An Unplanned Hiatus – Here’s What’s Been Happening This Summer

This post is so very overdue. My racing has been held in check as a result of numerous unexpected events. After completing the Runs with Scissors Marathon in April, I had planned to do the Strolling Jim Marathon in Tennessee in early May. However, life intervened with a vengeance. After much thought and discussion, my husband and I made a major decision to move to another town in Florida several hundred miles from our adopted hometown of Gainesville. This meant we had to put our existing home on the market and look for a new one. That brief sentence belies the enormous labor and consternation involved in such a move. We went through a number of false starts on both ends, with the result that I ended up with a DNS for Strolling Jim and no other races planned until the Merrill’s Mile 12 hour race on the July 4th weekend.

I did manage to complete the Out of the Darkness suicide prevention walk held in Boston on the evening of June 27. This was a walk, not a race, and it had many organizational problems. As a marathoner used to multiple well-stocked aid stations, knowledgeable volunteers, accurate mileage signs, and a carefully plotted route, I was sorely disappointed in the walk itself. I am still very glad I participated but doubt that I will attempt another such event (they are held several times a year in various cities).

The not-so-good stuff:

  • Some people were given maps of the route but others were not.  I never received one.  Of course it was impossible to read the maps in the darkness, even with a flashlight, so it probably would not have helped much, but I could have studied it before starting out
  • The Westin Hotel Waterfront was the host hotel and it was lovely.  However, it was at least a 2 mile jaunt to the registration at City Hall and the start and finish of the walk.  Most people drove but I had no car and wouldn’t have driven in Boston even if I had one.  As a result, I had to wend my way through city streets, adding additional miles to the 17 miles of the walk itself.  Not so bad for a marathoner but after midnight I was a little uneasy about going out on my own (no one bothered me but still . . . )
  • The volunteers were helpful but not very well-versed in the route or in giving directions.  I was told to redo an entire section because of this uncertainty.  That added an additional 3 miles to my total
  • Halfway through the walk, we were given ‘supper’ – a box lunch of turkey or ham sandwiches (the veggie ones were all gone), plus an apple and cookie. Most people sat down on benches to eat.  I kept moving since there were still a number of miles to complete and I wasn’t really hungry at 10 pm
  • Sometimes there were directional arrows pointing out where to go, but there should have been LOTS more.  Even though I was born and raised in Boston, I had no idea where I was in the city at night and many times I was uncertain as to where to go.  Volunteers were scarce and, as noted above, they not sure about the route
  •  When I got close to the ‘finish’ line at City Hall, there was nobody around to tell me how to get inside.  A long flight of stairs led me to a building with people and lights.   Turns out it was the correct place but I had missed the actual turn that I later found had a balloon arch and cheering spectators.  There should at least have been a sign with an arrow or a person directing walkers to the correct place
  • Decorated luminaria with the names of people who had lost their lives to suicide were set up all over the building, inside and out.  Since I was doing this walk in honor of my son Ben, who died by suicide last November, I wanted to find the luminaria that I had made for him.  This was probably the most disheartening aspect of the walk to me because – try as I might – I could not locate it.  After several fruitless attempts, I started to walk back to the hotel.  The rain that had threatened all evening now started to fall in earnest; that was fine with me, since they blended with my tears.  Then I came to my senses with a jolt and my usual stubbornness prevailed.  Heck, I was not going to give up that easily.  I walked back to City Hall and asked to talk to someone in charge.   I relayed my problem to a young woman who assured me every luminaria was set up and she would find some volunteers to help me find Ben’s.  I finally found it, picked it up and put it under my jacket to keep it dry, and then headed back to the hotel.  It was now about 3 am and I was only too glad to shower and get into some dry clothes and finally get some sleep

There were several wonderful things:

  • It is definitely a good cause.  The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is the sponsor and this is its major fundraiser.  In lieu of the walk, next time I would probably simply make a donation.  I would also like to take this opportunity to thank my friends Marylyn and Joyce for giving generously on my son’s behalf
  • I met great people.  We all shared a common understanding and a desire to stamp out the stigma of suicide and encourage prevention efforts
  • I had several serendipitous happenings during this trip.  The day after the walk, as I ate lunch in one of the hotel’s restaurants, I shared my experiences with some other walkers, 3 sisters who lived in different parts of the country but come together each year to do the walk.  We chatted and then they finished and left.  When I asked for the check, the waitress told me they had taken care of the bill for me.  That was the first time anything of that sort had happened to me.  Thank you, ladies, and I hope to pay it forward for someone else
  • On the flight to Atlanta, my original flight was delayed so I was put on an earlier flight. The young lady sitting next to me turned out to be a teacher in Boston who was returning to her hometown of Atlanta to do a race with her family.  Micaela and I chatted for most of the trip and have since exchanged emails.  It made the flight back home much more interesting and rewarding

The following weekend it was time for Merrill’s Mile in Dahlonega, Georgia. I opted for the 12 hour option once again (I had done this race a few years ago). This time the weather was perfect, at least for me (it was warm with only a few raindrops), and the loop is now paved, but I could tell I was sorely out of shape. It was wonderful to be doing a race again but my lack of training put me at a real disadvantage. Although I probably could have done a few more laps of the .9 mile course, I managed to finish only 34 miles and then called it a day. Still, I had a lot of fun, saw several friends, and was pleased to be back in the swing of things.

However, once again, moving has become foremost in our lives. We have been spending the rest of July dealing with house closings, packing furniture, and taking care of all the myriad things involved with changing addresses. We are now surrounded by cartons and packing crates; it feels like we may never get everything put away. To make the situation even more interesting, we just returned from a 6 day trip to Texas for my husband’s family reunion. My next race is not for another month, so I plan to make a concerted effort to get settled and revive my training schedule. With luck, I’ll get back on track before long!

Replay – A Stroll in Central Park, Cumming, GA (March 7, 2015)

Originally I was signed up for a 24 hour race in Savannah this weekend but it was unexpectedly canceled. Stroll turned out to be a wonderful substitute. Cumming is just north of Atlanta, an easy drive from north Florida, and the race is held in Central Park, a popular and well-utilized recreation area for the local population. Lia Knower is the race director and she puts on a great event – her volunteers, including a stalwart corps of dedicated lap counters, are terrific, and the regular aid station fare is highlighted with a pizza lunch. The course is a 1.03 paved loop on the perimeter of soccer and baseball fields. Lia stresses that the course is flat but, on the contrary, there are several definite inclines which are fun walking down but, since we change direction after 6 hours, not so enjoyable on the reverse stretch. I did like the fact that there are indoor restrooms – makes it just about the perfect race for me!

Since I had done this race last year, Darcy and I knew the location of the park, several good restaurants (Taco Mac and Cracker Barrel but there are more), and a good hotel, the Hampton Inn (although there are others close by as well) so we were all set. This was one of the very few times when I did not feel nervous before a race. I usually feel butterflies even if I’ve done the race before, but Stroll is so laid-back and relaxed that there was no pressure at all.

Packet pickup began at 6:15 am just before the race. We received a bib, tee shirt (short-sleeve blue cotton tee), and met our lap counters (thank you, Kristen and Ron!). The start line was a chalked line on the pavement and at 7:03 we were off. In addition to the 12 hour race, there is also a new 6 hour option that started at the same time and attracted quite a few runners and walkers. I haven’t seen results yet so I am not sure how many people did each event and how many miles they went, but by the end of the race I could tell from the mileage chart that I reached 43.26 miles. This was just one lap shy of my results last year. I will admit that I probably could have managed 1, maybe 2, more laps if I had tried a bit harder but my legs were sore and I was tired. I was happy to do 43+ miles and call it a day.

Six hour finishers receive a medal. Twelve hour racers get a wooden plaque and several weeks after the race, Lia mails out a sticker with each runner’s mileage on it. It was fun to see several of the runners from last year; all of the participants were friendly and supportive. This is definitely a plus for walkers as well as endurance runners. However, word is that the event will be in a different park next year (and the name will also change) but I am hopeful that the same positive attributes will be present in the new locale.

The 2nd Celebration Marathon – January 25, 2015 (Celebration, FL)


Celebration is only a short distance from Disney World in Orlando and most of the participants in the full and half marathon here, perhaps 98%, are from Florida. This is bound to change as word spreads about this neat set of races. Last year I did the inaugural marathon and enjoyed it so much that I decided to do it again.

The race this year did not disappoint. Although the weather was colder than last year (mid-40’s at the start and only 60 by the time I finished), it was sunny and dry. The dryness was important because the wooden boardwalk bridges which are so easy on the feet and legs become treacherous when icy and wet. I discovered this during the first loop when I could feel my shoes slip while crossing the bridges. While the bridges were dry, the cold chilly weather during the night must have caused them to freeze. I came across two people in two separate places who had fallen and needed medical assistance. I wasn’t going very fast to begin with but I slowed way down as I became aware of the slippery nature of the course in those wee hours. As the sun rose, the bridges became much less of a problem.

