‘You’ll have to train for the walk!’

you don’t say…

Walk walk walk, lift weights, shop, shop shop.

This basically sums up my months from January to August 2017.
training for my first ever distance trek, the FJÄLLRÄVEN CLASSIC in swedish lapland.


the only impossible journey is the one you don't begin

the only impossible journey is the one you don’t begin

So in January it became apparent that the excited ‘me toooooo’ moment at the Christmas Market a few weeks earlier had lead to being booked to go.

 

 

 

 

I think the right thing to have done would have been to read a little bit on how to prepare for a big walk.

Yes, that might have been a good idea.

Instead, I just got up and walked.

I had no daily or goals, really, just get the boots on and go outside.

1 – Staycation in winter wonderland

I did give myself a first good kickstart by booking myself into a staycation for a week in Luxembourg’s beautiful north. The initial idea for my time off work had been to fly out to see a man I thought I’d fallen for in the middle east, but that didn’t happen (and is a whole other story), so I was left with holidays in January and not a lot of drive to go far. Yes, a week in my dream home, a beautifully done up gate house in the quiet countryside available on airbnb, would see me just right.
I packed nothing but my walking gear, my study books for a training I was on, and my computer to write. Oh and wine and food, of course.

I left with the intention to slow down and be focussed by not bringing anything more that could distract me.

The universe must have approved of my decision as I was given fresh snow (it doesn’t snow that much in Luxembourg) and sunny days.

Perfect perfect weather to walk, and that is what I did. I did a walk a day, this was before my tracking days, so I don’t know how far I’d walk but I was out about 3 hours every day, and I loved it. I returned to my log fire, my home-cooked meals, and my books.

I got a visitor midweek, and my besties joined me for the weekend. A lot of being alone really calls for company, and so ‘more togetherness’ is an intention I took out of this week in the beautiful north, too.

This intention also proved to stay true during my big walk… there is so much to be said for growing into and beyond one’s own challenges, I will always encourage anyone to travel and be alone from time to time; I source from time with my good self, I have done that a lot in my days and always will.

Walk with me

Walk with me

My new challenge to grow into, which is my big wish, is to be with others now, travel with others, take decisions together, commit to being together, even for a weekend, a dinner, a walk… so my friends coming to see me, to join me, meant a lot to me. And this is when I decided to ask people to walk with me.  So when people wanted to know what to ‘give me’ for my 40th birthday, which still hasn’t had a party, I would tell them:

‘walk with me,
that would be the perfect gift’.

 

2 – Keep walking

And from there on I basically continued to… walk.

I dug out trail maps for my home country Luxembourg, the classic paths are called ‘autopédestres’ and are generally marked with a blue and white arrow and the number 1 (or 2, but I still haven’t figured out the difference).
I found out there are many more marked paths through the countryside, often along similar tracks with different signposts, often coming together in clusters when paths fork. It occurred to me that, instead of having a way too big collection of pamphlets and booklets, one could develop a trailmap app, one that brings them all together, gives you all the information per path to make it easier to choose which to walk and also tells you where you are while you’re walking… yes, one could also track oneself, save walks to look back on, make notes, add photos… if a reader here knows how to make my brilliant idea happen, let’s work on it. If you work on it without me and get really rich: look out for karma!

Discovering my Luxembourg again was a very big part of my Big Walk.
See, in other stories, I have always been on a search for where to settle. I live in Luxembourg, always have apart from when I studied in Paris and all my months travelling, which by now would sum up to a few years for sure. I’ve never quite felt like I fit in here, which is rather annoying because not feeling ‘home’ can rob one of that sourcing sense of tranquility.
That said, the mischievous little travel bug in me loves that the search is not over!
And yes, I have worked a lot on it and taken it to many coaching rounds, I have found some vey helpful truths for myself. I feel the depth in the claims that ‘home is where the heart is‘ and ‘home is not a place, it is a feeling‘ – which is why I feel at home in so many different places, including Luxembourg.
Just the feeling is never really complete.

Walking my countryside brought me closer to home.

