Walking for a New Camp

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In just a few weeks, I will begin walking the 84-mile Hadrian’s Wall Path in Northern England, along with 11 other dads. We are raising money to open a new Camp Kesem chapter at the University of Maryland in honor of our friend Oren Miller, who passed away last year. Camp Kesem is a free summer camp for kids that have been impacted by a parent’s cancer.

At Kesem, each child is given a special name tag during their stay. I have seven of these blank tags to bring with me on our week-long hike. For each day of the hike, I would like to wear the name of someone you know who has battled cancer or is currently fighting cancer.

In order for me to wear the name, donate at least $100 through our dads4kesem.org fundraising site. Make sure you list in the comments the name you want me to wear, or send a message to me directly. I will take pictures and video during the hike while wearing the name tag, and will honor your loved one’s memory all that day.

Thanks for any donation you can make. It will be greatly appreciated by the kids who get to spend a week at Camp Kesem.

The Walking Dads

Hadrian's Wall

“Bloody hell!”

That’s what my British friend exclaimed after I informed him of my plan to walk the Hadrian’s Wall Path for a third time this summer.

He thought I was insane, to once again take on the 84 mile trail in the north of England, to suffer the blisters and twisted ankles, the rain and rough terrain, the sleepless nights in barns and hostels.

Yes, I would have to be a little crazy do it a third time.

Or, maybe, I would have a very, very good reason.

And that’s exactly what I have. A very good reason to pull on my boots, fly across the Atlantic, travel to the wilds of Northumberland, and walk in the footsteps of Roman Centurions as I did the first time in 2010, and again in 2014 with my son’s Boy Scout troop.

The reason this time is Oren Miller.

2631607_55e4b2017c72bOren was a dad blogger, but he is most remembered for establishing and maintaining the largest community of dad bloggers in the world, via Facebook. His efforts to bring together writers of all kinds who want to be a voice in support of modern fatherhood has paid off with a cohesive group of dads who support each other and support changes in how dads are viewed and treated.

Oren passed away in 2015 after a long battle with cancer. Since then, Oren has been honored for not only the work he did to support dad bloggers, but also for the beautiful and poignant words he wrote for his children during the time that he fought for his life.

And now, one more well-deserved honor for Oren.

Camp Kesem, the only national organization that supports children through and beyond their parent’s cancer, will be opening a new chapter of their summer camp at the University of Maryland in Oren’s name. It will join 80 other locations around the country which provide a free camping experience to over 6,000 children touched by a parent’s cancer. These week-long camps are run by passionate college student leaders and gives kids a peer-support network that understands their unique needs, builds confidence and strengthens their communication skills.

It’s an amazing organization, doing real good for children affected by a parent’s cancer. And all completely funded by generous donations from individuals and corporate support.

So, what does this have to do with my long walk?

12 well-known dad bloggers, writers and influencers, including myself, have taken on the challenge of walking the Hadrian’s Wall Path this July to call attention to and raise funds for Camp Kesem. All of the money that our group raises during this effort will go directly to launch the new Camp Kesem chapter at the University of Maryland, which happens to be the alma mater of Oren Miller and his wife, Beth.

It won’t just be a dozen dads hiking that trail. As one of the group, Brent Almond, recently commented, “This is a community effort – backed by so many members of the mom and dad blogging community. There may be 12 of us going on the walk. But there are literally thousands of us committed to the journey.”

Please be a part of this journey by visiting our Camp Kesem fundraising page, and making a donation. Or by helping us publicize the page. Or simply follow along as a bunch of dads take a very long walk for an amazing cause. Over the next four months, I will have much to discuss as we make preparations for the trip.

Again, our website and fundraising page is www.Dads4Kesem.org

Walking the Wall, Again

Walking the Wall, Again

It was a little over a year ago that I spent a week walking the width of England, following the National Trail that runs along Hadrian’s Wall.

It was a memorable adventure that raised a lot of money for charity. But as I hiked those scenic crags, it always felt like something was missing. I soon realized that I wanted my family to be there with me to experience the ancient Roman wall and the breathtaking English countryside.

