Dispatch from the Razor's Edge, the Blog of Michael Stephen Fuchs
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C2C Day 13 - Moors the Worse For Us
Blakey Ridge -> Grosmont
"For many, particularly those who enjoy cosy English villages hidden amongst the finest, gentlest, most bucolic scenery this country has to offer, the 13.5-mile stroll down the Esk Valley from Glaisdale to Grosmont is simply the best section of the walk . . .
    But first you have to get to the valley, and that means getting down off the moors . . . parts of this short-cut are extremely boggy – up to waist-deep, in my experience – and unless you want to end up like the dead sheep that occasionally litter this part of the moor it's probably safer to stick to the roads."
                 - Henry Stedman, Coast to Coast Path

     I awoke out on exposed Blakey Ridge to, deeply unsurprisingly, cold and wind – plus rain. The only real surprise was that I had slept. I dressed quietly while the others dozed and ducked into the White Lion to wait for breakfast. Really, I was on the market for warmth.

However, breakfast was still an hour-plus away; so I spoke to a hostess and secured our places for, at least, the B part of the B&B, then settled down with Mark's volume of D.H. Lawrence. When it got to be about that time, I went out to rouse the others. And, while we didn't get to sit in the real dining room with the grownups, still breakfast pretty much rocked. Notably, Darby joined us in ordering the veg version of the full English fry-up – she'd been coveting the beans that we'd been getting all along the way, and she hadn't.

Actually, while Darby and I tucked in, Mark singlehandedly broke down the whole camp and packed everything up. I admonished Darby not to feel bad about this; it makes Mark happy to occasionally commit egregious acts of selflessness. Nonetheless, my report in support of his canonisation will be going to the Holy See by express post.

At any rate, we all finished up breakfast more or less together; then moved into the vestibule to gear up to face the walk – and the fog. Did I mention the fog? Bloody soup, mate, rolling in thicker every minute. There were quite a lot of C2Cers staying at the White Lion (only place to stay); and all were heading out immediately after breakfast. As they passed us on their way out, those who knew we had slept outside invariably wore concerned expressions as they asked how we'd fared overnight. (Smug bastards.) Anyway, we joined the throng as soon as we had suited up.

Darby: Some days I feel like an astronaut gearing up – checking air seals.
     Then – out into the swirling madness! Here's, by the way, what the White Lion looked like, if you can see any of it. We headed down the road, me in front. We stumbled along, me in the rear. We saw not only the cutesy humour, but the wise prudence in this sign.
Me: These moors sure are scenic, eh?
Mark: . . . I imagine so.
Darby: This is actually how I always envisioned them: rainy, windy, and fog-swept.

     And then Darby and I fell back and had a bit of a conversation about a trope I call "Mark the Interpersonal Juggling Master". (Darby had already begun to refer to Mark as the Zen Master, in reference to his unflappability, total lack of ego or pretension, and consistent good humour and friendliness. In response to that, Mark noted that, "If you'd met my sisters, you'd understand why it's necessary that I be even-keeled.") At any rate, the trope is as follows:

Back at the University of Georgia, where Mark and I were together for a year, we learned how to juggle. Absolutely everyone on Mark's hall learned to juggle. It started with this one guy on the hall who was a semi-professional juggler, with a touring troupe, when he wasn't studying. Juggling soon caught on like wildfire, and it got to the point where you could go over there at 3 in the morning and there'd be a guy out in the hall trying to learn pins, another trying to flash five bags, and a couple more working on their passing patterns. I thought I'd be the last person to get interested in juggling, but eventually even I did – and I've been doing it happily for 15 years. I love juggling.

Anyway, as regards "passing": Maybe you've never seen passing, but basically it involves two or more jugglers standing opposite each other (or four in a square, etc.) and linking in their juggling patterns. Whereas in juggling, you're typically throwing from your right hand over to your left hand, in passing you instead throw from your right hand to somebody else's left hand. A basic two-person pattern will, for instance, have you make every other right-hand throw across to the other guy. At the same time, he makes his right-hand throw over to your left hand. Thus, just as with solo juggling, a ball leaves your right hand, and one lands in your left hand, and you continue as normal. But your patterns are interlocked.

