Bayonne to Santander

Hey everyone! I've merged two sections again for this blog because they were so short and I've taken some breaks between them to celebrate Christmas and my birthday. There have been some huge mile stones reached during this time - like reaching Spain and walking over 1000 miles (or 1600km) so stay with me till the end!

Leaving Bayonne was a great feeling - knowing that, in a matter of hours and following the sun, when I left the flat lands and headed into the mountains, I would have achieved something that most people only ever dream of - walking the length of a country using only the sun as my way point and the help of strangers to find my marks along almost the entire journey! What an incredible feeling.

Almost the entire day I walked thinking about everyone I had met and the unbelievable kindness I had encountered along the way. But it was hard going, with a pack that was heavier than ever (in preparation for the mountains ahead) and an unexpected issue with my fitness. I was sure that after walking so far I would have no problem once I finally reached the Pyrenees but I hadn't thought about the fact that the mountains would require me to use entirely different muscle groups to the flats of France and they absolutely wrecked me! After a full days hiking I could see the river by Irun that marks the frontier between France and Spain but I also found an old couple that were looking a little lost! So of course I went to see if they were ok or if I could help them in anyway. I quickly found that they were Columbian and were lost, looking for their car! They told me where it was and even though I had no idea where I was, or the town was, I knew it was roughly south so offered to try and take them there using only the sun and my newfound talent for always knowing where South is - and I succeeded! They were so amazed by the fact that I had managed to do this and by all the stories I told them on our walk about my travels that they offered me to stay the night and have a meal with them, which luckily I accepted because the pilgrim house was shut in town and there was nowhere to camp for another 15km!

In the morning I was woken by Doris (mama Columbia) cooking a huge 5 potato Spanish omelette for me to take with me for lunch! I was very grateful but it was also very heavy to add to the weight of my already huge pack but I took it and, on the first peak - which was a hell of a lot longer than I'd expected taking almost 5 hours to summit from sea level - I ate the whole thing looking back over France and almost all the way to Bilbao (a few days away along the coast to the west). When I finished I packed up my stuff again and followed the alpine pilgrim route to an old radio town where I spent ages trying to figure out how to get around it without getting mixed up in the animal trails, only to find that a section of trail had been wiped out by a land slide - and to get possibly one of the best quotes, from an old local, of my entire journey: “Don’t worry about that it's nothing, it might look like you’re going to die, it might feel like you’re going to die, but you'll be fine, you’re young” -not exactly reassuring words for someone who doesn't have a head for heights! But he was right and I made it! I spent the rest of the day summiting smaller peaks and following cliffs and even though it was exhausting it was a beautiful section and a welcome change from the flatlands of France!

After a full day of cliffs scree and mountains I was beyond exhausted and looking forward to making it to the pilgrim house in San Sebastian and just passing out - but fate had other plans for me… On the very last climb of the day I met one of the nicest communities of my journey so far, The 12 Tribe’s Church. They took me in to celebrate the Sabbath and have a meal with them. This turned into dancing and storytelling until midnight! I have no idea how I managed to stay awake and active after that day but somehow I did and I fully intend to return one day to take up their offer of living in their community for a while to see how they do things.

After only about 4 hours sleep I was woken up by banging downstairs in the baker. At the time I wasn't too happy but realised at breakfast a few hours later that wasn't such a bad thing as it turned out the women in the community had decided to wake up at 4 in the morning to bake fresh cakes, pastries and bread for breakfast and my journey ahead! Again I didn't really have room for this in my pack but was very grateful for them!

The day flew by on the lower alpine trail, this time through valleys and hills with the mountains towering either side of me or with the sea to my right at times, all the way to Oreo where I found again that the pilgrim house was shut! Luckily there was a number for a campsite near by which I called and managed to get a room for 3 euros as there was no camping - on a campsite -weird right?! I also got the worst directions of my life from the manager who didn't speak as good English as he claimed to. Everything was completely back to front - when he said go up the hill he meant go down; left at the crossroads was right; and no river meant cross the river! 2 hours, and a cliff, later though I managed to find the place, kept my cool with him criticising my listening skills and got a bed for the night - with another pilgrim! However, he turned out to be an overweight 40 something that had been out partying all night, who couldn't get up in the morning and who I never saw again!

In the morning I got going early in search of churros. The route was across my first big section of beautiful, sandy beach and flat cycle path that cut through the mountain passes and I reached my goal in record time of around 2 hours! So I chose to carry on to Deba where, unbelievably, I met another pilgrim! Again he was a fair bit older and bigger than me but I figured if he had stuck out the hellish last 10km of medieval cobble stones over the mountains to town then he must have something about him! And even though he didn't speak English, I couldn't pronounce his name or vice versa and at times he was slower than me we stuck together for three days and it was great to have the company!

In the morning we both got up before sunrise and shared what we had for breakfast. I even made English tea, the right way, for us both and, from his initial reluctance and eventual begging for more, I think I might have turned him into a bit more of a Brit! This turned out to be a bit of a mistake as we decimated my tea supply over the coming days -I don't have enough for the end of the journey now!! But it got us in good spirits for the uphill battle ahead. Rain and big peaks were the forecast for the day and just before lunch, partly because his pace was literally painfully slow for me to keep at uphill and partly because I could see it was going to pour down at any second, I made a break for the summit through the clouds. Just as I broke through the clouds I could hear the skies open up below me - on my new friend! I stopped to have a snack while I waited for him but it was so cold on top that the sweat on my back was freezing. I made the decision to make some tea to keep warm while I waited for him but to press on if he didn't arrive in time. Luckily for both of us he made it! He was so happy to have that tea waiting at the top of the climb and I was too, this was going to be my first lunch with someone in almost two months! We even found a shelter slightly lower on the mountain when the clouds started to break. The rest of the day passed without incident and we made it happily together to Markina for the night.

