I learnt a lot this past weekend, but 2 things really stood out. Number one; 106km is a really long way when travelling by foot. Number two; Organisation and pre-planning are not my strong points in life. I'll try and keep the 106km concise below...
The weekend started on the ferry from Southampton to Cowes, with the sun setting over the sea bathing the Isle of Wight in a beautiful glow. Although providing the perfect backdrop for some pre challenge photos, by the time we had disembarked the ferry and driven to the campsite complete darkness had taken over. Armed with two grumpy dogs, limited light, and an awareness that come morning I probably wouldn't sleep for the next 30 hours, the tent was pitched in record time with personal reminders written that next time we would arrive well in advance.
The challenge itself started on the picturesque south coast of the Isle of Wight high on the cliffs and set off west, heading towards the first major rest stop approx 25km away at the needles. I'd been pretty nervous prior to starting as I was a 'lone walker', but Gareth followed my progress in the car and came to walk parts with me, and I ended up talking to and walking with a number of other people who were alone as well. It wasn't until I started walking that I realised quite how hilly the Isle of Wight coastal path was, and at 22km I have never been more happy to see Gareth's parents faces appear at the top of a very long hill that had been started to diminish my good mood particularly quickly.
I should give the rest stops a mention here as a short walk from the top of this long hill was the first major rest stop where I was greeted by table upon table of free snacks, drinks and massage. Action Challenge really have thought of everything and I soon found myself counting down the km's as I walked until the next rest point. Interspersed between the 4 major rest stops around the island were smaller minor rest stops, equipped with toilets, snacks, gels and friendly volunteers meaning you only ever had to walk a max of 16km before you stumbled upon one. It is at these points that your chip is scanned and your position updated on the live tracker for anyone who may be following your progress.
I spent the next few hours walking making copious amounts of holiday and adventure plans to come back and explore the Isle of Wight, as it is truly just stunning. The coastal path follows the coast for the majority of the first half of the challenge looking out over the sea, however for about 10km on the west coast it veers inland slightly away from the sea, taking you through fields and woodland, before rejoining the coast toward the north west of the island. I hit the half way point just as the sun was starting to set and joined a group of other lone walkers setting off for the overnight section so I wouldn't be walking alone. Walking in the dark just following arrows means I paid little attention to where I was for the most of the night, and it all kind of blends into one, but this section was initially spent mainly walking through the more populated areas of the Isle of wight, on tarmac paths and past houses and then onto the east side of the island where the paths turned back into grass and we walked through a fair few fields. I hit a massive wall at around 75km and probably would have called it quits if it hadn't been for a stunning sunrise that occurred exactly at that moment whilst I was in a particularly beautiful area, a personal trait of extreme stubbornness to never give up and Gareth arriving in the car to check if I was OK.
The last quarter of the island was back to being very hilly, but the hills gave way to more beautiful views of the island and the coast and each hill conquered took me one hill closer to the finish. Billed as a 100k challenge, the Isle of Wight is actually 106km, and those last 6km's seemed to drag on for ages, often leaving me thinking I must have missed the previous km marker only to walk past it a few hundred meters later. I don't think I have ever been so happy to walk round a corner and be greeted with the field I had left over a day ago. By far the hardest physical and mental challenge I have ever done (probably in my life) but I absolutely loved it. The camaraderie of everyone taking on the challenge was amazing and I couldn't have asked to have explored the Isle of Wight in a better way.