This day was different. Every morning had sent shards of sunlight through the gaps in the curtains in our hotel room. But this morning there was nothing but gloom.
With the wife and boy still sleeping I went downstairs to grab a coffee and breakfast, which was eggs, tomato & a little ham. Sipping away at my coffee I checked out the weather – overcast, possible light rain.
So, family still in bed. Weather not great. Where’s my trainers?
I set out around 8-ish using my phone to guide me to the trail head of a hill called La Mola. The Every trail guide I was using had been mapped by a German hiker, so I couldn’t read how difficult or easy it might be – my german not being that great. Normally I research every hill I hike or hill run (that’s my inner scout at work – be prepared). But this time I’d just have to do my risk assessments on route…
Running was impossible. For a start, there was no route to follow, and the ground was too steep. After a 20 mins of climbing through rough ground I could start to pick out little cairns every so often. The rock is so hardy that it’s nearly impossible for feet to carve a path over time, so walkers have taken to marking the route with little cairns, about 20-40 metres apart.
Some advice about following cairns. They might not be the cairns you are looking for.
The further up I got the tougher it got, and I kept running into granny stoppers. At one point I had to stuff my water bottle into my shorts and do a spread-eagle traverse across a slab. This was not my type of hiking. I can do scrambling, if you define scrambling as putting your hands out to steady yourself or pull yourself up a step. When scrambling is defined as ‘not very dangerous rock climbing without ropes’, then I have a problem.
It was now getting a bit technical. Every time I stopped to take a breather, I had to plant my back against a rock, or crouch down – there were too many final options close to me.
I had set out hiking in trainers, a t-shirt, shorts, and was carrying just a phone and a waterbottle. Not exactly well-kitted out. And now I was feeling a bit exposed. The route was not possible to do in reverse, and looking up, it looked fairly tough. My heart rate was too high and I had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.
I lowered my centre of gravity (cowering, for want of a better word) and kept telling myself over and over not to panic, that I could do this, and I pushed on, taking my time on the rougher sections and calming myself whenever the trail gave way to a bit of flat.
The summit was eventually reached and my scraped knees were glad to be over it. Now it would be a long ridge run off the Mola massif and out to the headland before a last steep chicane, and a 5k dust run on a Landrover track.
The going was very rough indeed as the route was almost always over a pavement of vertical shards of razor sharp rock with deep, ankle-threatening crevices in between. It required 100% attention. I wouldn’t call it running – more like a game of frogger.
But as I progressed I started to gain a bit of bounce and swagger in my stride. Averting injury and getting past a few demons was giving me a feeling of wellbeing and that translated to my legs. I removed my shirt and started to have fun, easing myself into classic trail running mode – where you use every camber and twist to bounce off and get yourself airborne, clearing as much ground as possible with Tigger-like glee.
But, by the time I hit the land rover track I had a nagging pain in my knee and I realised I had used up the good will my body was prepared to give. It was giving up.
Round a few more bends I started to encounter the occasional walker, so I tried to look like I was running rather than struggling. But the dried blood streaking my dust-orange legs, my shredded trainers and my wobbly legs told the real story. I was done.
An older chap walking with his partner saw me coming towards them, and I reckon he could tell immediately what stage I was at. As I got closer he caught my eye, bent his knees and held both his fists out in parallel – body language for “Come on!”
No words, just a simple act of encouragement from one complete stranger to another, in the middle of nowhere. And it restored more than the bounce in my step.