There is something about being a visitor that has us meet a place with curiosity for the new instead of boredom of familiarity.

Luxembourg countryside truly is fresh and stunning!

As a firm believer in things always happen for a reason, often for more reasons than we can imagine or ever will know, and as I write this today, I feel calmer living here, calling Luxembourg my home base to travel from. Maybe, and again this is only right now in this moment, this is home for me.

Geographic home. My heart and me will keep travelling some more.

There is also something about the ritual of walking that has a grounding effect – ‘they’ve’ been saying it all along, ‘people’ and inspirational facebook posts… now I get it, too.

The getting up, putting on and tying the boots, the stepping outside and being outside.

Having the Big Walk on the horizon took away the questions of ‘should I really?‘ and ‘it’s too cold, too rainy, too dark‘ and ‘I’ll just stay on the couch, just this one time, I deserve to be lazy.‘… I also have to admit to agreeing with what they all say:

Having a goal is a driver!

And so I got up, and I walked. I walked before going to work when I was on late shifts, I walked after work when I was on earlies, I walked longer trails on off days, I took my boots on my holidays and I walked. I’d have my boots and rain jacket in the car, just incase, and incase was often! I walked to the point that I now miss fresh air and nature on days that keep me inside.

I’ll make a little disclaimer for fact lovers here: I usually walked between 5 and 10km about three times a week; this was not huge, but it was a big transformation in my daily life.

And this is good stuff.
This is precisely the outdoorsy kind of woman I thought I was and want to be, the one who gets up and goes.

 

3 – They walked with me

They did, they walked with me. Many of my friends took me up on my request for togetherness and showed up for walks!

4 – Lifting weight

I signed up for the gym right after my birthday in March. For 12 years I’d been driving past this gym, now I finally went in and it was a good thing I did. I enjoy being coached, I love having someone help me evaluate my own capabilities and guide me towards what to do.

This is what mental coaches do, we hold up mirrors for people to see how amazingly brilliant they really are, and how grand the opportunities are that they have. And then we turn the lights on to highlight more of their, maybe more hidden or forgotten, qualities and skills. And we champion our clients into stepping a bit closer to the mirror, to see for themselves what all they can do and most of all:
we cheerlead them to action!

I love doing this, I love it being done to me.

Physical coaching is just that, right?

An expert will evaluate you and set up a training plan, and get you going. Their true value comes in when I feel I might be getting a bit tired and would stop if I were alone, but they know and will say so, that I can do a little more.
The best thing about trainers is also when they tell us to stop! There is some weird connection issue in humans that once we do get going and start tasting at our potential, or muscles, we can forget our limits and we’ll just keep going… and every good coach, mental and physical, knows the importance and gold in rest time to balance the action.
My trainer Anna made some tests with me on my first appointment, and gave me the encouraging news that the machines had told her that my body was in good balance, muscle to fat to water to size ratio (I’m sure it is more intricate than that), and also, apparently my body age was 31 years, as opposed to its actual age of now 40. I’d never really been all that keen on seeing myself a different age than mine, but this little snippet did do me good. Maybe I had been treating my body right in the past years?

We set up a training plan to build up my strength mainly in my back, arms and legs, she knew what I was going in for. And every few weeks we made adjustments.

The weight training was great, it gave me immediate satisfaction, and: my arms looked nicely toned this summer.

5 – Adding weight to the walks

As I said, I hadn’t really read or researched a lot, but someone somewhere had said ‘walk with your backpack’. So once I had my backpack, I put a 5 litre bottle of water and some other random stuff in it and took it along on my little walks.

A good backpack will be your buddy on your travels,
‘the backpack always has your back’, I like to say.

First date with my backpack

First date with my backpack

So me and my pack started building our relationship one warm summer evening in my home town – and I carried a little beer with me for a celebratory drink en-route.

After that, I took it out three times properly, on big long hikes with about 14 kg in it – 2 kg more than the recommended weight for women (which we now know I totally didn’t respect by hauling 18kg around 110km of Swedish Lapland).

