Wednesday 26 October 2016

Wine? Olives? All set for our big expedition

David Diebold
David Diebold

WE should go on a hiking holiday some time," says my wife sleepily one evening from our overstuffed sofa, where she's curled up beside her overstuffed husband.

"Urgh," I tell her, draining my third glass of wine and reaching over to forage through a pile of empty chocolate wrappers for the remote control.

I know where this is coming from, of course. We've just watched three consecutive films about walking adventures: Wild, in which a pitifully unprepared Reese Witherspoon limps 1,000 miles through the California Desert; Tracks, where a young woman drags camels across Australia; and The Way, which sees Martin Sheen grumbling along the Camino de Santiago in Spain with his son's ashes on his back and a gaggle of eccentrics in tow.

I can't help wondering if all these films have such short titles because everyone's too bloody exhausted at the end to manage much more.

"Hmm," I finally manage, fingers desperately searching for the right button to change this conversation.

"Think about it," she says, sitting up suddenly and making me drop the remote down the side of the cushions.

I do think about it for a moment.

'Uh oh,' is what I think.

"We could take 10 days, around Easter or something," she continues, shifting beside me into a cross-legged position, fully awake now and meaning business. "We could get all the gear, fly somewhere and walk for a week. It would be fun."

Perhaps she's right. Perhaps we could. Perhaps it would be. Perhaps all great adventures begin with the words 'urgh' and 'hmm'.

"Sounds doable," I manage, not wanting to seem cynical. It's just that I don't have the most illustrious background when it comes to walking expeditions.

Fact is, when I was growing up, my dad was quite the hiking fanatic and I spent about four years clambering over bogs that seemed to stretch from childhood to distant teens.

"We're training for Mount Kilimanjaro," he told me once, handing me sandwiches and jamming a beret onto his head. I was nine.

Off we'd trundle in our little Daff, a car that resembled a child's battered lunchbox, to the comparative wilds of Wicklow, where I'd trail along as dad huffed and grunted ahead, stopping only to wince through our sandwiches, which had so much English mustard they'd give us both fits of sneezes, and a flask of tea spiked with gin.

On the way down, we'd beat our heads with bracken in a futile attempt to ward off the growing, living helmets of midges stirred into an amorous frenzy, most likely by the sticky yellow Coleman's still stinging our lips.

We never made Kilimanjaro, which I was sure was somewhere in Wicklow, but we did once attempt a camping trek through Wales.

"We'll be gone for a week," dad told me, "so bring anything you think you'll need."

We were two days in to the march before I began to weep from the weight of my rucksack which, upon inspection, spilled out four volumes of Colliers Junior Encyclopaedia and a piggy bank with my life savings of about five pounds in tuppence pieces.

"You said to bring anything I thought I'd need," I wailed.


It was years later before I read Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods, now a film with Robert Redford and Nick Nolte, and realised that I was, on that fateful trip with dad, the prepubescent equivalent of the hapless Katz, who prepares for the 3,500km Appalachian Trail by packing frozen pizzas and crates of beer into his haversack.

Me? I was saved from the wilds of Wales by a historic storm which not only notoriously wreaked havoc that weekend on more than 300 yachts in the Fastnet Race, but tore our tent to tatters around us. We limped the few short miles we'd come, back to Colwyn Bay, leaving my drenched encyclopaedias somewhere deep in the hills, where they no doubt baffled wayfarers for years.

I wonder whether my pre-teen misadventures in the mountains in some way explain how I now pack for any trip, however long, with little more than a toothbrush and few rolled up boxers, socks and T-shirts.

My hiking forays since, such as they are, have been day-long affairs with like-minded mates, where the sandwiches have been markedly mustard-free, and it's more about the destination than the journey, the destination being the nearest pub on the way home.

Back on the sofa, we flick through the movie channel, past epic kayak voyages, transcontinental motorcycle journeys and record, round-the-world sailing trips.

"These people are trying way too hard," I mutter.

"Exhausting," agrees my wife.

We're up for an adventure, we decide, but it'll have to be something that ends each day with a nice glass of wine in beautiful surroundings.

"Maybe a few olives," grins my wife.

On the screen, a bedraggled hiker pokes at her swollen foot then watches her boot tumble down a cliff into the valley far below.

"We should begin training at once," I announce, switching off the telly with a click of the remote and holding out the bottle of wine for her glass.

"The journey starts here," agrees my wife, taking a sip.

I heave myself up and stretch indulgently. "I'm just going to check the fridge for olives," I tell her. "I may be some time."

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