Drifting downstream: the rivers of Northern Laos

Landlocked Laos may not lie adjacent to any ocean but it more than compensates with a twisting network of rivers that crisscross the country like veins. In the rainy season, the rivers rage with wild rapids. However, visit in the drier season (I was there in March) and you’ll be rewarded with one of the jewels in the crown of Northern Laos: a slow boat trip down the Nam Ou.

From travellers I had met in Vietnam, reports of Laos did not tend to be glowing. ‘Just go for a couple of weeks,’ we were advised, with warnings that it was a bit boring. After 24 hours, we utterly disagreed. I cannot deny that Laos is hands down the most laid back place I have ever visited. Everything happens in slow motion; its languid rivers flow lazily through shallow valleys; even the dogs are more chilled out as they lounge in the shade. But I think that this is a huge part of its charm. Relax into its dreamy vibes and you’ll find yourself spending longer there than you planned.

After an exhausting journey from Vietnam, we spent the night in a guesthouse in Muang Khua which clung precariously to the sides of the riverbank, accessible only over a rickety bridge which was only sketchily nailed together. Our landlady didn’t speak a word of English but shyly smiled and showed us to our rooms. The walls were made from woven bamboo and for the first time felt homely; mosquito nets foamed down from the ceiling onto piles of blankets and from the window we could see the gentle flow of the Nam Ou. For less than £2 for a night, it was not a sore deal. Dinner was slow in coming – we would learn that everything in Laos happens in Laos time – but delicious. It was our first experience of Laos sticky rice, which generally is cooked at breakfast time and eaten with every meal.

Sticky rice is made from a specific opaque rice grain called glutinous rice and has been cultivated throughout South East Asia for over a thousand years. About 85% of all rice in Laos is of this type. It is steamed and comes in little wicker baskets with a top attached with string. Eat it with your hands, rolling it into walnut-sized balls, and dip it into whatever you choose to eat it with. Eat it all the time for every meal. It. Is. Incredible. Stay tuned on the blog for my Ode to Sticky Rice. There is an age-old debate as to whether sticky rice is traditionally Thai or Lao. Having travelled round both, I would argue that it is hands-down Lao. Sticky rice for life.

After a comfortable nights sleep, we were up bright and early for the slow boat at 8 which came at 9.30. Papaya and mango  with Lao coffee for breakfast before heading down to the stone ramp that went down to the river. We handed our backpacks down onto the boat, a long wooden riverboat painted blue with a wooden covering held down by bricks. We climbed aboard. Bags went down one end; people on the other. I folded my waterproof over to make a cushion to sit on and folded up my knees slightly to fit into the width of the boat. When everybody was on, ropes were untied and the woman driving the boat pushed off from the river bank with an oar so that we were slowly free-floating down the river.

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The scenery was beautiful as we drifted downstream. Striking karst hills carpeted in a cloak of emerald greenery flanked the Nam Ou as it wound through flat-bottomed valleys. The sky was a pale forget-me-not blue edged with wispy clouds that clung to the limestone peaks climbing upwards into jagged triangulations. The sun shone serenely through a lazy haze, warm and balmy, while a gentle breeze cooled the skin. There was an occasional spray of water as our vessel surged through rougher parts of the river.

We occasionally stopped the boat to pick people up who were waiting by the sides of the river to get a lift downstream. Sometimes they drew up alongside the boat in smaller thinner canoes, jumping nimbly across to us. After a couple of hours, a few of us desperately needed the toilet so we pulled up alongside a sand bank and disappeared into the trees, the sand burning our feet in the sun. I squatted in a bush next to some pigs who looked faintly appalled and wandered away to snuffle elsewhere. We stopped off at a riverside village called Muang Ngoi Neua, a charming place where I would recommend staying if you have the time. Although we didn’t stay here, we heard really good things about it. We grabbed lunch here and said goodbye to the people we’d met on the crossing from ‘Nam and who we’d chilled with for the last few hours on our gentle journey downstream.

It wasn’t long until we arrived in Nong Kiaw, a slightly larger town than Muang Ngoi Neua, but still a village really as it takes less than 10 minutes to walk through the whole thing. It is surrounded by the same limestone scenery that we saw from the river which we planned to explore some more the next day. Meanwhile the sun was starting to set on the river, its pinkish hue contrasting with the deep greens of the forest reflected in the slowly moving water. We ate dinner alongside the river to the last shafts of rosy sunlight which faded to a darkness punctuated by the flickering flames of the lamps on our table. We tried ‘laap’, a Lao speciality of minced meat fried with chilli, herbs, lime juice and toasted rice, accompanied by sticky rice.