My posting from January 28, 2014, gives more details on this race and the local area, so I will just summarize here and note several positive changes. We stayed at the host hotel, the Bohemian Marriott. It is pricey, even with the marathon discount, but you cannot beat the convenience. It is right in the heart of downtown Celebration and the start and finish are within easy walking distance. In fact, I could see the starting line area from my hotel room window.

There were several major improvements over last year’s event, including:

  • A larger expo with more vendors (though it is still small compared to many larger race expos)
  • The tee shirt is gender specific and a women’s medium fit me fine; even better, the fabric this year is a soft blend of cotton and bamboo in a pretty light green.  I will actually wear this shirt
  • The course is very well-marked and this year had large signs with red arrows to keep racers moving in the right direction.  Since this is a double loop course for marathoners, it gets pretty lonely on that second loop, so it was good to have those directional arrows as well as plenty of volunteers to make sure we didn’t get lost
  • The dangerous section between mile 12 ½ and 14 was altered so racers were directed to the sidewalk instead of to a street closely packed with parked cars and traffic – an important safety measure
  • There was more food at the finish line for back-of-the-packers.  I am not sure how people fared at the very end of the race, but when I finished at 6:16, I was able to have my choice of pizza, beans and rice, chicken and rice, bagels, and fruit as well as mimosas, beer, and water

There were plenty of well-stocked aid stations with gracious volunteers, some offering gels, orange slices, and bananas. The 7 hour time limit makes the race a good choice for walkers.

My only concern as I traversed that second loop was the lack of volunteers monitoring the course in case someone needed help. On that first loop when several people fell, there were many racers around to assist and medical aid and volunteers on bikes were plentiful. On the second loop, however, if I had fallen between miles 14 to the finish, it would have taken a while for someone to realize I was hurt and to get help. Since I was aware of that, I slowed my walking pace considerably. Despite this, I enjoyed the race immensely. My guess is that this marathon will increase in popularity and will draw more runners and walkers from around the country.

An Appalachian Triple (NC, SC, and GA) – October 13, 14, 15, 2014

When I originally signed up for three marathons in the five marathon Appalachian series, I thought it would be the proverbial ‘piece of cake’ – all we had to do was drive up to North Carolina, then on to South Carolina, and then to Georgia on successive days. The only wrinkle in this plan was the late starting time for the Gator-LSU game. If my husband went to the game we would end up driving to North Carolina very late at night, arriving in the wee hours on Sunday. Our other option was to rise up early on Sunday and drive all the way to NC after only a few hours of sleep. Instead, Darcy decided to forego attending the game entirely; this meant we could leave on Saturday afternoon, spend a restful night in Savannah, and then leave refreshed for NC. I felt guilty that he missed the game but I certainly did appreciate the sacrifice. He probably figured wisely that keeping his Maniac wife happy and content was worth it.

The Appalachian Series of five races in the states of Virginia, West Virginia, North and South Carolina, and Georgia is put on by Mainly Marathons, the brainchild of Clint and Hanne Burleson. They put on half and full marathons in various states all over the country. Last fall, I did one of the Day of the Dead series in New Mexico. The races usually range from 4 to 5 in number and cover neighboring states, so 50 Staters and Marathon Maniacs who want to knock out several states in a week or increase their mileage and race count can do so relatively easily. It’s a great idea as long as you don’t mind jumping in a car immediately after completing a race and driving to the next venue. Chuck Savage’s series of races in New England and Florida is very similar although not so wide-ranging.

We left early Saturday afternoon and had an uneventful drive to Savannah. Our hotel was the DoubleTree at the airport, a new hotel with all-suite rooms. It was very clean and attractive, all the more so because I was able to combine points and cash for a room that ended up costing us only $45, a real bargain. We had dinner at a nearby Olive Garden and then relaxed.

Early the next morning we took off for Morganton, NC, about a 6 hour drive from Savannah. We checked into the local Hampton Inn and set off to find the next day’s race site along the Catawba River Greenway. This course was a paved out-and-back with a few turns, a bridge that crossed the Catawba River, and a couple of small rolling hills. We had a late lunch at Judge’s Riverside Restaurant, adjoining the race course. Packet pickup was not until morning so we spent a relatively restful night (yes, even though this was the night before a race, I was fairly relaxed; these races tend to be fairly low-key with ‘no worries’).

Monday morning we set out for the Greenway about an hour before the 7:30 am race start. I picked up my bib, the same one I would use for all 3 races. In addition, I received a short-sleeve blue cotton tee shirt and a packet of information with a small poster and a large round medal with lanyard and a metal 2014 date that would hook onto the bottom of each state’s medal. Then, after every day’s race, I received a medal in the shape of that particular state. Each state hooked onto the previous one to make one long bell pull-like arrangement. Very unique. Races are not chip-timed; instead they use the rubber-band method – every time a participant completes a lap, he or she picks up a rubber band. It is a workable and low-cost way to keep track of laps.

The Southeast had been experiencing tornados and rain storms for several days. I felt fortunate that on Wednesday only a light drizzle was expected. Still, the preceding day’s storm had left a few large puddles on the course that we had to skirt. North Carolina’s race turned out to be the easiest and prettiest of the three races I finished in this series. Just a short period of light rain, a shaded course, 14 laps, and temps in the low 70’s – it all added up to a very good day. My finishing time was 6:40:19. After a few minutes spent stretching and the requisite cup of chocolate mile, we were off to Seneca, SC.

It took about 3 hours to get to Seneca on windy twisting back roads. We found our hotel, another Hampton Inn, and had a late lunch at JPeters Grill where I had a Caesar salad with grilled chicken and sweet potato fries. After checking out the soccer complex area where the next day’s race was to be held, it was time to go to bed.

I rose early on Tuesday and we headed out to the race site. The course was a hiking/cycling path around the soccer fields and, while not very scenic, it was paved and had only a couple of short steep inclines. The problem today was RAIN. It rained ALL day and came down very hard at times. There were amazingly deep puddles that completely covered the asphalt and soaked the grass along the path’s edges. It was impossible to skirt the puddles (I know, I tried) so my shoes and socks got wet and stayed wet. At least it was not freezing cold. Temperatures stayed in the 60’s; otherwise, I would have dropped to the half marathon distance. In fact, I did consider dropping when my clothes got completely soaked during the first 2 ½ hours and I was miserable. I called my husband to let him know what I was thinking but he didn’t answer his cell. When he arrived I told him my thoughts and he said ‘you’d better continue on or you will regret it later.’ He was probably right. I hung in there, finishing in an abysmal 7:01:01. Immediately after getting my South Carolina medal I went into the rest room to change into warm DRY clothes and felt 100% better.

Next, we were off to Georgia. This drive was considerably shorter and more direct. We were staying in Helen, a small German-inspired town in the hills of the northern part of the state. Unfortunately, our hotel here was a disaster. There are very few brand-name hotels in Helen so, after checking Trip Advisor, I had selected one that had been given very high ratings. Those high ratings were completely misleading, a fact we discovered when the manager – after our stay – said that if we gave the hotel 5 stars on Trip Advisor, he would enter us in a drawing for a free night.   Not very ethical, we thought, but it probably explains the positive remarks we read on the site. The hotel was called Riverbend Motel – and back in the 1950’s it might have been a good place to stay (it may have been the only place) but for travelers in 2014 it barely rates one star. Our meal was somewhat better; we ate at a German restaurant, the Bodensee Restaurant, and we both enjoyed the imported beer.

We returned to our shabby accommodations and I spent a sleepless night. The room had a funky odor that was hard for me to ignore and I could hardly wait to dress and get to the race. I skipped my morning meal and coffee, opting to get something to eat at the aid station. Today’s race was in Unicoi State Park. No rain was predicted and that was mostly accurate. The sun disappeared late in the afternoon but only a few drops of rain actually fell. However, today’s course was the most difficult of all to complete. It was supposed to be gravel but because of the recent wet weather, Clint had to alter the course somewhat. It turned out to be much like a cross-country course, on rolling grass and meadow with uneven footing (easy for me to turn an ankle) with 2 short but very slippery bridges and lots of mud puddles, also slippery. I had to watch my footing on the course so I couldn’t really appreciate the scenery but I do know there were lots of tall trees, with leaves changing into a fall palette of yellows and reds. It took me a very long time to finish the race; the 16 required laps took me 7:45:19, a personal worst. Despite this, I enjoyed myself. I was especially pleased that I did not fall, not once, though I slipped a few times. I also had a good time talking with other runners and walkers who had also slowed down a lot.

After this third race, we left for Madison, GA, so we could get a head start on the drive home. We stayed at another Hampton Inn, and it seemed like a luxurious palace compared to Riverbend. My thoughts after completing these three marathons in three days is how amazingly good I feel. Of course, my legs are tired and achy, my feet are sore, and I am very tired, but otherwise I feel pretty good. I think that I could handle doing five marathons in five days – and someday I hope to try.

