Friday, 22 March 2013

Thursday, 21 March 2013

World Water Day 2013

The 22nd March is World Water Day. Check this UNESCO site which colourfully divulges what World Water Day really means.

World Water Day 2013

The Route



Walking boots are expensive. I had to pick a lot of apples and shear a lot of alpacas to afford mine. And Jake, he had to spend a lot of days feeding sweet corn to turtles to afford his.

In Mid spring 2013, Jake and I will put on our backpacks, funded by apples and sweet corn, and leave number 29 Berkeley Road on foot. 2,000 miles later we hope to arrive in Menton, France, with blisterless feet and a skip in our step. The projected blisterless feet and skip in step may well be an ounce optimistic, but it pays to be positive.

By no means will we be tailgating the infamous crow; leaving Bristol we amble on to Bath, and then cut through the heart of the England’s south, dropping subtly south to Dover. A ferry crossing (in which we presumably have to circumnavigate the vessel, on foot, without stopping until it docks) will take us on to Ostende, Belgium. A brief section in the Netherlands then leads to Antwerp. It is here that we join the hiker-renowned GR5 trail, one of Europe’s most famous long distance paths. The GR5 heads south through Hasselt and Liege and into the south east corner of Belgium. Sandwiched between the border of Luxembourg and Germany, the GR5 then falls out into the Lorraine region of France. Sections in the Vosges and Jura lead us on towards Lake Geneva. From this point onward we gradually ascend into the mighty Alps. Several hundred miles through the mountains channels us to the Mediterranean, and Menton, our finishing point.

If all goes to plan we should arrive in the French Riviera just after the summer holidays, accompanied by a rather splendid short-shorts tan line.

Although this is a personal challenge, Jake and I are also trying to raise as much money as possible for Water Aid (see www.justgiving.com/awalktothewater). This is a fantastic charity and may well be the driving force that we need to help us complete our quest.

Map of the route - Map

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

First Night in the Vango Tempest 200



OK, so it's not exactly representative of the conditions that are to come, but it's important to have a transition period.

What's on Bristol


The March edition of 'Whats on Bristol'. And, if you missed the opportunity for free chips courtesy of the Evening Post, then learn from your mistake and be sure to collect your free sausage and bacon as detailed on page 82.

The Evening Post

It was fantastic to see our article in last weeks Evening Post (Late February, 2013). Unfortunately, the overleaf offer of "free chips" had expired before we even had a chance to process the gift in all its wonder.

WaterAid


Ventures, such as our walk to the water, do not come around all too often in one’s life, so Jake and I deemed it patent to make the most of our trip. With this enlightened state of mind we decided, amongst other things, to raise money for a charity, using our walk as the driving incentive for donations.

With little deliberation we chose WaterAid, an international charity working to improve global access to safe water and sanitation, or, as a certain Bristol based newspaper put it, ‘WaterAid, a water safety charity’. Well, they can’t get it perfect every time.

The picture shows a stand that Jake erected in The Bristol Aquarium, where he currently works. The stand, and its wealth of WaterAid facts and figures, depicts the effectiveness of small contributions on improving millions of lives around the world. With the help of the stand, a couple of press releases and our fundraising page (www.justgiving.com/awalktothewater) we have already raised almost £1,250. This is wonderful, but we want it to be more. Thus, with the desired risk of sounding repetitive and annoying, please donate, and if you can’t donate then talk about WaterAid; raising awareness and consciousness is an undeniably productive step towards improving global access to safe water and sanitation.

So, with our route planned and our charity determined, the next obvious step was to name the experience. Double meanings are, without a doubt, the highest form of wit. Thus, after Jake and I came up with the title for our trip – A Walk to the Water (water referring to both WaterAid and the Mediterranean) - we felt as intellectually sharp as Winston Churchill, a grand feat when considering quotes like this:

MP: "Mr Churchill, must you fall asleep while I'm speaking?"

Churchill: "No, it's purely voluntary."

A Card from Ben

I received a card from Ben. A man pulls autumn leaves from the thatched roof of a house, using a net on the end of a long stick. Simon Garden used oil on panel and named the painting ‘Leaf Gathering’. I opened the card and read Ben’s delightfully chosen quote, by R L Stevenson: "I have been after an adventure all my life, a pure dispassionate adventure, such as befell early and heroic voyagers; and thus to be found by morning in a random wood-side nook – not knowing north from sound, as strange to my surroundings as the first man upon the earth – was to find a fraction of my daydreams realised."

To Buy a Map is to Promise


When one buys a map, they make a promise to them self, ‘I will leave, one day.’ Their awareness of this promise will vary, but it is there nonetheless. They buy the map because they are intrigued with the world, in adventure, in knowing. How exhilarating to think, how truly exciting.  But let me tell you this, to think does not even touch the surface. Dig to feel what is really out there, and dive to experience sensations that are unimaginable from your well-cushioned sofa. For water molecules that cohere without disturbance are a promise broken.

I bought a map of Europe from Stanfords and put it on my bedroom wall. A line of coloured ball-head map pins stud out our intended route. I always find it satisfying to analyse a pending walk, but this one was a little bit different, not only in length, but it was also the first time I had used map pins; it was worth the wait. Colour coordinated, depending on the country in which they were inserted, the pins stand about two centimeters apart - that, in converted terms, is about 40kms.

Without a thought, I find myself running my finger along the pins whenever I pass, each popping as my index parts with the plastic ball. I wake in the morning and roll over, the outlines of each nation imperceptible and unremarkable, the way it should be. Some mornings the distance appears small and others it seems daunting, evoking anxiety. Nicholas Crane walked more than three times this, as he traipsed the 10,000 km mountain chain that runs from the Atlantic to the Black Sea. George Meagan walked nine times our proposed distance, claiming the record for the longest walk ever completed, as he trekked over 30,000 km from the southernmost tip of South America to the northernmost tip of Alaska. Meagan began his expedition in 1977 and did not reach Prudhoe, Alaska until 1983. When acknowledging the achievements of intrepid footers like Crane and Meagan, our walk to the Mediterranean suddenly seems more manageable.  Well, there is no backing out now at any rate, I have bought the map.

