My calves were burning, as I stepped my way laboriously up and down, seriously hampered by my heavy rucksack, having to haul myself up each step, bracing my poles to pull as much weight up with my arms rather than burden my weak knees. I feel as if I've walked all the bounce out of my knees during this journey. They were creaking and clicking to begin with, the result of years of being overweight I suppose, but right now I don't feel there is any possible way I could jump off something and have my knees absorb the shock of the landing, not at the moment. I am definitely not a lithe, spontaneous kind of a walker. No no, I must lower myself gently, bracing myself with walking poles, carefully avoiding any drop, jolt or jar to my fragile shock absorbers. When my friend Stu came out to walk with him it was almost stunning to see him hop nimbly from rock to rock as I paced behind him. How can he DO that? He's 38! That's older than me! I compared his mountain goat prancing to my packhorse plod and wrinkled my nose with jealousy.
To say that I crossed all the mountains from Conwy to Cader non-stop is not exactly true of course. Avid followers of my journey will know about the five day holiday I had halfway through, I can't exclude that from the record can I. It helped a lot, I've been feeling a lot fresher ever since. The muscles in my calves have relaxed a lot, which in turn has helped reduce the stress on the tendons in my ankles and feet. I returned to walk over the Rhinogs with Stu and then the Moelwyns alone before resuming the straight line and walking from Barmouth over Cader Idris and on to Dinas Mawddwy.
The Moelwyns were the hardest I think, I struggled alone. The Rhinogs, the set of four peaks and assorted rocky foothills are definitely the toughest and wildest territory I've passed through so far in Wales. It wasn't so scary though as I had company; someone to discuss maps with, to take lunch breaks with, to share fruit pastilles with and to keep my spirits up. It would have been a lonely and intimidating time if I'd navigated those mountains alone.
However, as Stu drove away, back to his life in Aberystwyth, there was a little sense of sadness. I have to carry on doing this? For another 2000 miles? Through the Winter? Alone?
Maybe it was the shock of returning to walk after the holiday, or the comfort of walking with a friend but I suddenly felt like everything ahead of me was very hard going. During the five days off I'd added a tent to my kit, as well as putting in a few extra pieces of winter gear - waterproof trousers, gloves, handwarmer - planning ahead for the wet and cold weather that I know is to come sooner or later. (The thought of all the hardship yet to come, is it hovering above me like my own personal doom cloud? Yes it is.)
Along with the food I'd added in for a few days of wilderness, it brought the weight of my rucksack up to a staggering 17-18 kilos. I hadn't noticed the weight while walking with Stu as we'd shared out my kit between us and it began to tell on me as I headed away alone, from Beddgelert towards Cnicht.
It's a short days walk according to the guidebook, up over Cnicht, around through the moorland and up over Moelwyn Fawr, down through the foothills and along the railway line towards Maentwrog. It took me two full days of aching shoulders and painful knees, lots of rests and plenty of cursing as I humped my heavy bag over two peaks and through endless boggy foothills.
That day was also a lesson in the merits of spontaneous wild camping versus advance arrangements of hosts. At about 5.30pm, as I'd been stumbling my way down the side of Moelwyn Fach for hours, losing my way and having to scramble down a sheer slope, throwing my rucksack down ahead for the second time on this trip, I came to flatter land, softer grass and the treeline began with a grove of autumnal oak trees. I could sleep here, I thought. Why am I battling and pushing to get to a bed? What is so wrong with wild camping because right now I'd love to stop here for the night, it's only that I've arranged this bed in advance that I feel I have to get to it at all costs.
I reached Maentwrog at 8pm, too late to be able to hitch to Barmouth where a bed and a friendly host awaited me. Instead I slept in a bus shelter in order to be able to catch the early bus to Barmouth the following morning and felt faintly sorry for myself.
It all felt difficult and shit, the thought of the months of this stretching ahead, WITH RAIN, was dispiriting. I had a moan on the internet and a half day in Barmouth to have a shower and pull myself together a bit. I posted a few things ahead to lighten the load and pushed on to Cader Idris.