Almost a year later, I was able to share the walk with my wife and kids. Well, maybe not the entire 91 miles. In fact, we just walked the best bits of the wall. 5 miles of it in total.

Oh, and this time I left home the stiff boots and overweight backpack.

We started out at Birdoswald Fort, touring the museum there while we waited out an early morning rain shower. After the sun appeared, we walked east to the village of Gilsland, where the kids rejoiced over an ice cream shop.

From there, a short bus ride deposited us at Housesteads Fort, a dazzling Roman site which includes one of the best preserved latrines from nearly 2000 years ago.

Roman latrines

You wouldn’t think we could get excited over an old army latrine, but it was kind of cool to see where the Centurions did their business.

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Idaho Dad Walking – Day 5 & 6

Walking across it wasn't easy

All good things must come to an end. And that would include the summary of my walk across England for charity.

The last two days of the walk were something of a letdown, at least with the scenery. The landscape had flattened out and the ancient wall was far behind us.

Day 5 began in the usual farm pastures, dodging cow patties and friendly ponies. The map showed 16 miles of Hadrian’s Wall Path ahead of us, but the trail looked reasonably flat most of the way into the city of Carlisle – our stop for the night.

Mind the pony

16 miles earlier in the week had me worried, but not now. After five days, and nearly 60 miles, of walking, I was starting to feel mentally confident and physically strong.

Also, my legs were swelling up, so I couldn’t feel them.

Everyone was looking strong that morning, and I quickly fell in with the usual crowd of slow walkers. Only, we were now the not-so-slow walkers. Our pace felt a little faster.

A freshly mowed path

My group was Arjan, Sherry, Steve, Ellie, and Jo, with occasional glimpses of Richard and Catherine. It was nice to have them to walk with, as the scenery wasn’t holding my attention. At the end of the day, I was shocked to see that I had snapped only 32 photos along the trail. Most other days I had taken over a hundred.

I’d love to write about the first ten miles of Day 5, but nothing about it really stood out. Cows, horses, and farms are pretty much all that come to mind.

I visited with Arjan much of the way, and learned more about Warhammer than I ever knew before.

A lovely country cottage

Soon the path was taking us through the suburbs of Carlisle, and we found ourselves literally walking through people’s yards. I imagine some of those folks weren’t too happy to learn there would be a national trail running through their backyard when the path was made official in 2003.

A few land owners have taken advantage of the situation by setting up snack shacks that work under the honor system. One of them was quite luxurious, with a toilet, picnic table, refrigerated drinks, and even a few souvenirs.

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Idaho Dad Walking – Day 4

Further up and further in

Day 4 of my walk across England was a curious day, filled with pleasant surprises and strange encounters.

It was also the day we had to make a deadline.

That night we would be staying in the village of Greenhead, which was only 8 miles away. Sounds like a nice, leisurely stroll, right? Unfortunately, that would turn Day 5 into a 20-mile death march.

So, in order to balance out the mileage, we would be walking right past that night’s accommodations in Greenhead and continue another four miles down the path to the village of Banks, where a bus would be picking us up at precisely 4:30pm to take us back to Greenhead. It would also return us to Banks in the morning so we wouldn’t miss out on a single step along the Hadrian’s Wall Path.

With that 4:30 deadline in mind, several slow walkers conferred over maps and breakfast cereal, deciding it would be best to start down the trail early. You know, in case of wrong turns, twisted ankles, or pagan abductions.

Oh, and by “several slow walkers” I really mean Martin and me.

Above Winshields Farm Camp

The steep climb from Winshields Farm Camp back to the wall path was invigorating, and it felt good to be ahead of the pack, even if I did feel a slight tinge of guilt over not helping take down tents.

Martin and I were determined not to miss that bus.

At the summit above the farm, I stopped for a breather and to take pictures of the countryside. Nearby sheep were mocking me with their nimble footwork on the rocky crags.

Hadrian's Wall Sheep

It was a minute, maybe two, of snapping photos and admiring the view, and then I turned back around to continue on the trail.

And Martin was gone!

It was deja vu all over again.