Generally, walking with the pack went surprisingly well, I found. The man in the shop must have been right when he’s said ‘this is the right one for you’. This gave me confidence that I might make the actual trek; the fact that the pack carried well AND the fact that I had trained in rather steep hilly areas that apparently the Kungsleden weren’t going to be like (this proved true, the Kungsleden had its challenges, such as the omnipresent boulders and cold weather, but luckily there were very few steep climbs and descents).

6- sleep outdoors

‘Test camp’, they’d said… ‘They’ being the consolidated voices of knowledge that talked at me from people who had done this before, and people who had never done this before, and the few blogs I did manage to read…

The most tricky part in test camping was the part I find trickiest in life at all:

Finding someone to do it with.

My supportive network was all in, again and always, only, just like for the walk itself, there were so many reasons that got in our way: ‘I’d come, but I have plans’, ‘I’d come, if I’d known sooner’, or ‘I’d come, if it weren’t for the sleeping in a tent’, ‘I’d come, if it weren’t for pooping in nature’, ‘I know someone who might be up for it’, or, best ever, ‘I’d come, if it weren’t for all the walking’. I even got a proposal to ‘inaugurate my tent’ with a sexy suggestive eye-wink, but even that proposal wasn’t followed through. Just as well, I guess, it wasn’t my tent, so it would have been a tad inappropriate.

Enter: Christine! Ahhh, a friend in need is a friend indeed, my friend Christine whom I hadn’t seen in ages didn’t accept my invite, she suggested it!
And not only did she suggest camping out with a walk either side of tenting, she went out and found the ideal trail and camp site, bought herself a tent and brought along her cheerful niece and two dogs.

What I liked most about Christine’s appearance was that she didn’t see herself as a guest to my training, she saw our weekend as our shared adventure in its own rights. She brought an energy that I had been missing preparing things by myself until then: text messages with links to places and suggestions, phone calls to talk about what we’d do and how, choices and decisions made together and that fabulous excitement when it is shared, laughing about things before they happened, and, one of my favourite things to do on trips: giving the adventure a name…

“Three chicas and two dogs in the wild”

The test camp had no surprises except that I didn’t feel entirely broken at the end of the day, carrying 14kg up and down 19km of trails in Luxembourg’s beautiful north. Oh I did feel broken, and exhausted, but not to the point of shock and disgust or ‘never again’. Also, I did wonder how I would do the same effort the very next day… for five consecutive days. I found that out on my actual Big Walk, because the second day of the chicas adventure we treated ourselves to an light little 7km stroll on a rather flat and idyllic path.

Sunday strolls and fun in Luxembourg's North

Sunday strolls and fun in Luxembourg’s North

Much later, i.e. the day of departure to MyBigWalk, I was told that ‘they’ (the same general knowledgeable faceless ‘they’) recommend you walk 200km with the weight you intend on taking on your distance hike AS TRAINING. I am very happy I hadn’t heard this before it was too late to do anything about it, because I am not entirely sure I would have followed through with the FjällRävenClassic had I lugged my 14kg pack (or the 18kg that I actually carried through Swedish Lapland) for 200km before time.

The carrying of the weight was to me the most unattractive and cumbersome part of MyBigWalk, to the point that it may be the dealbreaker to ever do something like it again. And I am glad I didn’t know this ahead of time, because I am actually so very chuffed and proud that I DID IT!

7 – Shop Shop Shop

I can confidently say this trek was the most expensive holiday I’ve ever been on. A few weeks before the start someone posted this fitting statement in the Fjällräven Classic facebook group:

‘Hiking: spending a lot of money to live like a homeless’

It is all in the gear. It needs to be really lightweight, because you’ll be carrying it. And it needs to be really efficient, because you’ll be out in the elements and you must be able to rely on what you have with you.

fun in the outdoor shop

fun in the outdoor shop

So the tent needs to be sturdy and waterproof AND lightweight (the one Sander lent me weighed 1.8kg, the lightest these days are around 500gr) – the yellow North Face one I fell in love with (I liked that it was yellow and that two sides can open for a view) was 3.8kg, and it cost less than 200€ – but those are two kilos I would not have wanted to add for a pretty colour. Also, apparently, some experts have told me, North Face is more of a ‘fashion’ brand and they don’t do so great in extreme climates of the sorts that I was going into. My Vaude tent was brilliant, as we know, it stayed on the ground and whole in high winds, it didn’t tear, it kept me dry, and it was light.