Like all races, there are pros and cons. The positive things about the Appalachian series and others like it include:

  • No time limits! Clint has a policy of ‘no runner (or walker) left behind’ so time-challenged racers can confidently sign up for these races without worrying about time. There is even a caboose award for the last runner
  • The courses are all loop or out-and-back so it is almost impossible to get lost. Even if you did, the chances are great that someone would find you fairly soon and bring you back on the right track. The laps vary from 1 to 2 miles in length, so marathoners might have to do 12 or more laps
  • Because of the nature of the course, it is easy to set up a drop bag or to use one of the many tents or benches to place belongings on
  • There is one aid station at the start/finish that has plenty of food and drink. In fact, the quantity and quality of the food provided is more representative of an ultra than a marathon. I especially enjoyed the thick raisin bread peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on Monday and Tuesday. And I really liked having chocolate milk available after the race
  • People are friendly and supportive, even (and sometimes especially) the elite runners. There is no grumbling about walkers getting in the way. Almost everyone is either a Maniac or 50 Stater or a ‘wanna-be’ and so there is a strong feeling of camaraderie
  • The atmosphere is relaxed and comfortable. The courses are not certified so people don’t obsess about qualifying for Boston; although people always like to aim for a personal best or, for some, a finish in under 3 or 4 hours, the stress that usually accompanies these desires is absent (unless after the last race, there is a plane to catch)

In my opinion, the positive elements of these races far outweigh the negative ones. The only things that might be considered somewhat problematic include:

  • Because the courses are not certified, they sometimes seem a bit longer than marathon distance.   That might be one explanation why my results in loop courses are always somewhat disappointing.   While I can usually finish a marathon in around 6 hours plus or minus 15 minutes, these courses usually take me much longer
  • It is hard to know the exact nature of the course until the day of the race. If the course is supposed to be paved, it often is, but there are times when last minute changes must be made (as happened in day 5 of this series). Since I dislike trails of any sort, I might need to make adjustments in my expectations
  • Getting in a car and driving/riding for several hours immediately after completing a race is exhausting. By the time I arrive at the new destination, there is barely time to check out the next day’s location, take a shower, grab a bite to eat, and get some rest. It can be a daunting but worthwhile challenge

Overall, these are pretty small complaints. These races are highly recommended for walkers who want to cover a lot of ground in a short span of time.

Hiking the English Lake District: July 4 – July 12

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Hiking may not be my favorite pastime but for some reason I am continually drawn to the English countryside. It seems that hiking is one of the best ways to see all the small hamlets, large lakes, and magnificent mountains that dot the British Isles. That’s why I signed my husband and myself up for a weeklong hiking trip to the Lake District of Cumbria, home to literary greats William Wordsworth, Robert Southey, John Ruskin, and Beatrix Potter. Last June we both explored hiking along the Thames from Oxford to the London with Road Scholar and then in September I went on an inn-to-inn hike in Cornwall with a group from Timberline Adventures. This year we decided to join the Virginia-based English Lakeland Ramblers tour company for our excursion to the Lake District.

We left on Friday, the 4th of July, but because our flight to Atlanta didn’t leave until early afternoon, I had time to volunteer at the 3 mile Melon Run sponsored by the Florida Track Club. I worked the registration table, helping to hand out bibs to the almost 500 runners and walkers. If I’m in town I always try to do the race, but this year I decided to volunteer instead. Once the race began, I positioned myself at the last ‘hill’ just before the finish line to cheer everyone on. Then I walked back home, changed into my traveling clothes, and finished packing. We flew to a relatively quiet Atlanta; usually Hartsfield-Jackson is bustling and bursting at the seams with passengers but apparently the holiday is a light air travel day, and waited for our evening flight to Manchester, UK.

Just because I travel so much, it may seem like I enjoy flying, but I really dislike sitting for long periods of time in a small cramped space so flying cross-country or internationally really tests my patience and my muscles, especially my hamstrings and glutes. I cannot sleep on planes, either, so I was glad when the 7 ½ hour trip was over. We arrived in Manchester around 8 am Saturday morning (3 am Eastern time), picked up our luggage, and then walked to the Radisson Blu Hotel through a skywalk connected to terminal 2. How convenient was that! It reminded me of the Hilton Hotel at Heathrow, very convenient to the Delta terminal. Our room was not quite ready for us yet so we stored our bags with the concierge and had a full English breakfast in the hotel restaurant. Afterwards we took a walk around the hotel grounds to stretch our legs but the downside of staying in an airport hotel is the lack of anyplace to really go. Still, it felt good to stretch our legs and have a breath of fresh air. Around dinnertime, we walked back to the airport shops to buy some snacks and drinks; we weren’t really hungry but needed something to tide us over until morning. We managed to stay awake until 8 pm and then gratefully headed to bed for a good night’s sleep. I had learned that one way to deal with jet lag and red eye flights is to build in an extra day before our actual vacation begins. That way we are rested and ready to forge on ahead with our plans.

On Saturday our driver, Greg Bateson, met us at our hotel at 8 and drove us, along with another couple in our group, to the first of our two hotels, the Gold Rill Hotel in Grasmere in the southern part of the Lake District. Rich and Denise were from Austin, Texas, and were young, active, and in very good shape for the strenuous hiking ahead of us. The other couple in our group were from upstate New York and had arrived a day ahead of us so they were already settled into their room. Hazel and Christopher were in their late 60’s and early 70’s respectively but were also in excellent condition. They had done lots of hiking over the last 40 years and had just completed a weeklong expedition in Scotland. Darcy and I were the novices in the group and the weakest links in the hiking chain. But that did not bother us. We just wanted to have fun and enjoy the week; as long as I remained upright with no broken bones, I would be content.

From Sunday through Wednesday morning, we were settled in Wordsworth country. We were surrounded by sheep, cows, rabbits, and birds, slate stone houses and fences, farmland, lakes, and mountains (called ‘fells’ – fell running is a popular sport here). Every morning we had a cooked-to-order breakfast and every evening a delicious dinner. On Sunday afternoon, our first walk was to St. Oswald’s Church; William Wordsworth and his family members are buried in the churchyard. Just around the corner from the church is Sarah Nelson’s Gingerbread Shop. I have to admit that this was a highlight of the trip for me. The gingerbread is made from a carefully guarded family recipe and is astoundingly tasty. It is not like the cakey gingerbread so familiar to Americans but is more like a crisp yet chewy cookie (or ‘biscuit’ in British parlance) with a pleasantly strong ginger flavor. I am not a fan of ginger but these cookies changed my mind.
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The Gold Rill Hotel was spacious and clean, in a lovely setting with beautiful grounds and an outdoor pool. Darcy and I were up in the garret, in a large well-appointed room with lots of steep gables. We had to be very careful where we walked, especially at night, because we could easily bump our heads on the slanted gables. Somehow we managed to avoid any major lumps, bumps, and bruises.
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After our afternoon foray, we returned to the hotel for an orientation meeting and an informative talk about the Lake District poets and conservationists. Our principal guide was Janet, who was both knowledgeable and outgoing as well as an excellent driver (she managed our mini-bus on winding narrow roads and through mind-numbing passes with ease). Her talk on Monday evening was full of interesting tidbits and lore.
Monday was our first full day and one filled with several long hikes. We walked to the neighboring town of Ambleside, did a little shopping (and I visited a small bookstore where I found Darksider Scott Ludwig’s book about Badwater on the shelf – what a small world!), ate a hearty lunch of broccoli, mushroom, and Stilton cheese with apple pie for dessert at the Apple Pie Café, and then visited Dove Cottage, Wordsworth’s home for nine years. Back at the hotel we listened to Alan, the UK director of Ramblers, talk about the varied landscapes and industry of the Lake District.

On Tuesday, we took the mini-bus to Bowness-on-Windermere, then a ferry, followed by a short hike. We visited Hilltop Farm, one of Beatrix Potter’s homes, and then John Ruskin’s Brantwood. After lunch at the Jumping Jenny Restaurant (named after Ruskin’s boat), and splurging on what is reputed to be the best sticky toffee pudding in the country, we hiked up a zig-zag path near Brantwood. In the evening after dinner, we had to pack up our things so they could be transferred to our next hotel on Wednesday.

About the hikes in general: we were given the choice each day of taking a moderate or strenuous route. Anne, our other guide, led the more adventurous members of our group on the difficult hikes. Janet stayed with those of us who preferred the less strenuous walks. Guess which group I opted for? Even the easier hikes were difficult for me – the trails were mostly rocky and had large roots that were major tripping hazards for me. The mountains were steep and getting up and down (especially down) the rocky hillsides were a major challenge for me – definitely not as difficult as Cornwall but still harrowing. It definitely took me far outside my comfort zone. I used my trekking poles on each and every hike and was very grateful for them.

