Summer 2009: We packed up a rental car for a week at the beach on the Côte Vermeille and then a week in the Pyrenees mountains in Ariège. This was my first time to see the Pyrenees. I was awestruck – quaint villages with cobblestones worn by the centuries, unpolluted by McDonald’s and shopping malls (though you can find them), shepherds, barns stacked with firewood. There you can stand on a mountainside and see for miles and miles. At night your view of Milky Way is not compromised by light pollution. This is paradise…well Ariège is from what I’ve seen.
And that was when I discovered the “GRs” or Grande Randonnée which are walking trails that cover most of France, Spain, the Netherlands, etc. This is where my head nearly exploded. France has about a million different GRs – you can go north to south, explore Paris, walk along the West Coast, and as I discovered in 2009 – cross the Pyrenees.
At the same time we were watching the David Attenborough collection from the BBC (I’ve seen them all and read his autobiography). He’s a legend. His early years were spent traveling around the world collecting animals and learning all that he could about the natural world around him. If watching his documentaries have had such a huge impact on my current life – I wonder what an afternoon tea with him would do to my world view.
I knew I had take this journey, but when? A friend told me that her boyfriend Jonathan wanted to do the HRP (same idea as GR 10 but more high mountain adventure) and I immediately knew this was my chance. Count me in, I told Jonathan a few days later. It was also serendipitous that a week earlier I had found a book called “La Randonnée Fantastique” from 1981 by a woman who packed up her two small children (18 months and 3 years old), husband and newly acquired donkey for an 18-month journey around France. She wrote about her struggles and experiences. Destiny.
This will be the greatest challenge – mentally, physically, strategically – that I’ve ever faced. It is something that I have to do. There’s no guarantee that I will succeed. However, this hike is about the journey and it will be breathtaking.