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The next day was spent exploring and getting lost in the surrounding countryside, amongst the karst mountains and caves, not straying far from the road due to unexploded ordinance left in the area from the America/Vietnam War. On the way back to Nong Kiaw, we paid a visit to the Tham Pha Tok caves, which is where villagers hid out during the Second Indochina War as American bombs rained on Laos. For a time, the Luang Prabang government was also based in this cave system. Originally accessible by a rickety bamboo ladder, a new wooden staircase now rises to the cave’s entrance. Take a flashlight as you navigate the chambers of the cavern – there are a few signs about but not an awful lot of information on display. However, it is still interesting being in the caves and imagining what happened here not so long ago.

We walked back a couple of kilometres to town where we had a late lunch of Indian dosa with a Dutch girl we’d made the crossing to Vietnam with, who happened to be walking past. Stomachs full, we decided to walk up Phadeng Peak to the town’s viewpoint. In hindsight, doing it on a full stomach wasn’t the best idea. Although no Fansipan, the trek went steeply uphill in the afternoon heat. I had brought a camera rather than a bottle of water – priorities – so was dehydrated in the almost oppressive heat. We were all dripping with sweat by the time we reached the top but the 360° vista which awaited us at the summit was worth the walk. A pinkish sun wreathed in pale clouds was sinking slowly into the embrace of the jagged limestone hills, the light sparkling and enchanting the long loops of the river. We sat by a rice sack ‘flag’ blowing in the wind as the sun set, deciding to make our way down as the light became cloaked in cloud. It got darker as we made our way down and needed a flashlight to navigate the winding path before we reached the bottom.

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After showering off all our sweat, we went out to go eat more Lao food. I ordered Lao sausage, spiced win lemongrass and chill, which came with sticky rice (of course), greens, fried river weed with sesame seeds and a spicy aubergine dip (‘jeow’). It was washed down with a Beerlao, the national rice beer which comes in huge bottles and is actually really good. We went back to the hostel and cuddled with their kittens before heading to bed. We were reluctantly leaving the riverlands, travelling West to Nam Tha National Park,  the next day. We had actually looked to see whether we could travel there by river for it is possibly the most relaxed form of transport in the world. However, being the dry season, there was no chance and so it was that we changed from boat back to bus for the next leg.

 

Hué

Hué, the old imperial capital of the Nguyen emperors, sprawls on the banks of the Suong Hung about halfway up Vietnam. Arriving in the city was a bit of a shock to the system after pretty little Hoi An – it is large and looming and rather soulless. But we were not there for the city; we were there for the tombs and temples, the palaces and pagodas on the North side of the river and so it was on bikes that we pedalled our way over the Perfume River to the Imperial Citadel. We nervously joined the flow of traffic over Trang Tien bridge and, miraculously, flowed with it. Nobody signals, everybody honks their horns, but there is a definite rhythm to the traffic in Vietnam as it flows loudly along. It is invigorating being part of it.

We cycled under the blackened old arched outer wall of the citadel and parked our bikes next to a line of bronze cannons. We then wandered over to the Ngo Mon Gateway, the entrance to the Imperial Enclosure, where a huge picture of Ho Chi Minh hangs by multicolured flags, reflected in the surface of the moat. It is impressive, looming above the tourists gawking up at it, a handful of other tourists peering down from its two tiered elaborate roofs. We paid our entrance and entered the citadel. Thai Hoa palace is the first thing you see, where the emperor would have greeted visitors from his gilted golden throne. We crossed to it over a bridge lined with flowers across a pond of bright orange koi. Dragon mosaics curl across the roof, coiled and fierce in blues, reds and greens. You climb the steps and enter and stare in silence at what might possibly be the grandest room you’ve ever been in. Scarlet and gold laquered ironwood columns stand proudly down the room, the walls covered with more scarlet and gold calligraphy, grids of ancient poetry. There are a few translations but the symbols far outnumber these, telling unknown stories that I wish I could understand. The throne that stands, elevated, between the columns, is truly fit for an emperor, huge and gold and intricate. The building has been massively restored and an animation in the next room shows what it would have looked like in its heyday, at the height of the Nguyen dynasty, robed mandarins lining the walkways. It makes you realise how much the buildings have been restored (and makes you wish you could go back in time), especially when you step out the other side of the palace and you see the buildings that haven’t been so lucky.

