I have never been partial to hiking.
To me, hiking conjures up images of middle-aged men with sticks or pretentious people in unnecessarily expensive gear walking up hills in show-off hiking boots.
Hiking is one of the biggest outdoors activities in Hong Kong, and yet I’ve never done it.
I went “trekking” in Nepal once with a group from uni., it didn’t impress me very much. Perhaps it was more to do with the people I went with.
I’ve always found hiking to be a needlessly long, hard, uphill slog; unlike the thrill of beating your opponent to the ball on a pitch, scoring a goal, or saving a few as a goalie. I like being part of an organised strategy, spurts of activity, clear objectives, and elbowing the opponent if need be.
Nasty, Nasty’s dad, and Nasty’s brother (boy,I make them out to be the Nasty Family don’t I?) rented a cottage in Ambleside and spent a week adventuring in the Lake District, north-west England. Encouraged by the thought of free accomodation, I packed my bags and joined them for a 3-day weekend.
They spent the week hiking, scrambling, climbing and mountain biking.
I really wanted to see the hills and lakes of this famed English country-side and if not for walking, I don’t know how else is the best way to see it. I was convinced that my winter duck boots would do the job, but the boys shook their heads and I was dragged to one of the many outdoors gear shops in town. Home to THE largest outdoors shop in England, every other shop in Ambleside is an outdoor clothing/camping gear/climbing gear shop. I would probably not believe you if you tell me there is a higher concentration of such shops elsewhere…
I forked out £40 for my first ever pair of hiking boots, put it on immediately for the hills and braced myself for pain and blisters for the rest of the day. I consoled myself with the fact that they were on sale: down from £80! Woohoo!
For all the action we got that day, not only did it not hurt or give me blisters, it worked perfectly fine! I was very very impressed. No breaking-in needed at all!
If for some reason you are as freakish as I am and think hiking boots is just a gimmick, they made all the difference because they saved me from spraining my ankles at least 15 times. Knowing that you can trudge through bushes, mud, water and rocks without getting your feet wet or cold, or slipping and falling, they give you all the confidence you need to not have to worry all the time about what or where you’re stepping into and can instead focus on enjoying the scenery or even skipping through the fields a la The Sound of Music (which I did try to do, until I realise I was skipping onto piles of sheep poop.)
Over the weekend, I’ve realised that the form of hiking I hate is the continuous tromps through more or less smoothed paths. I get tired, and they bore me to tears. Just a constant never ending repetition of putting one foot in front of the other.
The reason I have been converted this time round, is the fact that the trails were anything but smooth. It was a constant negotiation up and down rocky paths, going on your hands and knees up and round boulders, crossing streams and puddles, avoiding sheep poop but stepping into mud holes, scrambling up rock faces and trying not to look down and realise that if I lose my hold, that just might be the end of my life.
It rained, I was hot, I was wet, my hands were cold, and I was tired. It was certainly uphill, but I wasn’t bored. It was challenging and you get a sense of acheivement from reaching the top in ways you never thought you could.
I’ve never scrambled before, and didn’t know it was an activity on its own until now. A sort of middle ground between hiking and actual climbing, I think of it as something like crawling up hill. Hmm.
I think if my hike involves some sort of scrambling, then I’m a happy bunny. Or sheep.
My first brilliant hike though, eventually turned into the Hike From Hell when we couldn’t find the trail down. Nasty’s dad abandoned us thinking that we’ve made our way down and the three of us were left lost in the mountains with a million sheep, Nasty yelling obcenities into the air, the brother declaring that it was the worst day ever, and me thinking we’ll all need a shot of vodka each when we get down.
Trying to find the trail, we clambered up rocks and pushed through knee-high bushes along the sides of the steep hills, which effectively killed my knees and ankles, at which point I was in quite a bad mood. A planned one-hour descent turned into 4 hours and eventually we gave up trying to find the darned trail and decided to go down the mountain whichever way we could. We settled into following a rocky stream downhill, which turned out to be The Descent From Hell.
This is one of the last photos I took of the day, because afterwards, I became the Very Unhappy Hiker In Pain. Without something to scale, the photo doesn’t do justice to how big, long and difficult that rocky stream was and how hellish it was trying to negotiate it in sorry knees and half-rolled ankles. In protest, my knees wanted to just sit down and call Mountain Rescue. Nasty said it wouldn’t be very wise. But I argued that I pay my taxes, plus wouldn’t it be cool to ride in a helicopter? It was just very frustrating to be able to see where you want to go, but not being able to get there.
All we were trying to do was get down that bloody valley and we ended up climbing over farmers’ walls and then eventually Nasty running ahead of us to find his father having a pint at the pub.
My hopes for hiking was not all lost though as we set out again the next afteroon in bright, dry, sunny weather and climbed what I thought was steps equivalent to flights up a 30-storey building.
I was unhappy because, besides from reeling from the pain from the day before, walking up steps was just, well, extremely boring. Then I got excited when we had to scramble and I looked down and then thought I really shouldn’t.
Then I needed to pee really badly. Really.
We were finally at the top, and I felt bad about having to pee in such a beautiful place. But Nasty reasoned that since the sheep poop everywhere, it wouldn’t be so bad if one human peed somewhere. It was very cold and windy and I thought about Google Maps as I cowered in that rocky bowl-thing on the left and mooned the country-side. I cautioned Nasty not to pee into the wind.
And voila, things you do on a hike.