The blog / The journey

Zen and the art of donkey maintenance

It’s a very long time since I lived so much in the moment, probably not since primary school, if then. My moment extends to making sure I have some sort of supplies for breakfast, lunch and dinner tomorrow, maps for the next week, a very vague idea of the next few days’ walk, and a better idea of tomorrow’s. Refilling my shampoo bottle (which serves for washing anything), getting hold of food for Chico, charging up electronic things, and writing good enough notes that when this day fades off into the distance behind me I know I can get it back in the forensic effort that winter will become.

High plateau enlightenment

So, it’s a full moment, only about three days long in its crystal clarity. The future unfolds, contour line by contour line; the past is a yellow highlighter line across OS maps, 13 at last count. My old Filofax has a three-month stretch of blank pages already, my ailing bank account is keeping watch, recording card payments in successive Spars, village by village around the country. Sometimes I look at the Met Office weather app, but we’re walking regardless… and so far we’re generally luckier than the app suggests, so I don’t always pay much attention to it and it’s not really worth the precious battery time.

It is a glorious, utterly self-centred, simple, immediate way of living. It takes time to relax into not knowing where we’ll be sleeping tonight, and trusting that it will be fine – it’s so counter to the usual way of organising life. Sometimes there isn’t a shop where I thought there might be one, and meals become a little unorthodox – but cake for breakfast doesn’t feel like such a hardship.

I live in the moment, especially pleasant if the moment also includes cake, a nice view, and the eternally satisfying job of refolding the map after a square of progress.

But my moment is enormous, cavernous, and choked with a thicket of past and future and deferred gratification, when compared with the moment of my travelling companion. I couldn’t say whether Chico does have a concept of past and future, but isn’t driven or pursued by them because he’s already achieved perfect enlightenment. Or whether it’s more that he’s a donkey. He certainly has memory – if dogs frightened him yesterday he’ll be more frightened of any we pass today. He welcomes the rain mac if it’s raining already, but won’t let me put it on him in advance – the app might say it’s going to rain at 2am, but as far as Chico’s concerned, it’s not raining on his moment.

In the moment, albeit a nasty one…

Last Monday we were walking around the west edge of a mountain, disregarding the app which had a yellow rain warning for the whole of Wales, and prevailing westerlies. It wasn’t so bad – a sort of vigorous drizzle periodically dried off by stiff gusts, and a high moorland landscape fading to fog on all sides, with purple heather and thistles, yellow gorse and scraggy sheep, and a shining slate-coloured road jinking through the scene. I knew it was going to be wet, and regardless had opted for the hill rather than the sheltered plateau on the east of the mountain which had bright, clear patches of sky above it, but nothing but roads all heading in not quite the right direction along it. All heading for Wrexham, in fact.

I had chosen the route, with all of the facts at my disposal (I clearly disposed of them, in fact). I was bothered that I might have made the wrong choice. I knew that after another few miles of this we’d be led to a crease called World’s End, where the road would dive suddenly into woodland, sloughing off two hundred metres of altitude and offering shelter and a picnic spot and (in my plodding daydreams), some sort of shed with a fluffy towel and scones.

Chico, the clear-minded Zen old donkey, walked on without an idea of where we were heading, why we had come here, when we would be stopping, whether we would ever be dry again, what would be for lunch. In fact, he knew very well what would be for lunch – thistles. He spotted some, and that was that. Lunchtime. Then he had a nap, closing his eyes to half-mast, lifting one back hoof at a time, letting the rain fall on his curly forehead. Walking in the rain was rubbish, eating and napping in the rain was preferable. Walking faster to get to shelter to have some much-anticipated lunch at another time were concepts of a whole different sort of mind.

Same day, much better moment


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  1. OMG. Last Monday was probably the wettest 36 hours I have experienced. Soooo pleased you didn’t visit us on that day! We had new spectacular streams and waterfalls popping up all over the mountainside, garden and house! Chico would not have liked it at all! Sounds like NE Wales was the better place to be. We too have given up with met office weather and live for the moment.

    Happy travels!

  2. Nancy in Iowa says:

    I always liked hiking in a misty rain in the north Georgia mountains – it was magical. But then, that was over 30 years ago and for only a day or two, far from a trek like yours! Love your reports. I think of you and Chico often.

  3. I have been looking forward to this progress report, keep them coming, as I get disappointed when there is no news of you both.

  4. I think I would enjoy a pilgrimage such as yours…I think. Chico does have a mind of his own and he knows what he wants, I’ll give him that. Wishing for you sunny days, warm hearty meals, and a dry bed in your future.


  5. Hi Hannah and Chico,
    Just wanted to say thanks for sharing your adventure with the world. It’s been a rainy one here in Michigan, too. I really admire your courage to take on such a challenge, and am pulling for it to be all that you hoped it would be and more. If you ever make it to Kalamazoo, look me up and we will grab a pint or two :)

  6. HI there – we met you at the campsite in Llangollen in August ! I am back home in Africa and love following you and Chico.

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