Day 13 – Refuge D’Asinau.
At 6am this morning I was alone on a high mountain ridge in southern Corsica, scrambling over rocky spikes and awkward slabs in the darkness. Clouds swirled all around me and I wondered if they would later turn to thunder storms.
I knew that it was madness but I also knew that I was totally in my element. Then the orange and reds of the day began to seep over from behind the horizon, bathing the mountains all around me in a welcoming warmth.
Day 2 – Calenzana.
The train slid slowly through the burnt and barren land. I sat in silence, surrounded by people. The heat was overwhelming me and I hadn’t even started walking yet. I nearly got off the train in L’Ile Rousse, it looked so nice with its idyllic white beaches and clear blue waters. The perfect place to spend a beach holiday with your boyfriend.
I had a very different trip in mind. On arrival into Calvi I stared up at the big and scary mountains. What have I done? I wondered in horror. Was this how I chose to spend my annual leave?
I was there to walk alone for 13 days along the GR20 trail through the rugged and high Corsican mountains. It was meant to be the toughest trek in Europe and despite my wealth of mountain experience I was now doubting myself. A voice inside my head, namely that of my ex-boyfriend, was telling me that I would never quite be good enough.
By the time I reached the trail head in Calenzana I still had not spoken to anyone despite being surrounded by several other hikers on the local bus. After a terrible nights sleep in a rough camp site outside Bastia the night before and along with my impeding heat stroke, I was starting to turn inwards on myself. Did I really want to be here? I wasn’t sure. Then I remembered how much I had spent on the flights and thought…I better enjoy myself!
Setting up my tent in the dusty little camp site everything changed when I met Rosie in the tent next door. She was an outdoor instructor, also from the Lake District, also walking alone and also feeling a little hesitant just like me. To my surprise, I suddenly had the perfect buddy for the trail days to come.
Day 7 – Hôtel Castel di Vergio.
I have had no internet or phone signal for so long. I have only had big blue skies, valley views, dirt beneath my feet and boulders beneath my hands. I have seen no towns, no cars and no roads. I have only seen the wind, the sun and the distant sea. I have sat in silence, enjoyed sunsets, taken the time to think and to feel. I have felt my body work hard. My stomach has rumbled and my throat has run dry but I have quickly drank more to replenish myself and eaten more to keep myself strong. I have swam in rivers, clambered over rocks, lugged myself over mountain passes and gorged myself on plain biscuits thinking that it was the best thing in the world.
I have spoken French, met loads of other hikers, shared stories, taken photos, written my diary and spotted mountain goats. I have been in utter bliss.
After spending years chasing male companions through the mountains it has been so exciting and liberating to be sharing at least a few days of this journey with such a like minded soul. Another young woman who is fit and tough like me, who cares more about adventures then appearances. Someone who has made that choice to roam free and explore the world.
We talked about shopping but only for outdoor kit. We talked about hair but only to compare how long we could leave it without washing it or how we never carried a hairbrush or shampoo when travelling. We loved the never ending mountain view from the top of Monte Cinto.
I am already feeling so into this experience and I do not want to be anywhere else.
Day 9 – Refuge de L’Onda.
Today I had to leave Rosie. She is only walking half the trail and I need to push on to make it to the end for my flight home.
We hugged and I walked off alone, knowing that I may well have made a very good friend for life. A new nervous energy filled me but as I climbed onto the next summit, I knew that I was just fine to carry on alone. I knew what I was doing and I was confident. Dirty, smelly, happy and on top of a mountain, that was the life I wanted for myself!
Day 13 – Refuge D’Asinau.
Today I walked for 30 kilometres along a high mountain ridge, across lush green meadows and over a grey peak to arrive at this refuge where I am now drinking red wine with two computer programmers from Heidelberg, Germany. The alcohol is soothing my sore and painful feet, the company is allowing me to never feel alone despite being a solo traveller.
The camaraderie of this trail seemed to have no end. Two days ago I was hiding in an old wooden cabin from an intense thunder storm. I had teamed up with four fellow hikers from Germany and France. We joked and chatted together while the hail stones fell outside and we shivered in our wet boots.
Day 14 – Bavella Village
I was here exactly eight years ago with my bike. I had quit my job in the French Alps to cycle across Corsica instead. It had turned out to be a reckless solo trip full of mistakes and mishaps. Left with little food and water, no real map or idea of where to go, I had been full of fear and hesitation. I thought about everything that I had learnt since then, all of the adventures I had experienced across the UK, the Alps and South America. Now I knew I belonged in the mountains and on the open road.
I then got chatting to the couple sitting next to me in the bar. They were thinking about returning to Corsica the following year to do the GR20. I answered all of their questions and passed on my expert tips and advice. It sounded like I knew what I was talking about. They wanted to go to South America too, so I told them all about that. Then a French hiker arrived who I knew so I had a short conversation in French with him and thought nothing of it. “You obviously know what you are doing!” they said on leaving. Maybe I did…sometimes the opinions of others makes that easy to forget.
Day 14 – Refuge D’l Paliri.
It is the last night on the trail. Every moment is precious and one to be savoured. I want to be done with this walk now but I also know that these moments in the sun and the nature are to be remembered and enjoyed. They are magical and a reason for living.
The last light of the day is illuminating the jagged pinnacles around me so that they glow purple and orange. I feel the sand beneath my toes and I see the light green lizards darting about. There is a clinking of pots as trekkers wash up after their pasta dinners. The are one or two excited and chatty exchanges between friends made on the trail.
My body feels fit now from all of this fresh air and exercise but also tired from the many miles walked. I am brimming with memorable encounters, vivid mountain scenes and inspiration and new ideas from the wonderful people that I have met along the trail. That first lonely night in Bastia now feels like a very long time ago. If I have learnt anything from this walk it is that events in my life may come and go, break ups, boyfriends, jobs and homes, but my love for the mountains and the adventures they bring will always stay the same.