Hué’s imperial enclosure was a cultural victim of the French and American wars – it was badly damaged to the extent that only 20 of 148 buildings are still standing. Unesco-sponsored restoration, reconstruction and conservation work is still ongoing. In the future, maybe the buildings of the ancient citadel will stand, elaborate and proud, once again. But for now the enclosure is a place of contrasts – grandiose golden palaces stand next to crumbling ruins, ornate arches lead to overgrown gardens and horses hoofs echo in empty courtyards. Saying this, a fair number of structures still stand and the enclosure is big enough that you can get lost, walking through ancient halls feeling like you’ve stepped back in time. It is also large enough to escape the groups of tourists at Thai Hoa palace to peacefully navigate your way through the rubble and royal residences, the only sound a fountain in the distance and your own thoughts, lost in a rich daydream of what this place would have looked like before it was scarred by war. Before we left, we climbed up onto the citadel’s walls to look out over the forbidden city, where the Vietnamese flag rippled in the currents of the wind, bright red against a pale grey sky.

We spent the afternoon getting lost and discovering quiet temples, not a tourist in sight, doors slightly ajar and singing voices carried on a soft breeze to where we stood with our bikes. This was in stark contrast to the bustling market place we visited to buy some fruit. It was crammed with people and sold pretty much everything – bright fruit and veg, fish still flopping, glittering fake jewellery, clothes of all patterns, electronics, stationary, DIY…you name it, they had it. Our final stop was Thien Mu Pagoda, a few kilometres cycling, on a hill which overlooks the Perfume River. It has its roots in legend: long ago, an old woman appeared on the hill and prophecised that a great lord would build a Buddhist pagoda for the country’s prosperity. Of course, upon hearing this, the lord of the day ordered the construction of Thien Mu ‘Heavenly Lady’. Many lords have added to the site since, including an impressive 21m-tall octagonal tower, Thap Phuoc Duyen, its seven stories each representing a manushibuddha (Buddha in human form) or step to enlightenment, depending on who you ask. Inside the pagoda, incense swirled and a monk sat quietly chanting and occasionally hitting a bronze gong in meditation.

As we cycled back to the empty sprawling city, it started to rain. It felt almost like we had pedalled through time – from the ancient and spritual to the modern and spiritless. Don’t expect much from the city of Hué itself (apart from its cuisine – fried nem and bun bo hue – if you know where to look) but its rich history and beautiful buildings of the past are certainly something to discover.

Another journey: the dawn

Travelling evokes a tremendous sense of satisfaction, yet simultaneously creates a certain restlessness. After Borneo, I was left with many wonderful memories and experiences but also an itch to get back on the road, to take to the skies and seas of the world. They call it the ‘travel bug’ and I, like my mother before me, am well and truly infected.
So, within a month of having returned to England, I found myself poring over maps spread over the kitchen counter, travelling continents with my fingertips, oceans with my eyes. Where to go? Everywhere. But I had to be realistic and I narrowed it down, first to Asia and then to the South East. At the beginning of January I had booked my flights: London to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Singapore to Kilimanjaro (Tanzania) and Kili back to Blighty. I had also booked a tour around Myanmar (Burma) for May, which started in Thailand, giving me effectively three months to get to Thailand. My vague plan was to travel up North through Vietnam, down through Laos, across Cambodia to Thailand, tour round Myanmar, then travel South through Thailand and across to Malaysia. Since returning from Borneo, my desire to climb Mt Kinabalu, for me an image from trek of perserverence and strength, had only grown and so I planned to include this in my travels. My adventure would be concluded with an eight-day climb of Mt Kilimanjaro with my family – standard family holiday. I would be away approximately six months.

