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Fast Packing the West Wight

Fast Packing. Apparently its a thing. Rather than simply hiking with a big pack its a combination of hiking and trail running. Using gear that increases in price as it decreases in weight, packs are light, kit is minimal and miles get covered.

I started training this year for an ultra marathon so I’ve been building up my mileage on the local trails. A week or so ago I decided to test myself and after packing enough kit to keep me alive overnight I headed out to see how far I’d come since I started running regularly in July.

Why I Want to Run an Ultra Marathon

WHY?
This is probably the first thing that people have said to me when I’ve told them of our plans to run an ultramarathon. Actually the the first person I mentioned it to simply said “F*** That!” and turned and walked away from me.

If I’m being honest, I don’t know why I want to do this but if I try and explain the timeline of events that brought about the decision, we might all end up a little wiser.

A few years ago while hiking up Moel Siabod, a runner passed us as she speeded up the mountain and we sat and watched her bounding gracefully up and along the Deaer Ddu ridge. She looked effortless and I gazed on enviously before plodding on breathlessly to the summit. Wow, I wish I could move like that.

Sometimes on hiking trips I get impatient as I want to cover some miles quickly. We all know that a hiking trip is sometimes about getting your head down and eating up miles between spectacular viewpoints or simply camping spots. Sometimes those flatter miles could go by quicker.

I caught an episode of the Joe Rogan Podcast with Courtenay Dewaulter and holy s*** is she inspiring. I looked her up on youtube and after going down a massive rabbit hole, including some Netflix docs about the Barkley Marathons and someone running the Long Trail in the USA, a seed was definitely sown.

Back in June I was on Dartmoor with a friend for a hiking and wild camping trip. Unfortunately due to injury he didn’t make it back to the car park after about 12/13 miles of hiking. So I left him in Princetown with the back packs and armed with only my trekking poles and a bottle of water I went to fetch the car.
I hiked fairly quickly up North Hessary Tor and with quite a sweat on I ran across the moor for the remaining 3 or 4 miles to the car. I was knackered when I got there but felt quietly proud of myself, I wasn’t as out of shape as I thought I was.

I think the biggest factor was that feeling of simply moving through a landscape at a pace dictated by me. Not the weight in my pack or how fast the kids were moving or what the trail was like or how much my legs ached. If I wanted to run, I ran. If it got steep, I slowed to a jog or even a quick hike but just the feeling of moving (even slowly) was exhilarating.

There’s another reason too. I’m just not getting out on trail as often as I’d like or my at times fragile mental health needs. There have been issues this year and while I’m not going to go into great details here, it has affected all of us. The longer it is between trips, the more susceptible I am to dips and lows. But then a trip away comes and I’ll feel better. Except I put so much pressure on it to be perfect and “just what the doctor ordered” that when it doesn’t go as well as it should in my head I feel worse.

So because of this I’m going to try and get out more, but with the restrictions of money and school and general boring stuff, there will be more solo trips, just me, alone, all by myself. I would love to do some 100 mile hiking trails solo but that would mean 4 or 5 days away and I can’t swing that. But if I can pack light, move quicker and recover better overnight I might be able to do them in 3 days instead.  What if I hiked the uphills, jogged the flats and downhills, had a tiny tent and ultralight sleeping bag. Could I cover 30 miles in a day? Would I be able to do the same the next day? And the next? Suddenly long trails could be do-able on a long weekend. I’ll just need to be much fitter. Which is where the running comes in.

So that’s it really. The goal of running 100 miles is an arbitrary one at the moment, I can just about manage 10km without stopping, but somewhere along the way I’ll get to the point where anything is possible and thats the real goal of this adventure isn’t it?

Day 1 Gurnard to St Helens

We got up nice and early with a plan to leave before dawn which didn’t happen. By the time we had a second bowl of porridge and got everything together it was nearly 9 am but hey, we hadn’t confirmed our plan to hike around the Island until only 2 weeks earlier.