Unfortunately, that was my new companion’s last full trail day because of his work and the weather had turned most of the trail ahead into a quagmire - and we had nothing for breakfast! We both left in search of food and agreed to meet at the cathedral with anything we could find at 9. However, 9 came and went and there was no sign of him, so I ate everything I had and tore off down the trail as fast as I could hoping to catch him again with no luck. This was a huge blow to morale and the point I realised what a huge impact human contact has on me. The day was terrible - drizzle all day; blown over trail markers; and wet clay clinging to my boots and caking everything, making it painful to drive on and making me unwilling to stop as often as I would have because of the mud over everything. But things changed for the better right at the last minute when 300m from town my companion arrived! It turned out his watch had died so he had no idea what time it was and couldn't find any breakfast so me going as fast as I could all day was actually driving us apart! But we were together again and very relieved of it. We got to town and found a great pilgrim house where you could cook anything you wanted and there was an all you can eat breakfast! Just what I needed and a great ending to my amigo’s pilgrimage.

I was expecting the road to Bilbao to be an uneventful one because it was so close to Christmas, the weather was still not amazing and I was alone again, but I was wrong - and not in a good way!

Most of the day passed with nothing to report - woodland, mountains, rolling hills and fog - but around 3 I met another pilgrim; this one was from Serbia! He was wearing sandals and was covered in mud from a fall earlier the day so I stopped him, cleaned up his wounds and did what I could for his feet. Instead of the thank you I was expecting though, he started to demand I tell him if I was Croatian or Jewish even though I'd already told him I was a Brit! Then he started asking about my kit, how old I was, if I was alone and all kinds of other questions that made me pretty uneasy round him so I made my break for it first chance I got and ended up being chased over the last mountain, breaking trail to Bilbao as fast as I could, through the woods, into the dark, and eventually into a street party right outside the hostel where I spent Christmas… and where I met some of the best people I have on any of my travels! This journey has had a strange way of doing that, giving me some hardships that really test me and almost right away rewarding me with a huge morale boost - and I wouldn't have it any other way!

Bilbao turned out to be a great part of my journey despite the sketchy journey there. I ended up staying almost a week rather than the two days I’d planned because of the amazing people I met there. The first person I met there (not including the incredible staff) was the first Brit of my journey, Dan, who was cycling the opposite direction to me through Spain. We pretty much hit it off from the get go. Heading off into the street party, I finally managed to shake off the Serb, and Dan and I bonded over sharing stories, drinks - and having a gun flashed at us by a very drunk, angry Basque! We pretty much spent all day, every day, that week together after that. There were also two great girls, Tiffany from LA and Yousil from Korea, in the hostel as well that spent most evenings chilling with a few drinks with us too, so that was my little hostel family for Christmas!

After a week’s rest though I was more than keen to get back to the trail and head for Santander. The first day I thought I would take it easy after the lack of exercise and bad diet I had over the holidays, so I headed for Portugalete. Without much to report, again it was a very easy flat walk through the city and linked surrounding towns. Pretty much the only thing I actually remember from the day is feeling like I was cheating when the street turned into an escalator and trying to get directions from an old Basque man who spoke no English and seemed to finish every sentence with an aggressive point and saying potato. I still have no idea what the hell he was talking about but it cracked me up and kept me entertained for hours trying to spot the potato!

The trail to Castro was much nicer than the day before, walking along the cliffs again in perfect sunshine and feeling strong again with all the rest from Bilbao. The only problem was that it was crazy hot all day, very exposed and my water bottle leaked half of my water before I realised! Thank god for dry bags!! While sorting out my kit again as best I could I found a little friend I’d forgotten all about - Donkey! The poor little guy that was supposed to be my mascot and I had carried since week two had been crushed for the past two months in my pack!

And I think he might have cursed me for that because shortly after that I had a pretty terrifying moment underground going through a tunnel that was part of the trail. My pack snagged on one of the wooden support beams and made the entire place creek and groan. I don't think I've ever moved so fast with the Bergan fully loaded before!

The road to Hazas is a bit of a blur now. I really suck at writing these blogs, hey!? All I really remember is that one of the roads was closed because of logging and that I had to take a 10km detour through a thick jungle of gum trees - or go the other way through farm lands for 18km - which at the time seemed like an easy choice, but of course I’m going to take the shorter route! Unfortunately, again there was no water. But this time instead of being exposed I was trapped in a horribly humid jungle full of hornets that would try to land on me and get in my kit every time I slowed down or stopped for water! And when I finally found the trail again I found that it crossed a huge headland that was more like a cliff face and was given some more great local advice - “You’re really close now. Just go up that hill and you'll be able to see where you’re going. Maybe take your glasses off though, it won't look as big that way!” Well his glasses trick didn't work - but I made it! And just in time for a kids’ school disco in the pilgrim house – yayyy

Still feeling pretty exhausted from the day before - and having to stay up with the kids that had a huge sugar rush and just wanted to play with the foreigner - I got up ready to head out on the longest section of trail for this chunk of the journey, the road to Güemes. And it was soooo much longer than it needed to be with the ferry being closed and the trail markers being in a poor state of repair or missing - not to mention the genius road workers using the same paint to mark their arrows as the trail uses to paint theirs!

