Since there was a medic available at the checkpoint, and for once we were camping nearby, I decided this morning to get my feet checked out, as they were pretty painful (a couple of black toenails falling off, and a number of blisters on the soles of my feet). I was surprised to be awarded only a 2/10 for foot damage. Given how much they hurt, I couldn’t even begin to imagine how much pain some people must have been in. I felt a bit of a heel (ha!) for making a fuss, but the medic put large amounts of tape on my feet, which was the main reason for me going to see her, and I felt reassured that nothing was going to fall off in the next few days. Today I thought a lot about injuries, having heard more stories from the medic about various people who’d already been airlifted out due to heart problems, broken bones, foot problems and all sorts. It struck me that maybe this actually was quite a tough challenge after all. On an exertion scale, I hadn’t found it too bad so far, although that’s not to say I hadn’t suffered an awful lot of pain with my shoulders and feet, and the conditions had made it far from a simple stroll, as you had to concentrate every inch of the way.
Around midday, the rain started again, and although it was never particularly heavy, it was that persistent heavy drizzle that just seems to go on forever and leaves you wet before you really know it. It coincided with a long stretch of boring open moorland perpetuated by bogs, and it felt relentless. It was also cold, and my windproof gloves were soon sodden and about as much use as wearing a teabag on my hands. I’d been looking forward to stopping for lunch at some point along the way, but with the cold and rain there was nothing for it but to push on until Checkpoint Kieron. At one point, a Fjallraven representative (who was also trekking the route) appeared out of the mist and offered us a boiled sweet. Amazing the things that lift your spirit temporarily. The last 3K seemed interminable, and I was getting hungrier and more exhausted by the minute, but eventually the sky ahead started to look a little brighter, and in my slightly delirious state I chanted to myself “Head for the light! Head for the light!” in an attempt to rally my spirits. It worked, and I soon started giggling to myself, feeling as if I were in a Monty Python sketch. Nevertheless, it was still a good hour before the rain finally eased and we found the light, so to speak.
We eventually crossed a metal bridge, and thankfully we could see the camp up ahead. But first a wooden hut appeared, comprising a much-needed loo. It was one of the finer varieties of long drop en route, with proper windows and no smell, even if lacking a loo roll and handwashing facilities (both of which I had with me, so no problem). I sat there for quite some time, just enjoying the view of the river through the trees, and the fact that I was finally warm, out of the wind, and sitting down in comfort. It took quite a lot of willpower to actually get up and put my soggy pack on again for the final 100 yards up the hill to the checkpoint.
And what a surprise awaited us at Kieron! A lady cooking pancakes, another brewing coffee, and an open fire around which weary wet travellers were huddled. The pancakes (4 enormous ones each!!) were laden with jam and whipped cream, and having had no lunch and it being mid-afternoon, I devoured them eagerly. Never has a pancake tasted so good, or felt more well deserved. Halfway through eating the pancakes, I suddenly remembered that I’d used the collapsible bowl I was eating them out of to pee in the previous night, having not wanted to venture out of the tent in torrential rain, and I tried to remember if I’d actually washed it out that morning. To be honest, I was past caring anyway at this point, as the pancakes tasted so good.
Still feeling cold despite the hot food and coffee, I put on my down jacket under my waterproof (it was still drizzling a little) and went over to the fire to warm up. There I was offered a slug of dubious Hungarian firewater from a stranger’s hip flask, and soon got chatting to a bunch of Belgian men about beards. Right back in that Monty Python sketch again. The day was so surreal that it barely surprised me when, after discussing the relative benefits of facial hair to keep one’s chin warm vs. the extra weight of the hair slowing one down (every gramme counts when trekking!), a Dutchman reached into his backpack, took out an electric shaver, and proceeded to remove his inch-long stubble standing over the fire. I’m not sure whether this was a direct result of me having mentioned that I only considered men with less than half an inch of facial hair as potential life partners, or worry about beard weight. Either way, I never saw him again.
All too soon, it was time to get going, and we pushed on for another couple of hours until we found a suitable campsite by the lake. For the first time during the trek, we actually arrived with enough time to relax a little after putting up the tents and cooking dinner. We could potentially have gone all the way to the finish that day, but one of our group had an injured knee, and in any case, there would have been nothing to do but hang around for an extra day once we got there. A couple of hardy souls went for a swim in the lake, more I think to prove their manliness than out of enjoyment, judging by the temperature of the water. This turned out to be rather foolhardy, as they then spent the next few hours shivering. Needless to say, I felt no need to prove my manliness, and every need to preserve my core body temperature. The remains of the rum (mine) and whisky (not mine) came out, and were duly finished, as this was our last night camping on the trek. With a beautiful dry evening (for once), we only retreated to our tents when it started getting too chilly and the alcohol had run out around 11pm.