I suppose we had always threatened to hike around this little island we call home but the mainland always seemed a little more enticing. Back in the summer we had moved house and the coastal path was only 5 minutes walk away now so it seemed rude not to hike it. Besides, once we’re done we can get back to the exoticism of the UK mainland!

Most of the guides online showed the route going anti-clockwise from a ferry port, I suppose for visitors from across the water, but we would start at Gurnard Beach just down the lane and head clockwise to Ryde and get the worst of the road walking out of the way first.

Robs Round the Island - 012So with laden packs and the sun starting to warm our bones we headed along Gurnard sea front which was nice and quiet, through the sailing mecca of Cowes to our first little “cheat” of the trip, the floating bridge which is the only way to East Cowes other than a 9 mile detour inland along the river.

From East Cowes to Fishbourne was some of the worst hiking I’ve ever done. Either pavement or road, with traffic being all smelly and noisy right next to us and having to cross the busy road multiple times for no apparent reason. So when we reached the path from Fishbourne to Ryde I was both relieved and disheartened at the same time. Great to be away from the road but still hiking on bloody tarmac. Plus, we hadn’t seen the sea since the floating bridge and wasn’t this supposed to be a “Coastal” trail.

Robs Round the Island - 045We pressed on through Quarr Abbey which was beautiful but busy. We pulled faces at the pigs and the kids enjoyed their first opportunity to run on and just hike like kids. Mind you we were seriously flagging when we reached the soft, soft sanctuary of the beach at Ryde, and coupled with a bag of chips and a can of pop we recharged a little.

We had about half an hour on the beach and with the sun starting to make its rapid descent, we pressed on knowing we still had 4 or 5 miles until we could camp and quietly looking forward to hiking along in the dark. The sunset just as we were heading into Puckpool Park, and as Evan and I were ahead we went through the park. Hazel and the the other two went around and we were separated for a little longer than was comfortable but ultimately were reunited after a couple of forays off trail in search of a toilet.

Robs Round the Island - 115It was  proper dark now, but with the occasional street lamp and the bright lights of cruise liners on the water and Portsmouth across it, we had a lovely wander through the night. The trail disappeared at one point so we retraced our steps and found an alternate route which was much nicer and led to a night hike along the beach and we only realised we’d missed the trail when we got cliffed out at the far end of the beach. Fortunately someone else came of the trail as we were looking for it so we weren’t delayed for long as we headed into the trees.

We went from a bright, almost full moon on a deserted beach to thick woods, illuminated by a thin corridor of light from our headtorches, stopping at every turn to make sure we hadn’t left the trail and it was here, on the last mile that the tiredness really hit the kids so you can imagine the excitement when we finally broke from the tree cover onto the beach at St Helens and spotted the campsite.

There were a few other campers on the site overstuffed with static caravans (Funny story, Hazel and I lived in a caravan on this site when we first lived together, long before the kids were around) but there was plenty of room for our little blue tent. We got the beds set up and found out we needed a code for the toilet block. I was going to pay in the morning so I was hoping someone might be around. There was and while he did give me the code for the washroom, he also made me pay there and then. A grand total of £6. I was the happiest hiker ever, we normally have to pay £25 for a night at a campsite so that was a result.

Robs Round the Island - 143The kids were tucked up with their kindles when I got back and it seemed a shame to turf them out into the cold to use the facilities, but we did and it wasn’t long after that they were snoring.

The night hiking was great and even the walk through the dark, dark woods was alright especially compared to the rest of the day. We had hiked 17 1/2 miles, our longest ever day as a family, and I would guess 16 of it was on tarmac, and 13 of it along roads and nowhere near the sea. Not being funny, I would never, ever, ever repeat this section. Fellow hikers, if your doing this trail, start/finish at Ryde. Do not bother with Ryde to East Cowes, I can think of ZERO redeeming features and we only did it to be completist. Its not even worth that.

Please rest assured better days followed on this trip!