Can you start hiking when you’re middle-aged and unfit?

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It seemed such an extraordinary notion – the idea that I could set off from home and walk 1,800 miles through woods to Georgia…

A Walk in the Woods, Bill Bryson

Learning to walk

That’s exactly what happened to me. Well maybe not exactly, because I live in England, but close enough. A friend mentioned the Coast to Coast walk to me, which sparked a memory of seeing signs while walking in Swaledale. A quick Google later and I learnt, for the first time and to my utter amazement, that the Coast to Coast passes about five miles from my house. I could walk out my front door and, in the same way Bryson could hike the Appalachian Trail, head west to St. Bees or east to Robin Hood’s Bay using nothing more than my own two feet

My feet, enjoying a break

My feet are important, not just for walking on but because I’m really not a good passenger. Trains, buses, and cars all make me such an anxious mess that I’ve spent the last twelve years going……well……nowhere. Suddenly, the Coast to Coast was not only possible, it opened up more opportunities because it links to – and shares paths with – other long distance walks

Two weeks ago, I decided that I’m going to hike the Coast to Coast

The route

The Coast to Coast runs just shy of two hundred miles from the Irish Sea to the North Sea, cutting across some of England’s most stunning scenery. Most people walk from west to east, crossing the Lake District, Yorkshire Dales, and finally the North Yorkshire Moors, usually taking about two weeks but many have done it in less and also in more. I’ll be in the latter group

If you click here you can read Matthew Usherwood’s summary of the Coast to Coast and some of the other long distance hikes in my area

The backstory

First up, who am I? I’m a middle-aged, unfit, slightly saggy, single mum with a limited income, an empty-ish nest, lots of time on my hands, a healthy weight after years of restricted and disordered eating, and a mental illness. My rucksack certainly won’t be my only baggage

My mother loved hiking, I hated it. The stunning scenery of North Yorkshire was wasted on teenage me, back in the nineties, as I sulked along in her wake wishing I could go on the kind of holidays my friends did. My rucksack, an ancient old thing on a bulky metal frame, was nearly as big as me – I had to sit on the floor to put it on, and then be hauled up to a standing position. Youth Hostels in those days were welcoming but austere with rickety bunk beds in big dorms, and where I was always the youngest person – and therefore permanently relegated to one of the top bunks. We hiked from one to another, the long days punctuated only by stopping to investigate whatever packed lunch the previous night’s hostel had provided – there was no choice, you just had to hope you’d like it and I regularly didn’t. After a few years of this, some thirty years ago, I never hiked again

Finding new paths where I live

The goal

I’m not sure why I decided that walking the Coast to Coast would be a good idea, but the more I read about it the more I really wanted to do it. I also know that the Coast to Coast is way beyond – millions of miles beyond – my current capabilities and fitness levels, so I won’t be doing it quite yet

At the start of this post I used the phrase learning to walk, and that’s what my posts are going to be about – my motivation, training and preparation, all my decisions, my complete lack of knowledge and experience, and what it’s like to take up hiking in your mid-forties when you’re a long way from fit. I’ll be learning as I go, from a start point of sitting on the sofa knowing absolutely nothing. Can you start hiking when you’re middle-aged and unfit? There’s only one way to find out

I looked for blogs about people like me, people I could relate to, and they’re in short supply – hopefully this one might encourage someone else to lace up their boots and get out there. I suppose there’s two goals really – let people like me know they’re not on their own and, of course, walk the Coast to Coast

Disclaimer

At the bottom of some posts, I’ll be sharing what I’ve learnt about various things. This isn’t expert advice, and I always recommend you to talk to people who know a lot more than I do – most hikers and outdoorsy people are happy to share their knowledge with you. Why not check out some of the other posts on here, and remember to connect with us in the Facebook group

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12 comments
  1. You’re never too old to start! I’m 38, and have never been backpacking before. But next week I’m starting a solo trip that I hope will take me around the entire UK coastline! Starting with my sights set on the Suffolk Coast Path, which is 55 miles… If I can do that, I can do the rest, right? Hopefully I’ll meet you on trail one day!

  2. This is fabulous. Makes me consider getting off my giant arse. Almost.
    Love the writing style, really kept me both informed and entertained.

  3. So, so, very pleased to see this. I can’t tell you happy I am, the words don’t exist. This is a wonderful thing and I look forward to many more posts!

  4. I’m currently going through treatment for breast cancer and have piled on pounds thanks to chemo – a common side effect. Also, my heart rate is very fast. After my surgery I want to shed weight and re-gain my fitness. I’ll be following your blog with much curiosity! Best wishes in your endeavours.

  5. No, it’s not too late. In my mid-50s I found back pain was limiting me to about 3 miles and regularly disturbing my nights. I saw a physio and a chiropractor and started doing regular exercise – zumba, aquacise, pilates, yoga. when the pandemic hit and the gyms shut, I was determined not to lose what I’d gained and go back to painkillers that didn’t work so started with online step classes, legs bums and tums and eventually found I could do HIIT, too. Now I’m walking 6 miles or more no problem and powering up hills faster than I ever did. Go for it.

    1. That’s brilliant! Thank you for letting me know it’s possible – it sometimes seems like I’ve set myself an impossible task but I’ll get there eventually

  6. Oh yeah!!! You can absolutely start …at any age really.
    As a younger girl I loved walking but lost the opportunity once I had a baby and got a car…in that order.
    My love of walking was rekindled in 2001 in Ireland and 6 years ago I started hiking for real….
    At the beginning of lockdown in April 2020 I joined the Conqueror Challenges and they are so motivating and keep me focused.
    Good for you, planning this walk, and how marvellous that you live so close to the route.
    Keep us posted on how you progress..
    Step by step 🚶‍♀️have a terrific time.

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