Walk on the wild side

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This is a blog post I never thought I’d write. Yesterday I finished my 200km walk round Menorca, carrying everything I needed on my back, with very little by way of a plan.

I think it’s fair to say, on the whole, I’m not a quitter (my nick-name used to be competitive Rach!), but I honestly wasn’t sure I could do it. These are the things I was scared of happening:

Hip injury, knee injury, shoulder injury (all weak areas for me). Getting caught and stopped (wild camping is illegal in Menorca, as it is in most of Europe, they’re just hot on it here). Being too scared to sleep on my own in the wild. Falling over and smashing my face in (genuine concern when I did my practise walk and nearly fell over and smashed my face in about 46 times). Getting robbed. Breaking my phone. Running out of power (phone and me). Getting lost (I am always getting lost). Losing something/everything vital. Not being able to carry enough water to survive. Generally being a big baby and wanting to stop.

Ironically, the one thing I wasn’t overly worried about, blisters, nearly did stop me. At the end of day three and for all of day four I hobbled and winced and wondered if it was ok to call 112 (I had no signal so emergency services was the only number I could call) for really nasty blisters. I figured if I got to the next town I was at least going to have to take a rest day. But you know what? I did get to the next town, I camped by the side of a main road, too exhausted and pained to take another step, slept like a log, and the next day they were a bit better. And that was the closest I came to quitting or considering alternatives to what I’d planned.

Feet aside, and for some reason I’m a bit embarrassed to say this, it was actually pretty easy. Yes it was as hot as hell, yes I missed showering, and obvs the feet pain, aargghhh. But otherwise it was just an absolute pleasure to be outside 24 hours a day. To be by the sea, listening to it’s myriad sounds, seeing it change colour from cove to cove, noting how different the sand could be. Enjoying the luxury, after a long, shadeless climb, of finding the path slipping into the relative cool of a pine forest, the sound of the crickets filling my mind and silencing any thoughts of discomfort. Oh and the smell of those pine forests, just sublime. I would hear myself exclaiming out loud ‘ha, that smell, it’s mad, you’re a mad and intoxicating smell, I love you.’ And talking of talking to myself (there was no one else after all!) I found myself making ‘friends’ with the signs that mark the way, greeting them cheeerily, or chiding them if they displayed more kilometres to my next stop than I was expecting. I fully understand how Tom Hanks made friends with a ball in Castaway, I had a whole clique to hangout with in those signs!

Something that surprised me is I was never bored. Just me (and my sign mates) walking all day, with no other stimulation, and yet somehow everything was stimulating. I found myself curious about all sorts of things, asking myself questions I couldn’t answer:

Do ants sleep? When grasshoppers hop do they know where they’re going? (Cos it looks pretty indiscriminate to me). Did someone patent the beach umbrella? And if so is there a beach umbrella heir somewhere, probably under a beach umbrella? Why is the no more rock being formed? When did it stop? And why are there so many different types of rock? I could go on…

I think the greatest pleasure, the greatest indulgence if you like, was the simplicity. My only 2 real concerns each day were water and a place to camp. Once those needs were met I didn’t have a care in the world, I just had to keep walking. On my seventh night I was struggling to find a suitable place to pitch my tent. I walked along the coastline, rock as far as the eye could see, the sun slowly sinking, and I thought, what is the worst thing that can happen here? It gets dark, I get my bed roll out, wrap myself up in my sheet and sleep on top of the rocks. It won’t be comfy, but it won’t kill me. And once I realised that, my only concern became water. Just imagine day after day where you only have one concern. No really, think about it. I bet in your average day at least 3 or 4 concerns have reared their heads before you’ve even left the house. Certainly by lunchtime you’ll be fighting them off. So to only have one need that could be met relatively easily each day, well that was a revelation and a joy.

And so it’s over, I did it, and I confess to crying a lot of my last day. Some relief and some sadness to say goodbye to the island. Menorca was a place I already held dear, but on this walk she had become like a lover. I knew her intimately, I knew sides of her – like her rough and sometimes dangerous north coast – that most people never got to see. We had fallen out, and we had made up, and we had an understanding, and I know I’m going to miss her madly. I’ve never been very nostalgic for places, I’ve moved round the country for work and life without a backward glance, but I realised yesterday that Menorca is somewhere I truly love. She’s complex, a mix of beauty and peril, she’s resilient, her terrain changing constantly to adapt to the weather and other outside forces. She’s a generous host to some amazing wildlife, not to mention thousands of tourists every year. I respect her, she is a place that has got into my heart, she makes me feel like a better version of myself, she makes me bolder and more carefree, and I hope this reconnection with my childhood holiday haunt is the beginning of a long and mutually beneficial relationship.

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Finally, before I start packing up to head back to the mainland, to the South of France, to Italy and beyond I want to add something about my experience that I also enjoyed. In the best possible way I felt completely genderless and ageless on my walk. I didn’t feel at any more at risk as a woman, I didn’t feel any less capable because I’m in my 50s. In my regular life, regardless of how hard I try not to let gender and age present boundaries I think they have and they do. But for the last ten days I have merely been a sturdy pair of legs and a curious mind on an incomparible journey. If I can do it, anyone can do it.Ā 

 

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