I always wanted to go on a pilgrimage and spend at least one week of full-time hiking, thinking and kind of meditating. I imagined it to be an overwhelming and a life-changing experience which I will always remember of. Well, after I’ve finally been on that long distance hike it turned out to be… ehm… different…
I am not that kind of person who enters an adventure without thinking properly through it before. The same with the pilgrimage I intended to do. I searched through the internet for useful advice, asked friends for help, gathered some experience in hiking (and I mean – proper experience) and went to a store where everything was offered which I could possibly ever need at my adventure. I was also well aware of the fact that it will be kind of physical challenge and not an easy Sunday walk. I planned through as best as I could and felt well prepared.
So I packed my backpack with all the necessary things I really MUST have on my hike – nothing more. I paid high attention to the weight of my equipment which wasn’t that great for my bank account (tent, sleeping bag, mattress etc. become more and more expensive the less they weigh). I just took one free time outfit and some ultralight flip flops as a change to my two hiking outfits. No extra beauty stuff – just my toothbrush next to soap and shampoo which were of course refilled in smaller bottles not to waste any space. Furthermore I took my rain coat and a jumper with me for changing weather conditions. The only luxury I can think of was my kindl, which was kind of essential, too. But still – after everything (so – almost nothing) was packed in my backpack it was surprisingly heavy! In the morning of my first hiking day I was kind of shocked of the weight! Of course 2 liters of water (minimum) caused some extra weight but still…. After the first few steps I was already asking myself whether that will really turn out to be a meditative walk through nature for the next days.
My back started to ache and my feet were already burning after half of a day hiking. I was sweating all over my body and covered in dust. I made it to the first campground after 38 kilometers of hiking and I was completely destroyed. After my tent was installed and my bed prepared I was limping to the showers feeling as if I would have aged about 60 years within one single day. I got even awake at night by the pain in my legs and I was definitely not looking forward to the next days.
The next morning it took some minutes until I was able to move smoothly and without giving a first hand impression of myself in the age of 90. I treated my blisters carefully and put the shoes back on. After the first meters I was really astonished about my own recovery. I felt quite good and my muscles didn’t hurt anymore. Of course my feet were a different topic but all the rest of my body was fine. I even got the impression that my back was getting used to the backpack.
A few kilometers later everything started to hurt again although the pain wasn’t as intense as the day before. I stopped at 28 kilometers and followed my first lessons learned. Second lessons learned was definitely about the size of my shoes. They are perfectly fine for one-day hikes and have never been of an issue so far. But my feet grew up to two sizes bigger and they didn’t want to fit in my shoes anymore. I got blisters all over the place and tried to treat them well every evening. So every day became a torture for my feet and so for myself… my neck started to hurt from the third day on and my whole body was simply exhausted by that unnormal physical strain. That was the moment when my mental strength got challenged as well. With every step that hurt my brain asked myself why the hell I am doing this and when it is going to stop. I really had to convince myself each and every hour to continue and to make it till the end. I even got so sick of exhaustion that I felt like crying and vomiting on the fourth day. My feet just did hurt so much and there was no distraction besides watching nature. And believe me, although the landscape I was hiking through was really beautiful, my thoughts were driving me crazy…. I counted the steps, started singing songs and funnily distracted myself by doing mathematics… I thought about my step length and the distance I have to walk by day, took time and weather in consideration just to come up with some weird calculation which makes me not think about this hike and the pain in my feet!
Of course there were moments where I really enjoyed the nature around and where I was really happy about doing this hike – but that might have been 10% of the day (I calculated that through as well :)). Next to that I never (and I am not lying) NEVER thought about giving up. It didn’t come through my mind once. I was just focused on how to solve this instead of how to end this. I found my own strategy of staying alive and enjoying that hike without going mad with the pain. I was always highly motivated in the morning although the blisters got more and more each day. I made it through 170 kilometers within 5 1/2 days with burning sun, pouring rain, freezing wind and seemingly endless nights in the tent. But I made it and I am f****** proud of that.
After that week I am well aware of the strength it requires to do a pilgrimage or to go on a long distance hike. I know that there are much bigger challenges and that I have just been out there for one week. But I guess it felt to surprisingly tough for me as I simply didn’t expect it to be like this. I was totally naiv when I thought about a meditative self centering holiday by hiking 170 kilometers with a heavy backpack. I was simply not prepared mentally and it caught me on cold (swollen and blistered) feet. It taught me that it’s always worth to try things out before judging them because most of the cases there are still unknowns no matter how precisely you prepare for it.