So obviously this takes a while to learn. There are really two (related) tricks to it. The first is learning to place your throws carefully so that they land as near as possible your partner's left hand, coming down right where he expects them. This makes it possible for him to continue his pattern as normal. The second is to learn to catch the throw coming in to your left hand – particularly when it's not thrown perfectly and you have to reach out of your way to get it. This allows you to continue your pattern as normal. Both are, obviously, necessary for passing to work (albeit in inverse proportions).

And so most of us on this hall initially learned to pass from, and with, this professional juggler guy. And we thought, Hey! this passing stuff is easy! We got the hang of it in no time. And but then we tried passing with one another, rather than with him – and it suddenly got very, very hard again! What we hadn't realised was that the professional guy had been carrying us, in both aspects of passing. First of all, his passes came in like brain surgery, always landing in our left hands at precisely the right time and place. We didn't have to adjust at all to catch them. Secondly, our wild, crap, mistimed, misplaced passes to him were also no problem – because he was solid enough that he could throw his arm out in any required direction, or even run around, to reel them in. It didn't matter whether our passes were any good. And so you can imagine what happened when we went from that to, on the other hand, throwing wild passes to one another, and also having little or no ability to recover wild passes and still maintain our patterns. We struggled, and dropped constantly, and basically had a lot of juggling growing up to do.

And so the trope I had in mind here was this idea that Mark is kind of a master interpersonal juggler. Since he has no pretensions or agendas or meanness, he never throws anything at you that's hard to catch – that requires any restraint or self-mastery on your part to deal with. Everything coming in is easy. And since he has no ego or defensiveness or particular sensitivities, whatever crap you throw at him – showing off, fronting, trying to maintain an image, etc. – he also catches with no problem, never getting fed up with you. Thus no one ever drops – and interpersonal juggling is made to seem the easiest thing in the world.

And then, on the other hand, when you go from that to a couple of people with insecurities, and egos, and a few ragged edges, and basic glitches in our interpersonal juggling patterns, like say me and Darby together, suddenly interpersonal juggling gets challenging again. We're each occasionally throwing each other things (snide remarks, digs, insufficiently-camouflaged boasts, self-image inflaters, defensiveness, ad nauseam) that are tricky to catch with equanimity; and we've each got our limits in catching these types of tricky things without losing our pattern (i.e. dealing with them without losing our cool).

But it was nice that we could learn from Mark and practice on each other. (Not to mention how much more pleasant having an Interpersonal Juggling/Zen Master along made the whole trip, and its psychodynamic landscape.)

And but so then we left the road and hit the moors, and I'd like to say we left the fog as we plunged into the mud, but of course we didn't – we got both together. It was damned muddy. Then there'd be a bit of a manageable path. And then it got damned muddier still!

The basic manoeuvre we employed was to detour as far necessary to avoid the huge pools of mud and muddy water that had become the "path". But off the path wasn't necessarily safe either – you could sink into full-blown bog! So we tended to sort of skirt the edges of the path, the DMZ between erosion and "here there be monsters". And I can tell you one quickly becomes a master of judging the friction properties of everything in a moor: Hmm, bit of crushed heather that looks still rooted. I can (relatively) safely put my foot there. Hmm, bit of mud, but with roots poking out – that will probably hold together. Hmm, mud pool that looks shallow, but I don't think I can trust that. Hmm, medium-sized rock – is it solidly placed or is it not? Hmm, side of the path there looks sturdy and not too slick – but it's awfully steep. That was basically the constant internal calculus – trying not to bite it. But let's look at pictures instead now:

Here's Mark. And here's Darby. And here are some grouses (grice?) that I couldn't resist shooting despite the wretched visibility. These, by the way, are the pretty, gentle creatures that the hunters who use those blinds like to blast out of the sky with shotguns. I've got to think my way of shooting them has advantages, not least is that the birds still look pretty afterwards.

Finally, after a long spell in the wilderness, both the path and the air began to clear.

Mark: I'd like you to meet Bridget, the Bridle Path. She's a nice girl. Rocky in stretches –
Me: (Aren't they all?)
Mark: – has a few gentle curves. Generally pleasant.
     I mentioned that we were doing today's walk in intermittent company with a bunch of middle-aged and elderly hikers. Naturally we kept passing them because we were fitter and faster, but then we would stop for a bit and they would pass us and we'd have to pass them again.
Darby: I say we beat all these people to tea.
Me: I say we beat them to death – and take their room reservations.
     It's amazing how the mood improves when one is no longer in danger of either doing a massive face-plant in a mud chute posing as a path, or else detouring and getting swallowed whole by a bog. We began enjoying the walk again.
Me: A GORSE is a gorse, or course of course, and no one can talk to a gorse of course . . .
     I got a smile out of Darby with that little reprise from Day 1.

