Sunday 11 November 2018

After The Walk

Towards the end of the GR5

Returning home after a long walk can be a complex process, not just logistically, but much more important, mentally. Indeed, a couple of days of buses, trains, and planes can be a useful time to separate slowly from walking every day to staying in one place. Adjusting to a new reality takes time, at least for me. Spend long enough walking every day and it becomes a way of life, it becomes reality. Time not distance makes the difference. For me two weeks is the cut-off point. After that walking is the norm, being at home the past. 

The sudden change from trail life to static life is never that easy. Even after four decades of long walks I have to prepare myself for each one to end. This actually starts during the last few days or weeks as my mind jumps ahead and starts to think of life beyond the trail. I used to try and suppress such thoughts, feeling that they detracted from my enjoyment of the walk. I don’t now as I realise that it’s needed for easing back into life after the trail.

The Mediterranean at Nice. The GR5 walk was over.

It’s now just over a month since I returned from my last long walk, the GR5 Trail through the Alps, which took me 32 days. I’ve just about adjusted to being home. It now no longer feels strange and the feeling of restlessness, that I ought to be walking every day, is fading. I have had five days out in the hills since my return, including two camps, but that doesn’t give the sense of a purposeful journey, of walking being what I do, that comes with a long walk. Without those days out, I think I’d be very frustrated and probably a pain to be with though. I need walks and the outdoors. I need the woods and hills.

Last camp on the GR5

Of course, the big joy of returning home is seeing family again. Without them I think I’d feel isolated and maybe a little lost. They understand why I’ve been away and what I’ve been doing. I know that long-distance walkers whose family and friends don’t have this understanding can feel alienated from their old life. I’m also lucky in that I return to writing about the outdoors, testing gear, and being involved in the outdoors world. I have woods and hills on my doorstep too. Back in a city with an indoor job unrelated to nature I would find very difficult. Realising that many decades ago is part of the reason I do what I do. I knew after my first long walks that I needed to stay in touch with nature and with the feelings engendered during those trips.

Lac Sainte Anne on the GR5

Long-distance walking is a simple life. Get up, pack up, walk, camp, sleep, repeat. Day after day after day. What’s important is in the details – where you are, what you see, how you feel - but the pattern doesn’t vary. Returning home can be overwhelming. There’s so much to do and no simple format into which it all fits. Where to start? What’s important? What can be ignored? Hundreds of emails, texts, piles of paper mail, phone messages. Help, my head’s exploding! Back to the hills please! Back to simplicity.

This is what it's all about. On the GR5

Not everything gets done quickly. I still have mail to open (most emails were deleted – there were simply too many of them to cope with) and I’ve only looked at a few of the 1500+ photos I took. At the same time, I think having plenty to do helps as it means there’s little time to dwell on the end of the walk, little time to feel sad it’s over. Being busy suppresses the feeling I always have that this new life isn’t real, a feeling of detachment, a feeling that really I’m still walking and will wake up tomorrow and continue. 

There’s another antidote to the latter feelings. Start planning the next walk. I’m thinking of my route for next year’s TGO Challenge – it’s the fortieth and I was on the first so I’m going to do a similar route to back then – and considering a longer walk for next summer. Onto the next trail!

1 comment:

  1. Absolutely Chris. As you say, it is the simplicity of trail life that we miss after a long trip - why is the 'real world' so unnecessarily complex? I ask myself upon my return. Looking around my home after a long distance walk, I ask myself 'why did I ever buy all this STUFF?!'. Clearing out my home/life of unnecessary possessions is a cathartic way of easing back into a static life.. I suppose that is adopting ultralight backpacking principles to home life? Minimalism/simplicity is great!