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The Tao of Stu

My inner idiot has caused me all manner of problems over the years, but embarking on a 60-mile charity walk was a step too far

Author Chris Wright Illustration Pete Ryan

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For weeks, my inner idiot had been bucking common sense. It started after I signed up for a charity walk from London to Brighton, which involved trekking about
60 miles in the space of 24 hours. Some people had questioned the wisdom of this decision, given that I tend to get wheezy climbing onto a barstool. Blisters were mentioned, as were muscle seizures, pulled hamstrings and death.

The idiot—we’ll call him Stuart—was having none of this. “It’s walking,” he’d say, rolling his imaginary eyes. “How hard could it be?” Stuart was also skeptical about the need for special equipment. “After all,” he said, “it’s not like you’re trudging up the Matterhorn or wandering off in search of the elusive Amazonian otter. This is a springtime stroll through the English countryside. Suck it up.”

So it was, on the day of the walk, I showed up at the starting line in a T-shirt, jeans and a pair of tennis shoes, clutching a coffee cup and a plastic bag, which contained such essentials as a magazine for break times (ha) and chocolate donuts for energy. My fellow walkers, decked out in moisture-wicking ensembles, nibbled Torq Bars and stretched their quads. I engaged in a pre-stroll cigarette.

I should have known. Stuart and I have a history. It was he who aggressively maintained, at a friend’s barbecue a couple of summers back, that a bit of rare chicken never hurt anybody, who goaded me into hurtling down a black diamond the first time I ever skied, who elbowed my ribs encouragingly the day I met my now ex-wife. Explosive stomach cramps, snow-packed sinuses and emotional sciatica—that is Stuart’s legacy.  

This time, though, the idiot had outdone himself. I was barely five miles into the 60-mile stroll when I realized my mistake. Mile 10 marked the first bucket of rain. As I zombie-shuffled past the 20-mile point, I was soaked, chafed within an inch of my life. The narrow trails were slippery and ankle-bendy, a situation made worse by the purposeful hikers who jostled past and the eminently grabbable barbed wire fences by my side.

It was gratifying to note, however, that there were others worse off than me. The sides of the trail were littered with the fallen, or the merely slumped, their faces betraying a mixture of distress and bewilderment. When night fell, the situation became so dreadful that many hikers simply packed it in and caught a bus to the nearest train station. I was one of them.

In the end, I managed 35 miles in about 16 hours. It took me a week to recover. But some good did come of this: Along with a few work colleagues, I’d helped raise about $10,000 for a charity that provides support for people with cancer. Hooray for us. And yet, squirming on my bed the following morning, I had questions, the chief one being: Why?

In the hours before I called it quits, I spent a few miles hobbling beside a guy named Brian, who said he’d taken part in much more punishing events, including an endurance race whose obstacles, the way he told it, would have violated the Geneva Conventions. “Why would you do that?” I said. “What’s the point?” Brian shrugged and offered me a PowerBar, and for a while we nibbled and walked in silence.

A little later, a group of hardy types passed by, and Brian joined them. Stuart muttered something about trying to keep up, but this time I wasn’t listening. Instead, I sat down on a tree stump and watched the hikers walk away, their multicolored gear growing dimmer in the lowering gloom.

I don’t think I’ll be doing the London-to-Brighton thing next year. Good causes aside, I just don’t get why anyone would willingly subject himself to such an ordeal—which, apparently, people do all the time. Maybe it’s a modern expression of asceticism, the idea that self-denial and self-punishment lead to heightened self-awareness, an entrée to the spiritual realm. Or maybe it’s just that I’m not the only one with an inner idiot calling the shots.

Hemispheres executive editor Chris Wright is currently preparing himself for his next challenge: a charity “Game of Thrones”-a-thon.

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