On Wednesday we brought our luggage downstairs (no elevator and we were on the third flood) for transfer to our new hotel, the Borrowdale Gates Hotel set in a more northerly section of the Lake District. Most of this day was spent on a thrilling drive through a number of steep mountain passes. Thank goodness for Janet’s skillful driving ability! Our only walk today was fairly brief and not very difficult. We walked to the Hard Knott Roman fort, the small hamlet of Boot for lunch, and the Eskdale corn (what Americans call flour) mill.

It turns out that Thursday was the most challenging day for me. After a drive to Castlerigg Stone Circle (a Neolithic site similar to Stonehenge), we hiked up a steep rocky mountside by Walla Crag and Ashness Bridge to the village of Lodore. After eating a packed lunch, we took the ferry across the lake to Keswick, a small market town about 4 miles from Borrowdale. It was market day in Keswick so I purchased some beautiful wool yarn (all those sheep!) in some glorious colors.

By Friday, Darcy was nursing some inflamed toes and sore muscles. Since even the easier hike on this day was supposed to be very rocky, we both decided to sit this one out. We had a pleasant walk along the footpath by the lake, managing to do around 4 miles on fairly level ground. We returned to the hotel and ate our packed lunch in the sitting area facing the garden and the mountains. It was a leisurely afternoon and a wonderful way to end the week.

Although the hikes themselves were challenging for me because of their rocky and rooty nature, I never really got much of a workout during the week. In order to maintain some level of fitness, I had to go out early each morning to walk along the paved country roads. Although I had to watch for cars because of the narrow roads, there was not much traffic at 6 am so I felt fairly safe. In fact, on Friday morning, my only real surprise was finding myself face-to-face with about a dozen cattle and a bull that were moving along the road – heading right towards me! That gave me quite a jolt until a woman appeared with a long pole and directed the cattle into the field on the opposite side of the road.

We had to get up early on Saturday so we could meet Greg, our driver, at 5:30 am for the drive back to Manchester airport. Our flights home were long and tiring but happily uneventful. I think I may have finally satisfied my urge to walk in the UK. Unless, of course, I decide to try the Cotswalds – maybe!

A Hike in Cornwall: Two Weeks of Ups and Downs

So much has happened in the last two weeks, it’s hard to know where to begin. I must admit I was a nervous wreck well before this trip began. I had been reading about English trails in books and on the internet and quickly learned that the Southwest Coastal Path, England’s longest hiking trail (about 630 miles long), is not for the weak or timid. It is a strenuous, difficult, challenging hike, with rocky steep ascents and descents and dangerous cliffs that drop precipitously to the ocean. Since I am not a fan of rocky root-strewn trails, even when they are at sea level, I had reason to be anxious. In addition, my recent falls and broken bones had left me with an abiding fear of possible future accidents. I readily admit that my nerves were frayed for a full month before this trip even started. It also dawned on me that I would be traveling alone to a foreign country (albeit one where English was spoken) and I would have to find my way in unfamiliar airports and hotels all by myself. I tried meditation; I tried progressive relaxation; I tried long slow walks and fast speedy walks. Nothing helped to allay my misgivings.

Nevertheless, I put my concerns aside and forged on ahead. I paid my money to Timberline Adventures for their Cornwall Hike Odyssey and was determined to get as much pleasure out of the trip as I could. Walking across England’s many footpaths had long been a dream of mine and the earlier walks along the Thames River this past June only succeeding in whetting my appetite for more and longer adventures. So, here I was, packed and ready to fly to London Heathrow on August 30 for the start of my Cornwall excursion. Fortunately, the day before I was to leave, I had decided to stop in at Brasington’s, one of our few outdoor supply stores, to see if I could find some trekking poles. Many hikers swear by them and I thought having a pair on hand might be a good idea. I am so glad I did! The young salesman had used poles to hike the Appalachian Trail so he was extremely knowledgeable. He helped me select a pair of lightweight foldable Lekki poles that turned out to be my constant companions for the next two weeks.

My plane was due to leave at 12:55 pm, or so I thought. Good thing I checked because it turned out the time was moved up to 12:35 and we had to hustle to get to the airport. My husband dropped me off and I checked my large suitcase and boarded the small CRJ 200 with my little suitcase and my new over-the-shoulder bag from LL Bean which was just big enough to carry my 4 pairs of glasses, my toiletries, and my Bose headphones (all essential items for long flights). My first flight was short and uneventful; with several hours to spare in Atlanta, I made my way to the international terminal and shored up at the Sky Club there, sipping club soda and munching on hummus, cheese, veggies, and crackers until time to board the 767 for London.

My seat was in the first economy row, right behind the more generous economy comfort seats. I probably should have splurged for the more comfortable seats but it was too late now. The young man sitting beside me seemed nice enough; his arms and legs were covered in tattoos and I thought he might be in a rock group, but he was not very talkative and preferred to watched movies on his laptop the entire flight. Dinner wasn’t served until after 8 pm (cold chicken slices on a bean/corn/lettuce salad). I ate my fill, brushed my teeth in the lavatory, and tried to rest but I managed to get a couple of hours of fitful restive sleep. I woke up about an hour before we landed and managed to down a cup of hot coffee, half an unripe banana, and a little bit of spicy egg croissant.

Dazed, exhausted, parched, I followed everyone off the plane, through immigration and customs, and then managed to find my way to the buses outside terminal 4. Unfortunately, here’s where things went sour – if only I had really read and assimilated the instructions more carefully! I thought I knew which hotel I was supposed to go to but I had misinterpreted the directions. It was totally my fault and I felt really dumb. There are 3 Holiday Inns at Heathrow and I chose the wrong one. When I realized my mistake, the clerk at the incorrect hotel offered to get me a taxi to the correct one. I agreed gratefully, since the idea of lugging my bags back to the airport on the hotel shuttles (which cost about $7.50 each way) and then leaving again to arrive at the right one was just too much for me at that point. The taxi driver charged me the equivalent of $35 to go 2 miles. Heck, I could SEE the other hotel but I just couldn’t get there because of traffic and no sidewalks. I felt I was taken for a ride, literally, but I was too exhausted to protest much. And at least I was finally at the right place.

The Holiday Inn where Timberline had made pre-tour reservations was definitely not as nice as the ‘wrong’ Holiday Inn, which was upscale and luxurious. The one we stayed at was small, a bit rundown, and not very attractive, but it was close to several restaurants and seemed clean. After checking into my room, I walked to a nearby McDonalds for a breakfast and a large coffee. The caffeine and fresh air helped revive me a little, but I had to admit that when I returned to my room, I looked longingly at the bed. I resisted. I was trying hard to stay awake at least until 4 pm. I succeeded until 9 pm and then found it hard to fall asleep. Oh, well.

Saturday, August 31 – our group was supposed to meet in the lobby of the hotel at 9 am. I checked out of my room at 8:45 and stood around the front desk with my suitcases looking for other likely candidates for the trip. Sure enough, I saw a lady with a Timberline Adventures (TA) shirt, surrounded by several women who looked to be in their 40’s and 50’s, maybe even a little older. That was a relief – I was concerned I might be the oldest person in the group. The TA lady introduced herself as Kisa, one of hike’s leaders. People continued to gather and introduce themselves (although several of them knew each other, either because they had been on other hikes together or because they were already friends). Our driver soon showed up and began to load our luggage into the roomy van. We piled in as well. We left London and began our trip to Bude, a small seaside village on the northern coast section of the path; this was to be our starting point for the hike. It was about a 5 hour drive, not counting several stops for potty breaks and lunch. We passed by Stonehenge (we could see it from the road) and I remembered when I had visited it on my first trip to England 40 years ago.

We arrived in Bude in the early afternoon. Our rooms at the Falcon Hotel were ready and though tiny, my room was clean and attractive. It was here that we met Dick and Carol, the other leaders of the hike. They had been in England for several days scouting out the path and locating good places to eat and visit. We all met before dinner to discuss the ins and outs of the trip. This is where I had my first truly agonizing moment – Dick and Carol described the path and told us that we needed to follow the acorns on wooden posts that marked the correct trail. We were to ignore the ‘social trails’ that were informally created by hikers but that were not the actual national trails. I was familiar with the acorn markings from my Thames walk and I knew that sometimes the markings were absent or confusing. I asked – ‘why do we have to note the trail markings? Won’t we all be together?’ and was told bluntly that ‘no, we all walk at different speeds, so sometimes we may be by ourselves and it was important to know where to go.’ This totally threw me – one of the reasons I took this trip was to be with other people and not have to worry about getting lost and finding my own way on the trail. The problem of having to switch my glasses from distance lenses for walking to reading glasses for interpreting maps is time-consuming and difficult. And I didn’t want to get lost! I returned to my room in a dither, with my anxiety level now well over the top. I began to study the South West Coast Path book I had brought with me, paying close attention to the maps and directions and marking them with yellow highlighter. At dinner, I could barely eat anything. The fish casserole looked good but was tasteless; I was too worried to enjoy my food.

