Flashback six months. Ben and I are walking past Malham Tarn. We’re a couple of miles into our 5 days/90 miles Pennine Way epic. And I’m feeling good.
“We should do this every year,” I say.
As I say, feeling good. At the time I hadn’t walked for eight hours soaked to the skin. I hadn’t been so exhausted that I couldn’t speak. I hadn’t slipped on the rocks and broken two fingers. I hadn’t fallen in a bog and had to walk a mile in my underpants to dry out.
“As long as you’re up to it, Dad.” Back in August I thought he was being considerate. Now I realise he had the gift of foresight.
“Where shall we go next year? Southern Ireland? Bologna to Florence?”
“Why don’t we walk across Japan?”
What? Where did that come from? But before I could investigate further it started to rain – and I received the first intimation that my waterproof jacket wasn’t…
Six months on this year’s expedition hasn’t been planned. Ben’s got his first serious girlfriend. His Dad and his walking boots have slipped down his priority list…
I mentally resigned myself to a lonely summer on the Cleveland Way. But then I stumbled across a competition: ‘Your Impossible Expedition.’ And I started daydreaming again.
“So go on,” my wife said. “In a perfect world, what would you do?”
Well in a perfect world the snow would come down and I’d be trapped in a mountainside bothy with Nicole Kidman, but that probably wasn’t the answer she was looking for.
“Live off the land,” I said. “Be self-sufficient.”
Jane and Ben snorted in unison. My ‘self-sufficiency’ has long been a source of derision in our family. The children have always known that if civilisation ceased and they had to rely on Dad’s hunter-gatherer skills then hunger would inevitably – and rapidly – follow. Not to mention dying of exposure when the family shelter fell down at the first hint of a breeze.
But I’ve watched Ray Mears dig a pit and cook a rabbit in it. And what about my old mate Bear Grylls? ‘Fried scorpion? Lovely jubbly. Bags of protein.’
Once the bug’s bitten you, there’s no antidote.
“Three days,” I said. “Two nights. Trekking across the wilderness. Finding food, building a fish trap, sleeping in a snow hole.”
There’s amazed, there’s incredulous and there’s whatever comes next. Otherwise known as my wife’s expression when I said ‘snow hole.’ “What? A snow hole? You turn your electric blanket on if the weatherman mentions scattered showers.”
“Yeah, Dad. And you’ve never caught a fish in your life.”
Sadly that’s true. As long time readers know, Ben’s childhood was marked by a succession of failed fishing trips. The open sea, the early morning sun reflecting off the waves, the gently rocking boat. And not a damn fish in sight. Bucket list? Yes, catch a bloody fish.
“And you broke your finger on the Pennine Way.” Yep, the ring finger on my left hand is now permanently bent, permanently painful. And the NHS has admitted defeat. My best hope is to change my name to Rover and refer myself to the Supervet.
My wife gave up on my re-enactment of Revenant and turned her attention to Ben. “What’s your Impossible Expedition, sweetheart?”
“Like I said to Dad. We should walk across Japan.”
I’ve checked over the past six months. It’s 140 miles. That’s do-able. Or maybe not…
“With your Dad? I can just see him as the Last Samurai.”
“Don’t be stupid, Mum. He couldn’t read a map in the Yorkshire Dales. How’s he going to read signs in Japanese? You mean the Lost Samurai…”
I’d like to thank Into the Blue for giving me the idea for this post: make sure you have a go at the competition. I’d been thinking about doing the Bear Grylls extreme survival but, between you and me, I’m worried it won’t be challenging enough…