Most people figure out their limitations by their 30s, or maybe 40s if they’re slow.
It all started with the Edinburgh Author Signing I attended at the Marriott. Knowing I’d have to spend a whole day standing up, I decided to travel up here the day before. TEN hours! Ten hours it took me and my good friend and assistant to get up here. After a 4:20 start that morning, the 10-hour drive, and then the recce of the venue and surrounding area, all we were good for was sleep.
Then came D-day, which was, as expected, utterly exhausting. Cue a 9-hour sleep-of-the-dead. I’m sure if the aliens had landed in the car park nearby and hurled balls of fire at my window, I wouldn’t have noticed.
We took one more day to recover… and then decided it would be a good idea to visit a nearby nature reserve, Loch Leven. Half an hour’s drive away, and the weather as good as you’re ever going to get in the British Isles… and off we went.
Loch Leven is an RSPB reserve near Kinross, with a variety of nesting birds on the loch itself and beautiful nature walks all around. The morning passed pleasantly while walking from hide to hide and watching herons fish, swallows dart around to catch insects, and lots of water birds go about their business.
After lunch, feeling virtuous (or stupid – I’ve not decided which one yet), we decided to walk the woodland trail. The map said it was only about a mile long. At some point along the way, the path forked, with one side going to the top of the nearby hill. We were certain we wouldn’t be fit enough to tackle that. Just the woods. We could do the one mile through the woods.
What no one said was that the damn mile was a practically vertical climb.
Lumbered with cameras and binoculars that weighed roughly half our body weight, and carrying bottles of water and spare batteries, etc, in our pockets, we went off to see the red squirrels and great spotted woodpeckers the write-up promised us.
We should have known it wouldn’t be that simple.
The walk quickly morphed from this lovely semi-paved path bordered by wildflowers:
to this mud path about 20 inches wide and with a 1 in 3 incline, approximately:
Don’t be deceived by the prettiness of the picture. Those steps were punishing! When you need to lift your legs high enough to be in danger of knocking out your teeth with your knees, step after step, while gasping for the slightest molecule of non-rarefied atmosphere, you don’t have much time to take in the view. Or the desire to do so.
The sun beat down on us, the birds cackled at our foolishness, and the sweat poured out in waves that soaked into our clothing and stuck it to our bodies like a second skin. And still we walked. Up and up and up, step after step, near-miss after near-miss, waving our hands at midges with about as much energy as falling autumn leaves, and with about as much effect.
When my heart felt close to bursting, I sat down on a step, taking up the whole of it, unable to care about what happened next. Eventually, two other walkers caught up with us, which meant that I had to get up to let them pass. This I did with great reluctance and envy. Their breathing was fine, barely above what I’d expect after walking from the back door to the post box at the top of the drive and back. And they were smiling!
Steep hill to one side, steep drop to the other, high steps in front, and more behind. With little choice, I kept walking. I’m not a quitter. But I did consider quitting. MANY times along the way.
By the time the path leveled up, I had given up all hope of being able to make it back down again. That’s where the path for the top of the cliff split off. We were not even half way yet!
At least it was level. And the views were fantastic. Just look at this:
How could you begrudge being in a little pain if you got to see this?
I’ll tell you how. The path began to climb again. More steps, more deadly-looking ravines, narrow passing places, and the scorching, punishing sun. I didn’t think I could walk one more minute. But I did, and then another, until – joy of joys – we began the descent.
Oh boy! If knees-in-face was the hazard of climbing steep steps, knotting thigh muscles was the problem of descending 25-inch narrow terraces disguised as a path suitable for public access.
My poor abused thigh muscles ached so much I could feel the cramps threatening to clench them into uncontrollable, useless lumps of flesh with every drop. By now all I could think of was that if I was going to make it to the bottom of the hill unscathed – a big IF – my first job would be to locate and throttle the reserve manager, if I could find him, and inflict as much pain on him as I was currently feeling.
Ten minutes later I’d forgotten that idea. All I wanted to do was die. As soon as possible. As fast as possible. As painlessly as possible. I even hugged a post holding up high-voltage power lines with ‘Danger of Death’ stickers on it… but nothing happened.
And then the couple who’d passed us on the way up, when I was already spent and half-collapsed on the path, passed us on the way down, too, having already climbed to the very top of the hill. Still smiling, the little… darlings.
We half-tripped, half-crawled down to the car park, vowing to never again allow the other to go through such a scarring experience, and thanked the heavens for allowing us enough energy to get to relatively even ground again.
We never saw a hair of a squirrel, nor did we commit carefully premeditated murder. But now I know my limits. Until the next time.