I was perplexed for a moment, and then I thought maybe he had simply picked up the pace and was over the next rise.

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Idaho Dad Walking – Day 3

Climbing the wall at Sycamore Gap

Day 3 of my walk across England was the day the scenery took away my aches and pains, as well as my breath.

The 12 miles between Walwick and Winshields featured some of the most rugged terrain we covered during our week on the Hadrian’s Wall Path.

Looking at pictures ahead of time, I thought it would be a tough day of strenuous hiking.

But as I walked with the wall at my side, frequently letting my hand brush along those 2000-year-old stones, something funny happened.

I couldn’t feel my legs.

No, they weren’t going numb. That would come at the end of the walk.

Views that were almost better than ibuprofen

Apparently, my brain found enough inspiration in the view, and the history, and the beautiful blue sky, to feed my muscles with all the endorphins they would need to turn that day’s long walk into something of a leisurely stroll.

But it wasn’t easy.

For one thing, I was still carrying a 30-pound backpack. And I was still somewhat sleep deprived.

Also, I started the day alone at the back. Far enough back, in fact, that I took a wrong turn near the Roman fort of Brocolitia and found myself way off the path, walking through a muddy pasture that threatened to suck the boots right off my feet. The cows and sheep also looked slightly sinister, as if they had set a trap for me by switching the path signs.

I climbed over a farmer’s wall and headed for higher ground, where I could see, off in the distance, the familiar sight of multi-colored backpacks bobbing up and down along the trail.

After that brief, early morning mis-step, the rest of the day was a joy.

Slow walkers rule!

I quickly caught up with my regular pack of slow walkers. Arjan, Sherry, Steve, Ellie, and Jo were my companions for the rest of the day.

The path began to feel more remote as we left the farms and roads behind us and started climbing the first of many steep crags. With names like Sewingshields, Housesteads, and Hotbanks, the summits of these crags afforded us sweeping views of Hadrian’s Wall as it snaked across the landscape.

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Idaho Dad Walking – Day 2

Or maybe Idaho Dad Sitting?

Day 2 of my walk across England was memorable for many reasons.

It was the day Hadrian’s Wall made its first significant appearance. I was so impressed by this marvel of ancient Roman engineering that I had to just sit myself down upon it in reverence.

Or maybe I was just tired.

That second day was also the longest of the entire week. It was supposed to be 16 miles, but some walkers figured it was closer to 18. Whatever the distance, I was on the trail for close to 9 hours.

And that doesn’t include the two-hour tea break!

Day 2 started off well, with the happy realization that my legs still worked. I seemed to have recovered from the first day of the walk. The pack was still heavy, but my spirit was light.

We left the hostel as a group, but very quickly separated into sub-groups of fast, medium, and slow walkers. I found my partner in slowness, Martin, and we plodded along together through the increasingly beautiful countryside.

A green and pleasant walk

I saw no need to hurry. The wall wasn’t going anywhere.

We weren’t too far along the path from Heddon-on-the-Wall to Walwick before we’d lost sight of all other walkers. That’s when you start to worry and think maybe you’re off the trail. Or maybe there was a change in plans, and they’ve all decided to head north for Scotland.

I watched for bootprints in the mud, or bent stalks of wheat. Some kind of sign that others had been along here before us.

That’s when we saw the creepy family of Scooby-Doos arranged on the side of the path.

Zoinks!

What were they doing here? What was it all about?

I imagined some Children of the Corn scenario, where devil-eyed toddlers would drag me into the wheat to be sacrificed to He Who Walks Behind The Rows.

Or maybe I would find myself locked up by a pagan cult in a giant Wicker Dog, burned alive to appease the gods of Hanna-Barbera.

The mind plays tricks when you’re tired and alone.

And, gulp, ALONE!

Martin was nowhere to be seen. Just like the song, I looked around and he was gone.

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Idaho Dad Walking – Day 1

The Hadrian's Wall Path sign that we came to know and love.

Finally, the first official day of the walk had arrived.

I had awakened from my 12-hour slumber with a new energy and enthusiasm. The hotel’s full English Breakfast never tasted better, and I just couldn’t help but smile as my optimism for the day’s long walk grew.

