Dispatch from the Razor's Edge, the Blog of Michael Stephen Fuchs
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Somebody's Conception of Hell
(Possibly Yours, After Slogging Through This Enormous Dispatch)
"You know, in this past I long for, I don't remember how even then I longed for the past."
- Denis Johnson, Fiskadoro

Right, okay, so what was that bit about, ah, let me go back and quote myself, that stuff about 'relaxed attitude', and 'short days' and 'lie on beaches' and 'stroll on clifftops'? Bwahahaha! One day in was about how long it took before I was actually awfully glad Mark hadn't come along after all. After the death march of the C2C, and after having been assured, assured, that if he came along again this one would be different . . . well, he surely would have ripped my liver from my body and eaten it, and not been too bothered about legumes or red wine.

But, what can I say – logistics! Simply, we had to cover about 23 miles on the first two days in order to rendezvous with Charles and Meeyoung in Newquay on the Sunday. And, especially for people camping, those 23 miles just didn't break up very well. We could do a short-ish day on the first day, and then a long-ish day on the second – which would be no good because our companions would be getting in on the afternoon of the second day, and we didn't want to keep them hanging around until late. So the alternative was a murderous day on the very first day, and then a short hop (6 miles) on the second.

We figured we'd find out what fresh legs were good for.

Also, I assured Tim that we'd see how we felt along the way – in particular, he had never done this kind of distance or terrain fully loaded with camping kit (remember the knees, they'll remember you) – and if it got too bad we could always stop early. Mark will know exactly how much faith Tim should have put in this assurance. He'll also know exactly what happened: we walked every inch of the 17 miles to Mawgan Porth.

And Tim's knees blew up. But he hung in like the trooper he is. You know, for a fairy, anyway. (Poor Tim: he thought the running joke had finally run its course in St. Ives. But the fun has started all over again.)

So, after gearing up, chowing down, and doing the first little climb out of Dodge, of course the first thing we did was make some poor local out on his morning constitutional take our official Start of Walk photo. (And thanks to the Hammer-of-the-Gods-like new Shadow/Highlight tool in Photoshop CS, you can actually see us, and the background.)

And just like that, with a last look back at Padstow, we were off!

And we'd gone about five feet before I had conclusive proof that Tim sucks!

But, aside from Tim sucking, it was a totally lovely day to start, and it wasn't long into it before we achieved this here structure, which we have no idea what it was but, as you can see, it made for some good photo opportunities.

From this point, our walk stuck pretty well right to the edges of the cliffs. And we began to be well beaten over the head by those hundreds of miles of dramatic north Cornwall cliffs we were promised.

As you won't fail to notice, I was shooting my head off – knocked out by the vistas, and not really internalising that we were in for scores of miles and hundreds of hours of them. Though, ironically, I remember worrying out loud to Tim whether it might all just be exactly like this, and once you've seen one stunning cliff . . . he tried to set me straight, and he was later proved utterly correct, that Cornwall has a great variety of terrain in its quiver, and maintains its power to inspire for an awfully long time.

And then – and Darby will have seen this coming – and then came the sheep. Cornwall doesn't nearly have the sheep population of Cumbria or Yorkshire but, hey, one pretty sheep, shamelessly posing, is all it really takes to make my day.

I promise I didn't shoot this much straight through. Like I said: just initially kind of stunned by the scenery.

So it also wasn't long, speaking of grand old traditions, before I got to indulge my predilection for urinating shamelessly off of cliffsides, ideally in full view of a lot of people, like, for instance, a seaside town, or other major population center.

Tim: "That's not very English."
Me: "A synonym for 'not very English' is 'liberating' . . . BEHOLD MY COCK!"
Tim (walking briskly on): "I'm not with you."
Me (catching up): "Ah, the pause that refreshes."

And since Tim was so fastidious, and so English, as to refuse to make a spectacle of himself while answering nature's call, naturally I took it as my personal mission to record his private moments – and now to make a spectacle of him in front of a billion and a half web surfers. Now that's exhibitionism! Smile for the camera!

And the inevitable movies! Somewhat useful for capturing otherwise elusively sublime scenes. Plus wind.

Get the Flash Player to see this movie.

Get the Flash Player to see this movie.

One maneuver that was to become awfully familiar was as follows: picking our way down treacherous rocky trails to descend from the cliffs to some beach or another (some of them actually infinite in length); plodding along the beach, sand sucking at our every step; and then arduously climbing back up to the cliffs on the other side. But it had its consolations. Like mussels. But not a great place for a reticent English piss! Be smarter than that, mate!

On the other side of the beach, more cliff-walking awaited us. (A lot more.) But we were still well-pleased with ourselves, and the day.

Did I mention breaks? Allow me to do so now. Dropping our packs onto sun-splashed greensward. Sacking out on sheer cliff edges! Royal National Lifeboat Institute fast-ramp lifeboat houses to rescue us in case we fall in! Mmm, nobbly oat biscuits! Stunning scenery! Breezes! And Lord Tim Corrigan, King of All Creation!

Get the Flash Player to see this movie.

On the other hand, there was this increasingly hard to ignore matter of all these beaches we kept trekking past. See the thing about the beaches was that, like a lot of beaches, they had bathers on them. And, watching them in their bathing suits, lying motionless in the sun on their towels, we found it harder and harder to avoid contrasting them with ourselves.

Me: "This has got to be a conception of hell in somebody's religious tradition. I mean, here we are, walking up and down seemingly endless cliffs . . . with these huge weights on our backs . . . right past legions of carefree people lounging on infinite beaches."
Tim: "It does probably say something about our character that this is our idea of fun."