Finally, we hit the outskirts of the one bit of civilisation along the way, namely Glaisdale. We passed a house-front that was festooned with doves. After walking through most of town, we finally found the one surviving pub in town: the Arncliffe Arms.

And let me tell you, everyone showed up. The middle-aged galumphers. The Cowboy and the Preacher – who had hooked up with Gordon. It was the place to stop (the only place). As we watched Gordon across the pub, Darby filled us in a little: he was north of 70 years old (later we'd figure out how far north), he was a WWII veteran, had a granddaughter Darby's age, and he was doing the whole C2C alone – and doing it wearing trainers. He was also, according to Darby, hugely funny and sweet. He certainly had interesting fashion sense: exuberantly mismatched clothes, including short trousers (plaid) and tall socks. We'd later learn that he just didn't give a damn, which trait I personally admire awfully. Darby also told us that last night, at the White Lion, the Cowboy had given Gordon a CD of his western band, to which Gordon had said, "Great! I'll rip it and put it on my iPod."

Anyway, we had a lovely sit-down and spot of tea – as did everyone else – and then we were raring to go, not least because the weather had turned lovely again. We de-rain-geared and cleaned ourselves up. (Which is actually the photo above.)

Me: Note to self: camera lens tissue in a waterproof pouch, for future trips.
Mark: Note to self: lazier or wimpier friends, for future trips.
     On the way out of town, we passed the world's single cutest gas station. We passed a frightening ford. (Wouldn't want to be around when the water level hits 6 feet!) We passed a semi-famous bridge, just under another bridge. We took another muddy forest trail.
Darby: If I'm still active in 25 or 50 years I may come back and do this again.
Mark: With your jetpack.
Me: And your hydrogen backpack.
Darby: And my Self-Immolating Strike-Anywhere Bacon!
     Do you notice how everything is kind of taking on a bittersweet valedictory tone? We were acutely aware that tomorrow would be the last day of the hike. We had a great sense of accomplishment to have come so far and be so close to completion, and we were all happy in the moment; but, naturally, we also had a sense of sadness that our carefree time together in the beautiful north was coming quickly to an end. sniff

We emerged onto another pretty stretch of road. We passed into the hamlet of Egton Bridge, which the guidebook describes as "a strong competitor (and in many people's eyes, a clear winner) for the accolade of prettiest village on the Coast to Coast . . . a delight, a village of grand houses surrounding an uninhabited island sitting in the middle of the Esk. Everything about the place is charming." Which makes me, for one, wonder why I have no pictures of it . . .

Well, not quite none: we passed by the "impossibly elegant" Egton Manor, and onto a former toll road which was signmarked as a public right of way – but at the sufferance of the local lord who lives in the manor.

Mark: Nice of the lord to let us walk on his land.
     Along the way, we were passed by (barely) one of (presumably) the lord's vassals, riding a tractor at about 7mph. A little further on, we passed him back, as he had stopped to do some livestock maintenance. He left his tractor idling, and I thought it was a handsome, classic piece of design.

And at long last Grosmont! It's a pretty little one-street town famous for it's train station – one terminus of the classic North York Moors Railway (which only goes 18 miles, but draws people from all over to look at it).

We actually stopped out of town at a camping farm first, to see about vacancies there (and to recover Mark's bag). But given that our tents were still wet, and it looked like rain again tonight – one wet night camping is cosy, two in a row is soggy ass – we decided to take a flier at getting into a B&B in town. We didn't have much hope, given our recent luck. But the first place we stopped – which was one of all of two B&Bs in town – had room! A big, pretty family room with three beds and a shower! And, naturally, a totally lovely hostess. (She stuffed newspaper in our boots to help dry them. While Darby took an hour-plus bath, Mark and I lounged on the beds in unaccustomed luxury.