I said goodbye to my family, and to York, on the 29th of January. The sun was shining as the train departed York railway station, reflecting the tears in my mother’s eyes, and in my own, through the open window (which I was politely asked to close). Waving goodbye made all my plans seem solid, less of an exotic fairytale, and I felt equal amounts of excitement and trepidation. Before I left the country, I had a fun weekend in London with a few of my best friends, some of whom would be joining me in a few months for some of my travels. It was the perfect way to spend my last few days in England.
When I left my friend’s flat in Barbican on Tuesday on foot with my huge backpack, the sky was still dark, the stars veiled by London’s shroud of pollution. I took a tube and two trains to the airport, where I met a several friends who would travel with me to Saigon. My first stop was Mumbai, India, where I would spend almost ten hours trying to sleep on cold marble benches in the airport’s ‘garden’ and being bitten by the flies that dwelt among the plants. It was a bit worrying that our flight to HCM wasn’t actually on the departures board and, on investigation, it transpired that we were actually travelling via Bangkok, Thailand. Nice of the airline for telling us.
It was a beautiful flight, although I slept for much of it (surprisingly: I never sleep on flights). Leaving Mumbai was like a scene in a travel documentary. Looking out of the window, I could see where the land met the sea, blurred by a soft blanket of mist. Flying over India, mountains rose gently above a swirl of cloud, which emmenated a golden glow in the morning sun. Watching this elegant landscape pass me by made me rather sad that I wasn’t visiting India, which is probably in my top five of countries that I wish to visit. When we arrived at Bangkok, we didn’t actually leave the plane, but sat, sleepily bemused as a purposeful-looking team of aircraft staff cleaned the plane around us in about ten minutes flat. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such cleaning efficiency; I was very impressed. As the plane lifted off again, I fell asleep, briefly waking up to an exquisite view of a shimmering network of rivers meandering like veins across an emerald province.

We touched down in Vietnam to the sight of the setting sun over a patchwork of paddyfields. Leaving the airport, we ran with our heavy bags to catch the bus to take us to our hostel, but it turned out that this was the last one, leaving us with no other option but to take a taxi. After several arguments with various taxi companies trying to charge us extortionate rates, we eventually managed to get ourselves some sort of discount (it still wasn’t a very good price but we were too tired by this point to haggle any more; we got them down by almost half). Half an hour later, we were standing at the mouth of an alleyway in a mostly deserted fruit and vegetable market, while traffic and people streamed by on the road behind us, a cacophony of car horns. The email from the hostel had told us to ‘get in the alley’ and, after a deep breath, we did so. When it came into sight, a few doors down, we gave a great whoop: we had finally arrived!

Good evening Vietnam
Good evening Vietnam

Trek: an uphill climb with beautiful views

Life on trek is like living in a different world.  Although we know that the cogs of everyday life keep turning, we’re so immersed in our little bubble that it seems an odd concept that things like days of the week still exist.  We haven’t seen anyone beyond our team or guides for the last week.  Civilisation seems alien and we have left it behind us.

Our coach dropped us off, literally on the side of the road, with nothing to do except don our walking boots and heavy rucksacks and start our long walk into the waiting arms of the jungle.  It had been sunny back on the road, but underneath the dense canopy of the rainforest and with a sky rapidly clouding over it became darker and more mysterious.  Tendrils of mist snaked around the trees, like something out of a jungle fairy tale.  That very first day, we experienced our first rainstorm on trek.  It started lightly but quickly became torrential and by the time we arrived, slipping and sliding, into our first camp, we were absolutely drenched.  The first evening, after having set up the group kit and our own hammocks, was spent as a whole group, damp and cold, huddled around the fire.  But there was something nice about everyone being together, a tangle of limbs, as everybody vied to get the best spot to dry their feet as the rain hammered down on the tarp overhead.

The camps so far have been pretty variable.  One that stands out, although not necessarily for good reasons, is the infamous ‘mud camp’ which, as its name suggests, was incredibly muddy.  Walking around (if sliding can be called walking) was an absolute nightmare, especially if you were unlucky enough to have your hammock set up on a hill which, by the end of our time there, was more like a mud slide.  My rucksack cover is still covered with the mud from mud camp, lest I forget all the muddy memories.

But for every mud camp, there is a stunning camp with magnificent views or perfect trees or a beautiful river close by.  At ‘mouse deer camp’ there is a place you can walk to where you can find incredible panoramas of the surrounding scenery.  The night we arrived, there was a full moon and we all went down after dinner to have a look.  It was a sight that I don’t think any of us will ever forget.  A perfect full moon hung in the centre of the night sky, bathing all the trees in a pearly glow.  We could see the bold silhouette of Mount Kinabalu standing proudly against a velvet sky, fluffy clouds resting in the valley, glowing softly by the light of the moon.  Other clouds, pale silvery wispy things, skimmed the tops of the ridge and streaks of silver nudged the base of the mountain.  On one side, a huge threatening roll of cloud lit up occasionally with flashes of lightening from a storm, but there was no thunder to break our  semi-stunned silence.  Stars shone out from where the clouds were fewer, signs of a rainless night for our team.  The only evidence of human settlement came from three pinpricks of light; apart from that, there was only soft darkness all around.  We felt so isolated but in a good way.  It kind of felt special that we were the only ones out there in the middle of that massive expanse of Bornean rainforest.

