This afternoon I got my own set of keys cut for both parents’ houses. It’s the first time I’ve carried keys in a while. I put on a different outfit on Monday, but I then I wore it until Thursday – changing daily seems a bit of an unnecessary fuss. I haven’t yet cooked a meal – first Mum made a stew, then Dad made a stew; I think they are conspiring to ease my passage back into ‘ordinary’ life. But I have scrubbed the camp stove, dried out the tent and tarp and put them in the attic, polished off the last of the dingy biscuits from the snack pocket, and each step further from the open road has brought a little lump to my throat.
It’s really cold outside now – it probably feels more so because I can compare it to indoors where I now, instantly, one-moment-to-the-next, live most of the time, and because I’m less well attired when I do go out now – dressed and braced to run between indoorses rather than for all day outdoors. Dark comes earlier and earlier, probably because it can sneak up on me now like I couldn’t let it before, and because it always looks much darker through a window than it does when your pupils have dilated slowly in the gathering gloom.
Oh god! I miss walking! I miss it terribly! The glow of triumph lasted until Wednesday, kept alight with two hot baths, pyjamas, and the first four-nights-in-the-same-bed-and-what’s-more-under-a-duvet since May, plus a visit from a surprise masseuse sent by my best friend. Then I suddenly crashed, while visiting Chico in his field. Scratching his now very woolly cheeks and wondering what else to do before I could legitimately drive back, around the horrible roundabout with its glowing supermarket, rush-hour queue and roadkill goose, and back to my warm laptop, I suddenly found myself having a little cry. He endured me sniffling into his snuggly jaw for a minute or two before politely detaching himself and retreating the customary few feet.
Kicking about in the field
It was the donkeys that really spelled out the change. Dear Flo, a trooper on her fortnight of the walk and delightfully sensible and friendly, is a bit of a liability in the field. She’s got some clever methods of eating her food while stepping in Chico’s and issuing kicks if he (or anyone) comes close. She was like that on the first morning with us, but stopped it quickly – I guess that the walk gave her plenty of other stuff to think about, and she forgot to be so bossy. Perhaps confronted by the big open world she was inclined to be more glad of her new companions. Chico, meanwhile, is just good old Chico, hanging back a bit but easy to soften up with a bit of a fuss. He prefers Flo to no donkey, so they are always in the same part of the field, and I worry about him much less now that he has company. But I can’t help feeling bad at leaving them for most of the day, day after day. All of that stimulus, and now nothing – even if they don’t reminisce in the same same way, it still must be a shock.
Anyway, enough of this misery. It’s bitterly cold outside and I am very glad not to be camping. I am just suffering releasing my grip on the wonderful things about living outdoors – simultaneously finding the transition painful, yet desperately not wanting to forget any faster than I am. I keep catching glimpses of the sky lit up at sunset and hailed by the starlings, or the brown waves in the bay spitting froth in the fierce onshore wind, and I turn away as if I don’t deserve it now that I’m such a part timer. Or I don’t know how to just gaze at it any more because there are so many things to be done. Gazing out of a window is so different from walking into the view. Ouch, my heart hurts.
Comfort or direction
I said enough of the misery! My heart may hurt a little, but my knees have stopped groaning when I go downstairs. The cold I’ve had for a month is getting a chance to abate. My muscles are still vigorous and I can walk up the hill to Mum’s house without getting out of breath, which has never happened before.
I’m just reeling in this complete turnaround; a week ago I was physically pretty uncomfortable, wet through every day, starting to get cold at night, a bit creaky, a little mouldy. I was getting tired of short days and foisting myself on other people, I was getting pretty ready to stop, but even so everything was very simple: get me and two donkeys to Aberystwyth. Now I am comfortable, warm, clean, nutritionally richer and yet all of a quiver; what next?! Adventurer’s turbulence on re-entry… Somehow the joy of being able to pee in the night without putting my shoes on just doesn’t compare to the joy of being blown against the Strumble Head trig point in a storm, or watching the wind rub the surface of the sea in the Fishguard harbour the wrong way, or seeing the oil refinery light up like a magic chocolate factory, or the stars in Aberporth or the robin in the apple tree on the last morning. I can even feel nostalgic for the hammering rain on Tresaith beach. I think I need to go for a walk.
The spinning of the yarn…
And so, really, what next? Well, part of the rawness of this shock comes from having to summon the power for the next step into the unknown. Writing a book, making a film, taking such a shining adventure and doing it justice. I’m looking forward to the process tremendously. Dad has lent me his one-room attic flat as an ivory tower, and delivered an oak table for me to write at; what a show of kind faith. I’ve assembled all of my six notebooks and 29 maps and they are waiting on the oak table. I’m aching to sit, with a cup of tea, and begin the delicious process, the forensic examination of the whole glorious adventure. Looking at the photos, the film, the Facebook updates and texts and notebooks and transporting myself back to a desiccated heatwave on the hot asphalt of the north coast, or a cold night amongst horses on a hill in Shropshire, the swims of Anglesey or the blackberry feasts of Newport.
But instead I’m googling and emailing and phoning around and learning at speed about agents and publishers and editors. And I’ve quickly come to a decision. The whole journey so far has been all about boldness, just getting on with it and seeing what happens, taking lots of advice but also going on instinct, and most of all working it out as we went along; appreciating simplicity and resourcefulness and people. So the hope is that I can fund the writing of the book by selling it in advance, to you. The next post will be this big leap…