My first backpacking trip didn’t go as planned. In fact, it barely ‘went’ at all. I made it a grand total of six miles, before having to bail. I thought I would share my story, so hopefully, you’ll be better prepared than I was!
So, the morning of my departure, I decided to change my starting location. I was originally planning on starting on the south end of Felixstowe promenade, which would have added about 4 miles to the Suffolk Coast Path. But that would have meant a long walk before having anywhere to camp, plus a ferry trip across the river. So, I decided to get dropped off at the ferry terminus, thus eliminating a six mile stretch, the ferry ride, and the need to refill water so soon.
Want to know my first mistake? I didn’t research the route the path takes well enough. The first three miles was literally along the shingle beach. Ever tried walking three miles on shingle? It’s hard, exhausting and feels like twice the distance. Add in a complete lack of shade, a boiling hot day, and not nearly enough water, and it was a recipe for disaster.
By the time I hit the six mile mark, I was out of water, with no-where to refill it. There was plenty of sea, but no fresh water, and no shops or cafe’s either. I started with about 2 litres of water, and it was no where near enough. I had a water filter, but that’s no use if there’s nothing to filter.
By the time I reached Shingle Street, I was feeling rough. It was a hot day, the first in a week with no rain (which would’ve given me some water at least!), I had drunk all my water, and due to my social anxiety, couldn’t bring myself to ask for help, or knock on someones door to ask to refill my water.
At Shingle Street, I found a patch of shade, collapsed and texted my house mate to ask if she could collect me. As she had a life outside of me, it took nearly 4 hours before she arrived. By which point my condition had gotten worse. Folks, heat exhaustion is no joke. I was light headed, headache, nauseous, stomach cramps, and by the time she reached me, I’d been sick and could barely stand.
It’s been four days since then, and I still don’t feel right. I started hydrating as soon as she reached me, the angel bought me a bottle of water. And once home, she got me another one with a electrolyte tablet in it. I barely ate that evening, just some buttered toast, and the following day wasn’t much better. The headache took three days to subside, and I’ve been easily exhausted since.
Learn from my mistake folks. Study your route so you know what you’re getting into. Make sure you have enough water, know where you can refill, and don’t let anxiety stop you from asking for help. If she’d been any later, I may have ended up in hospital.
Another thing, invest in a personal locator beacon. By the time help arrived, my phone battery was dead. I had battery packs with me, but somewhere along the way lost the charger cable. So I had no way to actually charge my phone. If she hadn’t known the car park I’d collapsed at, I’d have been in a lot more trouble.
So, what have I learnt from this experience? I’m not as fit as I’d like to think I am. I need to ACTUALLY train, and ACTUALLY plan my route. Am I going to be able to hike the coastline of the UK? Maybe, but not this year. I need to start slowly, far more slowly than I’d like. But each journey starts with a single step, and this one started with six miles of them… Now I just need to do better.