Sunday 17 May 2015

Up and Down

It's not the Appalachian Trail, but it is a good day's walk and it trekked past our yard for much of yesterday.  "It" was the 2015 Blackstairs Walk which has happened every year since we've lived here.  It is about 30km in length and involves a cumulative climb of 1670m, which means a cumulative descent of 100m more as the walk starts at 150m and heads South toward the distant coast to wind up in a pub in Glynn which is 60m above sea level.  Many of the walkers camp on the green in St Mullins which is close to the tide-head of the River Barrow.: ie sea-level. The logistics are organised by the Wayfarer's Association: there are checkpoints and registration cards, so it is unlikely that anyone will fall into a drain and die on the mountain.  In return for this solicitous care, you-the-walker have to undertake to be fit enough, to start between 0730-0830 and finish before 1830 hrs.  If you cannot do 30km in 10hours you are not fit enough.  But it's not a dawdle: a relentless 3km/h including breaks, doesn't allow for endless admiration of the view or selfies with a cloudy backdrop.
When the girls were small they would occasionally bake some cookies and put them out in the lane on a tea-chest with an honesty box next door and raise a few shillings from weekend walkers.  I sometimes wonder if that is what got them both into the catering trade.  The first we knew about the Blackstairs Walk was one May morning when there was a disconcertingly large number of people coming off the mountain when it was more usual to find folks starting upwards.  The following year we filled a 25lt drum with the finest Knockroe Springwater and left it on a chair in the lane with a sign saying 'Free Water - Enjoy'.  About half of it was gone by the end of the day. After a few years of remembering to do this in a rather hit&miss fashion, the day of the walk was forecast to be broiling hot and the Wayfarers contacted us prior to ask if we could provide a water-stop. That year it was 27oC at lunchtime and the water was necessary. 7 or 8 years ago we extended the plumbing to a tap in the yard very close to the main gate.  That made everything easier; a plastic mug on a piece of string made it easier still.  I made a finger-post saying <water< and whacked that into the ground beside the lane, in case someone hadn't gotten the message.

We did the same-old-same-old this year and the first customers dropped by at 0930hrs!  That's pacing it to finish in less than 5 hours at a sustained 6km/h which is a good brisk walk on the flat.  I guess they yomp along on the downhills and make what speed they can going up.  They were dressed in shorts and runners each with a dinky black back-pack.  Over the next 3-4 hours a couple of hundred people drifted by and several dozen stopped in for water. A good few also decided to climb various of our gates to have a pee in the fields.  That wasn't quite what I'd offered; next year I'll direct them to the compost heap where their excess nitrogen will do more good.

I do find the commodification of walking a little tedious.  Time was when you'd put on a pair of boots, maybe cut an ash-plant to discourage bears, put a sandwich and an apple in a pocket and set off. There isn't a hill in Ireland that doesn't have water running off it somewhere except in the driest of Summers. People take far too much water anyway: it is not the Gobi Desert. That's why they are urinating all over our farm. Why would you carry an extra 3kg if you didn't have to?  The item I find most disturbing is the fashion for carrying the water in a bladder that slips into a special pocket of your ruck-sack: it comes with a sucky tube.  When filled with one of these absurd Tartrazine yellow energy drinks, it looks like nothing so much as the distal end of a catheter. Then there's the gaiters, the gortex ®, the walking pole (a commodified ash-plant really), another walking pole, sun-screen, dark-glasses, a compass, map and mobile phone, a wind-cheater, rain-proof over-trousers, a sweater, an aluminized bivvy bag, 250g of Kendal Mint Cake ®, a complete change of clothes, a hat and a feather boa.  I was joking about the feather boa. Bearing in mind our 10 y.o. Dau.I walked to the top of Mount Leinster and back barefoot, you might consider all this kit a bit excessive.

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