If a picture is worth a thousand words, then walking the South West Coast Path is indescribable.
I am reading Raynor Winn’s best-selling book, The Salt Path, while walking in her footsteps on England’s South West Coast Path.
Except I am hardly following her lead.
Winn walked after she and her husband Moth lost their home in a business deal gone sour. Plus, he had just gotten news that he was dying from a neurological disease. They camped, mostly, and she wrote that they lived off 48 pounds a week. In two segments, they trekked almost all of the 630 miles.
Sue and I are fortunate that we are healthy and will return to our Oregon home. We have a shower, warm bed, and pub meals at the end of each day. We are carrying everything we need on our backs, sans the tent, sleeping bags and stove. Finally, should our script play out, we will hike “just” 260 miles from Minehead to Land’s End.
But, like Raynor and her husband and all who venture here, we are astounded by the glory of England’s southwest coast. The steep path challenges, but our senses bask in this experience.
A warning: Read Way Out There and you may find yourself buying an old VW Beetle, driving to Alaska and discovering magic while camping in the wild. At 22, J. Robert Harris drove solo across Canada on his way to Alaska and as I read the opening chapter, his words delivered his unbridled sense of adventure.
Now 75, Harris writes about his favorite backpacking journeys that many would not consider, even with expert guides. The Arctic National Park and Preserve, Baffin Island, Tasmania, the northern reaches of Canada, Switzerland and Australia are among his destinations. One chapter takes readers for a gripping canoe adventure.
He packs impressive courage and finds a sense of peace miles from civilization, in the home territories of polar bears, grizzlies and wolves. He is often alone, but never lonely. Danger follows him, but it only succeeds in making his stories impossible to put aside.
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.