Then I met fellow walker Martin. The popular Irish blogger had a case of the jitters and, as we started talking about what the first day would entail, I slowly came back down to earth.

I was still optimistic, just not unrealistically so. It would set the tone for the entire week of the walk, and probably saved me from the overly high expectations of that first morning.

A short train ride later, we were a part of the crowd at Wallsend, the eastern trailhead of the Hadrian’s Wall Path.

34 of us had gathered to walk for The Joseph Salmon Trust, and it was a heady feeling to see that large group chomping at the bit to head out on the 84-mile trail.

In ancient times, Wallsend was home to the Roman fort Segedunum, which protected the eastern end of Hadrian’s Wall near the banks of the River Tyne. We walked past Segedunum as we started down the trail, and I couldn’t help but think of the song by Sting, “All This Time,” with its lyrics: “And their empire crumbled, ’til all that was left were the stones the workmen found.”

Sting was talking about this very spot in Wallsend, where he himself was born and raised.

It would be the last solid evidence of Hadrian’s Wall that we’d see for awhile.

The bridges of Newcastle

The walk along the river was unremarkable until we arrived back in Newcastle. And then it was a little disheartening to be passing right by the very hotel I had just left that morning.

On a journey like this, it’s extremely gratifying to be able to look both behind and forward to see the definite progress of the trail. So, when you look up to see the bridges, buildings and landmarks that you’d been checking out just a few hours before, it plays tricks with your mind. You want to stop and check your map to see if you’ve been walking in circles.

We moved on through the city. The walkers were slowly starting to spread out as people became comfortable with their pace. Faces were becoming more familiar to me, especially those of my fellow slow walkers, with whom I would spend most of the week leisurely tromping through the countryside.

I like to think that we weren’t really slow. We were just enjoying the walk so much that we wanted it to last longer.

Soon after leaving the heart of Newcastle, our surroundings became greener and more rural. We saw farms and livestock. We were not stepping in poo yet, so those first cows and sheep were endearing.

Stopping for lunch, I learned a lesson. I had no lunch. Thinking that the mounds of eggs, sausage, and toast at breakfast would fuel me through the day, I hadn’t bothered to pick up anything to take on the trail.

But suddenly I was hungry. I made a brief plea to the Roman Gods for sustenance along their wall, when out of the sky dropped a chicken sandwich in plastic wrap.

Wow, talk about “Ask and you shall receive.”

It turned out to be a gift from fellow walker Clair, who was smart enough to bring extras.

It’s amazing how delicious a chicken sandwich can taste after walking 7 or 8 miles with a 30-pound pack on your back.

The first of many stiles we would cross.

The rest of the day was spent walking through fields and trees, up steep dirt roads, and through picturesque English villages. The 15 miles wasn’t bad at all, surprising after the 5 miles of the pre-walk nearly did me in.

I spent those miles getting to know the other slow walkers. Some of them had done just minimal training for this walk. Throughout the 6-day walk, they suffered blisters, muscle spasms, and twisted ankles, but on that first day everyone finished strong. We were pushed along by the high of just being there, of finally starting this journey that we’d been talking about for up to a year.

I may have finished strong, but I learned another valuable lesson. 15 miles builds up a lot of thirst. More than the two liters I had with me.

By the time I strolled into our hostel in the town of Heddon-on-the-Wall, I had what the beer ads might describe as “a manly thirst.”

Now, I don’t drink beer. Can’t stand the stuff.

But when I entered the hostel and was handed a cold can of John Smith’s Bitter, I chugged it like a frat boy on spring break.

John Smith's Bitter for a thirsty man.

I can now safely say that I can’t stand the British stuff either. But it did quench my thirst.

That first night of the walk, we stayed at the Houghton North Farm Bunkhouse, a clean and comfortable hostel that was probably the nicest of the group accomodations we had booked during the week.

For dinner, we walked into town to The Swan Pub, where I was introduced to both Crabbie’s Ginger Beer and Yorkshire Pudding.

