It’s February 10th 2016. I am walking down the winding country roads of Sussex letting my head torch lead me along the unlit path ahead. Little white drops begin to fall around me. Confused, I look up to see if a tree has blossomed early then realised it had fucked up only to spray its glimmer of hope for summer onto the soul wandering below. No. It had started to snow. I stand for a second, bewildered. It wasn’t cold enough to snow. I mean, yes there were the mini mist clouds emerging from my mouth every time I breathed but I thought I’d at least have to feel a bit cold for it to snow. I stumble onwards as the searing pain of my ankle re-emerges to remind me what a twat I was for committing to walk 1,000 miles in my gap year. This is day 2 with approximately 955 miles to go. At this moment the idea of lying in the cushioned sand of a sun-streaked beach feels very attractive to me. I could claim that I sensed and embraced the culture of the beautiful country I resided in as I lay next to my fellow white, middle-class European friends feeling the same spirit within them.
I am not bashing it. I mean by all means go ahead and join the tens of thousands of late teens as they enjoy their drink- and drug-fuelled months exploring South-East Asia. But don’t for one second claim you are ‘experiencing’ and ‘embracing’ the culture of such areas. You are not. You are following a tour created for the sole purpose of entertaining such thoughts in your head whilst making sure that you do not touch their culture with your destructive Western hands. How many of the backpackers who have trampled through Bali have learnt or even heard about the brutal genocide of over a million communists within Indonesia? How many even know that Bali is within Indonesia? Or the fact that the same people who committed such atrocities still remain in positions of power today? I’m not claiming any moral high ground, by the way, as the US, and likely the UK, were fully engaged in such atrocities and still pride themselves in being allies and trade partners of such a wonderful government. My point is that it is not possible to explore a country’s culture by passing through it for less than a month. You are simply on holiday, a reasonably long holiday.
I think you can guess why I didn’t go ‘travelling’ in my gap year.
Instead I decided to walk, walk quite a bit at that. A while back, my 16-year-old self was sitting on a train staring out the window, probably acting out a music video in my head. That emotional stare into the distance accompanied by the generic pout representing a thousand emotions. You know it. Anyway, as I stared I realised, as pretentious as it sounds, that I wanted to be on the other side of the glass, walking, exploring and seeing the country. So, fast-forward two years and here I am in my 19th year walking across the country wondering why I committed myself to such an idiotic act. Of course, cool as it sounds, I didn’t just up sticks and wander off into the sheep-filled British countryside. There was a fair bit of planning along the way as well as earning a bit of money by fending off children with boomerangs, but we’ll get on to that later.
First, there’s the all-important question. Why am I doing this? The question that has a thousand answers yet I couldn’t seem to find the right one. I’ve been asked it a million times and asked myself it a million more. Why would anyone commit themselves to walk for over 1,000 miles for no particular reason? I can easily bat away strangers with the answer of ‘It's for charity’, but in all truth I only decided to do it for charity a few months before I started. So, no, I am not doing this because I am a wonderful person who, in every bone of my body, is driven by the desire to do good. I set off not really knowing the answer to the question but gradually, as I went along, the answer revealed itself. But of course I’m not going to tell you that this early on, I am an inexperienced writer but I’d like to think I’m not that bad.