I had good reason to worry but not so much for the reasons I had thought. It turns out that Carol usually forges on ahead with the speedy people and Dick stays closer to the end with the slower ones; Kisa often takes an alternate route (via taxi or bus) with people who choose not to do the entire day’s hike. But I didn’t know that then and I didn’t realize that was how it was until well into the trip. More critical, on this first day, was the difficulty of the actual hike. There were long steep rocky ups and downs, with crude steps hewn into the cliffs, and these took me forever to navigate. I had to use my two trekking poles like extra arms, setting them carefully into the rocks or dirt for stability to help me maintain my footing. Pictures simply don’t illustrate how difficult this actually was. I was cursing at myself for signing up for this trip. I went ever so slowly up and down, up and down, and managed somehow to get through the day. I was the last person to make it to Crackington Haven, our stop for the night; even Kisa’s 82 year old dad with Alzheimer’s managed to come in before me (he actually was a pretty strong hiker). One other lady, Deb, was also on her first official hike and had trouble more with stamina than with balance and footing. My energy level was fine, and in fact I never reached a point of physical exhaustion during the entire two weeks, but my mental state was another issue entirely.

In Crackington Haven, I entered my room at the Coombe Barton Hotel, really a pub, and discovered that my bathroom was in the hallway instead of in my room, although I did have a small sink in the bedroom. I couldn’t wait to take a shower and wash off the dirt and sand and grime of the day. Afterwards I made my way to the bar downstairs and ordered a local ale. This was another mistake. Later I read in my guidebook that ales were unpasteurized and served at room temperature. I think the ale probably upset my digestive system and wreaked havoc with my already suppressed immune system. In any case, and for whatever reason, I had a digestive upset that completely turned me upside down for several days. I had no appetite for the fish and chips I ordered at dinner and could barely make it back to my room afterwards. I was shaking with chills and dived for the covers, too sick to answer the text from my husband on my Iphone.

The next morning we divided up. The day was supposed to be difficult, very similar to the preceding day, so a few people opted to take a taxi partway and then hike the rest of the walk to Tintagel. I intended to be with that latter group but at breakfast I realized I was too ill even for that. Kisa called ahead to the next hotel to see if they had a room I could lie down in; fortunately they were able to find one for me. I stayed in the cab the entire 12 miles to the next town, was led by the hostess to a room, and promptly fell asleep. The day was a complete blur. Except for feeling miserable, I have no recollection of what transpired. Tintagel was supposedly the birthplace of King Arthur and there was a castle there but I saw none of it. Our hotel was a huge old building, with majestic ceilings and beds, large bedrooms (but tiny bathrooms), horrid artwork on the walls (painted by a co-owner of the hotel), and strange décor. It was kind of creepy but fascinating. Dinner for me was cheese and crackers and I was able to eat a little of it, so that was a positive. I also began taking Imodium and that helped as well. I was thankful I had packed extra tablets before I left home.

By the next day, I felt well enough to try to hike the three miles into Trebarwith Strand where there were several cafes and a pleasant beach. I took off my shoes and waded in the cold water, stepped around the mussels and limpets on the sand, had a ginger soda to help settle my stomach, and then took a taxi with several others to Port Gaverne for the night. We stayed at the Port Gaverne Hotel, an old pub but very clean. That afternoon I walked to neighboring Port Isaac, noted for the filming of the British television melodrama ‘Doc Martin,’ and had my photo taken in front of his house. For dinner, I was finally hungry and ready to eat. I ordered grilled lobster, crab risotto, and ice cream for dessert.

From Port Gaverne, we all took a bus to Polzeath, saving ourselves 3 miles of cliff walking, and then we hiked along the beach to Rock, an upscale seaside community where we had lunch. Carla and I shared a sandwich here, since I was still pretty full from last night’s meal. Every day we had a packed lunch for our walks, but I could rarely eat more than half of a sandwich. Because of the tides, we had to take a brief ferry ride to Padstow, our next stopping point. Padstow was a neat town, a bit larger than the others we’d visited but not so large to be overwhelming. Once we disembarked from the ferry, I made the mistake of staying with a group of hikers who decided to walk several miles along the path in the other direction. It would have been wiser for me to go with the group that walked into town. I had thought it would have been more of the gentle walking we had done earlier in the day, but instead it was rocky and replete with roots. And we still had to walk the two miles back into town. We stayed at the Old Customs House here and I had a pleasant room overlooking the main street. At dinner, I shared a platter of sweet potato gnocchi with Carla and had an exquisite chocolate torte for dessert.

The next day – from Padstow to Magwan Porth – was one I really enjoyed. It was the first day I can honestly say I was not overwhelmed with worry. The walking was mild, with only a few rocky ascents and descents, and those ups and downs were not very extensive. The path was mostly on dirt and grass high atop cliffs overlooking the ocean (but with a span of gorse on the cliff side so we were not too close to the edge). It was more like what I had imagined the coast path to be. Although the day began somewhat overcast and drizzly, we soon had a mixture of clouds and sun which was quite pleasant. This evening’s accommodation, the Bedruthen Steps Hotel, was a 50’s looking establishment that catered to families. My ‘single’ room had a large double bed and two twin beds with a roomy living area and a large picture window overlooking the beach. It was attractive in a modest Scandinavian way. For dinner, I had Welsh rarebit and a platter of Jerusalem artichokes, mushrooms, and pasta. I discovered I didn’t like Jerusalem artichokes.

The next day was the first day of bad weather we had on the trip. Other days had been sunny or at most overcast. If it rained, it did so at night. On this morning, however, it was rainy, blustery, and cold (48 degrees) but it soon turned mild. I dressed warmly and ended up taking off my jacket and tying it around my waist. It was a good walking day, without many rocky ups and downs. It was also a relatively short day, with only 6 miles of hiking. We spent the night in a hotel just outside the tacky surfer town of Newquay, with its tattoo parlors, souvenir shops, and tourist traps. The Atlantic Hotel was once quite elegant but it was my least favorite of the places we stayed. The rooms were fair but the walls were paper thin and I could hear the television from the room above me all night. The dinner here was also not very good; the fish stew was inedible but the dessert (a chocolate brownie toffee concoction) was delicious.

One of the problems with this trip was the fact that it was a new adventure for our group leaders as well as for us. On day 8, neither Dick nor Carol had hiked the entire 12 miles and so they couldn’t give us any advice about how difficult it would be. I gambled and walked with a few others into town to take a bus to Perranporth which would cut out about 8 miles of what we thought would be hazardous hiking. Then we walked the remaining 4 miles into Trevaunance Cove, our destination for the evening. The first 2 miles of this section were SCARY! The path went very close to the edge of the cliff and I became extremely queasy. I couldn’t look to the ocean side at all because I felt dizzy. I had to be careful and watch every step I took. I found myself leaning to the left to avoid any chance of falling but if it had been windy, I would have been a goner. Several times I had to stop so I wouldn’t lose my balance. I was so glad when that section was behind me. Later I found out that the first 8 miles were relatively easy and similar to the previous two days; it turns out I did the harder section. If I had only known! I was glad when it was over. Our stay this evening was at a pub called the Driftwood Spars. My room was in a building outside the pub proper. It was large, worn but clean, with a big double bed as well as bunk beds, and a pristine bathroom. Since I had some extra time that afternoon, I walked into St. Agnes, a small nearby village with several craft shops. Here is where I did some souvenir shopping, purchasing an acorn pin (as a remembrance of the trail markers) and some earrings made in Cornwall. For dinner, I had fish and (sweet potato) chips and a pear feta cheese salad and ice cream.

We had been warned that the next day had several steep ups and downs plus several too-close-to-the-edge-for-comfort zones. I copped out and took the bus for the 9 miles from Trevaunance Cove to Portreath with Carla, who was having severe back pain and had to take buses and taxis for the second half of the trip. I was glad I did so because the previous day’s experience had left me very wary. I had also slept poorly during the night and kept waking up every 30 minutes. I might have ended up sliding off a cliff from sheer exhaustion. While waiting for the bus, Carla and I chatted with several British ladies; the bus ride took about an hour and was a pleasant way to spend a morning. We arrived in Portreath about 1 pm, too early to check into our rooms, but not too early to head for a café for a cream tea. Afterwards, Carla settled on a bench overlooking the ocean and I went for a walk along an old mining trail. That occupied a couple of hours and gave me some much needed walking mileage.

Portreath is a tiny seaside town and our group had to stay in 3 different places. My room was in a bed and breakfast called Cliff House. It looked kind of old and fusty from the outside but the inside was spotless and attractive. My room, though small, had a double bed, desk, chair, and television, with a large window facing the street. For dinner, we all met at a neighboring hotel. I had rustic bread with olives for a starter, a tasteless penne for dinner, and toffee fudge cheesecake for dessert (very worthwhile).

