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

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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A jolly to Beningbrough Hall and childhood memories.

As a child, Beningbrough Hall, a Georgian mansion in North Yorkshire, was the ultimate day out. We’d drive there on a nice day as a family and me and my sister would be entertained for HOURS in the adventure playground or in the grounds playing ‘no-grown-ups-allowed-to-see-us’. As we got older, Beningbrough became more than just a day out – it became a JOURNEY as we cycled there, which seemed an absolutely enormous feat for two small children. We were almost too exhausted to run around playing games, and as I look back on it, this may have been a ploy on our parents’ part to get some peace and quiet!!
The bike ride got much less hard after a while, and I’ve cycled there many many times now, both with family and my friends – last year I went with my family and me and my sister were STILL playing ‘no-grown-ups-allowed-to-see-us’. Not much changes!!

The day before yesterday, me and some friends decided to cycle to Beningbrough once again, as we hadn’t been on a bike ride together since last summer. The weather forecast wasn’t fantastic but we decided to man it and keep the British stiff upper lip. Got there with almost no trouble – Lizzie’s chain came off and her bag broke, but we fixed the chain and put her things in our own bags and soldiered on. On arrival, it started to rain a bit, so we sat at a picnic table and put the sun umbrella up – protects from rain as well as sun!!

The weather still grizzling, we decided to take a tour of the hall itself. Asked if we were art history students, we responded with a definite NO (there were two Biologists, a Geographer, a Law student and an English student) and proceeded straight upstairs to where the fancy dress was. Despite us all being almost 20, we really are just big kids. We spent the vast majority of the afternoon playing dress-up, running around the adventure playground and, after a failed attempt at croquet, playing a competitive game of ‘Billy 1 2 3’ (CLASSIC game). Lizzie fell over: strike two of her day’s unluckiness.
We were rather tired after our childish exploits and decided to cycle home. Unfortunately, on the return journey, there was a bit of drama as Lizzie’s unluckyness stuck again – she got lost. Three of us were pretty far ahead and the guy behind her didn’t shout loud enough to let her know that she’d missed the turning and was now cycling down the A19. For those that don’t know, it is a rather busy road, and pretty terrifying to cycle on. Me and my friend Matty had to cycle all the way back to Shipton to wait with the guy who had shouted, while the guy in front pedalled on homewards in an almost demonic way (he did have to get to work). After a fruitless jaunt along aforesaid horrific A19, we made about a billion phone calls and eventually learnt that Lizzie had sensibly gone to a farm house to call her Mum. It was pretty stressful for an hour, but we did laugh about the whole thing on the way back home once we knew she was safe. I really hope she’s not put off bike rides with us again, because the day as a whole was brilliantly fun.
Moral of the story: get on your bike and GET OUT THERE even if the weather isn’t as perfect as you’d like – you can still have a fun time in the rain. Also: don’t cycle down the A19. Just don’t.