In the Beginning, so to Speak


I forget his name. Andreas? Arne? He was Dutch, I think, and appeared to be in his early 40s. He wore an unattractive fa├žade of cockiness over his broad shoulders and swaggered about the Oaklands Lodge hostel in Auckland like he were a cat amongst mice. I only knew him for a few days, but in that time I was able to learn about much of his life. In return he knew nothing of mine. I am confident that the few questions he did put my way were merely a route to allowing him to talk more. I did not like the man. But he had a magnificent story.

Three years prior, Arne (for the sake of ease) and his girlfriend quit their jobs in Holland and flew over the Atlantic to the east coast of the United States of America. Here they set out on a four and a half month trek - beginning in Spring Mountain, Georgia and ending at Mount Katahdin, Maine - known as the Appalachian Trail. The couple completed the quest, and to top things off Arne proposed to his girlfriend as they crossed the finishing mark. She said yes, how could she not? Of course, this alone is a staggering story; a 2,200 mile path winding and undulating through the Appalachian Mountains. However, it was not the facts of the trail and the challenge it presented that stirred something within me, but the look in the storyteller’s eyes. As Arne shared his experiences I could see how much they meant to him. He sat, immersed in a deep reverie, as he told me that ‘the Appalachian Trail was the best and worst experience of my life’. A few seconds passed, and then he glanced up at me. I could see a fire raging behind glazed corneas. And that is when I knew, I too wanted this fire.

Arne seeped out of my life soon after, like the dispersion of an unpleasant bout of wind after a Sunday roast. I never spoke to him again, I did not want to. Nonetheless, I was wonderfully appreciative; he had got the ball rolling.

I rushed to the computer, filled it with coins and began an adrenalin-fueled, research-based assault of the Appalachian Trail. I was surprised that I had never heard of it. It is one of the most famous long distance trails in the world and is extremely well documented. My research also divulged that the Appalachian was one of three long distance US paths (the others being the Continental Divide Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail) that make up the so called ‘Triple Crown’ – a trio of paths that run north to south, east to west, through the nation. However, of the three magnificent routes, it was the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) on the western side of the US that caught my eye the most; remote, diverse and long (Mexico to Canada to be more precise). I found myself getting more and more sidetracked from the Appalachian and increasingly focused on the PCT.

For months I talked, dreamt, wrote and sang tirelessly about my quest to walk the trail. I moved to Australia, attracted by the higher wages, amongst other things, to allow for more efficient saving. I told everyone I met of my plans and listened anytime I could to travellers’ tales of hiking and the wilderness. My plans were further fortified when my brother, Jake, asked if he could join me. The perfect trail companion, I said yes without a second thought. With each paycheck that I received I did not see money, but a new pair of boots, a tent or 100 high-energy chocolate bars.

As with many long distance paths, the PCT is heavily impacted by seasonal changes. Snow along much of the Rockies meant that it was advisable to walk south to north, beginning in April. Further cause for organisation included the preparation of food boxes, which could be posted ahead to a pending destination and picked up along the way. This, apparently, is a compromise one must take when hiking in the wilderness. Postage of food alone would cost in excess of £2,000 and would take months to prepare. The acquisition of a US Holiday Visa would also be essential. Six-month visas can be granted, but they are neither guaranteed nor simple to obtain. Furthermore, the trail, for relative novices like us, would take roughly five and a half months to walk, leaving us with an uncomfortably small amount of wiggle room for time-adding mishaps. Ultimate wilderness should not be this stressful.

I arrived back in England in early August 2012. This gave Jake and I eight months in which to get trail fit, sort out our visas and organise our food parcels, along with the additional hoard of tasks that would, on completion, deem us ready to begin the PCT.  But, no matter how hard I tried to stay focused on the task, I could not rid the almost constant niggling voice inside my head: ‘Is this really what you want to do?’ I thought the answer was yes, an undeniable yes. And, in its simplest form it was what I wanted to do. I wanted to put on my walking boots and complete the PCT with my brother. However, I did not want to plan my lunch for nine months and two days time. I did not want to be forced to go home early because our visas had expired and I did not want to get bitten by a Red Diamond Rattlesnake. Actually, that last point is a lie; if I was going to go, the fangs of a rattlesnake on the PCT would be my choice of exit. Nonetheless, the long awaited dream to hike the PCT was slowly slipping away, like warmed honey from a spoon.

I still wanted to complete a feat of similar magnitude; I certainly was not backing out in that sense. And so, for the second time, I bled the internet for all it had, this time broadening the specifics: ‘long distance paths around the world.’ Let me tell you now, there is almost nothing specific about trying to find long paths around the world. In hindsight, it would be obvious to assume that a global spread of seven billion humans over an expansive time frame is likely to leave a good number of paths. After a day or two of swinging from continent to continent and country to country I had narrowed down my search. The revised plan now looked vaguely like; to walk 2,000 miles across Europe. I built up a fine repertoire of facts, figures and phrases that would advertise the idea effectively to Jake, and then posed it his way with the timidity of a furless mouse.

After the initial shock, Jake warmed to the idea and began to see its advantages. We conversed over the logistics of the new quest, continuously changing our starting point, finishing point and direction, until finally agreeing. We would walk from Bristol, England, to Menton, France, using the GR5 long distance trail as the backbone of the route.  An irrepressible excitement plagued my body.y body.