LeftRight Stop: The End.

So, we are finished. It doesn’t feel like we have. Being what I can only describe as lightning fast at hiking, we finished 18 days ahead of schedule, meaning we get a holiday within a holiday, so there hasn’t been a dramatic shift, and I’ve been too busy travelling around Spain to realise what we’ve accomplished.
So what’ve we been up to since my last post. We walked a lot. It rained a lot, then it was really sunny. I ate much and often. Fiona got lost a few times, and fell over a few more. Basically it became hugely routine. We had some amazing days and some really tough days. At times we came very close to taking the easy route out of valleys to escape the rain, but I’m pleased to say we didn’t. We left Seix in ridiculously high spirits, and walked about 19km in one afternoon. Meeting a few lovely people along the way, and the pattern followed each day. It all blurred into one, and hopefully when I get a chance to sit down and go through the whole experience I’ll remember the finer details. All I know for certain is that we really delivered on hard work in the second half of the walk.

The most memorable days were the last few, when it became a tangible amount of time and distance and steps between us and the sea. On day 37 we walked through the pouring rain to an empty cabin about 5 km before Refuge de Cortalets, a touristy refuge due to Canigou, the biggest mountain in the area. Having dried ourselves, we decided to test our lungs’ reaction to smoke after so long without a cigarette, and lit the wood stove. About an hour later, once the smoke had cleared, we were able to re-enter the cabin. Fiona and Craig settled down to watch a film while I went outside into the freshly rain free nature and saw where we were. It was pretty much the most beautiful spot I’ve ever seen. That’s no exaggeration, with my body pumping endorphins around after a day of 6 hours solid hiking, my head clear, belly full, and the sun not only illuminating the mountains it was setting behind, but also projecting two rainbows pretty much directly above my head from a light rain shower, it was pretty unbeatable.

IMG_8818 IMG_8815“If you consider every ascent, however tough, boring, tiring, steep, hot, slippery, painful, as a success, and you do a couple a day, you have a wonderful feeling of your own strength multiple times a day.”

That said, the next day challenged it pretty well when, after a long, stiff ascent first thing in the morning, I reached a ridge above Rufuge de Cortalets, and looked around. In the distance there was a shiny flat watery looking thing. ‘Don’t get excited for nothing Doug’ I told myself ‘it’s probably just a lake’. But it was, actually the sea. I could see the sea for the first time in 800km. I think it was probably what it signified, and that I’d daydreamed for at least an hour a day about reaching the sea, but I was close to tears at the sight of it. It must have looked strange to walk past me, a smoke/sweat smelling, dirty looking, bearded English man laughing to himself staring at a tiny bit of sea off in the distance, but that was me. Happy and smiling.
It would be fair to say that the night before Craig and I had lacked self-control over our appetites, and the result was we had to have breakfast at the refuge…but it was nice to sit down and eat cereal with milk (a luxury for us) and stare at the sea.
The days carried on regardless, and as we approached the end we began to start realising that this lifestyle, although difficult, emotionally and physically draining, painful, and sometimes lonely, is sustainable. We fitted into small habits, you could tell by our robot-like systems of packing up in the mornings, the instinctive nature in which one of us would stop at the right place for lunch as our appetites worked in time with each other’s (although my appetite is more of a constant thing). We knew each person’s speed, so how far ahead or behind they were likely to be.
And then it was over. In those last three days we became even closer to each other and pretty much everyone else we met. Having mostly all done the whole GR10, all the hikers we met were in very similar spirits and we all knew everyone there had come a long way, and faced as many if not more challenges than we had ourselves. But all of this knowledge seemed to disappear when we walked to the final marker in Banyuls. It was just another day, yes it may end in spraying champagne and running into the sea, but it felt like another day.

Now however, only five days after finishing, the whole trip is a far distant memory. LeftRight Repeat 2015 has become exactly what it was intended to be, an amazing journey that pushed the three of us to our limits. We spent so much more time aching, or tired, sweating, thirsty, hungry, sleepless in storms, freezing cold or boiling hot, than we did comfortably. Although this may not sound like your ideal holiday, the main factor of LeftRight Repeat 2015 is that we did it, and any pain we endured to finish, is now equally important as the memories of the laughs, and the relaxing hours walking across ridges at 2,600m, sitting and having siestas by beautiful rivers, eating dinner under the stars. It has become part of my repertoire, which has made me stronger, happier and rather well tanned.
In my first entry during the walk I wrote down a few rules I’d learnt in the initial 4 days which were:

  1. Watch where you walk.
  2. The French/Basque are amazing people.
  3. Walking up mountains is considerably more difficult with heat and added weight.
  4. If you have a problem, tell the team.
  5. Cheese/ wine are simply better in France

After another 38 days I would like to update these:

  1. Watch where you walk, take time to appreciate what is going on around you, you’re in one of the most beautiful parts of the world, and walking through it allows you to see a huge amount of that beauty. Don’t spend your time looking at your feet wanting the day to end.
  2. People are amazing people. The people you meet from all over the world on these trips all have an amazing story and their own reasons for doing them. They also have a better understanding than anyone else of what you’re going through, good or bad.
  3. Walking up mountains is considerably difficult, but worthwhile. If you consider every ascent, however tough, boring, tiring, steep, hot, slippery, painful, as a success, and you do a couple a day, you have a wonderful feeling of your own strength multiple times a day. And there’s not many better feelings
  4. If you have a problem tell the team. One of the best things to come of this is the relationship Fiona, Craig and I have. It could have very easily gone the other way and we’d finish feeling sour, and not wanting to spend time around each other, but we all made the decision to share our feelings, good or bad, with each other. This way no bad feelings were left to fester and cause arguments. Throughout the 6 weeks I think there were maybe 3 times I got angry with anyone, and each time it was settled within 5 minutes.
  5. Cheese/wine are simply better in France…I have nothing to add here.

All the cheese