A month ago if you asked me what we’d be doing on scheduled Day 12 of our Wales Coast hike, I would have told you, “hiking, obviously.” What are we actually doing on Day 12? We’re celebrating Kevin’s birthday, drinking coffee, and planning to take ourselves off the Wales Coast Path.
So what happened?
Short version: We quit.
Long version: Read on.
We have both gone backpacking and hiking before. We know what to bring and what not to bring. We know how to adjust our packs and what the “ideal” weight should be (30% of your total body weight). We know that good, quality, comfortable hiking boots makes a world of difference. And yet? We brought too much stuff, electronics included, our packs were well over 30% of our body weight, and my hiking boots suck. Put all that together and you have a recipe for disaster. We picked up injuries early and even after some rest, they still bother us at times. This post is really just a cautious tale, with our final suggestions and thoughts near the end.
I’m not a crier. I don’t get very emotional or cry often and I rarely cry when I’m hurt. To give you some insight into this, this past August I gashed my shin pretty deeply. To spare you the more gruesome details, I could see bone and it required both internal and external stitches. Never once did I shed a tear.
I’ve cried three times on the hike thus far. My hiking boots were not up to this hike at all. I wore through the insole the first day and we could see a small metal plate placed in the heel. At the end of the first day, every step felt like someone was stabbing my feet. Just two miles from our stopping point, I was walking very gingerly, crying, and not caring at all what the cars passing by thought. We thought that maybe it was just my feet “breaking in,” so on we went on the second day. The pain started earlier this day. I limped along and cried both in frustration and pain. On Day 4, I finally got new inserts. These helped, but my feet were so beaten up by this point it took until Day 10 for me to walk with no pain in my feet. On Day 6 my hip started to hurt. I was on the verge of tears again this night. I was upset that my feet were healing, but it seemed like my body still wanted to fall apart. It felt like the tendonitis that tends to flare up in my ankle every so often (ironically, it hasn’t yet this trip). Usually with tendonitis I use the RICE technique and it’s manageable in three to five days. With our schedule, it just wasn’t plausible to rest for that long of a period. So I did my best to power through, at the sacrifice of our mileage time (we were lucky if we were clocking in at 30 min/mile).
Kevin’s pain was located in his back and shoulders. At first we both thought that it was just typical soreness associated with backpacking. When it got to the point where he was in severe pain just lifting his arms above his head, I began to worry. He kept insisting that he was fine, I think because we were already moving at a snail’s pace each day because of me, he didn’t want to make it any worse. Day 9 came and by the end of the day, he was having sharp pains in his upper back. He couldn’t easily lift or even let down his pack. That’s not “normal” backpacking pain.
Day 9 had us reaching Valley, a small town right off Holyhead Island. We were going to base ourselves in Valley and do some slack packing (day hiking, hiking without our packs, whatever you’d like to call it) to complete the island. Day 10 we set off for the first bit of Holyhead – 15 miles. We were making great time – loads faster than what we usually shuffled through with our packs. Our knees hurt a little, but it was such an immense relief to not be weighed down by our packs. We made a quick stop for lunch in Holyhead and that’s where Kevin started yawning. I looked up and he looked exhausted. Dark shadows and heavy bags under his eyes exhausted. We started talking about how we were both feeling, mentally and physically about the rest of our journey. It culminated on us counting down from three to declare “yes” we’d continue on the Wales Coast hike or “no” we would find an alternative. Three…Two…One…No. We looked at each other a bit surprised, but with relief obvious on both of our faces.
We talked more and realized that, sore and tired bodies aside, neither of us were enjoying the hike. So much of our hike thus far had been alongside of or weaving through towns. We were never very much out in the open. When we go hiking the Western North Carolina and Southern Virginia, we go deep on the woods. No one is around for miles and it’s peaceful. We’re out in nature and that’s what we love – what we wanted and what we envisioned for the Wales Coast. We have been told by multiple people that the Isle of Anglesey and Pembrokshire Coast are the prettiest places on the Welsh Coast. To tell the truth, I was disappointed with the Isle of Anglesey. The coast is pretty but it’s still so much concrete or asphalt paths and dissecting through towns. Often we were hiking in silence, both of us just pushing to the end of that day’s hike. We didn’t realize it, but we were both thinking similar things like, “if I can just finish today, I can lie down,” or “in three miles, we can take a break,” or “if I just scream in my head, it’ll help with the pain/frustration/exhaustion.” We were not in the right mental space to be on the Wales Coast Path. We weren’t enjoying even the nature parts. That’s not how it’s supposed to be.
So we stopped.
You can think what you like. You can call us quitters and think we wimped out. We think that too. We’re extremely disappointed in ourselves and this wasn’t our ideal result at all. At the end of the day though, we weighed the pros and cons and realized it was much better to be in a better mental space and enjoy day hikes than to be miserable and upset during the rest of our Wales Coast hike. It also isn’t worth beating up our bodies to the point where we won’t be in good shape to continue the rest of our travels.
So is this a no to the Appalachian Trail at some point? No. We know it will be more strenuous than a lot of what we encountered on the Wales Coast, but we’ll be in the woods and mountains, doing the hiking that we love. Our packs will be significantly less heavy and my boots will be much better.
What’s next? We’re back in Bangor for a few days, then working our way down to hike some in Snowdonia, then the Pembrokeshire Coast. We’ll be hiking with just a day pack and will be able to choose paths that take us more out in nature.
Will we ever come back to the Wales Coast Path? Yes. I think we’re both too stubborn and prideful to let this get the best of us. It’ll be some years, but we’ll be back better prepared.
So what should you do to avoid the same result? Get good hiking boots. Sure our packs are too heavy (more on that in a moment), but I think we could have gotten much further in our hike if my boots hadn’t been absolutely useless. They should be fine with the day hikes we have planned, but they’ll be getting chucked in June. You also should choose: do you want to travel or backpack? Even if you’re trying to be a carry-on traveler and take the minimum amount of clothing and accessories you think you’ll need, this will still be the wrong way to pack your backpack if you plan on doing any long-term hiking. We have the wrong amount and wrong type of clothing (I have skirts with me that I haven’t touched while on the Wales Coast Path) and too many electronics (laptop, Kindles, headphones) for backpacking. It added on unnecessary bulk and weight to our packs. Do not forget to include rest days. Taking a rest day every week, if not more frequently, is smart. You can rest your body and mind and start the next day much fresher. We didn’t account for any rest days and the few we had made a world of difference, if even for the first few miles the next day.
We’ll still be in Wales for about another month, then exploring Brighton and London for a few weeks before making a quick trip home and then back off to Europe with someone special in tow for a while!
Being off the trail means I’ll also be able to get back to editing more consistently, so hopefully I can get on some sort of schedule. Fingers crossed…