Two short extracts from my Pyrenees trail journal

I’ve finished indexing my trail journal from the Haute Route Pyrenees. This journal was written by hand, and fills almost an entire medium-sized hardback notebook – 229 pages in total. I estimate the word count to be roughly 30-40,000 words.

It’s the most extensive trail journal I’ve ever written, and I’m glad I put so much work into it while I was out there on my hike. I wrote for an average of 90 minutes every evening, sometimes more. The need to record everything that had happened to me during the day – and not just in rough notes, but to write about it properly – was a key reason why I aimed to finish hiking by 17.00 each day. I came to regard that writing time as important as the walking itself. I wrote about everything: the weather, gear performance, conversations with other hikers, reflections on the landscape, the effects and benefits of solitude, wildlife observations, the quirks of life, and plenty of navel-gazing.

The bulk of this journal will never be for public consumption – the writing is too raw and unguarded for any eyes but my own – although it will be digested, reworked and rewritten to provide fuel for various features and hopefully a book. But I thought I would share two fragments from my journey:

  • One from near the start of the trail, when I was easing back into disconnected ‘slow time’ and my thoughts were starting to become my own again.
  • One from some time later, when the end still felt so far away and my early enthusiasm had begun to be tested. I’m glad to say that I kept going and the enjoyment soon came back, but I think it offers a revealing glimpse into the mind of a hiker who is at risk of quitting.

The motivations behind long-distance hiking (and adventure in general) in the 21st century became a bit of a theme for this walk. I’ll have much to write about this in future.

Wednesday 24 July 2019

I set my alarm for 5.00 this morning, but slept through it and it was 6.00 by the time I was awake. A vivid glow had already begun to spread in the sky to the east. Overnight, incredibly strong gusts of wind had woken me at about 03.20, and I stayed up for a while, studying the stars and the moonlight on the Cirque de Aspe. There were no overnight thunderstorms. The strong winds mysteriously disappeared after about five minutes, leaving no hint as to their origin, vanishing into the night to perhaps trouble other wanderers on other mountains.

As I watched those stars from that high vantage point, I wondered who was also seeing them at that precise instant. Certainly nobody else from that specific perspective on the planet, making my experience unique. Each moment of our lives is unique and will never be repeated; to fail to be present, to fail to see the beauty or joy or lesson in it, for there is always something, is it feels to me a sin against the gift of life itself.

Sunday 4 August 2019

Earlier, I found myself experiencing a moment of boredom as I was slogging over rocks up to yet another col in the full heat of the day, and I asked myself – honestly – why I am continuing this hike. It’s already longer than the vast majority of backpacking trips I’ve ever done, and has therefore already served its main purpose, to act as a desperately needed break from my working life with added mountains and solitude in nature (with added wild camping).

So why continue? Is there a performative element to this – not wanting to let my ‘audience’ down by failing for no good reason? Is it fear of failure in general? Is it because because I want to write features and a book about this, and need a well-rounded story? Or is it because the moments of enjoyment considerably outweigh the moments of boredom, annoyance, discomfort and anxiety on this trail, that a portion of the pleasure of backpacking is retrospective anyway, and I know I’ll bitterly regret it if I get off trail? Yes to all of the above – they are all factors. No trip is ever 100% pleasure, and not every day conforms to a preconceived narrative or plot – just like life itself. And just like life, when a course has been set it’s best to keep going. I have wanted this for so long.

At a fountain near the end of the trail, I found a print with an image and a quote from Le Petit Prince. It spoke to me, and said something about my experience, so I took the print and fixed it to the front cover.

Read more about my adventures in the Pyrenees here

All images © Alex Roddie, all rights reserved. Please don’t reproduce these images without permission.

By Alex Roddie

Award-winning outdoor and nature writer, editor, author, and photographer.


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