Our last day of hiking! It was to be a long day mileage-wise considering the shortened days I had been doing, but it turned out to be very worthwhile. Getting out of Portreath was a challenge because of several long steep ascents and descents at the beginning and one short bit too close to the cliff edge for comfort, but once those initial sections were over, the rest of the day was clear sailing all the way to St. Ives. We walked across rolling pastures atop the cliffs, past cows and wild Shetland ponies, and lots of sand dunes that were fun to climb up and coast down. On the sand dunes, I found myself smiling the goofy smile that I usually have during races and thought to myself ‘now, this is a good time.’ The last few miles were on asphalt (hooray) and we made our way into the outskirts of St. Ives and took a train for the last few miles into St. Ives proper. We were booked at a fashionable boutique hotel with tiny rooms; this was one of the few times I had a single bed on the trip. But everything was clean and tidy and worked. Dinner was pleasant – grilled hake (a white fish) and mussels for the main course and a chocolate fudge brownie for dessert. Everyone was relaxed and in a good mood, exchanging addresses and emails and taking some final photos before the trip ended.

I woke early the next morning and walked around the hotel and into town and watched the sunrise over the ocean. Our coach didn’t leave until early afternoon, so we had time to explore the gift shops and restaurants. St. Ives is a very popular art colony and was still bustling with tourists even though the high season was over. I bought some souvenirs, a tee shirt for my husband, and some cards, prints, and clotted cream toffee, and returned to my room to pack.

The trip back to London was uneventful. We stopped for lunch at Jamaica Inn, made popular first by pirates who used the cove for smuggling activities, and later by Daphne Du Maurier who wrote a novel with the same title; years ago I had read several of her historical novels and couldn’t resist purchasing a copy of Jamaica Inn to reread. Our driver, Rowley, was a peach. He agreed to drop me and another lady at Heathrow’s terminal 4 (where my hotel was located), saving me time and a bus ride from the Holiday Inn back to the airport. I arrived at the Hilton around 7:30 pm, checked in, printed my boarding passes for the next morning’s flights, and took a large glass of red wine back to my room where I relaxed and finally fell asleep.

The Hilton at terminal 4 is a great place to stay. It is within easy walking distance to the gates (Delta flies in and out of terminals 4 and 5 at Heathrow) and the nearby Sky Club serves a full English breakfast (eggs, baked beans, bread, cheese, mushrooms, the works). I ate my fill, boarded my plane on time, and endured the 10 hour flight back to Atlanta. Once there, everyone with connecting flights had to go through Customs (which had a nationwide slowdown so we had to stand and wait for about 30 minutes), gather their checked bags, deposit them again, and go through Security before moving on to our respective gates. I arrived home around 6 pm Eastern time but my internal clock said it was 11 pm. My feet had swollen to twice their size so it was bed and elevation of my legs. It was good to be home. It was great to see my husband again and tell him all about my journey. Would I do it again? Not this trail for sure. Timberline plans to offer two more segments of the South West Coast Path over the next two years. I can hardly wait to return to England and walk again on some of the paths, but I will select more moderate and gentle walks next time.

Some assorted and random impressions about my experience:
• There were advantages and disadvantages to staying at different places every evening versus staying at one or two hotels and taking walks from those centers as occurred with the Thames walk. I enjoyed it both ways. Staying at a single place for several nights meant no constant repacking and that was relaxing but changing hotels every night was exciting and I knew if I didn’t like a place, I would be staying somewhere else the next night
• The hikers on this trip were friendly and welcoming. They never scoffed at my fears (at least not outwardly!) and were very easy to get along with
• Things I will remember – the rabbit holes we had to watch for (so we didn’t twist an ankle), the seals whelping on the beach, the wild ponies we passed as well as the many cows and sheep that sometime blocked our path
• Food and beverages were definitely above average – although the quality did vary from place to place. I enjoyed the cream teas, with scones split and filled with strawberry jam and clotted cream. Since we were on the coast, fish was plentiful and delicious – crab, mussels, hake, fish and chips, and more. The Cornish beer (as opposed to ale) was terrific; I especially enjoyed Skinner’s Cornish Knocker and brought the empty bottle with its colorful label back with me to use as a vase. I also liked the several varieties of cider, especially Cornish Rattler
• The scenery was breathtakingly beautiful – cliffs, coastline, beaches, villages – all were picturesque and memorable
• People both on the trail and in the villages were mostly helpful and encouraging
• Dogs were everywhere, in pubs and restaurants, in shops, and on the beaches. People took their dogs on holiday with them. The dogs were on leash and very well-behaved and turned out to be great ice-breakers and conversation starters
• The Southwest Coastal Path is not to be underestimated. It is difficult, even for experienced hikers. Dick admitted at the end of the trip that this hike was the MOST strenuous one offered by Timberline (lucky me!). It was indeed a challenge
• Walking poles are essential for a walk of this nature
• Staying a day before and a day after the official dates of the hike is a good idea. It gives one time to decompress, overcome jet lag, and totally relax before the long trip home

Hiking is NOT Walking

Hiking is far different than walking for fun or sport or health. It is HARD, very hard! Some people love it. Not me. My recent foray on a hike along the south coastal path in England took me far outside my comfort zone. It was a good – if scary – experience and I am in the process of writing up the details for this blog. Suffice it to say at this point that I am happy to be home and I will remember my adventure with an array of emotions, most of them pleasant (and I can say that because I didn’t fall, didn’t break any bones, and didn’t fall off a cliff into the ocean). Watch for more soon . . .

Walking the Thames Path: The Beginnings of a Dream Fulfilled (June 11-24)

Every since I was a young girl, I had visions of spending days, weeks, even months, walking across England. For most of my life, my idea of walking along the many national trails through the English countryside remained very much a dream. Marriage, children, and work prevented fulfillment of this goal and so I postponed it indefinitely – until my recent retirement. Now I have the time, a limited budget, and a passion for walking, plus a lot of ideas.

My first idea was to sign up for a Road Scholar (RS) walking trip. RS used to be known as Elderhostel and until recently was limited to travelers over the age of 50. The organization has since relaxed its rules and now offers intergenerational programs as well as many that appeal to older adults. The trip I chose for my first foray into English walking was purposely moderate in scope because I wanted my husband Darcy to join me on the excursion. He is my marathon man and foremost supporter when I do races, but he prefers to meet me at the finish line rather than participate himself. The trip we selected had to have minimal miles to be covered each day and had to offer a chance to stay back at the hotel to relax if Darcy felt the route would be too onerous on a particular day.

‘Walking the Thames Path’ seemed to fit the bill. What follows is a fairly detailed summary of our experiences, both good and bad. The bottom line – we had a lot of fun but it was a very expensive trip and some things did not turn out as expected.

Day 1 – our plane left Florida at 11:45 am and our neighbor kindly offered to drop us off at the airport so we didn’t have to leave our car for 2 weeks or pay for a taxi. I was incredibly anxious about this trip and I cannot figure out why. I was nervous and worried and excited all at once. Things settled down once we arrived at the airport and checked our bags. We were on our way!

We flew to Atlanta where we had a layover of several hours, so we settled into the Delta Sky Club, munching on treats and trying to relax. Then we made our way to the gate around 5 pm for a 5:45 pm departure. While we were acting like ‘gate lice,’ hanging around waiting to board, the Delta gate agent announced a call for volunteers to take a later flight. Darcy and I looked at each other ; we both had the same thought – we could do that! Our ticketed flight would land us at Heathrow at 7:30 in the morning and we would arrive way too early to check into our hotel at the airport. A later flight would get us there around noon and would be perfect. So we took a chance – we volunteered to take the 9:40 pm redeye flight later that evening. As a result, we each got $750 in Delta dollars and $10 each for meal vouchers. That was a good deal!

Day 2 – The flight was long, 7 plus hours, but smooth and uneventful. I slept fitfully. We were served a wake-up breakfast before landing and then we disembarked, made our way through Customs, found our luggage (we each had checked a huge bag packed with enough clothes to last us 2 weeks), and managed to find the Hilton Hotel at terminal 4, just a short walk from the Delta gates. Heathrow is huge! It’s also very confusing, especially to newcomers. We found the hotel without a problem but there was not much around the hotel except parking lots – but we were there to sleep not explore. We checked in and received an upgrade to the executive floor and lounge. Wonderful! We did our best to stay up until at least 7 pm. There was a restaurant in the Hilton that had sandwiches and drinks so we ate an early lunch, watched some television, visited the lounge for a snack supper and a glass of wine, and then went to sleep.

Day 3 – I had arranged for us to meet the RS driver at the airport at 7 am so we had to rise early and take the shuttle from our hotel to terminal 5. Once there, we discovered that the incoming flight from Chicago with 2 other RS participants had been delayed for over 2 hours. That meant we had to stand and wait, keeping an eye out for the RS driver. Finally, Darcy located the driver, the other people arrived, and we all piled into a waiting car, bags and all.

