I’m aiming to walk 1000 miles as part of training for my 1000-MILES EXPEDITION – join me if you like. It’s not a competition and there’s no time limit; it’s about getting out there and doing a bit more than we usually do. Walk, run, swim, cycle – whatever suits you. Each time, record your new miles using the form below, then click ‘View Results’ to see your running total and our collective miles (any problems, please email email@example.com). Good luck! Love, Cookie x
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- Tristan da Cunha
The time a farmer caught me trespassing
If you know me, you’ll know that I love places where there are no people. Especially when I’m walking. If I’m in a national park with miles of nothing around me, I can literally sniff out a human. Once I’ve sniffed them out I turn and flee in the opposite direction …
Dave and I were house sitting in a cottage by the sea. It was a cold, crisp morning and I was thrilled to find a handy, freshly-cut wheat field nearby to train in, which meant I didn’t have to walk along the cliff top and encounter … dun dun dunnnnnn … members of the general public.
I was making good progress; I’d walked about four miles in all when I spotted a truck hurtling over the field towards me.
“Oh shit! Farmer!”
The truck pulled to a halt beside me, scattering dirt over my boots, and for some reason I thought it was a good moment to adopt a Bridget Jones oh-aren’t-I-a-silly-billy kind of an air and put on a posh, high-pitched voice whilst at the same time trying to hold my stomach in and look like a hardcore adventurer. In reality I looked like Tweedledum on acid.
“I suppose it might appear to you that I’m trespassing on your property!” I blurted out, offering a half smile, half grimace so that he’d know instantly how seriously I was taking my crime.
“It would,” the farmer said.
“I’m soooooo sorry – I really don’t make a habit of this,” I assured him.
That was an out-and-out lie. I trespass wherever and whenever I can get away with it. I like breaking rules – you know this about me by now. I’m not talking about wandering around someone’s property in the middle of the night, or clambering over fences to explore well-kept lawns and flowerbeds; I’m talking about walking round gateless fields that may be out of bounds to anyone but the owner.
This was the first time I’d been caught red-handed, though. And my captor looked mightily pissed off.
“What are you doing?’ he asked. “I’ve been watching you. You’re just walking round and round and round. I don’t get it.”
“I’m sort of training.”
“Sort of training for what?”
“Well, the thing is, you see,” I said, taking a deep breath, “it’s always been my dream to walk to the South Pole but obviously I’m never going to be able to afford to do that or even be the kind of person who could do it even if I did manage to scrape the money together because I’m not hardcore enough and I know I’m not hardcore enough and anyway I can’t ski and I’m crap at being part of a team on account of being so selfish and bloodyminded, so I’ve gone and booked a flight to Iceland to walk 1000 miles solo this winter because it’s the closest I’m ever going to get to the feeling of what it’s actually like to do a proper expedition like walking to the South Pole and experience exposure and exhaustion and self-reliance and … cold … but first I’ve got to lose a shit ton of weight and get as fit as possible so that I don’t die in a blizzard while I’m trying to muster the strength to put my tent up after walking twenty sodding miles but, as usual, I’ve gone and left it all too late because I’m a lazy cow, have no belief in myself and look, I’m still the size of a bloody rhino so I’m starting to take the training seriously now and today I’ve found myself walking round and round … your … beautiful field … and …”
The farmer stared at me in stunned silence as my voice trailed off. I couldn’t help but notice shortly after that he was eyeing me up and down.
I screwed up my face and broke out into a nervous grin. “I’m really fat, aren’t I?”
The farmer shook his head quickly in confusion. “Why aren’t you walking on the cliff top like everyone else?”
“I hate people,” I said. “I mean, I don’t hate people but I hate people, do you know what I mean?”
“I hate being around people when I’m walking – I mean training.”
“It’s five-thirty in the morning,” the farmer said, looking at his watch. “Nobody’s stupid enough to be out yet. Except you.”
“I know but – ”
“The cliff’s got views of the Isle of Wight. What do you want to be walking round a field for?”
“Cos I hate people,” I said. “I think I’ve already explained that. And anyway I’ve been to the Isle of Wight.”
The farmer looked baffled and I felt sorry for him. He couldn’t hope to understand my ridiculous mind. He switched his engine off, shuffled his body round to face me and squeezed both elbows out of the truck window. His eyes narrowed as he studied my face carefully. He was either going to kill me or ask me to marry him.
A moment of silence passed between us until the farmer’s gaze broke and he sighed heavily.
“Thing is,” he said, “you hate people. I hate trespassers. Specially tourists.”
“Oh, I’m not a tourist,” I swooned. “Oh no, far from it! I’m a house sitter. Well, I’m a photographer actually but we’re house sitting just down the lane. We do it for free. We don’t have a home, you see. We’re not homeless though. We live in other people’s houses. We’re too broke to afford rent and to be honest even if we could afford rent we wouldn’t actually rent again because we used to rent and it seems like a colossal waste of money when we can live for free in gorgeous houses that we couldn’t afford to rent for even a day and anyway we love being on the move all the time because we – ”
“What the fuck do you mean ‘walk to the South Pole’?”
“I said, what the fuck do you mean ‘walk to the South Pole’?”
I broke out into what might only be described as a masculine throat rattle – a deep cackle of embarrassment. Terribly unfeminine and not my proudest moment. I might as well have farted too.
“It’s been my dream since I was about five years old.”
“I want to be an adventurer.”
“I don’t know.”
“You must know.”
“I don’t. Why do you want to be a farmer?”
“Well, what do you want to be then?”
I wasn’t sure whether to cackle insanely or nod compassionately. I did both.