I won’t go into the detail of my gear in this post, just pointing out that ‘the gear matters!’ and I spent a lot of time gathering it.

The better and lighter the gear, the higher the invest. It’s that simple.

I kept telling myself that it’ll all pay off as I will love this trek and once I have all the gear, I can set off to anywhere whenever I want – and from then on, all is peachy as camping (gear aside) is a cheap holiday!

And I kept telling myself this because I love the shopping for outdoor gear! I’m not your typical fashionista, I get bored of traipsing through shops which is why I have some very trusted fashion advisors who do love this and tell me what to buy when it comes to city clothes.

Outdoor gear however, I love! I could, and do, spend hours, and euros, in outdoor shops. It is something about combining ‘comfortable and efficient’.

And this was the best shopping spree I’ve ever taken myself on, Happy Birthday Me! Having signed up for a crazy hike into the wild, I not only had an excuse for but I needed the good stuff! And so I found myself befriending the sales people at Freelander‘s Adventure store, following them around the shop, taking on their advice, filling my shopping basket and emptying my account… I went there about once a month, because like for everything, you can’t do it all at once. And you have to start somewhere, I started with the boots.

‘Get good boots and walk them in’ is the golden rule.

The sales guys had done the Fjällräven Classic before, I trusted they knew what they were talking about. I also asked for and got advice from whomever adventurers I met, mainly Luc and Sander. As I said, I am no expert and I have little patience in researching and evaluating gear.

Also I have come to realise that I have trust issues, in that I do. I trust.

So my strategy is to find the people who do what I want help in, whose basic values and outlooks align with mine and whom I trust, and then I take their advice.

The stuff story will be a separate blog, watch this space!

8 – Finally, some literature, D-14 days

Mid July, someone posted an information into the FjällRäven Classic facebook group that a new book on the Kungsleden had just been published and whoever made the post recommended the read. I ordered it, and devoured it as soon as it came. It has information on the entire trail, which is some 400km long, and it gave me comfort: what the authors said about the difficulty of the trail, the required fitness levels and the equipment to take told me that I might just be on good track with what I done and purchased so far. It is a good read if you’re thinking of taking this walk.

The FjällRäven Classic facebook group was also a relatively useful group to be part of. Well, for one, up until a few weeks before the walk all it gave was people cancelling out and looking to sell their tickets. For one it had me wonder if I was going to be hiking it on my own seeing all the cancellations. For two it told me that if ever I thought I’d do this again, I’d be sure to get tickets last minute even though the official sales sell out within weeks of going on sale. The last two weeks before the departure was all about people asking for advice and opinions on travel and gear mainly, and people posting their gear with a mention of how many KG they were going to total. It seemed to me that only people who were very good and efficient posted their gear, proudly ready with 10kg on their back. Endearingly, there were also people who were getting ready with their dogs, carrying 2kg on their back…

What the group gave me most was make the trek real for me; this was not just an illusion I was preparing for, others were prepping just like me, and there were people asking the very questions I had (do I need a flashlight? NO – because it hardly gets dark. And I took one anyway.), and there were people who had answers for all the questions. It was good to know that I would be seeing these strangers en-route.

My bottom line on the training side of MyBigWalk is that

A – I could have done, read, walked, trained way more than I did, and
B – I trained just fine

One can always do more, and I did more than my usual, I got a lot of lasting benefits and new practices from it – and I got myself through Swedish Lapland safely and within my self-set time. I even suspect that I may have been put off doing the BigWalk had I done much more ahead of time.

All just right.


 

My 4 favourite trails on the home turf:

Nat’our2

Traumschleife Saar-Hunsrück Mannebach111

Traumschleife Saar-Hunsrück Ahn, Moselle

Traumschleife Saar-Hunsrück Manternach Fiels