The trip to Oxford, our home for the next week, took about an hour. We arrived at the Oxford Spires 4 Pillars Hotel at mid-morning but our room wasn’t ready yet so we stored our luggage and went for a walk with Roy, one of our tour guides, to Folly Bridge and into downtown Oxford. Roy showed us Blackwell’s bookstore and I went a little crazy buying maps and books. We then headed back to a buffet lunch at the hotel. After lunch, we were able to check in; our room was fairly spacious, very clean, and overlooked a meadow (some rooms looked out on the busy front street or the parking lot, so we were lucky). Then we walked in the other direction to Iffley, a small picturesque village on the Thames, where we stopped in at St. Mary’s church, originally built in the 12th century but restored during more recent periods, It had several lovely stained glass windows. We also explored Iffley Lock, the first of many many locks we were to see during this visit. Both the walks – to Oxford and to Iffley – took us along the Thames River, with narrow houseboats docked at the banks and university students rowing their boats. Dinner was served at 6:30; my entree was a bit disappointing (my cod was bland) but the appetizer (Halloumi cheese) and dessert (rhubarb crunch) were tasty.

The evening ended with a talk by Bill Leonard, author and guide, about Oxford past and present. Highlights follow: (I had to take notes so I wouldn’t fall asleep; he was not at all boring but 8 is past my bedtime)
• weirs control the river – the locks are for boats
• the college rowing races begin at Iffley; the church there is one of the finest examples of Norman churches; it is noted for its ‘anchoress’ (Annora), a recluse who lived in a small room (cell) beside the church and devoted herself to prayer
• Christ Church is one of 38 separate colleges that make up Oxford University; the college was begun by Cardinal Woolsey
• Exams have just ended and we might see students wearing white carnations (which means they have just taken their first papers), pink (midterms), or red (finals)
• along the Thames we might see gun emplacements known as ‘pill boxes’ – these were barriers made by townspeople during World War; it turns out that we did see quite a few of these along the river
And so we reached the end of our first ‘official’ day.

Day 4 – After breakfast in our hotel, we left as a group to walk into Oxford where one of the Christ Church College custodians gave us a guided tour of the college. We walked around the magnificent quadrangle which is dominated by a bell tower designed by Sir Christopher Wren. Distinguished college alumni include William Penn, John Wesley, Lewis Carroll, and W. H. Auden, as well as 13 British prime ministers. We had lunch in the Great Hall where King Charles I held his Parliament during the English Civil War and where the Harry Potter films were made. The meal was cafeteria style and students were eating there along with tourists like us.

In the afternoon, we were on our own. We decided to go back downtown to shop, hitting Blackwell’s once more and several other stores, including the Varsity Shop where both Darcy and I bought Oxford University tee shirts, and Hotel Chocolat where we both indulged in some decadent dark chocolate treats. In retrospect, we should have used this afternoon to visit several of the town’s museums, since our next free afternoon in Oxford was Monday and all the museums were closed. But at the time we were unaware of that fact and so we indulged in shopping. The evening meal was on our own (we were ‘free agents’ in RS parlance) so we stopped at Tedesco’s market and bought a bottle of wine and some snacks – red wine and chocolate turned out to be a great supper.

Before I go with the story of our trip, I should introduce the other members of our group. Overall, they were decent sorts. Four were or had been clergy. One of them (Dina) also had an advanced degree in music and sang opera and then went to medical school to become a radiation oncologist. She was most kind and extremely interesting. Her husband Jim had studied to become a Jesuit priest but left to marry Dina; he was exceptionally funny and I enjoyed sitting near him during meals because of his humorous commentary.

Marilyn and John were ministers from Colorado and friends of Dina and Jim. Kate was a retired documents librarian from UC/Davis and Pat was a retired librarian from University of Houston @ Clear Lake. Funny how there were 3 of us librarians on the trip. There is always someone on these trips whose avocation is botany and on this trip it was Kate (although Pat also was a flower and garden aficionado). For both Kate and Pat, this RS trip was the middle of several other jaunts they were on, some with English groups and some solo.

The general tenor of this trip was laid back and casual. While the emphasis was supposed to be on walking, it was really more like sauntering or strolling. Few could maintain my pace and most preferred to take their time getting from place to place. It was a bit frustrating for me, but it was definitely good for Darcy since he was often ahead of many of them.

Day 5 – We ate breakfast at the hotel and then boarded a coach for the 30 minute drive to Radcot Bridge, built in the 12th century. We then proceeded to walk about 3 miles along the Thames to the attractive village of Kelmscott, passing by Grafton Lock, and then had a delicious lunch of soup and bread at the Plough Inn. We ended up at Kelmscott Manor, home of designer, craftsman, and socialist William Morris (died 1896). Morris, one of the founders of the Arts and Crafts Movement, had a distinctive style and some of his designs are still in use today. This was the only day it rained heavily. We waited out most of the rain in the shelter of the Manor buildings but our afternoon walk to the town of Lechlade-on-Thames was fairly soggy. We stopped at a pub for a pint while we waited for our return bus trip back to the hotel. Dinner was at the hotel and I chose the vegetarian entrée this evening – eggplant pasta, along with the rhubarb crunch for dessert.

Day 6 – After an early breakfast we left at 9 for a ride to Henley-on-Thames, home of the Henley Royal Regatta , first held in 1829. Here we visited the River & Rowing Museum; I wasn’t particularly crazy about seeing this museum since I am not especially intrigued by boats and rowing, but I enjoyed the special exhibition on The Wind in the Willows (I enjoyed this book as a child and later bought a beautifully illustrated hardcover edition on Amazon for $5). Lunch was in the museum cafeteria – a mundane affair except that I had the chance to try ginger beer (strong on the ginger flavor, absent on the alcohol). After lunch, we walked about 6 miles to Hurley Lock, passing Medmenham Abbey (home of the Hellfire Club). The weather was pleasant and when we arrived at Hurley we sat outside and enjoyed a cream tea on picnic benches. We returned to Oxford by coach at 5 pm. Dinner was at 7 and was eminently forgettable.

Day 7 – This day began with promise: we walked to Folly Bridge where we boarded a launch for a 2 hour cruise on the Thames. It was a gentle ride and fun to see the river from the very different perspective of being ON the river. Lunch was at the hotel, a simple buffet offering. After lunch we were on our own, free agents once again, although our 2 guides were going for a walk to the Trout Inn at Godstow Lock, 4 mile away. Darcy and I decided not to go on this walk – we weren’t especially taken with the idea of drinking and then walking back – and it turns out the pub was not very good so we made a wise decision. We instead spent the day in Oxford with the intent of visiting some museums. Unfortunately the museums were closed (it was Monday) and the city itself was teeming with people. We did visit the Bate Museum of Musical Instruments but it turned out that the day was mostly wasted. I did very little walking and felt frustrated. We bought another bottle of wine; dinner at the hotel was mediocre but I was still pretty full from lunch. I had a hard time getting to sleep. I was beginning to get tired of eating at such a late hour than usual for me and we never finished our meal before 9 pm.

Day 8 – This morning we rode on the coach to Sutton Courtenay to begin a 7 mile walk to Dorchester-on-Thames. I found this day to be much better than yesterday. We visited the gravesite of Eric Blair (George Orwell) and then began our walk to the picturesque village of Clifton Hampden. We ate a packed lunch on the path. As we ate, we watched a wedge of swans fly over us, a thrilling site. Towards the end of our walk we took a short but very steep detour to the Wittenham Clumps, site of an Iron Age hill fort. At last we were doing some major walking! At 4 pm we met the coach at Dorchester for the drive back to Oxford. After a special menu dinner (better than usual), we retired to our rooms to pack for the transfer to Richmond the next day. Darcy and I packed up our suitcases and got everything ready in advance so we’d be prepared for the transfer.

Day 9 – We brought our suitcases downstairs right after breakfast, loaded them on the coach, and settled our bill with the hotel. Then we all set off for Runnymede Meadow, an hour’s drive, where we visited the memorial site where King John signed the Magna Carta in 1215. We stood on the acre of land within the meadow that was given to the USA in perpetuity and we paid homage to the John F. Kennedy Memorial which stands on the site.

Then it was time for the pleasant 6 mile walk to Windsor. We passed the ‘Copper Horse’ statue of George III on horseback that stands before the regal Long Walk to Windsor Castle. It is here, surrounded by horse chestnuts and plane trees, that we stopped to eat our packed lunch. As we ate, we watched a cavalcade of horses and cars proceed down the road and – to our surprise – watched as Queen Elizabeth, ensconced inside one of the cars, along with her entourage, left the castle on her way to Ascot. It surprised me that so few people were congregating around her (and as far as I could tell, there was very little security also, although I may have missed the more subtle British equivalents of our Secret Service). Of course, we had to visit the castle, including Queen Mary’s dolls’ house, the kitchen and scullery, and state apartments. Our motor coach picked us up at 5 and we rode for 45 minutes to our hotel in Richmond-on-Thames, the Richmond Hill Hotel.

We checked in and unpacked. Our hotel was originally a Georgian house built in 1726; in the early decades of the 19th century, three additional houses were incorporated into the building and several more wings were added in the 1880’s. It became the Richmond Hill Hotel in 1913. In 1939, the British army requisitioned the hotel to use as barracks for its regiments and David Niven was one of its denizens. The rooms were very small and spartan but had all the essentials. The floors creaked and we got lost trying to find our way through the maze of corridors, but the hotel definitely had a certain charm. Probably the best thing about the hotel was its location. Right across the street was a beautiful view of the Thames in a bucolic setting. Downtown Richmond was a short walk to the north. South of the hotel was Richmond Park, 2500 acres of woodland and grassland, with deer and rabbits and parakeets.

