks into those hard walks we must do now, those we can do in the ten years after that, and those we can do until we die. We think the best finale would be with our last £100, to buy a good bottle of wine, drink it together on a peak (or by then pass) and propped up with our sticks, pass on together. We point out to our children that if the money runs out first, they will have to provide the wine.

Maybe the first question I should answer is the most common one. Why walk long distances when we could be tourists with a car (or just take up croquet which we now also play)? The answer is that after so many rushed business trips and family campervans holidays in Europe flitting from highlight to highlight, we like the independence of a rucksack and the evolving gentleness and cohesion of a long walk. We like at least 600kms over four weeks but 300kms over two weeks is adequate.

There is much fun and hard work in doing the background reading, evaluating the options and locating accommodation and points of interest to give us the freedom to make choices as we go along. This is all brought together in our planning sheets before we leave. For the first five days we have sore bodies in the evenings but this is compensated for by the enjoyment of moving quietly from village to village or hut to hut, the beauty and interest of the days walk, the companionship and hospitality of the evening as the rough route on which we set out emerges under our feet.

As we get older, we have come to like 'all comforts' in the evening. Nedra says she has shown her capacity to 'rough it' in the alpine huts, across the Sinai mountains and in the volcanoes of Indonesia, and will now rough it anywhere as long as there are her four basics: hot water, clean sheets, good food and plenty of wine. She doesn't always get it and a few years ago did without them to do the full circle of the Vanoise. We rarely book ahead but carry a tent and food for emergencies such as no accommodation, an accident, bad weather, or merely to respond to an urge to go and camp in a flower filled valley. Loving our food and wine we can regularly splurge and walk it off to do the same the next night, whereas by car we soon become satiated. Two friends, weather bound in a tent in Austria, wrote to us saying they thought they were close to Nedra's basics; they had cold water, wet sheets but plenty of 'whine'.

In summary, long distance walking gives us a cohesive route, the charm of serendipity away from the strictures of the planned existence (we no longer call them holidays but a different way of life), and the good health and new friendships the walking world offers. Only average physical fitness is required but mental toughness is essential to both deal with and enjoy the uncertainty and the unexpected - the elements which to us are the charm.

We learnt early in life that, while it requires a degree of courage to take the leap, it is relatively easy to drop out of the ordinary for the weeks it takes and in fact the world hardly knows you have gone. The first time we took three months off to travel with our children my major law firm opposed it saying I was 'indispensable'. When we came back my other partners lifted their heads and said, 'Back already!' They hadn't even noticed I'd gone.

While I would welcome suggestions for future topics, at this stage I plan to cover, how and why we chose a particular route, how we prepare our bodies, how we select our gear, how we get information and the tricks we have learnt, and so on. We are talking mainly of long walks, preferably of a month or more, which to me have more value. In shorter one week walks you can wear yourself down physically, return to the feather bed at home and throw the muddy and smelly gear into the washing machine. Month or more walks require a different approach to your physical and mental resources as well as the selection and maintenance of your gear.

In addition I will attempt to answer questions and include ideas from other members. We would stress that we will first be expressing how we do it, acknowledging that one of the charms of walking is doing it your own way, and with thousands of walkers there are thousands of different ways. I thought at first Ken Falconer (Strider 94) had stolen my thunder in his excellent article for Hundred participants. However it highlights the different approaches to different activities.

Many of you may disagree with our approach (we sometimes do between ourselves!) and I will include any you send me. We are often asked how husband and wife can spend 24 hours, seven days a week in each others company. Enough to say we don't always walk hand in hand, even on occasions wondering how we got married in the first place! One of the biggest saviours is a glass of wine in the evening - of course solely for its medicinal value both for the legs and the mind. There is also the cold and wet, the last slug in the evening, being lost and sometimes even a bit scared. As Hilaire Belloc ' In all true walkers burns a flame - but sometimes it burns very low'.

We once asked a well off couple in a remote area why they took in walkers for B&B and EM. They said they were approached by walkers to do it as there was no-one else in the area interested. They at first refused but under pressure reluctantly agreed. They summed out their experience 'We enjoy having walkers stay - we have never had a nasty walker'. What better footprint for a walker to leave.

This article was written by Bill Orme, Walking Volunteers, and first appeared in Strider.
Anyone is free to copy it with this acknowledgement.

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