Last month I spent a week on the Isle of Wight. This means I have now rambled between its coastal and non-coastal villages both in dream-defying sunshine and in that awkward drizzle which never reached the promised rage of a storm.
On our second day on the island, a group of us set out to walk from the Needles in Alum Bay to a oh-it’s-not-that-far-away town on the southern coast. Out of the entirety of our planned walk, we managed to get through a one-third and no one can really tell, why.
As for me, I was feeling the worst I had ever felt without being subjected to proper corporeal suffering. All I remember is the loaded tiredness mixed with a headache backed by heavily blocked ears. I had never walked in a such a state before and am hoping that the next opportunity stays hidden in the unlikely corners of the future.
Walking when unwell is a shapeless, blunt pain. You can direct your mind away from painful swells or specific sore spots on your body for quite long distances, but when that feeling is not focused or concentrated (on a shoulder or on an ankle, for example), you slowly acquire the gait of a person who is dragging a crocheted parachute across a field of thistles. This type of walking is a literal and poetic pain, both at once, and comes with extra factors that render it especially nerve-numbing and gruesome.
1) You never see where you’re going.
Playing the connecting game with the dots, trees and shapes on the horizon is one of the most pleasurable games you can play when walking. When feeling ill, all you are left with are the edges of your shoes. You are not counting your steps but are aggressively trying to avoid noticing the vastness behind the distance. Or the distance behind the vastness. In both cases, your horizon ends with your next step.
2) Every new sight becomes greeted with a sigh.
Especially a high one. Of course, general functionality becomes an effort of its own when you are feeling poorly. Noticing beauty becomes an effort. A curious texture that definitely needs your quick touch becomes an effort. A 50 meter ascent on a sunny cliff side becomes an effort of a grander scale. Suddenly, an innocent beach cliff is turned into a winter approach of the Karakorum. Without noticing, you swap speaking for sighing and patiently trod along in hope of someone demanding a break.
3) You focus an intense amount of time on breathing.
At least I do. Forcing my breathing into a set of slowly rolling waves helps to lift some of that vague fatigue. However, when you do it too intensely and on too hot a day, it tends to create an ill-advised side effect. So you must focus even more.
4) Side-stepping into possible futures.
To escape your current efforts, you automatically imagine yourself somewhere else, crossing an unfamiliar terrain under very different circumstances. This is what I found to help me the most – being mentally transported into a training or preparation mode for something more difficult to come. I guess imagining your current journey being a small part of some bigger physical challenge gives you some mysterious and near-ridiculous strength. The step not to reach is imagining your current journey being one of your future journeys from the past.
5) Not only your ears but also your mind becomes blocked.
The prospect of getting lost doesn’t fill you with any romantic notions. You don’t want to step off the path (fair enough, you can barely keep an eye on it) or get fully carried away by the Awe of the Bizarre. That feeling of sparkly freedom which usually accompanies reaching utterly unplanned places seems to be gone forever. Actually, quite a lot of general willpower gets directly overtaken by those small mundane operations you must perform. You might just stop and go back indoors. In fact, it’s a fact of life that walking without feeling an ounce of romance is actually not considered walking at all.
6) Something other starts hurting, just because.
That is a rule of some sort. I just need to find a name for it.
7) Realisations about your surroundings reach you later. Much later.
Nothing sudden can penetrate your shield of dullness and you also can’t derive any pleasure from your non-linear thinking pattern. Things that are obvious to others remain out of sight for you. You miss the cliffs formed of differently coloured minerals, the cooing of the wood pigeons, the sight of land slide a couple of meters from your cliff path. Later in the evening, you curiously turn to your camera to see whether you captured anything from your day at all. And then realise what another enticing one it has been.