Mark: What's wrong with this surface? What's the word for it? 'Soft'?
Me: I think what you're looking for is 'dry'.
     We wandered out to have a look around town – which took about 5 minutes. Here's the main (read: single) drag from the opposite direction, back the way we came in, and towards our B&B. We sat outside the pub for a bit, trying to figure out when it might open. Gordon turned up! We chatted for a bit, then were all about to go back to our rooms, when the pubkeeper came out.
Ian (the pub-keeper): Well, we can't have thirsty people sitting out on the stoop.
     And so the pub turned out to be a fantastic place, with a great interior and very cool music playing. It's run by a married couple, Ally and Ian. I asked them how long they'd run the place: "Seven weeks. Yep, it's day 50 of the dream." Their enthusiasm as new entrepreneurs showed. Alley read to us, aloud, every vegetarian item on the menu. And there was a lot on the menu! Alley does all the cooking, while Ian tends the bar. And it sort of came down to whatever Alley had prepared that morning: "What's that soup you did, dear?" "Cauliflower and cabbage with mint." "Yes, I had that for lunch myself and can heartily recommend it." They told us a bit about the tribulations of running a pub: the other day, for instance, things had been slow so they sent "their girl" home. She went out the back door and immediately 48 people – from a rugby match just concluded – walked in the front door. Ow!

Ian went upstairs for a bit to deal with the kids. M & D and I moved over to sit with Gordon. (It seemed silly to sit apart.) And we all bought each other too many drinks, and later had dinner together, and mainly had a fantastic evening of conversation. Here are some things we learned about this really fascinating man (well, after he told us some off-colour jokes): He has two children and four grandchildren. He lost his wife last year. He enlisted in the British Navy in 1944, and served in the Mediterranean. He didn't see much action in the war; but in 1946 his ship was assigned to trying to keep Jewish refugees from Europe out of the Palestine Mandate. (A fascinating bit of history, see Leon Uris's Exodus for an informative fictionalisation.) He was assigned to intercept overloaded ships of survivors of the destruction of European Jewry – and transport them to Malta. (Where they were put in more detainment camps!)

After the war, he got interested in, and very skilled on, aviation maintenance. This work took him all over the world: the U.S., Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Bombay, Guatemala. He spent 25 years as a top aircraft safety/maintenance guy, managing teams of engineers and mechanics. He told some entertaining stories about passing dozens of CAA exams to qualify him for different types of work. He was rather smarter than the examiners. One trick was knowing that they always wanted to drill down on areas where the interviewee seemed weak. So he'd wait until they hit upon an area he knew solidly, then spend a lot of time humming and hawing and looking at the ceiling and then hesitantly answer, "Is it such-and-thus?" This would ensure that most of the remaining questions were in his area of best expertise.

Here's a jolt for anyone who thinks exercise isn't the key to staying healthy and young: Gordon has run an estimated 50 marathons – and 100 half-marathons. He's also done several super-marathons – including an 80-mile trail run! When he was away at the gents, we huddled up and did the math – based on how old he said he was when he enlisted in '44 – and realised he's 76 years old! And he just twinkles and laughs and is completely sharp and young. (Not to mention is walking 200 miles across England – alone.) He even confessed that he doesn't like to hang out with people his own age – he can't really relate to them.

We finally retired to what turned out to be, and I quote from my notes, the "best night's sleep ever."

And tomorrow it would end! (Assuming we survived one last day's walk . . .)

Tomorrow: Day 14 - Grosmont to Robin Hood's Bay (15.5 miles, sniff!)

  coast-to-coast walk     danger     dargbles     health     humour     people     photography     pitely     self-knowledge     walking  
close photo of Michael Stephen Fuchs

Fuchs is the author of the novels The Manuscript and Pandora's Sisters, both published worldwide by Macmillan in hardback, paperback and all e-book formats (and in translation); the D-Boys series of high-tech, high-concept, spec-ops military adventure novels – D-Boys, Counter-Assault, and Close Quarters Battle (coming in 2016); and is co-author, with Glynn James, of the bestselling Arisen series of special-operations military ZA novels. The second nicest thing anyone has ever said about his work was: "Fuchs seems to operate on the narrative principle of 'when in doubt put in a firefight'." (Kirkus Reviews, more here.)

Fuchs was born in New York; schooled in Virginia (UVa); and later emigrated to the San Francisco Bay Area, where he lived through the dot-com boom. Subsequently he decamped for an extended period of tramping before finally rocking up in London, where he now makes his home. He does a lot of travel blogging, most recently of some very  long  walks around the British Isles. He's been writing and developing for the web since 1994 and shows no particularly hopeful signs of stopping.

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ARISEN : Operators, Volume I - The Fall of the Third Temple by Michael Stephen Fuchs
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