So, my other half does the Nijmegen marches every year and has a few completions at 50km under his belt already. I stupidly said I’d do it with him this year at the extended distance of 55km per day for 4 days, with 13hours maximum completion time a day. For those of you who work in old money that’s 34 miles per day on hard unrelenting tarmac. The saving grace of such a long walk is that being in the Netherlands, its pretty flat, and 50,000 other people are doing the same walk. Well almost, most people seemed to be doing the 30 or 40km route with only a few hardy nutters doing the 50km (mainly men who are too young to opt for the shorter distance) and even fewer oddballs doing the 55km. The event attracts military teams from all across the globe who march in formation with a full pack on their back. They are well organised and have a lot of support from their teams along the way with designated rest stops, medics, water points etc (sadly this is not true of those doing the 55km route…)
Nijmegen is a small city with a population of around 140,000. Every year they invite 50,000 walkers plus their various support teams to go for a walk around the area. These people all need somewhere to sleep and quite clearly there is not enough rooms at the inn for us all. So amazingly the residents of the city open their homes every year for a week. For a small fee you get to stay in one of the locals homes with all your food included. It’s a great deal to be honest, our host was amazing, he had a beautiful, comfortable home, his cooking was amazing (with the added bonus of being a fellow veggie!) and he wasnt too far from the start line so we could walk in easily. Its amazing really, I can’t imagine the residents of Colchester readily willing to give up their spare rooms for total strangers for a week.
The whole town embraces the event, it’s a major festival and when we set out on day 1 all the young people who had been up drinking and enjoying the festival were there to wave us off, high fiving you and cheering you as you went. Despite it being 4am. In fact all along the route…. despite how early it is, people are out of their homes cheering you on, giving you bits of cake or sweets to munch, playing music very loudly to motivate you, every street has bunting, and as you wander through the towns the local mayor is there to welcome the walkers as they go past, marching in time to the brass band that is inevitably playing . It really is a spectacle.
We set off on day 1 full of hope, 3 amigos walking off into the sunrise (ha!), as we walked over the bridge out of the city i looked back, the moon was just above the city skyline and was bright orange, it was stunning. Sadly I didn’t get a picture but I wont forget that view in a hurry. As we continued I was feeling pretty good, we got to 40km and I was really quite enjoying it, and nothing hurt. BUT, then the heat of the day set in, it got to 31 degrees and walking felt more like trudging. I was taking on as much water as I could but I was sweating so much it wasnt enough and I felt awful. As we headed along the dike toward the bridge back into the city i felt pretty ropey. My head felt clouded and dizzy and despite doing all the things you should do to stop heat stroke, the lack of shade was really getting to me. as we got on the bridge, some very poor organising meant we were all bottle necked. Thousands of people all crammed like sardines in high temperatures on the last 2/3 km of the walk. We saw about 6 or 7 people who collapsed on the bridge because the heat of being bunched together just pushed them over the edge. I was almost one of them, I felt myself start to go a couple of times but somehow kept it together. All along the route during the day we’d seen no end of people collapsed with the heat, hooked up to IV drips to try to hydrate them. There was an endless stream of ambulances passing us ferrying people to the hospital. It was ridiculous. Everyone we met said they’d not known anything as bad as this since the year two people lost their lives on the march.
We got to the end of day one, with 30 minutes to spare before the cut off. We signed out and James got me laid down in the shade, feet in the air drinking ice cold water, after half an hour or so i felt like a human again so we set off back toward the house, we almost missed our bus but they held it for us but I had to sprint to catch it. I’ve just walked 55km, almost passed out from heat and now I’m running for a bus. When I got on it everyone gave me a kind of cheer having realised i was one of the walkers and I was clearly knackered! I spent the rest of the night walking like John Wayne where my legs seized up, but that’s standard for me and I knew they’d be fine in the morning.
So 2.30am the next morning, up we get, head off to the start and away we go, slightly less drunk people this time to cheer us on. the drunks are great but they do have a habit of standing where you want to walk. After 6km we took a break, James was already showing signs of dehydration, the temperature wa 25 degrees and the sun wasnt even up yet. We had long chat and decided to pull out there and then, We’d seen so many fit people go down the day before, and so few opportunities to refill water bottles that facing a second day of heat ( today was 33 degrees) just wasnt appealing. It was just too damn hot and on the 55km route they just were not providing enough water facilities. The 40 and 30km route had extra water stops, they were given earlier start times so they had a longer day to complete the shorter distance because of the heat, but the long distance guys didn’t have that luxury. So we called it. The march will still be there next year, James has completed it a few times before so we weren’t willing to push ourselves to the point of illness to complete, it’s just not that important!
Pulling out had its advantages, I got to see the wonderful city of Nijmegen an enjoy its beauty. We also got to do the sunset march across the river, with our friend Glen as the lead (veteran of honour). It was a poignant way to remember those who died here in WW2.
So we headed home. Adventure over, and cut short. I loved my experience of Nijmegen, the city has a wonderful atmosphere to it and I’d recommend it to anyone. I got to learn about Dutch culture from our hosts and I suspect I’ll end up back there next year in the hope of cooler walking days just to prove that I can do it, but we’ll see! Right now I’m just relaxing on the balcony with a cup of tea in peace and quiet, planning my next adventure!
Oh… Glen made it! He’s more hardcore and as he’d travelled all the way from Canada was not going to give up. Well done!