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The rainforest itself has much to offer, which compensates for its slippery paths and huge hills for us to trek up.  We have swam in crystal clear rivers and sat underneath waterfalls, something that is blissful after a long day walking as we let our sore limbs rest in the deliciously cool water.  Rare moments of feeling clean are a definite luxury here in our trek bubble.  Luxury comes also in the form of the food that the jungle provides.  Pretty much all food on trek tastes amazing despite all coming from a can – in our trek delirium, we are all now devoted fans of chicken luncheon meat, something which definitely shows the level of jungle madness that we are all at!  But we have been lucky enough, too, to find fresh food – wild ginger, chillies, long beans – that have elevated our meals to the next level.  Our incredible guides have also cooked us some things, including jungle palm soup and sweet tapioca and milk.  Yesterday we were treated to jungle donuts, which were absolutely phenomenal – the whole team was buzzing, especially after our guide told us that we had achieved the trek record for that particular day.  We had beaten the time taken by all other teams to walk between the two camps by 11 minutes.

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The foreseeable future also looks good, especially on the food front, as we sit in one of the best camps yet alongside a beautiful river waiting for trek resupply (a visit from Fieldbase staff, with our food rations for the rest of the phase). Alpha 5 are feeling positive as we look towards the next nine days, which may be both mentally and physically challenging, but which we hope to cover with long bold strides and a spring in our step.

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Originally published by Raleigh International (02/12/15): https://raleighinternational.org/blog/borneo/trek-an-uphill-climb-with-beautiful-views/

18K & Technicolour Toes

The great wheel of time keeps turning, bringing the looming prospect of my half marathon ever closer. A half marathon is just over 21km (13.1 miles) in distance which (fun fact) is over three times the average migration distance of a Galapagos tortoise (although they complete this in 2-3 weeks…a record I shall hopefully beat in my own endeavour). So far in training, I have mainly been doing speed training, hammering out 5Ks and trying to do a longer run at least once a week (although I’ve been slacking slightly in recent days). However, I hadn’t ran further than 15K, over 6K shorter than the full distance, and so I decided to push myself the other weekend to run a longer distance of 18K.

I planned the route the night before. I like to know where I’m running before I set off as firstly all you have to concentrate on is running and secondly you can’t give up and loop back home (well, you can, but you feel a bit guilty). I had filled my groovy water bottle with Lucozade (mango & passionfruit – nice) to replace the carbohydrates and electrolytes I would be losing as I ran. I had also arranged for my sister to meet me with some water at the approximate halfway point, as it was a pretty hot day and dehydration was not on my to-do list. I set off with confidence but to be honest I wasn’t feeling that great – my stomach was churning slightly and I was concerned whether the stewed plums I had made tartlets with the previous night (and which I had spooned a tiny bit of mould off) had been such a good idea. But 5K in, and not feeling hugely better, I couldn’t exactly turn back, so took a swig of Lucozade and plodded on. By kilometre 7, I think the fresh air and sunshine had worked a little magic and I didn’t feel quite so rubbish. Running-wise, all was groovy too and butterflies flitted around brightly coloured wildflowers in the midday sun. I was passed by quite a few cyclists who were also out enjoying the weather (although sweating significantly less than I).

Just before I reached the 10K mark, I turned onto a busier road that looped around back to Haxby, leaving the fields and flowers behind. In hindsight, running on this road wasn’t a particularly good move and I wouldn’t do it again (but I had mapped it out as 18K exactly and wanted to hit this distance milestone). Before then, although I felt a bit churn-y, my legs were still fresh and I wasn’t particularly out of breath, despite the heat. Now my legs were starting to feel the distance but running down that road was SCARY and to be honest the adrenaline kept me going and not wanting to get squashed by a car kept me alert. A couple of kilometres into this bit, Gem came to meet me and I swapped my bottle for a fresh one, rather like handing over the baton in a relay race.  Just after the woman in my headphones informed me that I had run 13K, I arrived back into civilisation and off the B1363. Before I reached the end of my run, however I had to make a detour to run ‘the Moor’ to make up the full 18K before I arrived back home. It was a bit depressing, as this route is my usually 5K jaunt and I was running quite a lot slower than I’d normally run on it. Saying this, it was also reassuring that I knew exactly how much further I had to run and I finished at a decent pace.

