This is my response to this week’s Flashback Track Friday prompt, where they asked us to:
Share a long journey that you made on foot.
Do I have everything? One last check.
I have my passport, my papers, my phone, my wallet. Every one of those is vital. Oh, and my mask. Unforgettable, in these times. Anything else, I’ll need to wing it.
As I close the door behind me, I am stung by the sticky heat of the late afternoon.
Immediately I know that wearing the showerproof jacket is a mistake, but I glance down at my bag, which is already bursting. But I won’t last a minute in this heat, so I remove the jacket and place it on top of the bag. Though I have no firm timetable, I glance at my watch. Just gone four. But no matter, my only goal is to reach the hotel sometime this evening.
I walk on. At the start, I am confident. It is half a mile to my “normal” bus stop, the stop I use frequently. But I can’t use that one today. Even at this time, this route long-since finished for the day. If I want to travel anywhere now, I must use the other route.
The other route is the express bus. It runs early-to-late, but it hugs the main road, on the other side of the village. The stop brings back memories of my daughter. Can I have a lift to The Lamb? The pub by the stop. Lazy, I thought, but I could use that lift myself, now. Needing to walk into the village centre, then out to the other side, this will be the farthest I have walked in more than five years.
It’s a mile and a quarter. I know. I know all the distances around here, from the days when I used to cycle. My computer told me the lot. 700m – real cyclists used metric – to my regular stop. 1km to the end of our road, 1.5km into the village – a nice, round mile – then 2km to The Lamb. Easy.
But the computer didn’t have to walk it.
The computer didn’t need to carry a bag on its shoulder.
I plod on.
I inexplicably look at my watch. Slow. So what? Already aching from the strap, I promise myself a break soon. That’s the trick. Just this one more hill, just another fifty yards, and then you can have your reward. My mind jogs back to my days as a cyclist. One seasonal ride, only when I’d reached the summit, did I remove a huge slab of Christmas Cake from my pocket.
But no cake today, and I can’t even make the stop. Needing to rest, I set the bag down. The jacket slides onto the ground. Prophetic. But I catch my breath. As the sun beats down, I settle the bag into the groove now forming in my shoulder and remount the coat.
I plod on.
I finally reach my bus stop, and I can’t resist a peak at the timetable. Maybe there was something scheduled, I’d just never noticed it before? But I’ve been using that service for years now, I know the timetable, I’m not mistaken.
I plod on.
Another rest. Summoning every ounce of my energy, I restart, and I’m overjoyed when I finally reach the road to the village. I’m halfway to The Lamb. For the first time, I see cars drive past. In desperation, I wave my thumb. Maybe one of my neighbours will pass? Maybe they’ll see me? Maybe they’ll take pity?
But it’s never happened yet.
I’m tired again. The coat slips and the strap bites further. I notice my foot, for the first time. My toe is rubbing my shoe in the heat. Funny, never happened before.
Nobody stops. I plod on.
I’m walking a definite downhill, now, toward the river, but it doesn’t matter. The cool water makes no difference to the sweltering air above. And I must watch where my feet go. I’m top heavy as it is, I’m asking for trouble. It’s a relief when I finally reach the smoothness of the footbridge, though its single arch requires an extra push to cross. Beneath me, the water gushes. Another time, perfect.
The river navigated, I’m approaching the centre of the village now, although at this time of day, all is quiet. The café which is now the hub closed an hour ago. A pity, I could use refreshment. If I weren’t going somewhere… The small supermarket, however, is open if I’m desperate. But no, I’m on a mission.
A few more steps, and I reach the small park. I know it well because daughter would beg to play on its swings. I’ll get past it, then another pause.
I recognise the house. The guy sells plants from his garage, but I never met him. My foot is sore now, and it’s still hot. But I see the cricket ground ahead. Every village hereabouts has one, but ours is fenced off. I stare through the fence, then I am reminded to cross the road as the pavement evaporates in front of me. As I trudge past Deep Square Leg, The Lamb finally comes into view. Another promise – a rest at The Lamb, and this time, I keep it.
At the Lamb I hit the main road, and I can see my destination. The stop, and more importantly, the seats in the shelter.
I’m not there yet, but as I reach the crossing, there is just one more hurdle. I traverse the ‘A’ road and start the last hundred yards. A newly-electronic bus stop finally tells me not only that I have arrived, but that the next bus is due in fifteen minutes. As I collapse, exhausted, into the burning metal seat, I am finally able to catch my breath. It is six o’clock.
I’m sorry about that. I wrote it deliberately laborious, just because I wanted to convey the laborious aspect of the trek itself.
This is the true story of a journey I made just this summer – it was 1¼ miles and is the furthest I have walked since my stroke.
I was so tired by the end of it that all my other grand plans to walk evaporated. When I reached Salisbury (the bus’s destination) I had about enough strength to walk to the taxi rank.
When I checked my foot that evening, my big toe was the size of a golf ball, with a blister on it which pained me for days afterwards. But, when you walk with a limp any way, there’s no point telling people it’s even worse than usual.
It’s ironic because this was the start of a big trip to France. The extra COVID nonsense we needed are the “papers” I refer to at the very start. A few hundred miles, and yet the first of those miles took a full two hours to complete.
I had a wonderful pint of cider that night.