A lot of that day was spent walking in circles or to dead ends but, as there always has been when needed, a trail angel came through setting me on the right course and, after finding out it was my birthday the next day, filling my pockets with cakes and giving me my first birthday beer - none of which made it past the end of the road! Having a pretty good sugar rush and buzz off the beer - and with my morale raised to its highest it had been in days as I realised I had reached my 1000th mile during this stretch - the rest of the day flew by, walking into the nights mist to find the poncho padre who gave me a bed for the night, a huge birthday meal of pork and snails and just might have inspired my next trip…

In the morning I woke to a huge breakfast set out for me; phone calls from the family wishing me a happy 22nd birthday; a photoshoot as “The Last Pilgrim of the Year” and a beautiful sunny day with a 5km beach to walk along to my ferry across to Santander and my next rest days seeing in the New Year. Sure beat the suicide and mental illness lessons I had to do this time last year in Zambia!

 

Part 3 - Saintes to Bayonne

Hey everyone! It's been a while! I decided to mix these two sections of the trail into one big blog firstly because Saintes to Bordeaux was only around three days; and secondly because, honestly, not a whole lot has happened!

As you all know from my last blog I had a run in with a local driver as I arrived at Saintes which screwed up my back and leg, put me out of action for a week and made me question whether or not I should continue on this journey. Luckily after a week of great company, rest and a ridiculous amount of medication I was back on my feet and eager to get back on the road - so eager that I did a section that should have taken me a week to complete in three days!

My first day on the trail to Pons was a very flat, winding road that led mostly through farm lands. This has pretty much been the case for the entire trail until I got to the ‘Big Forest’- I have no idea what the forest is actually called, ha! I flew through the road to Pons with no idea where I was really going to stay the night. I’d been told that there was a pilgrim house in Pons but as I've learnt so far on the trail these can be notoriously hard to find. I managed to complete my days hike in a fraction of the time I had expected - I walked 15km to my half way point in just over 2 hours! So when I arrived in Pons there was plenty of time for me to explore the town and try to find the house. Pretty much as soon as I arrived I found the church and collected my stamp. Unfortunately the priest didn't speak any English but after a little sign language dance I managed to get out of him to “follow the pilgrims” so I assumed there were lots in town and that it would be easy to find so I set off in search of my bed, asking every local if they were a pilgrim but just getting looked at as if I was crazy! After about two hours of searching town I started heading back to the church for more directions - and realised the statues of pilgrims on the roundabout I’d been admiring every time I’d passed it were pointing at something… I couldn't believe how stupid I’d been! Every time I’d looked at the statues the pilgrim house was right next to me! I just needed to look in the direction Saint Jacques was pointing and spot the giant Camino shell on the door!!

When I arrived at the pilgrim house I was not only over the moon that it was a gorgeous, centuries old house with deep arm chairs and a tea pot (luxuries I haven't had in weeks) but there was also another pilgrim! The first I’d seen since the start of my journey! Obviously I was ecstatic at the prospect of having company for potentially the rest of the journey with someone who could speak English well and was stunning too, despite the miles and conditions! Unfortunately this was a short lived hope. After a cup of tea (always the first priority of the night) I found out that she had been just behind me for a few weeks, reading the notes I'd left in churches along the way, in the hope of catching up with me. When I was recuperating in Saintes my notes stopped and she overtook me. When she arrived in Pons she stayed for three days in the hope that I would turn up and when I didn't she assumed I had quit the trail. The prospect of crossing the Pyrenees alone was too much for her so she had contacted everyone back home to let them know that she was quitting and arranged all her return travels for the next day… and that's when I turned up- with about 15 minutes to spare before her taxi arrived!! Unfortunately I couldn't talk her out of quitting and she left shortly afterwards. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you all what a blow to my morale that was and I spent a very long, lonely, sleepless night in that house. But, I woke determined not to let this keep me down, starting to see it as a small victory with the Brits beating the Germans again - not that I have anything against you or your country if you’re reading this!  I wish you all the best in the future wherever you end up and please feel free to contact me by the links below if you'd like to stay in touch or join me on the next adventure as we spoke about!

The next day was much the same as the road to Pons, except there was no pilgrim house and no trail angels to be found - or many people at all for that matter - so it was going to be a night under canvas. Luckily I could see that there were some sporadic forested areas after my check point so I headed off to try and find somewhere I could set up camp after getting my stamp. I arrived in the first section of woodland with about an hour to last light and didn't like what I found. The first place I thought would make a perfect camp I dumped my pack down and had a scout for a water source but while I was doing this about 10 meters from my intended camp I found a game trail - a very active game trail! Following it I found it branched off and just about surrounded my camp. There were pig tracks everywhere and a rub mark on a tree that came to over my hips! From the smell of it and hair stuck in the bark there was no mistaking it, I was undoubtedly surrounded by boars and getting the hell out of there!

And that’s why you always scout out your campsite- especially if wildlife likes you as much as it does me! Luckily the next section of woodland was all but void of life and had a small stream running through it so I set up camp and had a very relaxed uneventful night.

 

The next morning I was woken early by the rain and set off on another monotonous day of flat farm land. There really isn't much to say about this day until I passed through a town and started to meet some incredible people! The first of which was Aude and her children. They saw me hiking along the road in the cold and rain and could tell I wasn't really enjoying it. They invited me in for a coffee and we ended up having lunch together, playing instruments I hadn't even seen before and I had my picture drawn by the children which I still have with me!

After lunch I set off again for Saint Aubin and was lucky enough to meet a former pilgrim, Isabella, who offered to take me in even though she didn't speak a word of English - thank god for Google Translate!! After a short while in her company I was inspired to say the least. Now in her 80’s, she had done this trail three times in the past - one of which she completed while the Nazis controlled most of the territories and with traditional canvas equipment - not bad for a woman that barely comes up to my shoulder! I guess you really can't judge anyone from first impressions, hey? She insisted on taking me to Mass with her before we ate, which probably wasn't the best idea as I think everyone could hear my stomach rumbling over the prayers and my knees were absolutely killing kneeling on the stone floor after hiking all that way! I met lots more locals there that were amazed to hear of my travels and shared some fresh figs with me. Isabella gave me some prayer beads as we left the church and some blessing cards that are in my wallet still.

