This August, I set off on an audacious goal – to backpack almost 500 miles across the tops of the Pyrenees, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean. The journey, which would take me 47 days and about 27 miles of elevation gain/loss, followed the Haute Randonee Pyreneean (HRP), which is considered to be “the idea of a trail” rather than a well marked path. Well, just “the idea” of it was a little bit terrifying, and a whole lotta thrilling.
Yet Another 5 Star Tent Site: I’ll give you a second to find my tent…that’s it down by the water, dwarfed by this beautiful bowl, where it’s almost impossible to tell the mountain from its reflection in this pristine alpine lake.
The most common question people ask is, “What was your most memorable experience?” Oddly, the most memorable experience wasn’t an experience, it was the sensation of being fully present for almost 2 months. Every day followed the same basic structure:
- Wake up, face east
- Walk 3-4 hours up the side of a mountain
- Walk 3-4 hours down the side of a mountain
Trail Traffic Jam: I affectionately renamed the trail the Path of Poo, as the livestock have diligently fertilized every inch of the landscape. The daily soundscape was dominated by cowbells, marmot shrieks, the piercing call of vultures, and the never-ending tromp of my boots.
“Vente de Fromages” – Buying cheese from a shepherds cabane. Unlike the wilderness backpacking areas I frequent in the US (eg; Great Smoky Mountains National Park), the Pyrenees have been cultivated for thousands of years and you’re never more than a few hours from a village or refugi. Food was abundant, fresh, and reasonably priced.
This purity of purpose, the single-threaded nature of simply moving forward every day, and the complete lack of distractions around me – these allowed me to be fully present in a way I’ve never experienced before. Every day, I was privileged to crest a mountain and be surrounded by 360 degrees of forever. And for 47 days, that experience never lost its blissy (yes, that’s a word, I made it up) awesomeness.
Trail Culture: If you haven’t backpacked, it sounds terribly gritty and harsh. In reality, the grit is 100% balanced by the moment captured in this photo: you’ve hauled yourself up over a mountain and at the crest, layers of mountain ranges unfold behind and before you as far as the eye can see. You’ve been dancing in and out of the clouds all morning, and you collapse for a blissful rest, soaking up the midday sun, exhausted from a mornings accomplishment and surrounded by your tribe of fellow backpackers.
- Miles: 16.26 (According to FitBit. Doesn’t add up to 500 miles, I know.)
- Flights of stairs up: 292 (down should be the same, too)
- Elevation gain/loss: 0.6 mile up, 0.6 mile down (aka; 3280 feet)
- Steps: 35,635 (1.74 million steps total)
- Calories: 3627
Scary Moments: We crossed over this snow mass without the proper equipment. When we met others at the Refuge that evening, the conversation focused on the question: if you slipped, would you get enough momentum to bounce over the crevasse and maybe survive the freezing lake, or would you fall into the crevasse and be done for? Gulp.
I’ve always believed that travel is a mind opener. A good trip forces you to step outside your comfort zone. From something as simple as not knowing how to ask for the restaurant bill to something as complex as not understanding the Catalan Independence protests taking place outside your restaurant window, experiences outside of your routine shed new light on your normal and mundane habits. And seeing the mundane with fresh new eyes can allow you to make innovative connections and emotional leaps of faith that can change your life.
Who Needs a Shower? When you’re surrounded by pristine mountain lakes with views like these, a shower just can’t match the experience. A plunge into freezing water build character!
It occurs to me that these same qualities are what attracted me to work at Republic Wireless. We’re a company that isn’t afraid to challenge the norm, step outside our comfort zone, and take on audacious goals. Just like my trip, that can be a little bit terrifying, but it’s a whole lotta thrilling!
Hey, is that a Republic Wireless shirt? RW was awesome in supporting me to take this trip. They had no hesitation about me taking a 2 month leave of absence, my coworkers enthusiastically followed my preparations and journey, and Republic even loaned me an emergency tracking device. They were also gentle with me during re-entry to civilization – not laughing too hard when I had an emotional breakdown over the huge number of choices on the office coffee machine.
Moto X Marks the Spot: My Republic Wireless Moto X was a great travel companion. I used the GaiaGPS app to find my way across this “idea of a trail.” That’s not to say I didn’t get lost – for example, crossing a boulder field like in the photo below, where’s the path? – but GaiaGPS always got me back on track with amazing precision. The photos…well, they speak for themselves (disclaimer: not all I posted here were taken with my Moto X, but the Moto X ones are just as spectacular, clear, and crisp). And while there wasn’t much WiFi in the mountains, on the rare occasions when I hit a WiFi spot, I could call home seamlessly to reassure my mom that I was having the time of my life.
It’s no coincidence that this company supported me in pursuing this adventure. Similarly, I’d like to encourage you all in the same: identify your own dream and find a way to make it happen. It’s worth it, I promise.
Up the Chimney, Tears of Amazement: This photo was taken just before one of my most emotional moments of the trip. After 43 days of backpacking, I was vaguely aware that the finish was near. But it still didn’t seem real, neither that I could accomplish this amazing route nor that this beautiful trip might end. After scaling this rock face, I looked east from the summit and saw the Mediterranean for the first time…and burst into tears. The dream had become a reality, I had actually done it. And in 4 days, it would be over.
The End…or not: Relaxing on the beach at Banyuls-sur-Mer, after a quick dip in the Mediterranean. Seven weeks previously, I had collected a vial of water from the Atlantic with a plan to pour it into the Mediterranean. But as I stood gazing across the water, I suddenly knew that pouring it out would signify an end, and I just wasn’t ready for that. So for now, the vial remains in my backpack in my closet, ready for my next move.
Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.