This blog is from Bayo Oyewole, an old friend, who joined me a few days ago, with his brother-in-law, Jide.
I must admit to a little trepidation as I prepared to honor my commitment to Laurence to join him for one leg of his 3500-mile walk around England and Wales to raise awareness about cervical cancer and funds for cancer research in honor of his late wife Melitta (www.3500toendit.com). Sure, I’d done a few short, leisurely walks around my neighborhood in suburban Maryland, but this was different. I looked at his website and pored through the daily routes he had meticulously planned. I chose the day with the shortest (7 miles) and easiest (no hills) route. That was Sunday, June 24, which also happened to coincide with an England-Tunisia World Cup match. The agreement was that we’d have lunch and watch the match at the White Swan pub, in Bosham (pronounced Bozam) West Sussex, which was the starting point of the route, and then set off for the walk.
My brother-in-law, Jide, was kind enough to drive me to Bosham from London – about a 90-minute drive -- and accompany us on the walk. Weather-wise we couldn’t have asked for a more perfect afternoon for the walk. Bosham is a small picturesque town in the heart of England’s countryside with beautiful homes, charming inns and quaint pubs dotting the tree-lined streets. It’s located around an estuary and surrounded by farmland which, together, offer breathtaking views for miles. We watched the England-Tunisia match over a nice pub roast and a couple of pints of cider. The friendly owner of the pub recommended a nice local cider and contributed generously to Laurence’s cause, once he found out what we planned to do after lunch. Fortunately, the English side won in a landslide and there was much merriment among the large group of supporters that had quickly gathered around the pub’s two TVs. This was a very good start and we set off on the hike, adequately fortified by the food and drink.
First, we walked about a half-mile on the sidewalk of the main road past a row of residential and commercial buildings. We then took a left turn and walked alongside the estuary. The tide was out and there was a large expanse of land between the water on our left and huge tracts of farmland to our right. A narrow walking path could be discerned beside the hedges that defined the borders of these endless farms, delicately marking a public right of way between large parcels of private property. For much of our walk the path was buried in three feet of very thick brush that made for slow, difficult progress, and I was pleased that I wasn’t wearing shorts like Laurence and Jide who risked being stung by nettles and God knows what else lurked within all that brush. I nervously looked out for snakes even though I knew it was highly unlikely that we would encounter them in this part of the world. I’m Nigerian, however, and wasn’t going to take any chances.
When we weren’t wading through thick brush we were walking on sharp pebbles that poked through the soles of our shoes. It was a case of choosing your poison as we alternated between the two. Laurence walked ahead at a steady pace with a dogged sense of purpose and seemed impervious to the rugged terrain. Even though he’d only started his ambitious walk a few days ago, he looked as if he’d been doing it for years. Armed with a map that I could never make any sense of, he walked determinedly forward looking for landmarks highlighted on the map and confidently guided us in the right direction -- mostly. Once or twice as we looked at the map with befuddlement, I was tempted to simply consult the GPS on my smart phone but somehow suspected that it wouldn’t be especially useful in these circumstances.
The views of the East Sussex countryside were incredible, and our conversation was frequently punctuated by our “oohs” and “aahs” as we encountered yet another picture-perfect landscape. The rolling farmlands were bordered by raised hedges that protected the farms from the tide. On the other side of the hedges deep burrows had been dug along the sides of the farms and formed a kind of moat. It channeled the brackish water away from the farms when the tide was in. Well-fed cows grazed contentedly while basking in the warm rays of the glorious sunshine. A few boats sailed along the estuary from a nearby marina while many were moored in pairs in a neat line along the water. We felt completely at one with nature.
Eventually, after about two-and-a-half hours of trekking alone in increasingly difficult-to-navigate terrain, we came to a more residential area and began to encounter small groups of people walking and biking, making the most of the rare tropical weather. Our long walk was finally coming to an end.
We made our way to The Traveller’s Joy pub in Southbourne, the designated end point of the walk, where we had another drink which we definitely felt we’d earned. We were soon surrounded at the bar by a group of revelers who were still in celebration mode and appeared to have been drinking non-stop since the match ended three hours earlier. Laurence bought them a round of drinks and we beat a hasty exit when it appeared that things might start getting a little out of hand.
We declared success, and it was with a sense of accomplishment that Jide and I saw Laurence back to his traveling van. I couldn’t help but wonder how he could go through this kind of walk every day for the next 360 days, especially recognizing that the English weather would not always be this cooperative. But having known Laurence for years I was confident that sheer determination would pull him through. We said our goodbyes and as Laurence drove off I knew his mind was laser-focused on the next stage of his trip, a 17-mile walk further west. For one brief second, I considered offering to join him on that leg of the trip, but my aching legs quickly disabused me of that notion.