In the morning we had breakfast together pretty early and she gave me a full packed lunch to take with me, as well as a jar of homemade jam and bread. I set off towards the river and Blaye. At lunch a stray dog came over and started begging for some of my pate and bread, which of course I gave him. He got more friendly as I started to play with him and when I moved on again he followed me till the edge of town, when he ran into some bushes so I thought he had left me; about an hour later he reappeared and started to follow and play with me! So I had a companion for the whole day and I hoped for the rest of the journey… unfortunately as soon as we got to Blaye some policemen approached us and spooked him and that was that!

After I found where the ferry I needed left in the morning I set off to try and find somewhere to sleep and struck gold again! I met another trail angel who showed me the way to a pilgrim house and set me up with a map! I couldn't believe that I’d managed to complete this entire section and had somewhere to sleep just about every night!

 In the morning I was determined to get to Bordeaux and see an old friend, Simon. According to the map I was given it should have been about 50km so I got up at 06:00, well before the sunrise, and set off for the ferry. On the way there was a Christmas market being set up that made me remember how close the holidays were; I’d almost forgot that Christmas and my birthday were coming up! I grabbed a coffee and got on the first ferry across the river, talking to the crew and watching the sunrise, I knew it was going to be a good day. But it turned out to be a lot more challenging than I'd expected… on the other side of the river I was met by more woodland but this time it was full of hunters and I had to walk straight into the sound of gunfire - which was pretty damn sketchy! I also quickly learnt that the map I was using was out of date and that sections of the trails route had been extended to try and encourage pilgrims to split the section into two days and stay in one of the local towns. In the end, with all the diversions and the extra distance I needed to cover to get to Simon’s flat in Bordeaux, I actually ended up doing 70km in a day! It was definitely worth the struggle though when I saw him riding up on his bike to meet me!

I ended up spending a lot longer in Bordeaux than I planned, waiting on more pilgrim passports for my stamps to arrive by post. To my knowledge they still haven't arrived - I got robbed by the church!!

But it was a fun week catching up with Simon, meeting his friends, drinking great wine and, after one miscommunication in a market, almost buying a shotgun!

When I left Bordeaux I made my way to Gradignan and another pilgrim house where I managed to persuade an old monk to sell me his unused pilgrim passports, so I would still have a record of my journey for when I arrive in Santiago de Compostela, and I managed to get a list of places I could stay the next few nights too!

In the morning I left early in search of Au Barp and it was freezing! This section of the trail again wasn’t too exciting with long straight roads through the forest making up the bulk of it. I think the road to Au Barp was probably mentally the toughest part of my Camino so far with no wind, the sun bear

beating down on me, no incline and not a sound to be heard to break things up at all. Put simply it sucked and I spent waayyy too much time in my own skull than anyone should have to.

 

 

But when I arrived in town things were great! I made friends with an English woman who bought me coffee and offered me to stay the night; loads of locals were very interested in what I was doing and I even got some free goods from the bakery! And my luck didn't run out there as I managed to find out where the next pilgrim house was and arranged to have it opened up for me in Mons. It was a gorgeous 10th century church where Charlemagne (the first Holy Roman emperor – google him!) had be treated for injuries sustained in battle and I got blessed in the steam out back where the monks drew water to clean his wounds and to hydrate his armies, pretty cool hey!

In the morning I had another early start and it was freezing again! I think it might have been the coldest since Brittany because that was the last time I had ice in my beard! But again it was another long, monotonous, straight, flat road through the Forest except this time there were some beware of feral dog signs dotted about the place and lots of animal signs to keep me on my toes!

I think that tired me out just as much as the hike itself - looking out for the animals, reading the signs and stopping to let things just ahead get some distance away, was exhausting! But just before I made it to Moustey, my aim for the day, I had someone offer me a bed on their farm which I took and loved! The room itself wasn't much but there were canoes everywhere to remind me of home and horses working the fields with carts, which made me think of my travels in Kentucky and realise how much I want to go back! And most importantly - there were women! For the first time in a long time there were women my age - who spoke English!!

The next three days, to be honest, are kind of a blur from lack of sleep, dehydration, exhaustion and more verrrryyy similar terrain. I set off from the farm house early to try and make up for the previous day’s stopover before hitting my target, and because I had been told that there were three pilgrims a day or two ahead of me that I wanted to catch up with. Along the route I started to notice three sets of boot prints that were sitting deeper in the trail than the other's and that were almost always accompanied by hiking pole marks, which told me that they were probably wearing heavy packs and because they were on the same path as me I was fairly sure they were the pilgrims I was after – yes! So I spent the next three days following them, focusing almost entirely on catching up with them. I didn't give myself as many breaks because I could see where they stopped so as long as I could keep going past these stops it would mean that I was gaining ground and would eventually catch them. I didn’t sleep in the pilgrim houses, rationed my water and, at one point even had a boar try and steal my food - before I gave him a kick to the face, which left me with a bruised and swollen foot. I was determined to find these pilgrims and get some company!

Which I very nearly did – but, unfortunately, I got to a pilgrim house in time to find out that they had quit a matter of hours before I arrived and had all left their shells in the house! Not again!! But trying to stay positive I saw it as another victory, got a good night’s rest and drove on ready for my rest days in Bayonne.

