Dispatch from the Razor's Edge, the Blog of Michael Stephen Fuchs
The Longest Day
Pt ii: The Day Of The Longest Day
a) The Start Of The Day Of The Longest Day
"Nurture your mind with great thoughts; to believe in the heroic makes heroes."
- Disraeli

It's 6AM and I'm woken by my phone alarm – direct from a vivid dream where I'm manning a WWI machine gun emplacement. I don't think that can be a good omen for the day.

Tim and I gear up and then grab breakfast in the lovely sitting room: full English for him, big bowl of bird seed wet with orange juice for me. On the upside, I got honey for my tea. We amble round the corner to, let's call it, base camp.

Base Camp There's a bit of a scrum for t-shirts, when the t-shirts show up Shirt Scrum
Bring it on!

Neither of us were sure what to expect of our fellow walkers – Anna predicted a bunch of rough ex-squaddies, and told me not to be a smart-arse and get beaten up – but it's a really lovely group. (Not that squaddies wouldn't have been lovely. That's Anna's notion.) Only a few are, to my eye, retired or serving military. We make small talk with one or two people, and take our official start of walk photo. Then the briefings start. (Oh – England was playing Germany in the World Cup at 15.00 today.)

Tim shoots off his first moblog. Of the military-looking types, there are two racked out on the ground – that's a military telltale, grabbing rack time when one can – both sporting England flags and one of them with these terrifying scars on his head. I kind of sneaked a shot of his head (last photo below). And while I actually tried to blag my way through talking football with these guys later, I never got the nerve to ask if he got the scars in combat, and if so how.

The Help For Heroes-Mobile Head center

Among other bracing things, we're told that there are actually cut-off times for each check-point – and if we miss them, we'll be pulled out, because we'd simply be getting to the end too late. Gack – these H4H devils will be taking the hindmost. My idea was that I'd be trekking with everything I brought along, which wasn't all that much; but I'm suddenly grateful to Tim for talking me into leaving my copies of The Age of Absurdity and Geneology of Morals in his car.

Tim: <i>You've been outflagged.</i> I thought I missed the official start-of-walk photo, due to being in the head. It turns out I made the last wink of the shutter. And we're off!

One of the organisers lets slip that today might be the hottest day of the year. Gulp. We can't deny that the sun is pretty damned strong already – and it's just gone eight. I'm even wondering if the ole hat flaps might come down on this one.

We struck up a conversation with two women called Clare and Sarah, based on the latter's piratical accoutrement. It turned out that they both had elements of costumes with them; and, moreover, that they were lively and extremely amusing walking companions. We'd go on to enjoy their entertainment value for the entire first half of the walk.

Aye, prepare to repel boarders!

While almost everyone out here was a civvie, I was guessing that a lot of people would have some connection to the military. Sure enough, on questioning, Clare reported her brother serves in the Guards (the same division as Patrick Hennessey; I'm not sure about the regiment, but I assume the Grenadier Guards, which is the most senior infantry regiment in the British Army), and has just returned from a six-month tour of Helmand. He's evidently keen to get back, as he still has mates in theatre – and, like an awful lot of servicemen and women, it seems – isn't keen on them serving there without him.

Note the tiny little column of ant people on the shoulder of the hill (which I almost pulled out, but it kind of ruined the photo) Cows! I wanted to capture the fact that these cows seemed to have, basically, license tags on their rears. However, by the time I'd zoomed and focused, this gal has swished her tail, revealing, let's call it, something better covered by the charitable veil of Photoshop
White Horse! Turns out there are actually about 20 of these in the region, here and there, so passing one wasn't quite so special as we'd thought Aye! Blaaarr… It looked like a rabbit from close up
Helloooo, hill

And but so here comes this conical hill – just a bit off the official route, and but with a totally commanding view of the area. Theres's no way I could get lost!

Futzing with my flags The fun run back down Ground creepers! I've got to confess, I really do like the effect of the billowing flags. Although, from this series, it's obvious I'm no different than any self-obsessed 14-year-old, shooting endless shots of herself in the bathroom mirror to post on Facebook.

I had to jog a bit to catch them up – which still was no problem at this point. When I did, I hit Clare and Sarah with a rap I'd prepared in advance:

Me: So, since no one has asked [I think everyone was just too polite], the reason for the American flag is not, in fact, the American football team, about which I don't actually care too much. It's to show American support for British servicemen and women, who have certainly earned it, and who richly deserve it.
Clare: That's lovely.
Sarah: On behalf of the British people, thank you very much.

I thought that went very well, and was suitably dignified. I'd go on to use the rap once or twice more on the day. (I was proud of the rap.)

It's now 10:14 – with two hours down out of a likely 10, we've got a heck of a lot of day in front of us. As you will note from the photos, other walkers in front and behind are getting very thin on the ground. Basically, we're getting really strung out. And I start to worry, for no particular reason, that the leaders are going to get too far ahead for us ever to catch them. It actually occurs to me, with no one else in sight, that we're actually going too slowly (and having too much fun) and are going to miss the checkpoint cut-off time and get eliminated. (*)

So I decide to lead a break-away from the pelaton. I.e. I range ahead in the hopes of catching up the front again, plus pushing on our pace, and presuming I'll slow down again later for us all to hook back up.

Buh bye! All-new style of stile. It kind of turns. Almost like . . . a <i>turn</i>stile.

My first trial is nettles. Damn these things! Ever had nettle stings? It's not as bad in Cornwall, when they attacked me, but still.

My second trial is, um, my style of walking. I overtake a small group ahead of us; and, shortly after, hear them hollering at me from behind. With my head buried in my notebook, I've strolled right past a turning, and was 100m down the wrong trail, still obliviously scribbling. So that was the end of most of the lead I'd built up.

From Notebook: OK – I'm really going to break away now! It's just… lonely.

And it is, rather. Also, my legs are starting to stiffen up. We may really have already fallen too far off the back ever to catch them up, at any reasonable pace.

Salvation! Food and water!

And then about 5 seconds later, we hit the first checkpoint – it's the seven-mile mark. I'm topping up my water as Tim, Clare, and Sarah rock up. I explain my plan (of catching the leaders). The insanely nice and cool H4H checkpoint guy, after checking off our names, encourages me that the leaders have only maybe 20-30 minutes lead on me. I can do it!

Or can I?

Next: Catching (or utterly failing to catch?) the leaders; plus: strolling along the canals, futile loo hunts, costumes forsaken – and also being nearly totally knackered before even the end of merely the first half of the walk.

  humour     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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