WHO: Jim and Barb Matheson, both 56, of Jefferson; Bob Elms, 79, and Bob Juckins, 60, Holden; Marti Jordan, 55, Rutland
WHERE: England's Coast to Coast Trail
WHEN: Two weeks in August
WHY: ''We're a hiking group, nothing organized. Some of us started as Scout leaders," Jim Matheson said. ''After our kids graduated, we kept going. We've hiked Mount Rainier, the Canadian Rockies. Every year we try to go on a big hike."
WELL-TROD TRAIL: ''About 25,000 people do the trail every year, is what we heard," Jordan said. ''We had our B&Bs lined up in March because August is the busiest time." The route, from the Irish Sea to the North Sea, is 190 miles long and passes through the Lake District, Yorkshire Dales, and the moors of North York. To plan, they used ''A Northern Coast to Coast Walk" by Terry Marsh (Cicerone Press, 1993) and the website www.coast2coast.co.uk.
A RITUAL START: From St. Bees, south of Glasgow, ''We began the first stage of the Coast to Coast ritual: We dipped our boots in the Irish Sea, and selected a stone to carry to the North Sea," Matheson said.
THE DAY-TO-DAY: ''We got in a rhythm where we'd get up at 7, eat at 8, and be out the door by 9," Matheson said. ''We realized there was no reason to make good time, so long as we arrived in time for a shower and before the pub closed for supper." Compared with other trips, he said, ''we were in the lap of luxury -- showers every night, sleeping in a bed." They each carried about 20 pounds, including rain gear they never used. ''This was absolutely unheard of," Matheson said of the dry weather. ''At every stop it was the primary topic of conversation."
STEP BY STEP: ''The first five days [in the Lake District] had the most elevation gain. That was the hardest," Jordan said. ''The most strenuous part," Matheson said, ''is that none of us had hiked 15 to 20 miles day after day after day. To prepare, we'd go out on the Midstate Trail, 93 miles through Massachusetts."
WALKING AND TALKING: ''You'd meet people on the trail and then maybe the next night you'd see them at the pub," Jordan said. ''That's the fun part."
LOCAL SIGHTS: ''The footpaths started because people would use them to go from village to village. Now landowners have to maintain the land and provide a way to get over the fence," Matheson said. ''There are all different styles to cross a boundary. One day we counted 39." ''One trail was right between the barnyard and the house," Jordan said. ''A public footpath is a unique thing."
BOUNTIFUL BEAUTY: The sights included small towns and farming villages, stone walls and stone houses, cliffs and hills, valleys and lakes, and a lot of sheep and cows. One part of the route, in North York Moors National Park, was covered with heather, ''extravagant scenery, and wide panoramas," Matheson said.
SEEING THE SEA: They lost their way a few times, including on the final day, when they could see the North Sea but not their destination, ultimately adding a mile and an hour to the hike. It was the longest of their journey -- 21 miles in 9 hours. The reward? Dipping their boots into the North Sea and tossing the stones they had carried from St. Bees.
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