The day before Bayonne was another incredibly tough one as, if the heat of the day with high humidity and no wind to ease the heat in the Forest wasn't enough, I had a swollen foot from kicking the boar, most of the water supply points had run dry and I had to hike through ankle deep sand for most of the day! When I arrived, however, it was all worth it to be greeted by the sun setting behind the Pyrenees and the Christmas lights glowing in the streets - not to mention the mulled wine, hotel and old friends waiting for me! These have been my favourite rest days so far - right on the border of Spain dreaming of the mountains…

Weeks 2 and 3 Nantes to Saintes

After my rest days exploring Nantes and meeting some amazing people I have been met with mostly nothing but kindness along the trail.

My first day back on the road had me walking through some beautiful woodland that wound its way along a river, something the trail has done just about the entire way this section. I had a map for this part too - that always helps- but unfortunately it didn't have any grid lines for me to gauge distance with and wasn't great when it came to scale either - I've not been able to find a decent topographic in this country yet! I had arranged to stay with a local family in Clisson for the night to try and avoid the harsh winter weather that had caught up with me on my rest days. By my best guess I thought Clisson was only around 20km and shouldn't have been too hilly, pretty straightforward, right? So I had a chilled morning and set off around midday. I had to make it to the family by 20:00 otherwise they wouldn't take me in, which was no problem. When I arrived on the trail though I realised the reality was far from what the map had indicated. The trail wasn't the straight, flat path through the woods I was led to believe but a boggy, hilly mess that double backed on itself all day, had countless paths crossing it marked with the same trail markers and scenic routes that would take you on a loop back to the point you picked it up from! 

 

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After a very confusing, frustrating day I made it to Clisson at around 17:00 and tried to get in touch with my host - who had now decided that she wouldn't take me in and then proceeded to send me messages rubbing in the fact that I was going to have a long cold night ahead…

I was in the middle of a built up area at this point surrounded by private land. No good for camping in and everywhere was shut! So I had no choice but to try and find the poorly marked trail and follow it again in the dark until I could find water and a place to stay. After about three miles I found a place that looked like I might be able to hold out for the night in a field out the back of an abandoned factory near a river. I had flat ground to sleep on and a water source so I wasn't in too bad shape there - but I was very exposed and could feel it was going to be a very damp, cold, uncomfortable night already. I set up my tarp, got some water boiling, so I could sleep with a hot water bottle and have some tea before I slept and, of course, I had my evening meal to provide the calories needed to keep me warm throughout the night. I bedded down and thought that was the worst of it over. As long as I was up before sunrise no one would know I was there and I’d be sorted - right? Wrong! The smell of the food I had eaten drew some of the local stray dogs in so I spent most of the time I wasn't struggling to sleep, throwing sticks and anything else I could find at the noises in the dark. I kept my knife next to me all that night. Doesn't it just sound amazing!!

In the morning I woke up before the sun rose to a thin layer of frost and ice over me and all my kit. I packed everything down and quickly made a pot of tea and hot museli determined to put that shitty night in hell camp behind me and get going asap! First, though I had to head back into town to get some supplies and my pilgrimage stamp.

When I arrived there I found a homeless man huddled outside the store who looked like he was in just about as bad shape as me, so I decided to not just buy my food but also get some eggs, coffee and bread and go share breakfast with him... I was really feeling bad for the guy! After we'd eaten and had a laugh trying to communicate through sign language my morale, and I’m sure his, was pretty high! I was just about to try and find a stamp when a woman who had watched this whole thing happen came out of a shop opposite and invited us both to go to her house and warm up over some coffee and cakes! We both went and it turned out she had her own personalised Camino stamp! After collecting my stamp I left with a full belly, dry kit and a huge caffeine buzz, feeling pretty good with everything - but I had a long way to go and not a lot of time to make it!

Again the trail was in a poor state and eventually I lost it all together, forcing me into a road march that not only was less direct but also destroyed my feet! Luckily I made it to town with time to collect my stamp and chill a bit as I'd found another host. I had a lot better feeling about these guys, so was looking forward to a warm bed, somewhere to dry things properly and a chance to charge my batteries. I couldn't see the village I needed to go to on my amazing, top end map so decided to use the map on my phone for the first time; it said they were only two miles away - it lied!! That was easily the longest two miles I have ever walked, taking almost three hours - definitely not a two mile walk! Anyway, I met Gwena in town and we made our way to their beautiful little home that he'd made himself, played with his dog, Bombor, and had a beer while we waited for Carole to come home from work. We talked, listened to music, shared stories, sorted out my kit and ate. They were incredible hosts and great friends. So great I stayed another day with them! It was their friend’s birthday that night so we all went and they were all great people too! We ate, played some local games, had a hilarious time trying to translate between us and drank a little too much...

The next day was a very hard one to wake up to but I had to get back on the trail! Leaving Carole she gave me a handmade bracelet and all their contact details, which was great! I walked along a very nice section of the trail for a change and, partly because of the beauty, partly because of the headache, I set up camp by a nearby lake chilled out and drank loads of tea reading my book in camp with the wildlife coming in all around me and I loved it! Best camp so far and the best hosts...  Highlight of my pilgrimage so far easily! 

In the morning I checked my map for the next check point and it looked very small and very close - only about 10km away - but the name had an e missing off the end; oh well that must have just been my mistake when writing the names in my note book. I took it easy again, having a wash in my mess kit, making tea and did a little fishing before heading off - cushty morning!

However, when I arrived at the place I thought was the checkpoint it was a house... I knocked anyway to see if I was in the right place and in my defence I was! But it wasn't the checkpoint - that was on the other side of the map!  A full marathon away with only 4 hours of light left! Goddamn it!! Well, I figured if I run I might just make it in time and be able to stay with my next host, so that's exactly what I did - I ran my first ever marathon with boots and all my equipment through a wooded track! I still have no idea how I managed that, but I arrived in time to get my stamp from a bar and meet my host, Pascal. And as any good athlete would do I spent the night talking, drinking local beer and eating just about everything offered - I also had pigeon stew for the first time!