And we weren't quite done with Sisyphus/damnation tropes.

Me: "It also occurs to me that this beach cove, and a lot of these beach coves, are an awful lot like the one we set out from in St. Bees on the first morning of the Coast to Coast. And this walk is starting to seem an awful lot like doing the entire long-distance path all on that same beach from that first day. Basically, a hundred and ninety miles in place."
Tim: "Coast to coast to coast to coast to coast to coast . . ."

I was chuffed to pass a big, proper stone cairn, and made Tim photograph me with it. We were both awfully chuffed to catch up to this first lighthouse on the path. We'd seen it out ahead of us for a long time, and passing it was a major milestone. Little did we know this lighthouse was haunted, and ambulatory, and would become the bane of our lives – forever. But at the moment is just seemed pretty and white.

Here are some pictures of the Cornwall Coast Path for you (and of us upon it).

We're not gay, dammit! Sod off! (Only Tim's gay! I'm not gay!)

Get the Flash Player to see this movie.

Do note that last shot, with the little speck of the lighthouse on the horizon there. That was when we thought we were bidding adieu to the lighthouse. "Yay! We're past the lighthouse! We're moving on! Bye, lighthouse!" Little did we know. What suckers we were.

The sun was starting to get a bit low. This was a long day. Tim was starting to feel it – while he'd recently climbed to the top of two of Britain's three tallest peaks, there's just no way (as I knew from the C2C) to be ready for the weight of a full pack on your knees, over distance, and terrain. "Hey – that's the lighthouse. Did it just get closer?" "No, you're just using your zoom to get those seagulls." "Oh."

We passed the town that was our sort of wave-off point, if we decided we couldn't make it the full whack. Tim, in pain, agreed to go on. I wouldn't really have given him any choice, as Mark could have told him, but luckily he agreed he could go on at the point where I was still making like we could either go on or stop, so I never had to slap him about the head and shoulders and shout, "You little pansy, suck it up, and keep hiking! Hike, bitch!! Hike!" It was more agreeable this way. We got to stay friends this way. Good Tim. Keep smiling. Keep hiking.

Get the Flash Player to see this movie.

And then the winds came. They came a-blasting. They came a-sweeping. They came exactly head-on. As you would note from the dialogue of this movie, if you were able to make any of it out over the noise of the blasting wind, we quickly realised that walking 17 miles in a day is one propostion, while walking 17 miles in a day into a 35-mph headwind is another. We carried on.

And, so, Hey! here are some pictures of . . . the Cornwall Coast Path!

Me: "Wait a minute. There it is again. It's back. Look."
Tim: "What's back?"
Me: "That lighthouse. It's back again."
Tim: "But we passed that like . . . 6 hours ago."
Me: "I know. But it's there again. It's right behind us. I don't think we're going anywhere."

And so it was somewhere along here, though possibly not exactly here, given the jumble of my photos and notes, that we ran into a nice old gentleman in a seaman's uniform testing out a hand radio on a cliffside. (Something on the order of "Yes, I can hear you. Can you hear me? How about now? Yes, I can still hear you. Can you still hear me? Yes?") We were slightly intrigued, and started up a conversation, and before long he had taken us up to tour their National Coastwatch station.

It turns out these guys are volunteers who have manned this station, I think since some boaters died right out in plain view down in the estuary after the official Coast Guard shut down their station here. They had a cool map of every sunken ship on the bottom of Camel Estuary, which is what they watched over. There were, I don't know, maybe 40 wrecks? It was a real charnel house. Intriguingly, all the marks on the map had ship names and dates – spanning more than a few centuries. Many of the wrecks had gone down on the Doom Bar!, a string of sand which got very treacherous depending on the tides, which you can sort of make out in the photo to the left. (Of particular interest to us was that a little later on the trip we would discover a local ale called Doom Bar, and which turned out to be one of our favourites. God knows we foundered on it on more than a couple of stormy nights.)

Anyway, these guys in this tiny little watch station, which was massively overheated by the direct sun coming in the all-glass walls, were very keen indeed to tell us all about their good works. They were very nice, and very chatty. We had a very hard time getting away. It helped our escape to promise that I would publish both the URL of the National Coastwatch – www.nci.org.uk – as well as for their own little station here – www.stepper-point.co.uk. Check these guys out. They deserve our support. If only because they finally let us leave.

Me: "That damned lighthouse is pinning us with its eye – like . . . the Ancient Mariner."
Tim: "I'm not looking . . ."
Me: "Can't you feel it on the back of your head?"
Tim: ". . ."

And so we'll end here on this image that I really favour, of a rather horribly hobbled Tim hobbling into Mawgan Porth, 17 miles and something like 10 hours later. Reviewing the photos, it briefly occurred to me that I should have shot a Hobbling Tim movie; but, you know what?, you can completely make out the hobble even in the still photograph. It's just like a totally palpable hobble.

There's actually a fair bit of cool stuff about us being completely exhausted and nearly climbing a huge wrong hill that the camp site wasn't on, and then the camp site being full, and us camping up on an escarpment with two huge strapping Yorkshiremen (about whom I won't make any gay jokes because I'm too afraid of them), and completely destroyed feet and knees, and the campsite playing the entire original motion picture soundtrack from Grease in the bathrooms, and us having the best beers and dinners of our entire young-ish lives, and whatnot. But, you know what, this dispatch, much like the day it describes, is already just way too damned long. Tonight's follies will go in tomorrow's dispatch. Goodnight!

Tomorrow: Day 2, 6 miles to Newquay (and Rendezvous)

  photoshops     photography     tim     video     walking     cornwall coast path  
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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