Updated: Nov 27, 2019
I’m guessing that most of you, Anglophones at least, will have read Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island at some point in your childhood. Francophone’s that haven’t, you should, it’s a great read!
Did you know that RLS himself was somewhat of an adventurer much like his main characters, Jim Hawkins or Long John Silver? Indeed, RLS was an avid traveller and many of his other books are dedicated to the tales of his adventures around the globe. Six months ago I stumbled across one of those books, ‘Travels with a donkey in the Cevennes’, a short account of the 12 days he spent in the South of France hiking from Puy-en-Velay to Alès with, you’ve guessed it, a donkey!
Ever since coming back from my travels in South America, over a year ago now – how time flies!, I’d had my eyes peeled for my next challenge and after reading this simple story about life, travel and overcoming adversity, I knew I’d found it, I immediately blocked a week in my diary for the month of June.
So here we are, a month after I successfully completed the Stevenson Trail (or GR70). I've had some time to recover and to reflect so I thought I’d share a few of my key learnings with you.
You may have noticed that this blog article is entitled ‘Voyage Intérieur’ and yet trust me when I say it was a very ‘external’ journey too! I hiked over 230km in 7 days, some days walking nearly 11 hours,up and down magnificent peaks often surpassing 1600m. I carried 13kg on my back throughout; tent, sleeping bag, cooking stove, etc. and I must have used more than 30 blister plasters not to mention specific eye-drops for a spider bite that I picked up along the way! But funnily enough this is not what I’ll remember, what I learnt. What struck me most was indeed the ‘voyage intérieur’ that I went on…
From the start I knew I wanted to do this hike alone, I wanted to challenge myself, to see what I was capable of when left to my own devices. In South America, there was always at least two of us when hiking and that meant that there was always someone to turn to for support, energy or motivation.
Spoiler alert! Being alone, in your head, is hard! However if you put your mind to it, if you channel your energy and your ambitions, I honestly believe that anything is possible.
Anyone that’s seen the fantastically insightful Disney movie ‘Inside Out’ or read the thought-provoking book ‘The Chimp Paradox’ will be familiar with the concept of the “voices within our head”. An easier image, if not, is simply that of having an Angel on one shoulder and the Devil on the other...
Hiking alone, when often exhausted, hungry or both means that these voices become very present. “Come on you can do it, only 3km to go!” versus “I can’t walk a step further, my feet hurt so much, I’m done!”. The question is, which to listen to?
On the 3 rd day of my hike, the day after I got bitten by a spider in the eye, I spent the afternoon fighting with those voices in my head. One of them just wanted me to give up and head home whilst the other was urging me on however tired I was. When alone, in nature, away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, you become so much more aware of the fact that you, and you alone, have the control to choose which voice you want to follow. Quite often we try to block one of them out but I learnt during my week’s hike that letting each voice have it’s own say can be quite liberating, even taking a weight off your shoulders. Unfortunately for me it wasn’t the 13kg of my backpack though! ;-)
On that really tough day when I was struggling to know what to do, which part of my brain/instinct to listen to, I just kept walking, one foot in front of the other and as I walked I listened to everything those voices were telling me. It was exhausting and I spent the best part of two hours crying, almost sobbing, as I walked but I was simply letting go of things both physical and emotional. I’d made the firm decision to keep on walking but by giving those voices the chance to express themselves I let go of whatever expectations they’d held for me and I was able to move on feeling lighter and more confident in myself, the decision maker.
Taking time out to truly listen to yourself gives you the power to take back the control of your emotions, as they shouldn’t be dictating our lives and yet they so often are. Investing in yourself, in self-care, spending time looking after you, gives you the necessary baggage to go on that ‘inward journey’, checking-in with yourself, reminding yourself of what’s important to you. In that way we become conscious once again of the freedom we have, that gift of being able to choose the path we take every step of the way. For me that is what life is all about.
This blog post I have no doubt will be simply the introduction to many more around this topic as it is both passionate but also extremely vast! So i’ll just finish with a quote from Robert Louis Stevenson who inspired my ‘voyage intérieur’: “In each of us, two natures are at war – the good and the evil. All our lives the fight goes on between them, and one of them must conquer. But in our own hands lies the power to choose – what we want most to be, we are.”