This time I’d learnt my lesson and got an early start - just in case. I said goodbye to Pascal and set off through the woods and into farmland, not the most exciting day, scenery wise, but it was flat, well-marked and easy to cover miles! I had no more hosts arranged so covered two days objectives and started looking for a camp. While I was doing this I found a sign that translated as “pilgrims stop, pilgrims welcome” or something like that and decided to investigate... It turned out to be a joke. While searching though I met Stephanie, one of the nicest women I have ever met! She didn't speak any English but she took me in and fed me while she got in touch with the local nuns to see if they could help out.  I ended up spending most of the night with her and her boy Flo, again having a great time trying to translate everything before the nuns gave me a key to a flat which was being decorated, said I was welcome any time after it was finished and let me sleep in the Sunday school room!

Unfortunately I lost that key the next day on one of my coffee breaks but I think on the return trip I'll stop by anyway and bring them some souvenirs…

In the morning I was getting ready for an early start again when Stephanie came knocking inviting me to breakfast where I ate a wad of pancakes the size of my head! She made me a packed lunch too and walked me to the edge of the forest to make sure I was ok - a true trail angel!

That day I managed to walk even further with all the rest and food in me covering three days objectives! Again all very flat boring scenery but I was getting miles under my belt so I was happy!

The day ended with me walking along a canal wondering where I was going to camp when I noticed a post box with the Camino sign on it and shells all over the house so I figured that was as good a place as any to ask for directions. Turned out these people took pilgrims in and fed them! I couldn't believe my luck again! I stayed with them, eating a ridiculous amount of cheese. Unfortunately the cheese was unpasteurized and the next day I was terribly sick. That day it was raining and warm in wet lands so there were bugs eating me alive just about all day - it was awful. I made it to my next objective and can you believe it another trail angel appeared and took me in!

This was the day before Remembrance Day. He noticed me as I was wearing a regimental shirt, that my friend Leo had kindly given to me in Nantes, and that he was once a member of. It turned out his son had also died serving in the same regiment so we had a very quiet few days paying our respects and getting to know each other. It's a Remembrance I’ll never forget.

When I left him it was raining again. Harder than ever and it stayed that way all day! I was taken in once by an older man along the trail for a moments respite from the weather and some coffee before heading on. I arrived in Surgeres confident in the fact that there was a pilgrim house somewhere in town. It's pretty hard to get solid info when you don't speak the language and unfortunately I was wrong again - it was a priest’s house I was looking at! Luckily I met some amazing women from Paris who helped me find a camp site that was still open. They gave me their numbers to stay with them when I’m all done with the hike - this is turning into one hell of a return journey!!

I went to the campsite and luckily enough it was empty. The man on the desk liked me enough to let me pay the pilgrimage price for a camp plot and then let me use a caravan instead.

In the morning I knew I had a long way to go so decided to cook up what I have now dubbed my mountain man breakfast of 3 potatoes, 2 eggs, an onion and pate all topped with mystery cheese... about a kilo of goodness!

I set off on the trail. I’d walked off my map a long time ago and unfortunately someone had decided to go around and either smash, uproot or turn around all the signs so again it was going to be a 30km road march! Not much happened that day until I was just about in town when I heard a little boy practicing his English and decided to go and say hello to see his reaction – speechless is an understatement! After talking to him and his mum a while and explaining what I was doing she asked me what I was going do when I hit Saintes so, jokingly, I said spread my message of happiness and get a fat kebab! She then gave me 10 euros and said she wanted to buy me the kebab for being so nice to her boy... Sweet!!

So, I'd made it to Saintes, had the promise of a free kebab, another great story behind me, and was now officially a third of the way through my journey and most of the way through France. I was feeling pretty indestructible at this point...

…Unfortunately that was quickly proven wrong by a driver that must have taken a special interest in my fluorescent green jacket or been too slow with his brakes as I ended up in a ditch! A few days rest in a hostel unfortunately didn’t ease the pain in my leg so after seeking medical advice I have now been forced to take a week’s minimum rest - Doctors’ orders…

Other than that mild drama this section has been incredible and I have just been taken in by another incredible person offering me a place to stay for the whole week!

I would like to remind everyone that I am only on rest days - I have not quit and still fully intend to finish this journey.

So please give me that extra bit of encouragement by making this all worthwhile and remembering why I am doing this by donating to the Luyando Support Group  luyandosupportgroup.Squarespace.com

Thanks for reading!

Happy Hobo out!

Week 1 Mont Saint-Michel to Nantes

Well guys that’s the first 250 km down and it’s only been 7 hiking days! It's been an absolutely amazing week full of ups and downs, testing times and very, very rewarding moments - not to mention all of the unexpected things this journey has bought me that I could never have planned for but am slowly getting used to and starting to love more and more.

So let's start from the top!

Day one on the trail took me from a small farm in Lassay, where a friend’s family took me in for a week to get into the rhythm and start my French lessons, that I have been doing pretty appallingly at! But now I can say cheese, bread knife and thank you and can count to ten so I’m pretty much set to live in France now!

From Lassay I met a Professor from Rennes that kindly agreed to drive me to Avranch, a town close to le Mont Saint-Michel, but along the way, after teaching me about the native architecture and traditions and sharing our travel stories, he agreed to drop me off as close to Mont Saint-Michel as he could! And things have just been getting better since then…

 

When I started walking to the island itself I had a crazy mix of emotions running through me, I was kind of in shock how quickly it had all come around so it didn't feel quite real, I was nervous about how things might play out over the coming months and if I’d get searched when I got to the church, but most of all I was excited - to see if I could do the whole thing; about the people I have, and have still yet to, meet; and about all the things I will see and learn along the way.

