How to train for an adventure

Adventure sounds FUN! But how does one train for an adventure? And what makes it an adventure in the first place?

Well, I have been going on training walks in preparation for thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail and whilst walking one fine sunny day I realised that my walk had in fact turned into an ADVENTURE. Wow! I thought. At what point did this happen?

Parsonage Wood
Parsonage Wood

Then it hit me – the adventure began as soon as I had become lost (to be more accurate as soon as I decided I would rather be lost and following my nose than stick to an out-dated guide book). Stopping at every turn, every stile and every bump in the landscape and asking myself, which way? was growing thin.

This stile was mentioned in the Guide Book!
This stile was mentioned in the Guide Book!

I’d perceived The Gordano Round to be THE perfect 26 mile training walk to test out if my backpack (and I) were capable of carrying 36 lbs of weight without breaking. The walk was even more perfect as I could start from the most respected and marvellous Mark and Mary’s house, do a half-circuit, shower, be fed, sleep and repeat – two 13 mile days and The Gordano Round would be mine, officially bagged!

Exos 48, Fully loaded
Exos 48, Fully loaded

Day One

I arrived at Mark and Mary’s and Mary kindly dropped me off at The Black Horse, known affectionately as The Kicker. It was already noon and I didn’t feel any need to walk the three miles or so to get to the start of the walk.

Some good old fashioned user error sent me a mile down a beautiful snowdrop-cluttered bridleway; the best wild snowdrops I’ve seen this year. Well worth the detour!

Woodland snowdrops
Mogg’s Wood snowdrops

The guide book was older than the hills – certainly from before the time of Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm and the path certainly did not go straight through there anymore. As I skirted around the high wire fencing I remember thinking it would be pretty ironic to have a lion-related adventure on my own doorstep in North Somerset!

Boundary of Noah's Ark Zoo Farm
Boundary of Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm

The winter’s day was threatening to start drawing in and, once more, I wasn’t quite sure where I was. A kind dog walker very confidently took me 2 miles out of my way before realising it wasn’t where I wanted to be and I had to trudge a mile up a steep muddy bridleway to get back on track. We had a lovely talk and his dogs kept my spirits high. And so, Day One came to an end after reaching Abbots Pool, phoning Mark and asking for a lift back from The George Inn in Abbots Leigh.**

P1010607
Ladder stile

I’d walked 9.88 miles and had only completed a quarter of The Gordano Round, not the half I had envisioned. It was all good, I’d had a great walk; the views were stunning and it was fabulous to be out in my old stomping ground. All in all Day One was quite an adventure in itself, the parts standing out being the ones where I didn’t really know what I was doing (every day is an adventure for me).

Steps to Abbots Leigh
Steps to Abbots Leigh

Day Two and the moment of my epiphany

After a well-deserved cuppa, shower, heavenly meal a la Mary and a kip in a bed (with electric blanket) I awoke to breakfast and Mark dropped me off a few hundred yards from The George Inn so I could continue on my way.

P1010656
I love the silhouettes of trees at this time of year

A good five minutes into the route, I crossed the main road to follow the trail and lo and behold, a HUGE dairy was being built right across the path. I spoke to the electricians, the builders and even knocked on the neighbour’s door but nobody knew of a footpath. There was a consent order showing the trail deviating a mere two feet from its previous path but alas, countless rounds of the fields and grounds led me nowhere. I was an hour into my walk and although I had walked well over a mile I’d made approximately 500 yards headway.

P1010637 - Copy
Is is just me or does the tree on the end look like some kind of wicker man?

After an hour of tromping around and talking to friendly workmen I decided I’d invested far too much time to simply hike down the fast and boring A369 towards the M5 and on to Mark and Mary’s in Portishead. Besides, all that would achieve is wearing out my trail boots on the hard pavement, not to mention the battering on my newly formed blisters from yesterday (Superfeet are not the insoles of choice for this hiker).

Sheep
Sheep

It was the fact that I was in training that made me put the guide book away in the end. How was I ever going to get my fitness up by stopping every two seconds? I was close to the village I grew up in, I had my phone; I could be picked up at any time. I wasn’t in training to try to understand an old book. If I’d been that worried about getting lost I would have bought the new guide book and a decent OS map. I was out here to test my gear and my body, not my out of date guide book reading skills!*

And so it was the ADVENTURE began. The guide book had said to go down one side of the valley, over the stream and up the other side…

P1010675
Undergrowth meets overgrowth – no need for a machete

Within minutes I was strolling away from the building site over freshly made piles of mud, waving happily at the builders, particularly enjoying their looks of bewilderment as I headed on down to the bottom of a very steep and bumpy field. There HAS to be a valley at the bottom of such a steep field. Surely?

And there it was the bottom of the valley – the stream that had been eluding me. Absolutely stunning! And very steep. I was surprised at how isolated it felt, I knew there were countless builders busying away just up the slope…

P1010615
The lost stream

The stream was easy to cross and I meandered my way up the rather steep slope on the other side. I live in varying stages of vertigo and so my trekking poles were a great help; it was a rather slow ascent. The bluebells will be stunning here in the summer.

P1010596
Fallen down dry stone wall

I found my way back onto the guide book and continued on my way. Later, through choice, I went off-piste again and it was the second most fun bit of the walk – a beautiful wood which gave me an excuse to try out some energy gel, which pumped me up through the steep path, powering upwards, head down and using my trekking poles. I popped out at the top of Prior Wood – and the part of the trail I had user error on yesterday. It was quite nice walking the path I should’ve walked the previous day, knowing where I was and that I would make it “home”.

I arrived at The Kicker and did the final 3 mile stretch back to Mark and Mary’s.

Snowdrops
Garden snowdrops

Conclusion

In 1½ days I had walked 25 of the 26 miles yet I had only made my way around half of The Gordano Round!

I plan to attempt the other half of The Gordano Round before leaving for Atlanta, Georgia in just under four weeks’ time.

The Severn
The Severn Crossings

*Note to self – read my book on Navigation for Walkers, do some navigation training exercises. If I keep going like this the Appalachian Trail will turn into a 5,000 mile walk!

** The funny thing with this training lark is that I was not in adventure travel mode. I was waiting outside of the pub, thinking about how I should really have ordered a pint of best before phoning Mark, then dismissing the pint idea I looked down at my feet. Mmmm, they are very muddy to get into Mark’s nice shiny car. I am feeling a bit cold too. It was a good ten minutes before I realised that I had, in fact, been hiking ALL DAY with a pair of sandals and a down jacket in my backpack, maybe I should put them on. Doh!

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