Dispatch from the Razor's Edge, the Blog of Michael Stephen Fuchs
The Longest Day
Pt i: The Day Before The Longest Day
"We take no pleasure in existence except when we are striving after something."
- Schopenhauer

I'm sitting in the back of a parked Discover Adventures mini-bus. My head is lolling. My back hurts whichever way I array it; but I haven't the energy to keep wriggling around.

I'm covered in salt. Plus dust.

The stoney, Tetris-like profile of Stonehenge is visible out the little window, through which a little merciful breeze blows. Or is it a mirage? Did I finish? Or did I die on the trail, my heart exploding in the hills as the unrelenting sun baked my head?

All I know for sure is I'm seriously ready to go home.

But a scant twenty-four hours earlier . . .

. . . I've got that ole lighter than air feeling, springy hiking boots and hiking socks, airy shorts, strolling free as a bird in the sunlight to a new adventure. I'm hopping the Circle Line – remarkably, I catch a train in two minutes, on the Line that I've said runs so infrequently it's like it doesn't exist, to which I've added that smart Londoners should simply treat as if it doesn't exist – to Paddington Station. There I hop a train going Swindon-way in about another two minutes, then get busy napping in the air conditioned peace of the Quiet Carriage. Rock.

Now I'm at the Swindon bus depot, sitting way up high in the bus, glass all around me, commanding view. The only real dominant note I get from Swindon is terrifyingly pretty and dangerously scantily clad underage girls – one or two of them already pushing prams. I swap texts and calls with Sara (lovely 'Good luck! You can do it!' message), Tim ('Ok blogging started! New interface.'), and Anna ('Have I got wine at home?')

I'm getting peckish, so I crack open the bale of trail mix in my bag. Regular readers will recall I've been suffering from a spot of tummy trouble. Now, eating is going to be solely about jacking the calorie/mass ratio into the stratosphere. I've somehow got to feed my muscles enough juice to walk 26.2 miles across the Wiltshire Hills – without feeding my colon enough ammunition that I become a rocket-fired crap cannon, blasting my way across the previously green countyside.

It's going to be a delicate balance.

The bus pulls out of the bay.

Downtown Swindon's kind of sweet-ish in an Egham-y kind of way Wootten Bassett is, famously, where fallen British soldiers are brought back home. Seems appropriate to the event. (Plus toilets!)

We pass a couple of nice-looking pubs – plus a 'Beer Garden Motel Lounge'! Sounds like the best of Bavaria mated with the best of the American Highway, right here in the English countryside.

Though that countryside does start getting worryingly hilly – plus I'm by now baking in my glass-walled, bus-fronting slow roaster. And I've only bought the one shirt, which I'm now sweating through. On the upside, there's somewhere between a 0% and 10% chance of precipitation for tomorrow. So I've also left behind my Gore-tex. Not even an umbrella. All in, dealer!

We arrive! and I de-bus! Nice that the bus stop is ten steps from a nice pub. Not that I can drink. Ah! Now that's what we like to see. Also only a few steps away. The Henge Shop. This village obviously knows which side it's bread is buttered on – the stone, circular side. The B&B turns out to be absurdly nice. I'd tried, in vain, to convince Anna to come up and make a weekend of it. I send her a gloating text. This place is totally wasted on me and Tim. Believe it or not, I can't even risk eating fruit – too bulky, too few calories! There's Scotch. Heh. Here's the beast. It's my own custom mix – nuts seeds, and dried fruit; all organic, no added sugar, or added anything.
I munch a bit more, keeping the engine stoked, while flipping through the National Trust guidebook.

So the stone circle here is referred to as a 'henge'. (This seems to be the generic term, taken from Stonehenge, which itself is Norse for 'hanging rocks'.) It's 4,500-5,000 years old. Um. That's about all I absorbed, actually. There's a lot of history about it being unearthed, and polished up, and whatnot.

The inevitably totally lovely B&B matron also gave me, along with a tour of the house, a bit of rundown on the area. She also brought up the delicate topic of breakfast. So, not only could I not eat anything, I had to eat it early enough to make the walk start at 7am. She has no problem feeding us at 6.30 – she says something about her husband having to get up at five to do the milking anyway – and Tim will surely benefit.

The sitting room. Wow. If that's the farmer's daughter, I hope she hasn't left home.

I ease on out into the back garden. (Remember, you can use your arrow keys to flip through pictues now! Enough of this 'reading'.)

I ease on out into the village – which is perfectly circumscribed by the stones. But I end up at this tiny bit of marsh shooting high-zoom movies of this beautiful family of red-billed waterfowl.

What Avebury is not surrounded by is mobile coverage. Standing in a field, I unexpectedly get one bar. I freeze, then jump with my arm in the air, trying to send my queued texts.

This huge one, visible on the way into town, struck me as rather France-shaped.

I duck into the Red Lion, just to sort of scope out their beers and dinner menu. Just for Tim, really, you know. Perilously, they're serving a butternut squash, spinach, lentil, and spicy coconut curry. Boy, does that sound awesome. And, boy, would that be a colossal error. Also nice-looking salads and sides. Bastards! <shakes fist>

I clench my teeth and continue bimbling.

Ah – that's where it is. (The shop.) I thought this was a good memento mori shot.
Village cricket!

The H4H website was unfortunately a little vague on our actual meeting point in the morning. My main takeaway was, 'by the stones'. I now realise that's the whole town. I've only spotted one guy who looks like he's definitely here for the walk – he's outside the pub, drinking lager, sporting a bergen (military ruck) and an olive green keffeiyah around his neck. He's also scary-looking as hell, but I brace myself and approach.

It turns out he's not only not here for the walk – though he was in the TA (Territorial Army, the equivalent of the U.S. Army Reserve) 40 years ago – but he's also mad. Seems friendly enough at first. Chatty. Griping about aches and pains, as he's just completed five days of walking out on Salisbury Plain. Then he mentions something about alien abduction, which I assume is some kind of metaphor for how one feels after days hiking alone in the country. Then he mentions waking in his tent, totally wet. "The police said it was just dew. But I've never seen dew in a sleeping bag, when the ground all around is totally dry." The police? It finally transpires that he called the police this morning to report his abduction by aliens.

I smile and make my apologies and back very carefully and quickly away. I suppose I might have expected something like this on the site of an ancient stone circle.

I repair to the cool silence of the B&B sitting room. (It's Avebury Manor Farm, by the way, questionable website, but stunning facilities and hospitality.) On the coffee table – before an actual divan – are this week's edition of… [click here if you care to read a long digression where I take the piss out of Jane Austen and the local paper]

It's Tim!

Thirty minutes after I sit down, the front door bell rings. It's Tim. We repair to the Red Lion for drinks. The walk awaits!

Tomorrow: 26.2 Ass-Kicking Miles Through the Wiltshire Hills In The Unrelenting Sun On The Hottest Day Of The Year! All In A Fantastic Cause!

  photography     the military     travel     video     walking     charity  
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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