Dress rehearsal

On the drive north, we stop in the Lake District for a practice long hike and overnight camp to test all our kit and get used to the weight of our packs. The plan is to pitch the tent, walk a circular route from Great Langdale and then return to cook a dehydrated meal on the stove and bed down on our foam mats. Even though we’ll have the van parked close by, we’ll forbid ourselves from accessing it for luxuries like towels and pillows, since that won’t be an option once we’re on the Cape Wrath Trail.

‘Even if it’s pouring rain, we’ll stick to the plan, right?’ says Jeff, adding that we might well face such conditions when it comes to the real thing. ‘Definitely,’ I reply earnestly, praying it will stay dry.

We wake up to rain. In fact, we are woken by rain; it smatters loudly on the outer of the tent and it’s only my desperate need for a wee that drives me from the tent. Once outside, I realise it sounds worse than it is; tents have a way of magnifying the sound of falling rain. I don my waterproofs and get the stove on for tea and porridge while Morris peers suspiciously out of the tent flap. ‘What fresh hell is this?’ he thinks. ‘Not long ago, I lived in a warm and comfortable house with an interesting garden. Then it was a tent the size of a garden shed. Now I’d be better off in a kennel.’

Packing up takes ages. On Shane’s recommendation, everything lives in its designated dry bag, each with a specific place in the rucksack, based on when it needs to be accessed in the pitching/unpitching process. It’s a sensible system but it’ll take time to get used to.

It’s still raining when we finally shoulder our packs and set off. The route begins with a stiff climb up a narrow, flint bracken-bordered path, mist drifts around the hilltops. Within minutes, I’m too hot but I can’t face the rigmarole of stopping, taking off the pack and removing a layer, so I soldier on, sweat trickling down my sports bra and doubt trickling into my mind about this whole long-distance walking lark.

We eat our lunch under a tree to keep the worst of the rain off, silently considering just how dismal the Cape Wrath Trail could be if it rained all the time.

But by the time we get back to the campsite, our moods have brightened a little. We’ve done over nine undulating miles wearing our packs and intended clothing and footwear in non-stop rain and we’re not broken. We pitch the tent and unload our dry bags. Thanks to Shane’s tip, our┬ásleeping bags now reside permanently inside waterproof bivvy bags in our rucksacks. So no matter what the day throws at us, no matter how drenched we are when we climb in the tent, we’ll always have a warm and dry place to retreat to. And that is how we end our dress rehearsal, hands thawing around enamel mugs of instant hot chocolate.

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Hitting the road

After a summer of camping, we leave East Sussex at the start of September. ‘I’m homeless and jobless,’ I think, as we drive north, the van straining under the weight of kayaks, bikes, wetsuits, hiking gear and an immense amount of reading material. My stomach does a little dip; it’s thrilling, but such wantonness feels naughty, too. When my job was advertised, 140 people applied. Will I live to regret quitting?

On the other hand, I’ve met lots of people over the last few months who, on hearing our plan, have revealed their own or others’ Crazy Things. Sometimes their plans are already in motion, other times, they’re still at the planning stage – or even just dreaming. My physio tells me about his intention to drive from home to South Africa in a custom-built Land Rover, when the kids are old enough. My hairdresser confides that she’s quitting the salon and moving to Devon to start a new life. Then there’s a couple touring around Europe in a converted horse lorry; a city high flyer who’s jacked it in to become a baker; and the editor of a highly successful magazine who resigned to retrain as a nutritionist. All these stories show that while much of what we do in our lives is aimed at creating stability, striving for success and fitting in, we also have a thirst for adventure, and a need for change too. I reflect on the fact that the change I’ve created for myself has put paid to two of the strongest ways in which I identify myself – as a journalist and as a runner. When we set off on the Cape Wrath Trail in a few days time, I’ll be neither.