At first, I mistook the Yorkshire Pudding for a slightly burnt dinner roll. I was about to cut it in half and spread butter on it when a Brit walker patiently showed me how to smother it with gravy to eat with my roast beef and vegetables.

British Pub Food

That overflowing plate of food was one of the most delicious meals I’ve ever eaten. Like the chicken sandwich earlier in the day, much of the savory goodness of that meal was due to extreme hunger after a long day of burning calories. Still, I’m now ready to fix a Yorkshire Pudding of my own, and to teach my kids how to eat it properly.

Walking back to the hostel in the cool night air, it felt good to be finished with that first day. It had mostly gone well, and I was relieved to know that I could walk 15 miles without falling apart.

Coming soon: Day 2 – The longest day ever! Plus, Freddy Krueger joins the walk.

Idaho Dad Walking – Day 0

Walkers on the beach at Tynemouth

Okay, here we go. It’s time for a full accounting of my recent walk across England.

Or, at least, a semi-coherent accounting of 89 miles with a 30-pound backpack and not enough water.

The adventure began with a short pre-walk, which is why this first day doesn’t officially count among the 6 days of the walk. One of the walkers had the grand idea to meet up on the beach at Tynemouth, a good 5 miles from the actual start of the Hadrian’s Wall Path, for a little Sunday afternoon warm-up. Just so we could say we really did walk from one coast to the other. About half of the 34 walkers were able to arrive a day early to participate in this easy trek from Tynemouth to Wallsend.

I’ll call it Day Zero. Or maybe it should be known as Day Less Than Zero.

I’ll have to back up a few hours to explain why.

The night before, I was in London worrying over a suitcase full of souvenirs I’d picked up for myself and the kids at the various museums I’d been to visit. I was packing and re-packing to avoid damaging any of these little books and trinkets. By 2am, I had things wedged together just right and could get some sleep.

Four hours later, I was up and out of my B&B for one last walk around the neighborhood, including a 10-minute stroll to Buckingham Palace. An appropriate place to be on the morning of the 4th of July, I thought.

Facing east, the palace was brilliantly lit up by the morning sun, so I lingered with my camera, eventually finding another tourist to take my picture. I even wished the policemen at the gates a “Happy 4th of July.”

Idaho Dad at Buckingham Palace

Whatever good feelings I had just then were masking three serious problems: sleep deprivation, dehydration, and jet lag. All three would soon rear their ugly heads. But for a moment, I felt ready to walk across England all in one day!

After a long train ride north to Newcastle, and a short train ride out to Tynemouth, I found myself face-to-face with many of my fellow walkers for the first time. It was an exhilarating moment as we marched across the sand to lay hands (or feet) on the waters of the North Sea. I still felt like I could take on the world, as evidenced by my Superman pose on the beach.

Super Idaho Dad takes on the North Sea

I was about 20 minutes from meltdown.

We said goodbye to the seaside and started walking along mostly urban streets, on level concrete and asphalt.

It was supposed to be easy.

I fell behind quickly, as I knew I would (I’m a determinedly slow walker).

What I didn’t expect was the sudden drop in my energy levels. At first, I thought something was wrong with the beef pasty I’d picked up at the convenience store right before we met up. It had tasted rather suspect, and was probably well past its expiration date.

Ten minutes into what was supposed to be an easy stroll along the sidewalk, and I had nothing left. Like I said above, it was less than zero for me.

Of course I didn’t know it at the time, but what was happening to me was the perfect storm of jet lag (affecting my body clock), sleep deprivation (I’d been averaging 4 hours a night the week before), and dehydration (London was in the middle of a heat wave).

The streets of Tynemouth

You can imagine how incredibly stupid I felt, watching all these people in front of me happily carry on while I was starting to go fuzzy at the edges (both visually and mentally).

I’m not sure how I finished that 5 miles. I don’t remember most of it.

All I remember is finding myself back in my hotel room at 6:30pm, laying down on the bed, and then waking up at 6:30am.

Amazing how a solid 12 hours of sleep can make everything right. Well, that and guzzling a pot of tea, two glasses of orange juice, and a liter of water at breakfast.

