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

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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