The time was 8:23 pm on a grim, pitch-black winter night in the North of England. My back is aching. There are blisters between my toes and Storm Barbera is battering the UK. The relentless gale force winds were blowing the rain horizontally into my face with fierce intent. There was no point putting my waterproof trousers on as I was already soaked to the bone.
With only 20 miles left to the finish line, I was powering through this torrential rain. There is nothing more dismal than walking head-first into the main beam of oncoming traffic, on a busy road in the middle of Lincolnshire. With System of the Down songs blasting in my ears, I picked up the courage to keep going.
"Stop being weak. It's only 20 miles to go." I kept reminding myself. I was exhausted. I let my rucksack slump to the floor and I took a quick rest by sitting on it. "This is dog shit!" Who in their right mind would be sitting in the rain in the middle of nowhere on December 23rd? I should be at home. It's Christmas time after all.
I looked at google maps to see how far I have travelled and couldn't quite believe I had almost done it. Life on the road was simple. Wake up, walk, eat, sleep and repeat. Every time I stopped, I also checked my JustGiving page as an extra source of motivation. At his point, I had raised £1861.68!
Quitting wasn't even an option.
I got up, threw my rucksack on and picked up the pace. "I can do this! Come on Adam. Yaaarkshire!" I shouted at myself in the dark. The Humber Bridge was within reach. I was going to do it.
This may sound like something that would be normally completed as a military exercise but no, I was walking 220 miles across England voluntarily. But why? I previously mentioned that I was doing it to raise money for a charity. Walking with the Wounded support wounded veterans to find new careers outside the military. Raising money for this fantastic charity was how I justified this adventure to my friends, family and to myself. However, this was not the real reason I choose to take on the challenge.
I was doing it for the adventure. To push my boundaries. I wanted to see if I could walk 220 miles unsupported in 10 days.
I started at my home in Wiltshire and was walking unaccompanied to my parents home in Beverley, East Yorkshire. After the first day of struggling through farmer's fields and the boggy countryside, I ended up staying on the quicker but busy roads. I had a deadline to make and needed to cover the distance in the most efficient way possible.
Previously my adventures consisted of sitting on something such a bicycle, kayak or even a horse. Did I enjoy these adventures more? Possibly. But it depends on what you mean by 'enjoy'.
Keep walking Infantry
As an Infantry Officer, I am used to walking long distances. In the Army, when we carry our equipment on our backs it is called tabbing or to tab which is short for 'tactically advancing to battle'. Tabbing is a routine part of the training we do. Usually, it is over distances such as 5 or 8 miles. Rarely do we train to tab much further.
For this challenge, I was to tab over 22 miles a day for 10 days. This would be different to what I was physically used to. Before I set off, it's the first time I've felt nervous or apprehensive about my chances of completing an adventure. My chances of success depended on a bit of luck as well as being able to walk the distance. An injury could have halted the challenge at any time.
Physically, this was much harder than any of my previous adventures. When you are riding a bike, you can put all of your kit and equipment into panniers and have the bike take the weight with a rack. Rather than struggling with 20-30kg on your back, you can quite comfortably load a bicycle with 40kg. Sitting on a saddle is much more comfortable than walking, even if your bum does get sore after a while.
Cycling can still be tough at times. When going up a long, steep hill with a fully loaded bike, you have to work your legs and lungs hard to get to the top. Especially when your body shape is better designed to play rugby than to peddle up hills. Once you reach the top of the hill you have the enjoyment of sitting back and free-wheeling all the way to the bottom. Some of my favourite moments on a bicycle have been spent gliding downhill, with my hands out to the side and the wind in my face. Effortless free miles.
When you walk to the top of the hill, you have the worst bit to follow. Walking down the hill with a heavy pack. Not a pleasant feeling, especially on the knees.
Walking allows for freedom like no other form of transport. You can avoid roads, paths and tracks and make your own way to a destination.
There is no need to worry about locking your bike up or repairing broken parts (which inevitably will happen on a long cycle adventure). Walking is pure, simple and cheap. It's what humans are designed to do. You can walk through mountain passes, jungles, snow covered glaciers and vast deserts. It would be almost impossible to cycle in some of these environments.
Cycling provides a different type of freedom to walking. Being able to travel large distances without the cost of fuel (other than your food) is liberating. I think cycling is the perfect speed to take an adventure. It's fast enough not to get bored of your surroundings and be able to travel considerable distances in a short space of time but slow enough to soak in the atmosphere and your surroundings.
Walking or Cycling?
Both walking and cycling have their merits. I love both for different reasons. If you choose to go on a cycling adventure, you will be in less pain, that is for sure. You can carry more kit, which usually makes life a little bit more comfortable.
Walking is much simpler than cycling. Setting off from my house in Wiltshire and walking in a north-easterly direction is as simple as an adventure gets. Repairing flat tires and broken racks can become tedious. Especially when you are in the middle of nowhere. At least with walking, all you have to look after is your body (especially your feet). Almost sounds too easy!
It definitely isn't easy for most people. Being self-sufficient on a long walking adventure means carrying all of your own equipment. This is physically draining after a long period of time.
If I had to pick a favourite, cycling adventures would be at the top of the list (but only just). A cycling adventure is, in my opinion, the best way to start a life of adventure.
I felt more achievement from the walking challenge than I have from any of my cycling adventures. But I'm not sure if achievement is what I am solely looking for. For me, the most rewarding part of an adventure is to embrace local cultures, be closer to nature and to meet new people. For others, the physical aspect is more important. There is no right or wrong way to go on an adventure. It's good to be able to have a mix of both. Physically demanding but also exciting and awe inspiring.
Either way, by walking or cycling, you can have an amazing adventure for very little money. You don't need an expensive bike or expensive boots. The size and fit of both are much more important.
One key lesson I have learnt is that an adventure without a a strict time limit is much more enjoyable. Part of an adventure should be to have the ability to be flexible. Having a tight timescale to achieve a task reduces this and takes away some of the fun.
If you are thinking about what to do next, all you need to do is book a weekend in your busy diary to go out and do something different. Put your boots on or get out your bike and head off to the hills, the beach or a forest. Camp out for the night and return home the next day. Start small and you might be surprised where you will end up.