After downing  some water at home, I set off on a cool-down walk around the block to try and get rid of some lactic acid so my legs didn’t hurt too much the next day (this is a good habit to get into after running). Even though I was tired, I wasn’t in too much pain, which was good, but there was a throbbing sensation coming from my left big toe as I walked. Lo and behold, when I removed my shoe, blood had started to blossom under my nail, turning it a deep purple to match the adjacent toenail that had already gone black. Unfortunately, your feet often have to suffer for your running. I had to enlist the help of my Aunt Fiona to release the blood from under the nail to ease the pressure that the nail was under (as it was actually quite painful to walk – it didn’t help that I’d worked an 8hr catering shift after my run). She cheerily informed me as she did so (with a sterilised needle I might add) that they used to do this by poking a red hot paperclip through the nail. I count myself lucky.

The Storm

Sometimes running is hard. Other times, it is exhilarating. A 14K lope into the Peak District was one such occasion and one that I won’t forget.

I was visiting my Grandparents who live on the edge of Chesterfield, a stone’s throw from the Peak District. I wanted to go for a long-ish run, so decided to run a little way with my uncle and sister and then carry on into the Peaks when they split off. The weather had been a bit erratic that afternoon, so we waited until a violent downpour had passed and then set off, hoping that the clouds had rained themselves out. It was not to be.

I was ascending into the purple heathers of Holy Moor out of Holymoorside when the rain started. And oh how it rained. Big fat droplets of rain hit the floor so hard that they danced right back off again. I was grateful for the plastic bag that my Granny had given to me to protect my phone, for the sky had transformed into nature’s version of a power shower (although without the pleasant temperature). It wasn’t long before I was soaked to the skin – it must have been tempting fate to complain about the mizzle a few runs ago, for this was nothing in comparison. I was also running uphill and, with over 10K still to go, my spirits were as damp as I was (which was dripping).

Then the sun came out and the landscape was transformed. As the rain cascaded down, the road turned into a ribbon of molten silver that flowed through an ocean of shocking violet heather. The long grass turned to gold with glints of vibrant green as the sun’s golden rays set fire to every colour in sight. Even the greyness of the clouds seemed to glow golden with hints of forget-me-not blue and rosy pink on the far horizon. In short: it was magical.

The rain hadn’t gotten any lighter. As I climbed the final raise, flocks of sheep regarded me with mild amusement as I sploshed past. My phone was counting off kilometres but I had stopped listening, living utterly in the moment as I continued putting one foot in front of the other. As I reached the crest of the hill, the rainstorm increased in intensity. Then I saw the rainbow, clearly defined, arching effortlessly across the sky, colours vivid against its grey backdrop.

I began to run downhill, now past the halfway point, letting gravity take over as I chased the waterfall of water down the road, dodging the rocks it tossed into my path. When the hail started, I wasn’t surprised. Thunder rumbled and crashed in the distance, bringing with it thrills of fear between flashes of lightning. I was laughing out loud to myself at this point, as the weather was so completely mad. Cars tentatively speeding past me in the downpour probably thought I was completely mad, both for venturing out in this weather and for the huge smile on my face. I didn’t care; I felt infinite.

As the kilometres fell away, the deluge started to subside, until I could hear my trainers squelching wetly as they splashed against the tarmac. And in the bright sunshine I saw a second rainbow hanging delicately above the first. At which point, the heavens opened once again. It was just hilarious. I had reached the outskirts of Holymoorside by the time the storm subsided again and I was running strong. I hammered up the other side of the valley, passing my uncle’s shiny black truck as I went (my sister and uncle had driven out, presumably to check that I hadn’t drowned). I meant to greet them but all that came out was an unintelligible whoop and a thumbs up. By the time I reached my Grandparents’ house, I was jubilant. It was the best run I had ever been on.

Although running is difficult and sometimes wearing on the soul, it never fails to surprise me and when it rewards you with moments like this, it makes it all worth it. This is why, ultimately, I love running. And would wholeheartedly encourage everyone to get out there, despite the weather, because you don’t know what glorious moments you might get in return.

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