My 40th birthday feels like it’s been looming for 3 years, advancing like a crawling freight train of melodramatic midlife mediocrity. I’ve never been excited about my birthdays. To the contrary, I’ve spent most of them downplaying any significance and, more often than not, simply not enjoying the time. Despite being surrounded by my best friends, my 30th, as I remember it, was a particularly morose affair. I just don’t enjoy celebrating my birthday.
40 though. It seems different and significant but I can’t explain why. The first of my parents’ birthdays I can recall is my father’s 40th. I was 5. There was a cake shaped like a woman’s chest. Maybe there’s something there (the memory of the birthday, not the boob cake); that time in your life when you begin to identify parallels in your own and your parents’ life; when memory of your parents’ life and your own begin to overlap.Whatever the deep-seated psychology, I’ve made a decision to celebrate my 40th with intention; to chase enchantment in a bid to banish those useless feelings of self-pity that I usually allow to cloud my attitude this time of year. To that end, I will be taking another walk across England. Quite literally this time. Wainright’s Coast to Coast Walk, the most popular long-distance footpath in England, is a 192 mile long trail that begins on the coast of the Irish Sea in St. Bees, up the steep tarn-dotted fells of the Lake District, through the tranquil hidden valleys of the Yorkshire Dales, and over the heathered-moorlands of the North York Moors, terminating at the coast of the North Sea in Robin Hood’s Bay.
I plan to walk for 12 days, with a rest day in the middle. At nearly 200 miles, the path is almost twice as far as my longest previous walk. The hike through the Lake District is particularly grueling with abrupt elevation ascents and descents.It’s going to be a challenge. As my guidebook puts it:
I’m not helping matters by attempting to walk in two fewer days than the minimum recommended days. Despite training for the walk, I’m concerned that I’ve bitten off a little more than I can comfortably chew. But hey, is there really a better excuse to prove my vigor than a midlife milestone? It beats buying a Harley.
…the most common complaint we’ve received about this book, particularly from North American readers, is that it doesn’t emphasize how tough it can be. So let us be clear: the Coast to Coast is a tough trek, particularly if taken in one go.
Alfred Wainwright, celebrated fell walking artist, author, and trailblazer of the Coast to Coast walk, has a lot to say about the trail. A notorious introvert, Wainwright proffered this bit of advice on traveling with companions:
“Preferably go alone and do it off your own bat, for it is the solitary walker, always, who most closely identifies himself with his surroundings, who observes as he goes along, who really feels the satisfaction of achievement “
Who am I to argue with a legendary walker? This will be another solitary adventure.If your May is slow, come stroll sea to foggy sea with me. Thank you for all your comments on Facebook, they continue to be a source of encouragement when solitude crosses the threshold into loneliness.
I’ll leave you with the words of another legendary pipe-lipped walker:
I shall not keep you long. I have called you all together for a Purpose… Indeed, for Three Purposes! First of all, to tell you that I am immensely fond of you all, and that [forty] years is too short a time to live among such excellent and admirable [poeple].
I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve….
Secondly, to celebrate my birthday…
Thirdly and finally, I wish to make an announcement: I regret to announce that — though, as I said, [forty] years is far too short a time to spend among you — this is the end. I am going. I am leaving now. Good-bye!