The major negative at this hotel was the food. While breakfasts were the traditional full English fare (eggs, sausages, bacon, potatoes, blood pudding, baked beans, toast, cheese, pastries, etc.) just as in Oxford, our dinners were barely edible. In fact, Darcy and I chose to eat at a nearby pub, the Roebuck, for several of our meals. We found ourselves becoming regulars at this pub, and soon the servers recognized us and we quickly learned which of the many excellent beers were our favorites.

Day 10 – On this morning we rode in a coach to Hampton Court, about 30 minutes from Richmond. Darcy decided to stay at the hotel; he had developed 2 bad blisters on his heels and was having difficulty walking any major distance. We kept in touch by texting each other. It was probably a good idea for him to stay behind because we did quite a bit of walking around the palace and gardens, up and down stairs, and along the maze. We had lunch at Tiltyard Café on the grounds of the palace and then walked the 6 miles back along the Thames to Richmond. It was a long but exhilarating day and I enjoyed it. For dinner, Darcy and I ate at ‘our’ pub.

Day 11 – This also turned out to be a favorite day for me. We started early in the morning to walk the 3 miles to Kew Gardens. Once there, we had a knowledgeable guide give us an extensive tour of the grounds – highlights included the treetop walkway and Kew Palace. After the tour we were on our own. I stopped for lunch at the Orangery Restaurant where I had a Bakewell Tart and Sicilian lemonade. Since Darcy’s blisters were still bothering him, he had taken this day off as well. Everyone else took the bus back to Richmond but I retraced my steps along the Thames Path to get another 3 miles of walking in. One of my concerns was the tide. From Richmond on to London, the Thames is subject to tides and walking along the southern side is sometimes flooded during high tide. The tide was out during our morning walk but had risen quite a bit on my return trip but fortunately I made it back in time. Dinner once again was at our pub.

Day 12– I now became acutely aware that our vacation was drawing to a close. We only had two more days left but they were filled with activity. It had rained Friday night and Saturday morning but by the time we left for the 40 minute ride to the Tower of London, the weather had cleared. This was a confusing day. We were dropped off at the Tower and people disappeared to do their own thing. In Oxford and Richmond, we had been given maps in our packets to help us find our way around but here in London, a confusing city, we were left without any guidance. Since Darcy had never been to the Tower before, we made that a priority and then purchased a London map to figure out the many bridges and sights.

We were supposed to meet for lunch (although the actual meal was on our own) but that too seemed more confusing than helpful. Darcy and I and a few others in our group opted for a light lunch at Southwark Cathedral tea room. Afterwards we had the services of an excellent Blue Badge London guide, Myra, who led us on a walking tour of the south bank of the Thames in London. We passed by many sights, including the HMS Belfast, the Globe Theatre, the Tate Modern, the Millennium Bridge, the London Eye, Cleopatra’s Needle, the Victoria Embankment, the Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace, and Westminster Abbey. We returned by coach to Richmond, exhausted. Darcy and I skipped dinner at the hotel so we could have a final meal at our pub.

Day 13 – I was up early this morning to walk through the Deer Park. Yesterday I had met a man out walking his dog and this gentleman told me exactly how to enter the park – today I followed his instructions. I was rewarded by a beautiful quiet bucolic morning, surrounded by deer, birds, rabbits, and later in the morning lots of cyclist and runners. I was back by 8 am so I could join our group as we were driven by coach to Westminster Pier. Once there we boarded a river boat to take us to the Thames Barrier, the world’s largest movable flood barrier that was specifically designed to protect London from flooding if there were to be a destructive North Sea tidal surge.

We left the cruise at Greenwich where we spent the better part of the afternoon. Since it was nearing lunchtime, Darcy and I looked at the gastronomic possibilities and settled on a local tavern, the King’s Arms, where I ordered tea and fish and chips. Darcy had his favorite bangers and mash. After eating our fill, we walked through Greenwich Park and up the steep hill to the Old Royal Observatory. We paid the admission fee to allow us to stand on the Prime Meridian and visit Flamsteed House (John Flamsteed was the First Astronomer Royal) where I learned more than I ever wanted to know about measuring longitude. Afterwards, we walked through the National Maritime Museum, stopped for some fresh cookies from a local bakery, and waited for our coach to arrive for the return to Richmond.

It was time to pack for our return home, but first we had our final meal as a group. This time we ordered off a special menu and the food, if not glorious, was at least recognizable and appealing. Dina and Jim had bought a few bottles of good red wine that they shared with all of us and we were in a jolly mood as we said our good-byes. Except for me – I was sad at having to leave England.

Day 14 – Our plane was due to leave around 9:40 in the morning, so we had to be ready early – very early! At 5 am we were loading our suitcases into the motor coach and saying farewell to Roy. The trip to Heathrow was uneventful and we found the Delta ticket counter, checked our bags, and began the long 7 ½ hour journey to Boston, then Atlanta, and then home. Our last plane was delayed due to bad storms in the Midwest but we finally arrived about 10 pm. Our neighbor was kind enough to meet us and ferry us home, despite the late hour. It took me several days to overcome jet lag and feel somewhat normal again. On the whole, it was a very successful trip.

A few notes:
• It felt funny to travel without doing a race; I felt like I was missing something
• Our guides were good but not great; Roy was very affable and friendly but it was hard to understand his Manchester accent; Geoff was distant but approachable; neither offered a lot of information about the sights we were seeing (though they had some funny stories to tell) and since RS emphasizes the educational aspect of its tours, I was a bit surprised about that lack of expertise
• The guides also seemed somewhat confused at times about the actual paths we were to take; a few times we had to turn around and reverse our steps
• I didn’t care for the late (for me) dinner hours, the late breakfast hours, and the constant feeling that I had to socialize and make small talk with other members of the group; it was just hard to be constantly ‘on’ (the bane of being an introvert, I guess)
• We took way too much stuff in too big a suitcase; next time I would take less in a smaller bag and make everything do double duty. I did wear most of what I took, but I could have made do with less

Another Mishap: Are My Glasses at Fault?

I returned from a wonderful trip to Roanoke, VA, on Sunday, April 21. I successfully completed the Blue Ridge Marathon, a challenging race that bills itself quite truthfully as “America’s toughest road marathon.” On this trip and all during the race – which included walking up and down several steep mountains – I did fine, without tripping or falling or hitting the pavement. It was the first race I walked without my removable splint to protect my now-healed broken arm.
So imagine my shock and surprise when, on a routine walk to the Post Office the following Monday morning, I tripped and fell on the sidewalk. I’m not sure what caused me to fall; perhaps it was a rock, a stick, a pine cone, or maybe just a slight change in the sidewalk elevation. In any case, I fell hard, very hard, on my right hand and fingers and I experienced excruciating pain. My knees were also victim to this fall and I ended up with several bloody abrasions. But of course my primary concern was my hand and arm and the possible damage to my previously broken distal radius with titanium implant.
Somehow I managed to walk back home; everything looked okay on the surface but since the pain was far worse than I had experienced when I broke my arm in February, I decided to take no chances and called my surgeon. After x-rays and a CT scan showed a possible break in my scaphoid bone, my arm was placed in a soft cast for two weeks. A more definitive answer from yesterday’s MRI will ideally resolve the diagnosis and determine treatment. And so I wait.
Meanwhile, I have been trying to figure out why I am falling so frequently. It is understandable to fall during train runs; that is part of the sport. What concerns me far more are the falls I have on pavement. My background as medical librarian led me to do a Pubmed literature search on falls and older adults. There is an abundance of research on this topic but one recent study seemed directly applicable to my situation. Published in the British Medical Journal ( in 2010, this randomized controlled study looked at people over 65 who wore multifocal versus single distance glasses and their frequency of falling. I have been wearing progressive trifocals for a number of years, and all of my falls have occurred within that period. The study concluded that “provision of single lens [distance] glasses for older wearers of multifocal glasses who take part in regular outdoor activities is an effective falls prevention strategy.”
I decided that purchasing a pair of single lens distance glasses to wear during races and my outdoor walks would be well worth the cost. I bought a pair of single lens distance sunglasses as well. Time will tell if this strategy will work to prevent further falls but I can already attest to the greater ease I feel when I walk while wearing the distance lenses.

Boston . . . .

BostonMy heart goes out to all the runners and their families and all the spectators and race authorities and police and EMTs and doctors – well, you get the idea. I’m finding it hard to express exactly how deeply the bombings yesterday have affected me – as a racer and a human being. Far from being intimidated by this cowardly act of terrorism, I find myself determined to participate even more fervently in races, high profile or not, because to not do so would be to let the bad guys win.