Sometimes, the best experiences push you to your limits. I am reminded of that thought as I walk the South West Coast Path in England. One particular day included stunning coastal views along a 15-mile walk with more than 9,000 feet of elevation change.
In the moment, it seemed like too much. My legs rebeled in pain as I neared my tenth hour on the trail. “Why do I do this?” I asked myself as I wondered if the sights were worth it.
A couple of days later, our English friend Ian surprised Sue and me on the South West Coast Path with a reunion. It brought back memories of our first distance trek, Spain’s Camino de Santiago, where we met Ian. I learned during a month on the Camino that working through hardships sometimes leads to rich rewards.
Ian’s friendship and many treasured memories came from those times on the Camino.
We have seven days and many more miles left on our journey from Minehead to Land’s End. Our fifth long-distance trek reminds me that time will guide me to realizing the rewards from taking on such a difficult challenge.
How do people who battle anxiety and/or depression find peace and happiness?
I have found answers to this question through reading the wisdom of some brilliant writers whose works I have featured here. (Click on “more books” in the menu to see them.)
But I have found some of my life’s most enjoyable times on the long-distant trails in Europe. My story about my first such journey became an adventure memoir, Camino Sunrise: Walking With My Shadows.
I am finding this happiness again in England on the South West Coast Path. Sue and I are about a third of the way through our 260-mile trek from Minehead to Land’s End. Here are a few scenes from England.
See that speck of a building below the glacier? It is Refugio Elisabetta, one of a collection of remote hostels on the 110-mile Tour du Mont Blanc.
I would never have stayed there if it had not been for my hiking adventure on the Camino de Santiago.
Perched on a spur in the Italian Alps, Refugio Elisabetta offered triple bunks in a crowded coed dorm and bright orange clogs for walking around an outdoor setting that left me gobsmacked. I showered in minimal privacy, shared a sink with other men, and waited to use the only toilet with a seat. We had lucked out with a private room with barely enough room for one set of bunks, but its tiny window opened to a view of the glacier. The dirty duvet made me wish I had packed my sleeping liner, but I was grateful for the bed after several exhausting days of climbs and descents.
Refugio Elisabetta was a highlight of our two-week trip around the Alps’ tallest mountain. The delicious communal dinner came with quick-binding friendships with trekkers who had traveled from throughout Europe. Some were sleeping in tents in the campground down the slope from the building.
In Camino Sunrise: Walking With My Shadows, I describe the restless night in my first albergue in Spain and how I had ruminated about the lack of privacy in coed dorms and bathrooms. Our first long-distance backpacking adventure eventually guided me to come to terms with ghosts that had haunted me since childhood.
And, oh, so thankfully, the Camino lessons led me to Refugio Elisabetta.
Patience. Sue and I had learned during our pilgrimage across Spain that our perseverance would be rewarded, eventually. I chronicled our trials in Camino Sunrise: Walking With My Shadows.
Mont Blanc had stood tall, 15,771 feet, for the first several days of our 110-mile adventure around the Alps’ highest member. But it had hid from our view.
On the morning after the toughest climbing day of our lives, our patience was tested again as we inched up 3,100 feet toward Col de Seigne. The aches from day three worsened, making us wonder how much more we could take. We didn’t say it, but the Tour du Mont Blanc had made us question why we had attempted such a trek.
Then, at the mountain pass, Mont Blanc’s grand pose was the best pain killer I have ever felt. It graciously posed for photographs with us before we stepped from France into Italy, where we picnicked at nearly 8,300 feet in the crisp, blue air and gawked at one of Earth’s wonders.