Why I Had To Walk

La Gomera GR132
When a burn-out hit me a year ago, I decided to independently go on a long distance hike around the Canarian island of La Gomera to walk myself back to health.

‘Finish that sentence; why do I have to walk a 1000 miles?’ Reese Witherspoon asks her ex in the movie Wild. It is her last phone call before she sets off for the wilderness for three months to hike a large part of the Pacific Crest Trail; a path stretching from Mexico to Canada. ‘Why do I have to walk a 1000 miles?’ is the leading question in the movie adaptation and original book Wild that Cheryl Strayed wrote based on this trip.

It was not by any stretch ‘a 1000 miles’, but I asked myself this very question a year ago when I decided to go on a long distance hike around the Canarian island of La Gomera. A combination of heavy workload, a ‘what-now-I-am-already-33 moment’, loss of loved ones and unfinished trauma lead to a burn-out. While I sat at home defeated, seized by panic attacks, I suddenly knew: I am going to walk myself back to health! It shocked me how strong this urge was and how this got even stronger as my trip began to take shape. The idea of going on a challenging expedition, having to rely on myself, being one with nature and setting a clear goal every day gave me an incredible sense of calm.

I am going to walk myself back to health!

So I started planning. My aspiration was to do an extensive journey and to be away for a long time, but that was not going to happen short-term, so I settled for a smaller scale. It didn’t take me long to decide on the GR132 through La Gomera; a manageable island, beautiful unspoilt nature, fixed daily stages and high mountains as an extra challenge. Camping is not allowed on the island and this also seemed bit too ambitious; so for every village I booked an apartment and off I went!

Besides a lot of positive reactions (‘how brave!’, ‘totally your kind of thing’) unfortunately I also received quite some negative responses. ‘Is something off with you and Robin?’, ‘is that safe, a woman alone?’ and ‘do you really think you’re capable?’ I was rather dumb struck by this; because why should there be trouble in my relationship when I want to achieve something for myself? And why should a woman not be able to do certain things on her own? And I have been hiking my whole life; so yes I do think I can do this. Nevertheless panic hit me right before I left and worst case scenarios unfolded before my eyes. Could I really do this? Wasn’t it awfully dangerous? What if I fell into a deep ravine?

Your mission is so simple; just keep on walking despite all difficulties and challenges.

As soon as the ferry arrived at La Gomera all doubts fell away and I felt good; this had been the right decision. In a week time I walked around the whole island; with hikes of 8 to 10 hours every day. And it was wonderful. Your mission is so simple; just keep on walking despite all difficulties and challenges. And it was very difficult at times. The weather can change within a minute to extreme rainfall and storms, especially up in the high mountains. I have been terrified while standing on a ledge with my only grip being a tiny scrub during a heavy blast… Wind so severe that I feared my contacts would blow right out of my eyes. There was one danger I hadn’t anticipated: guard dogs. Near every remote house I would hold my breath and when I saw or heard a dog I hoped vivaciously it would be chained. Unfortunately this wasn’t always the case and there were times I had to run with a loudly barking and foaming dog at my heels.

A narrow path winding through wild nature

But then the sun comes out, a breathtaking panoramic view unfolds itself around a corner, a herd of sheep passes before you, you reach the top of a mountain, you allow yourself a sip of water, you smell the beautiful flowers around you or you suddenly stumble upon a signpost just when you deemed yourself lost. Pure euphoria is in those little moments that make everything all right. The height of these happy moments was when on the last day I reached the capital San Sebastián well within time. I ceremoniously lit a candle in the church and subsequently drank a well deserved cold beer; I made it!

At some point I walked passed a goat and politely yelled out ‘Hello Goat!’

During my walks I noticed that my head truly cleared and that I felt more in tune with my emotions. This became very clear when one morning a very young and cute but also dead little rabbit lay on my path. It made me so terribly sad that I burst into tears. I placed a flower on the poor thing and walked on while sobbing. In lack of human contact I caught myself talking out loud. At some point I walked passed a goat and politely yelled out ‘Hello Goat!’, at which off course two Germans emerged around the corner who looked at me with shock. Besides talking I also shamelessly started singing out loud. During the rough parts I kept myself going by singing wholeheartedly Carry On by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young against the wind.

Abandoned cottage along the route

Challenges like these remind you of your own strength, and independence. Because when travelling together I never ask directions or enter a shop or restaurant on my own. But now that I had no other choice I conquered a lot of obstacles. This trip did not induce miracles; it was far too short for that. But what it has done for me is bringing me in contact with my own primal power, appreciating the smaller things, and knowing that I can do this; that I am strong and that I can overcome anything. And that is a very good feeling to come back to every once in a while.

Learn more about hiking on La Gomera and the guidebook that I used.

Originally published on www.kimsomberg.nl on February 29th 2016

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