Why am I so bloody, irrationally, irresponsibly stubborn? It’s probably an adolescent male thing. The first blister was spotted three days ago - a cheerful little pinkish bump on the end of my big toe, not something a dyed-in-the-merino-wool, tough-as-hobnailed-hiking-boots adventurer bloke is going to think twice about, am I right? Walk through the pain, stiff upper lip, mind over matter and all that rubbish. The med kit was kept resolutely shut. Now, however, there is an inkling of regret: visible perhaps, in the slight stiffness of my otherwise stoic stride, or betrayed by the curtness of my clipped comments. Behind this feebly maintained mask of masculine nonchalance, I am in screaming, howling, exquisite agony. The combination of tropical heat, forced marching, and too-new boots have skinned my right foot as brutally and effectively as a sadist with a cheese grater.
The fertile beds of freshly peeled flesh are as good as an open petri dish to the lurking legions of misanthropic microbes. Already my infected right foot is as swollen-taught as a particularly panicked pufferfish. The appendage formerly known as big toe has re-identified as a weeping scarlet abscess. This morning I awoke to find that a colony of upsettingly large ants had spent an industrious night feasting on the tattered remnants of this once sturdy extremity. Of course, none of this would have happened if 3 days ago I’d treated first and asked questions later. Or, come to think of it, if I’d never set out to walk across India in the first place.
So how does a sane-until-proven-guilty individual find themselves in such a pitiful plight? If you guessed a previous display of unnecessary manly stubbornness, then you would be right. Let us veer back to spring 2015: I had decided that I would spend my summer replicating Alistair Humphrey’s 2-month crossing of South India via the length of the Cauvery River. An ideal remedy for the pent up stress of a sedentary student study schedule. Having previously solo-cycled the length of Norway (by “solo-cycled the length of Norway” I mean cursed, cried, and crawled the length of Norway), I was certain that maintaining solo-sanity was not yet my strong point. Unfortunately, student friends with the money, time, and above all, the inclination to walk across a subcontinent are a rare breed indeed - ranking somewhere between the Javan rhinoceros and the Greater Bamboo Lemur on the IUCN red list of critically endangered species. A net broader than my immediate friend group would have to be cast if I was to find an appropriate teammate. I turned, as millennials are likely to do, to the Internet. An Explorer’s Connect post, strategically linked to a selection of Facebook groups and Instagram posts, yielded three responses. Of these three, the prophetically named 'Angus Walker' seemed the best choice, as we were similarly aged and experienced, and both studying at Bristol University. We met twice before our flight. Three months later, having survived deserts, cloud forests, slums, India’s notorious traffic, and an embarrassing assortment of bowel and gastric maladies (the results of a diet consisting entirely of crushed rice, strong curry, and poorly treated water), we had reached the Arabian Sea.
Finding suitable team-mates online might seem like searching for a specific piece of hay in a haystack, but if you target groups and forums of like-minded people, then it can be surprisingly straight forward. Angus and I are now firm friends: he is currently crossing the mountains of Transylvania, and I spent my post-India summer attempting a combined biodiversity survey/first ascent of a remote mountain in Northern Sumatra.
You can follow our continuing exploits via our Facebook (@olibroadheadphotography, @anguswalkerphotography) and Instagram pages (@oli_broadhead, @anguswalkerphoto).
Words by Oli Broadhead