It was exactly one year ago today, on a sunny Sunday morning, that I set out on an elaborate adventure. I had it in my head to walk from my home town Berlin to Biarritz at the French Atlantic coast. And I wanted to ask people along the way for shelter for the night. 4,800 kilometers later I arrived, in the sunny afternoon of Sunday, 7 September. The first anniversary of my departure feels like the right moment to reflect on the most important lessons I have learnt from 162 days on the road.
Of course I had a grand scheme of things in my head. Of course I would not have started what I estimated would be a 3,000 km walk if I had not planned on finishing it.
But a plan is always just half of the story.
But I continued. I took a few days off. I repacked my bags. I found out that creaming my feet protected them from new blisters.
Then there was the French summer which was the worst, apparently in decades. Not very many days passed without at least one rain shower.
But I got over it. I bought a big poncho tarp. I learnt the most effective ways of drying my shoes. I made friends with lots of people because of the rain. In fact, one of my favourite memories is connected to one of the most dreadful mornings in a dreadful week, which had followed a dreadful night. ‘Got to have a little rain sometimes…’
Finally I had grossly underestimated the length of my journey. Though I had planned six months to complete it, I hadn’t thought I would be walking most days. By my last calculations I covered 4,800 instead of 3,000 km.
And this is where the cookie began to crumble. During the final weeks I was tired like I had never been before. I really wanted to give up.
But instead I forced myself to just take another step. And another. And another… Until I was eating ice cream on the beach in Biarritz.
It would be ludicrous of me to pretend I did my walk in a bubble, with only myself to rely on. I didn’t. I had lovely friends and family at home, who always had a word of encouragement or two for me. I had people along the road, who supplied me with beds, food, coffee, biscuits, laughter,…
But I had such big plans of how I would report from my journey. I had come up with questions for interviewing my hosts, asked my followers, fans and readers to contribute, the Betterplace campaign set up. After all I had seen other travelers do it. I could do at least as well.
It took me less than a week to figure out that most travelers who manage to run a social media campaign during their travels do so with the help of a team. The team might wait for them after a day’s walk, take bullet points for the latest blog post via the phone or make friends with sponsors and media. I didn’t have such a team.
So I decided to ditch the big plans and enjoy my journey instead.
As I said in the beginning of this post I had planned on asking random strangers for a roof over my head for a night during my walk. And half the days this really worked. What I wasn’t prepared for, though, is how many times people went above and beyond to accommodate me:
When Franziska in Mannweiler drove after me after her neighbour had sent me away.
When Jean-Michel from La Grille invited me to stay in his parents house with the family even though his dad had just been admitted to hospital.
When Sophie from Île d’Oleron offered me a bed after we had met on a ferry and I had ranted about a terrible night on a campsite.
And then the people who helped me during the day:
The cashier at the gas station who gave me her gloves on a freezing April day.
The couple who scoured their fridge to send me off with a lunch package.
The women who in a heavy rain storm jumped out of the pool and into her car to follow me and offer me a lift to the next town.
There are many more where these examples came from. Therefore this is the biggest takeaway from more than five months on the road:
I will never be able to be a pessimist again.
Extra: Sights and sounds of Walking Home. In only little more than eight and a half minutes catch up on my journey of 162 days, 4,800 kilometers, walking the word ‘home’ on the map. You’re welcome!