Monday, January 11, 2016


I visited the lake district with Liam the summer of 2007. His America-hating Rome-loving grandmother drove us to our campsite after we spent a couple of nights at her home in Carlisle. I read the last Harry Potter book in the warm grass of her garden, and Liam took me to my first very local football match where he told me about the lyrics "panic on the streets of Carlisle" in regards to the old Smith's song. We walked home, boozy from the pints through a cow pasture as quietly and calmly as possible, but the cows still took note and slowly began to follow us to the "kissing gate" that separated them from the dirt road.

On our way to the glacial hills of the district, as I gaped at the breathtaking scenery, Liam's grandmother asked me, "is there any place you can go walking in America?" I glanced into the backseat at Liam who smiled and rolled his eyes.

"Of course," I responded, "Lots of places. It just depends on what you're looking for and how far you're willing to travel."

We camped just beyond a large pasture of sheep who kept me up at night with their less than comforting "baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahs." The tent was small, and the wind raged the first night; thus, between the bleating of the sheep, the flapping of the tent fabric, and my boyfriend's farting (I had met my match), I slept very little.

I started my period the next morning, and we headed out from the campsite to scale Helvellyn.

It's a well known range in the lake district, I would later discover at a bar in Dahlonega, GA. I had just moved to town, was dipping my toes in the bar scene, and had chosen a seat next to a gentleman with an English accent. The topic of conversation eventually got around to places I'd visited in England and finally to Helvellyn. He seemed quite impressed that I had hiked the mountain, especially via striding edge, but I, of course, downplayed my adventure by explaining, in detail, the number of tears I shed in front of all of the United Kingdom that day as I climbed the rock face to the final peak of the trail.

I had cramps for the first five hours of our six and a half hour hike. I couldn't walk them off. Despite the pain, I enjoyed the views, the sheep and goats along the way, and the companionship of Liam, who had taught me so much about taking the time to soak up the world around walking.

I believe this little glacial "pond" is called Red Tarn

All the while, I knew striding edge was coming up, and though I tried to convince myself it would not be as bad as it looked from far away (it looked like people were walking a tightrope), I knew it was going to be pretty hard.

Liam described the landscape to me, how it had formed, and what makes a glacial lake. We ate fruit and prosciutto while livestock watched and waited for scraps. We passed Englishman after Englishman clad in waterproof walking gear, rosy cheeks and all.

I would explain to you how it all works, the science of it, but that has never been my forte. Instead, I'll just keep to what I know best: the emotional roller coaster on which I was forced by the breathtaking landscape and difficulty level "high" climbs.

The beginning of Striding Edge 
It's called Striding Edge because...well...."walking" it is like striding the edge of the mountain. I bent down a few times to hold on as I made my way across the narrow path leading to the final summit. I had a headache like you wouldn't believe, and I was sweating bullets and freezing, but I stood up at one point and looked out to my left to behold nothing but lakes and peaks as far as I could see. I'm not sure if I was actually looking west, but I imagined I was, and I pictured home and all my friends waving to me from the eastern coast of the United States.

I had Liam take a picture of my lovely mug at the end of Striding Edge
As soon as we finished striding the edge of the damn mountain, we faced the final ascent to the top of Helvellyn. The trail eventually ended, and there was nothing but rock, straight up, all the way to the top. So I started crying like a baby.

Through hiccups and tears, I asked Liam if he could please encourage me and not laugh at me as he climbed behind me. I also asked him to hold my butt in case I lost my footing. He was a little uncomfortable, to say the least, having to climb behind a weeping American with his hand groping her butt, but he obliged like a champ as what seemed like hoards of spry Brits climbed down past us with looks of bemused pity. I was a snotty wreck. I HAD CRAMPS. AND A HEADACHE.

Plus, nobody told me that I was going to have to do this. I hate being surprised, and I hate it even more when the surprise leaves me underprepared. I'm sure if I had known what was coming, I would have been able to bolster my emotions and my strength. I'm sure I wouldn't have made a fool of myself by crying like an infant on what most "locals" would call a "walk," but, then again, I'll never really know if that would have been the case. I had to take the trail as it came to me.

Oh the life parallels. They just keep grabbing me by the butt.

When we finally got to the top, and I, with a boost from behind, pulled myself up over the edge (it probably wasn't that drastic, but it sure felt like it at the end of five hours of walking and climbing), Liam immediately spun me around and warned me not to read the stone that memorialized the first climbers, I think because one of them had fallen to his death.

It was cold and windy, and my head still hurt like nothing I'd felt before, but I was done climbing up, it felt amazing, and I laughed almost all the way down the mountain.

We went "down tha pub" for dinner, and I rewarded myself with a roast and potatoes covered in gravy as well as a side of Yorkshire pudding, which I also covered in gravy. The tent was going to be warm with farts that night.

Walking back to the campsite, my legs wobbly from the hike and the pints, my belly warm with gravy and potatoes, I saw a lamb bounding and flopping about around its mother. I had never seen a lamb before outside of pictures, and it was precious, excited by the prospects of its own legs.

That's how I felt, all of a sudden. I was excited by the prospect of what else I could do. My legs had just helped me up and down one of the most difficult hikes in England. Sure, I cried like a baby, kicking and screaming as it is forced into the world from the warm comfort of the womb, and sometimes I still cry like that, but that's life, isn't it? Nobody can really tell you how hard it will be. Adults can shake their heads and sigh when a twenty-something says "I'm invincible," but they cannot prepare him or her for the struggles that lie ahead.

It's good to be excited by the prospects and certainly better than being terrified of them.

So, life, I see your struggles, and I raise you the strength of my own legs. Keep in mind I know nothing about poker, but I've climbed some peaks in my lifetime, and I know that I always get to laugh down the other side....and eat mashed potatoes.

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