 

When I got to the summit of the island and got the first stamp that officially marks the beginning of the Santiago de Compostela trail I got more of a send-off than I could have imagined! I had the woman who gave me the stamp come out from behind her desk and give me a kiss and hug good luck; I had some Japanese tourists pass me a flag to hold while they took their photo with me; Americans wishing me luck and saying how crazy I am and, after all that was done, I learnt that no one has completed the entire pilgrimage in one go during the winter in the past 3 years… Sh*t I didn't know that!

After learning that I went back outside, had a coffee on the steps to the church and just stared at the salt flats in front of me thinking about what could be ahead of me. But I had to get moving quickly if I was going to make it to Saint James before sunset.

I had accepted a few challenges from friends back home before leaving, one of them being to do this with no map so I set off trying to find someone who might know where the trail began and how I could get to town.

It took a while but after getting some directions that made semi sense I set off across farm land and through small villages to Saint James where I met my first hosts. My shoulders were hurting and I was exhausted but they had made fresh pasta and cooked steaks to perfection to celebrate my arrival so moral was instantly lifted again! I was wondering how I would feel in the morning when it was time to set off again but woke up to Pamila grinding coffee and making breakfast which I wasn't expecting so I was up again without really thinking about it and ended up dancing and singing AC/DC before I left so she did a great job raising moral again and getting me in the mind-set to take on the day!

 On the way to Antrain it was much the same as the first day struggling to get directions but having a great time trying to figure it all out and setting out into the farm land again except this time it was a lot more hilly and tiring. This was also where I started getting trouble with my socks, another challenge I was set was to do this all as cheap as possible so I don't have the most durable or light equipment and my socks started to wear away giving me hotspots and blisters.

When I arrived at the church this time though it was abandoned, there was no one to give me the stamp I needed! So I spent the next hour trying to find someone who knew where to go and ended up getting the stamp in a post office after trying to explain for ages what I was doing only to find out the priest had arrived back at the church while I was doing all of this! After finally getting my stamp I went to meet Emmanuel my next host. She just wanted to talk and talk all night - until she got hungry then it was cheese wine and bad music time! She was great too and I still keep in daily contact with her.

In the morning she showed me to the Compostela trail again that was much more enjoyable walking than the past few days. This time it followed a river through town then went into the hills and woods, I didn't see anything but deer all day until I hit my next checkpoint at Sens de Bretagne where I had no accommodation booked. When I arrived at the church the priest offered for me to stay in the church for the night which I agreed to but said that I wanted to explore and grab something to eat before I bedded down for the night, which he agreed to, so without thinking anything of It I ditched my kit and started to explore.. About an hour later I arrived back at the church to find everything locked and my bag sitting in the doorway! The priest had just locked me out and gone home! Leaving me with no choice to bivvi out in some woods nearby which sucked to say the least...

In the morning I woke up covered in frost and eager to get going and warm again. Unfortunately it was a Sunday so everything was shut down, I walked through two towns that looked like something out of the apocalypse - not even a dog was barking in town, they were completely dead! It was raining sideways all day, so needless to say I was feeling pretty down but that soon changed after meeting my next hosts. I spent the next 4 days in Melesse in a student house, keeping warm and dry and trying to play various Balkan instruments with the guys there while I waited for my stove to arrive from England.

 Unfortunately I had to move on before my stove arrived because of a lack of space in the house but luckily it arrived the day I left and Jo, the host, drove it out to me as a surprise and bought everyone from the house along for one last emotional goodbye before I set off again in the morning.

I spent the next few days hiking through countless villages and woodlands, camping the whole way and having numerous close calls with boars and other wildlife and being eaten alive by what seems like every bug in France.

All to end this section of the hike on Halloween with one giant 30 mile hike to Nantes so that I could meet a very good old friend Leo and have a party with him and his friends - eating some fresh roadkill deer and spending hours catching up, drinking and swopping souvenirs and gifts.

So far it’s been an incredible journey over the first 250km. It's been challenging at times but overall I wouldn't change it for the world, next stop Saintes…

How do you prepare?


Since announcing our fundraising hike to the world this is a question that has come up again and again.

So let’s pretend for a second that I’m not doing this as a fundraiser but just because I wanted to do a long distance hike, a solo canoe journey or any other kind of adventure, like most people I’ve spoken to do. Where would I start preparing??

I’m going to keep this blog short and only cover the prep you can do at home, not the fitness or kit side of things, I’ll cover that later.

The first thing you should try to figure out is what is motivating you? Why do you want to walk across a continent? What would you like to get out of this trip? Obviously our trip is motivated by me wanting to help out the people of Mbabala and to raise awareness of the Luyando Support Group. But, even though this is my main motivation and enough in itself to get me out and on the road again, it’s not the only reason I have chose to do this - I love to challenge myself outdoors and to travel too! Because of this I find it pretty hard to stay in one place for any more than a few months and so a mix of these things is pretty much how I manage to stay nomadic.

I’ve been lucky enough to have lived most of my life in or near wilderness areas and to be surrounded by people who appreciate these places as much as me. And I have been even luckier with my jobs! I’ve done a little bit of everything all over the place, from living off grid in rural Kentucky, to soldiering, to teaching English in Ukraine... but easily my most satisfying and enjoyable job is the one I’m in now. I’m a seasonal Outdoor Activities Instructor in the UK. So not only do I get to spend every day outside doing something I love but I get to meet loads of new people from all over the world and hopefully inspire the next generation of explorers! But that’s a story for another day. All of these odd jobs have turned me into a bit of a jack of all trades and given me contacts all over the world so if I was motivated to go and work away, or just experience a new culture, it wouldn’t be too difficult.