So, Day Less Than Zero was an inauspicious beginning to Hadrian’s Walk.

Thankfully, this was not a sign of things to come. My one good night of sleep in Newcastle had revived and energized me.

I was ready for the next 84 miles. Okay, maybe not all in one day. But the pre-walk from Tynemouth had shaken out the cobwebs and taught me some valuable lessons about sleep and water (one of which I would still have trouble with, unfortunately).

The next 6 days would be an amazing adventure for this newly humbled walker.

I’ll be back soon to tell you about Day 1 of the walk.

Learning To Walk

At my age, I never thought I’d have to learn to walk.

Thankfully, it’s not because of disease or injury. No, I’m learning how to walk long distance.

It’s not as simple as you’d think.

A year ago, I agreed to walk across England for charity. That’s 84 miles in 6 days. Averaging 15 miles per day.

This is something I’d never done before. So I had to learn to walk.

The very first thing I did was to buy a pair of decent light hiking boots. Because you need solid ankle support and a heavy-duty sole.

At our local outdoors store, a salesman showed me a few brands of boots and eventually sold me on a pair of Asolo GTX Flames.

They felt good and snug. “And those are the very boots I own!” the salesman told me.

Next, it was time to buy socks, because you can’t just go walking in any old pair of cotton socks. No, you need to consider the type of trip you have planned, and the kind of terrain you’ll be walking on.

There are mountaineering socks, midweight socks, and lightweight socks. Made out of wool, cotton, silk, and synthetic materials. There’s Coolmax, SmartWool, and Hollofil. You also need a pair of sock liners to help prevent blisters. It’s enough to drive you crazy.

Again, I relied upon the smooth-talking salesman at the outdoors store to outfit me right.

Soon, I was heading down the trail in a pair of Thorlo Coolmax Light Hiker Crew Socks over a pair of Fox River X-Static Polypropylene Liners.

I didn’t walk very far at first. A mile here, a mile there. This was the breaking-in period for my boots. Very important, I was told, to acclimate my feet to their new home.

I didn’t like that breaking-in period very much. Because my feet hurt. I mean, really hurt.

It was like someone was taking a hammer to the ball and heel of each foot. After a few miles, I would arrive back home feeling battered and bruised.

Back at the store, the salesman cheerfully told me to “just keep walking.”

So, I walked. Farther and farther. 5 miles, 8 miles, 10 miles. And still my feet were being tortured.

Then, one day this spring, we were in the outdoors store to buy my son a new swimsuit, when I saw a display of Keen Oregon PCT boots. I don’t know what came over me. Most likely, it was a deep subconscious hatred for my Asolo boots.

I strayed. I picked up one of the Keens. It looked different. Friendlier, happier.

I put it on my foot. The sole was bouncier. My toes had wiggle room.

Without thinking of my Asolos back home, I slipped on both Keen boots and walked around that store. The epiphany came to me within a minute.

I’d been wearing the wrong boots!

Those poor Asolos, they just weren’t the right fit for me, but it took me six months to realize it.

The new Keens came home with me, and the very next day I walked 12 miles in them. With absolutely no foot pain whatsoever.

And the day after that, the Asolos went up on eBay.

I’m happy to say that I have arrived at the end of my struggle to learn to walk. Soon I will be setting out in my Keen Oregon PCTs, feet smeared with BodyGlide to prevent blisters, covered by a pair of polypropylene liners, and covered again by a pair of Coolmax cushioned hiking socks.

Learning to walk is not a simple endeavor. It’s a process of trial and error, give and take, disappointment and surprise.

I started off hoping this would all be worth it. The long walk across England hasn’t even begun yet, and I can state emphatically that it has been a success. My personal goal to raise 1000 British Pounds (that’s nearly $1500) was met this week. Friends, family, bloggers, even strangers, came through big time. I am humbled, impressed, and exhausted.

My other personal goal, to make it through those 84 miles without faltering, is that much closer now that I’ve properly learned to walk.

By the way, there’s still plenty of time to make a donation to my walk. Visit the Idaho Dad’s Long Walk Fundraising page to add to my total. Every penny goes to the charity.