“Being a farmer’s shite,” he explained.
An awkward moment passed between us as he sighed again.
“Well, it could be worse,” I said. “At least you spend your days outside playing with your cows and sheep and pigs and stuff.”
The farmer raised his eyebrows. “I’m a wheat farmer.”
The throat rattle threatened to come again but I kept it down by coughing delicately instead.
“Well, you could be stuck in an office with people you hate. Think about that.”
“Ah, but then I wouldn’t be here to catch trespassers, would I?”
“Good point,” I sniffed.
Another awkward moment passed between us.
“How long have you been a farmer then?” I said, widening my eyes and hoping to get him on side.
“Since I was thirteen.”
“How old are you now?”
“Well you look happy enough,” I said. “That is, you do look a bit on the grumpy side this morning but I’m guessing that’s my fault.”
“You guessed right.”
The elbows withdrew suddenly and the farmer opened the door of his truck. I grew a little nervous. Do farmers kill and eat people who trespass on their property? I really hoped not. He got out, slammed the truck door closed, leaned against it and stared at me as if I was a mysterious artefact, pursing his lips and folding his arms against the chilly morning air. His breath hovered in the sunlight, which was turning golden as the sun peeped over his shoulder. I hoped sincerely that he wasn’t about to make a pass at me. I didn’t want to have to get brutal.
“The South Pole, eh?”
“I know, it’s ridiculous – you don’t have to say it.”
“An adventurer, eh?”
“Yeah but I’ll never make it. I’m crap. I know that. But I’ve got to at least try, haven’t I? That’s why I’m going to Iceland. I want to do something epic that I’m probably not capable of doing.”
The farmer’s eyes wandered over my face then over my shoulder to the field beyond. For a moment it seemed that he was lost in a memory. His eyes glistened again and he looked to the ground, shifting his stance.
“I admire you,” he said quietly. “I never got to live my dreams.”
“Why?” I felt suddenly protective towards this man and my heart ached for his obvious regret.
“I was never brave enough to,” he said, his eyes lifting to meet mine. “But you are.”
“I’m not brave,” I said, feeling my nose tingle and wondering if this would be a wholly inappropriate moment to let out a sneeze. “It’s just that it’s inside me, calling me, you know? I can’t ignore it.”
“No. I don’t suppose you can.”
I rubbed my nose and sniffed as the farmer drew a sharp breath through his own nose and reached into his back pocket to pull out a wallet. I couldn’t help but wonder if he was about to ask me for sexual favours. Unlikely, given the circumstances.
“Take this,” he said, retrieving a £10 note and pressing it firmly into my hand, “to start your South Pole fund.”
I was staggered – totally taken aback. I burst into tears before flinging my arms round his neck and hugging him so tightly that he started his own throat rattle. A spontaneous reaction to a spontaneous gesture. At one point I kissed him full on the ear, which pleased neither of us very much, to be honest.
“I can’t believe – you don’t have to – I just – thank you so much! I don’t know what to say!”
“There aren’t many like you in this world,” the farmer said, pushing his wallet back into his pocket and allowing a faint smile to creep across his lips.
“I’ll probably die in Iceland,” I said. “I really am that crap.”
“Doesn’t matter though, does it?” he said. “You’ve got the guts to try.”
I cursed the tears that were now flooding my cheeks but somehow it didn’t matter that I was blubbering in front of a stranger. He understood me in that moment and we’d forever share that connection.
“So, can I use your field to train in, then?” I grinned cheekily, getting ready to give him another hug.
“Nope,” he said, climbing back into his truck and starting it up. “If you’re brave enough to walk round Iceland you can face a few tourists. Now piss off.”
He turned his truck in a slow, wide circle, tipping his hat and winking at me as he began making his way out of the field and onto the lane. I winked back, nodded and allowed a laugh to echo after him before my smile faded along with the sound of his engine. A mixture of sadness and elation enveloped me; sadness that he wasn’t brave enough to go for his dreams and elation that I am brave enough to go for mine.
I’m full of bright ideas, me!
“The only sure way to avoid making mistakes is to have no new ideas”
It was 5am when I woke up suddenly, sat bolt upright, prodded Dave’s cheek and whispered, “I’m going to walk round Iceland!”
“Good,” he grunted. “Let me know when you’re back.”
And that was it.
I suppose it’s quite fitting that the idea came to me in an actual dream, given that I’m a dreamer. A dream born out of a dream, you could say.
I’ve obsessed about being an adventurer from the age of five, when I would sneak out of bed in the early hours, grab my dad’s climbing books off the shelves and pour over black-and-white photographs of rather serious-looking men. By torchlight I’d explore the pages, holding my breath and widening my eyes at the sight of cracked lips framing gaping mouths, icicles hanging off beards, nostrils blocked by frozen snot, shoulders weighed down by ropes, goggles reflecting vast, frozen, inhospitable terrains. I’d imagine what their eyes had seen, what their muscles had felt, what strength they had needed to draw upon to successfully complete their expeditions.
All I wanted was to be like those men and to one day have a photo of my own face peeking out of a huge expedition jacket with a blizzard screaming all around.
All I needed was to train myself to be hardcore. And to grow a beard.
Sadly, I haven’t managed to train myself to be at all hardcore, which is severely disappointing. Less disappointing is that I’ve not yet managed to grow a beard (though there are signs of that happening as I slide down the wrong side of middle age).
In all seriousness, though, I’m lazy, have no stamina, lack self-belief and have appalling willpower at the best of times.
Hardly the stuff adventurers are made of.
What I do have, though, is tenacity. Perhaps that’s all I need for now …