I know that most people don’t have that kind of luck but there are opportunities everywhere for everyone if you look hard enough! If you just want to travel and meet new people I've had a lot of luck in the past with websites like 'Couchsurfer' and am planning to use it as much as possible on the hike. 'War showers' is supposed to be a good one to use too but I haven’t used that site yet.

If you want to volunteer in a area for a little longer to get more skills and to be a little more immersed in the local culture then ' Workaway' or 'Wwoofing' can be a great way for you to do that - it can also be great for building contacts and getting paid work in the future.

Or you might be more like me and Cris and just want to get out in the wilds and explore while doing the fundraiser. If that’s the case you could always do like I have in the past and just wing it - go somewhere new and make it up as you go along... but that’s not always the safest option and sometimes you can miss what an area has to offer so think carefully before you choose this option!!

I’d recommend you do like we are this time, set yourself an overall goal like hiking from France to Spain, cycling London to Paris or anything else you could possibly want to do, break that down into more manageable chunks by finding big cities or sights you want to see and break that down even further into villages, towns and other resupply points along the way. Once you have done that you can always use a few of the sites I mention above or get in contact with friends along the way and see if you can crash with them. If you get all that sorted then you have your route! If you can’t get something for every step don’t worry you can always wild camp too!

I always find it easiest to break everything down this far to keep me focused on the small picture. If you try to focus on the big picture the everyday things can get even harder than they already are and then everyday turns into a slog and at times it feels like you're not getting any closer to the finish. But if you can get in the mindset of focusing on daily goals and achieve them things can seem a lot better - for example -so what if you’ve been walking in the rain all day? That evening you're  going to get to your next 'Couchsurfer', have a warm bed and a tumble dryer...or you could walk all day in the driving rain and still have 900 miles to go - see what I mean? 90% of these expeditions are in the prep and the mindset.

That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a physical side and that you can do it with no kit...but I’ll keep this short and do another blog on that. For now just try and get your goals in your head and plan how you're going to do it!

Goodnight guys I hope this was helpful to you!

Adam

Why

 

 

Why would you hike that far!?

Why? This is the most common thing I’ve been asked when I tell people about this hike. Won’t it be hard? Isn’t it going to be dangerous? Won’t you freeze?? Put simply yes... this will probably be one of the most challenging things I will have ever done in my life, I’m going to walk across two countries I have never been to and stay with a lot of people I don’t know in person yet. But hey if I’ve learnt anything on my travels it’s that we’ve all got friends all across the world you just have to get out there and find them!  As for the cold I’m going to have to hope that my kit can keep me warm enough, and if it can’t I’m more than motivated enough to get myself up and to move on and warm up and if one day I can’t I’m just going to have to hope and pray that some lovely trail angel will take me in! haha

Won’t it be dangerous? There are always dangers with living on the roads, especially in unknown country in the middle of winter. Sure I’m going to be a little exposed, I am risking injury walking this far and you never really have any idea who you’re going to meet on the road.. But all of this is true to some degree in everyday life too! You just have to way up the risk to yourself verses the rewards of doing it! I might break a ankle or get hit by a car.. but if I get more support for Luyando then I’m improving 15 families lives and possibly helping all of Mbabala, and I get to take in some beautiful new countries and meet new people so there’s no competition there at all for me!! Stop worrying about what could go wrong and think about how great things will be when they go right! Life will always find a million things to get in your way but if you have something that motivates you and something you wish you could do then there’s always a way, you just have to find how make things work for you. Unfortunately there are some wild cards you can’t control, like the weather but with a little know how and some basic kit you should be fine, in all honesty though would you really want to have everything under control and just coaster through the whole journey? Personally I think it’s the hardships of these expeditions that make it all worthwhile. They have a funny way of making you appreciate everything you have so much more, every little luxury and victory becomes a huge celebration.

Why backpack? Normally I’m asked this by people who haven’t ever done long distance hikes before and it’s a hard one to explain… on paper walking in the driving rain just to get to the top of a hill or to the next town sounds awful when compared to going to a night club, drinking too much and dancing on a table or going paintballing and “accidentally” shooting your mate in the face. But if you have ever really backpacked you know that couldn’t be further from the truth! Reducing everything you have to you your pack, some great company, beautiful scenery and a hip flask of good whiskey has a funny way of filtering away the BS of everyday life, when you simplify everything down to that point you break your usual routines and the monotony of everyday living, everything has a slower pace and has more purpose. Most days at home now the first thing I do when I wake up is check my phone and straight away I’m sucked into the social media circus before I finally get out of bed and make myself a coffee to wake myself up enough to deal with the fresh onslaught of children for that day.. And I’m sure if any of you are as big a pile of crap as me you’ll do the same!  But when I’m in the wilderness things are very different, most the time I wake up at first light along with my camp mate if I have one, make a cup of tea and over breakfast we poor over the map and discus the days plan of attack and possible challenges there’s next to never any rush to get going or any struggle to get out of the hammock in the morning and the conversation never runs dry! That’s the great thing about backpackers, and hikers especially we are all so likeminded there are only ever awesome friends or friends to be on the trail. It’s awesome to meet strangers on the trails and just talk to them you almost always click and there are always some great tails to be shared. The wilderness has a funny way of bringing people together if you haven’t already you really should try and take a few days with someone new in an area you don’t know and just wing it even if you’ve known each other for years. Trust me you won’t regret it! You’ll learn so much and have a great time!

Anyway after all this talk of hiking I think I’m gonna have to grab my pack and do some “training” now, see you down the road!

Adam