London’s Burning

London is my favorite big city. I’ve visited twice, and always felt perfectly safe walking its streets. I love its history, architecture, culture, and diversity.

So it saddens me to read the news of London’s riots. And not just for the heartbreak it causes to the people hit hardest by the looting and arson. But also because it reminds me that there are so many kids out there being raised with no moral center.

In other words, these hooded thugs running through the streets breaking windows and setting buses on fire, were apparently never taught the difference between right and wrong.

What, did the parents think the school system was supposed to do that?

Did not their mother, father, grandmother, uncle, or neighbor ever point out that stealing from someone is bad? That setting fire to a building might cause pain and suffering? That spreading fear and panic is probably not the best choice to make?

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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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Sharing Memories

I’ve been away for awhile, sharing memories with my wife and kids.

Last year I traveled to England for an 86-mile charity walk along the Hadrian’s Wall Path. It was quite successful, both for the charity and for me.

I made some awesome memories.

Then, I came home and agonized that my family did not share these memories. They could not know the thrill of following in the path of the Roman Centurions, of exploring ruined forts and castles, or of looking out over the windswept crags to imagine what life must have been like 2000 years ago.

Of course I told them about my week-long walk and the people and places I experienced, and they eagerly listened at first. But, after awhile, they were bored. They just couldn’t relate to my amazing adventure.

So, I decided to do something about that. Either I would keep my memories to myself, or I would find a way to share them for real.

You already know that I shared rather than shut up.

First chance we had, as school came to a close two weeks ago, we packed our bags and headed for England’s north country.

My family walked the wall!

No, not all 86 miles of it, but we covered nearly five. The best bits between Housesteads and Birdoswald Forts.

We also climbed to the top of St. Paul’s, wandered the streets of Carlisle, and visited the castle where the Harry Potter movies were filmed.

In short, my memories are now their memories. That’s just the way I like it.

You can certainly expect a few blog posts about our family adventures in Great Britain. Like our brush with Charles and Camilla, or my daughter helping us escape from a locked Tower of London.

In the meantime, however, we have school to finish up. The kids will have no problem coming up with topics for their next history paper.

History is Boring

Bored at The British Museum

While walking through what I consider to be one of the best museums in the world, I spotted this kid who was more interested in his Nintendo DS than in the staggering amount of world history that was on display all around him.

Right in front of him were Ancient Egyptian mummies! But his attention was focused on electronic zombies instead.

Maybe he’d taken it all in already. The British Museum is a big place, and you can certainly feel a bit overwhelmed by it all.

I was thinking, “Would that have been me when I was ten?” My passion for history didn’t develop until college, so I very well could’ve been that kid on the floor, rolling his eyes at one more 5,000-year-old statue.

My own kids are different. They both have a much stronger appreciation for the past than I did. My son, especially, loves Egyptian and Roman history, and would’ve been walking on air in the British Museum.

History doesn’t have to be boring. If a child understands the passage of time and how different people and events relate to each other on a timeline, they can learn to love history at an early age.

One key is to help kids understand what it all has to do with them right now. Find a good starting point (the classical republics of ancient Rome and Greece are the most obvious), hit the major events, keep it simple, and make it fun. After they see the connections to the modern world, you can go back and fill in the gaps.

I’d like to take credit for my son’s love of history, but I think he was mostly inspired by the Horrible Histories book series that highlights all the awful, gross, repugnant things that humans have done throughout the years. Kids love that stuff. It’s like Halloween!

We also watch a couple of historical documentaries each week. Netflix is a treasure trove for these. One of the earliest shows we watched was Digging For The Truth, a slick History Channel production that is part history, part archaeology, and part myth, with a little bit of Indiana Jones thrown in.

Someday, I hope to take my kids to The British Museum, and I don’t think either of them will end up on the floor, staring at a video game, while all around them the history of the world is on display.

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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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.