A little while ago I thought I would give me a treat and see how far I could walk during three full days leaving from Geneva. By that I meant I’d take the bus to the small village of Thoiry located at the bottom of the Reculet, the highest mountain of the Jura (not quite high for Switzerland all things considered but for the Belgian that I have been still pretty high…) and go North following the mountain peaks.
I’m writing this as it could give ideas to others and maybe help them to avoid the same mistakes than I did.
As I will try to shortly explain hereafter, I mostly failed every goals that I have set to myself but I learned a great deal of things. As a person told me not that long ago in the framework of a martial art practice: “you can either win or learn, which one do you choose”?
It also clearly reminded me once more that it doesn’t matter how much you read on a subject, real knowledge only come from firsthand experience.
This of course reminds me of two inspirational quotes, first one by Bruce Lee:
“Knowing is not enough, we must apply. Willing is not enough, we must do.”
And the second one by Albert Einstein: “The only source of knowledge is experience”.
So just for the record and for those who don’t know me, I’m not a survivalist, I’m not a camper, I’m not a hiker or a climber, I’m just a guy who needs to experience some things in order to better understand himself.
So here are most of the goals I had set to myself before the start (don’t worry about the “whys” of the goals) and what I can conclude now that I’m through with it. So, to my humble surprise:
1) Avoid other people at all cost - FAILED
To my surprise, there were plenty of people out there. It is fairly close to urbanized areas and between the guys that I saw running up and down like little goats at no time in the morning and families on Sunday afternoon enjoying a view with the kids, there are people out there! What surprised me the most is the amount of energy it would have taken me to try to run, hide away or change my routes to go on unseen (I therefore cannot imagine how exhausting it must be to be chased and hunted like fugitives for example); and second I found myself actually enjoying the company of other anonymous people especially after a couple of hours of a strenuous hike in the woods for example.
2) Be autonomous with food - FAILED
I brought along approximately 3 kg of food and the answer is “no, that wasn’t enough”. On the second evening I walked into a small village in the mountain located by the French border and ordered a steak!
This deserves a parenthesis: “I found out that it was ok to walk in anywhere with at your belt a knife with a blade the size of a young child’s arm if you say you are hiking (just in case you need a proper excuse someday)”.
It also brings me to a second comment.
From a survivalist point of view I was way of the line. For example, by looking at the small table displayed at the end of this article we can see that on one of the day I almost burned 2.000 calories during the hours I spent on the move (that’s approximately the total calories a female adult needs in one day!). According to a recent test, my body needs at rest 4.000 calories to sustain itself. So make the count, I burned a lot of calories on that single day and there is no way it was compensated by the little food I ate. So after having lost 2-3 kg in these 3 days alone, it brings an important point to my mind. At the same rhythm, with the same calorie intake I would have lost a lot of weight and eventually collapsed from exhaustion.
When you know you have little or no food in your plate ahead of you, spare your efforts and calculate wisely the amount of energy it will take you to get additional food. The balance has to remain positive or else you will die. My friend and former student Hannan was right long time ago about this !!
3) Be autonomous with water - FAILED That was probably my biggest surprise. I brought with me 1.5 liter of water per day, which means 4.5 liters (a pain in the ass to carry on one’s back by the way) knowing the region was pretty dry. Well, I consumed twice that amount plus a liter and a half of coca cola and I tried not to drink too much…The last afternoon I spent 4 hours walking under the sun by 30°C with no more water supply and I discovered one thing: when you are really thirsty (and I guess I was not even close to what other people must have endured) that’s the only thing you can think off. Pissing brown was not fun either. 4) Travel light - FAILED With 27kg on my back at the beginning of the trip, I guess I failed that one also. I almost used everything I had brought with me but all things considered, it is the last time I leave home for a hike like this with more that 20kg on my back!! 5) Avoid injury - FAILED A knee gave up after the first day. Nothing bad but I couldn’t really bend it on the second day which helped (forced) me pay extra attention to my every step. It was a painful experience but it forced me to pay extra attention to every one of my step. I couldn’t think at all during all this time and it really cleared up my mind. I did a lot of breathing exercise and stretching and it was gone by the third day. 6) Do not try to walk too much - FAILED For some reason, walking made me want to walk more and more. It was quite addictive and all together I walked 60 km. With that much on my back, I guess it was not so bad. 7) Sleep three nights - FAILED The last evening was the best. I finally really felt “at home” so to speak. I ate dinner with mountain goats close by and after settling camp I really enjoyed being out there watching the night settling in. Once I got in my little tent though I had a fairly unpleasant surprise as I found out it was full of ticks. You know, the little blood suckers who sometimes carry Lyme disease… So here am I in my tent, in the forest, with ticks all over my tent, sleeping bag… so what to do? That is exactly what I asked myself and after 5 minutes of brainstorming I decided to pack my stuff and leave. At least it was fun to walk down the mountain in pitch black for 1h30 minutes with no lights to see if I could handle it.
Conclusion, I pretty much failed every goals that I had set up for myself as part of this trip but I gained two things and looking back at everything I now find these two things far more valuable than any goals I could have possibly set up for myself prior to the trip… The first is that I found out how vulnerable I was. How uneasy it is when alone, tired and thirsty…hurt and lost. How vulnerable I was as a human no matter what my training in martial art has been. How vulnerable I was when faced against real, simple, humble and natural elements. The second is that I found out how much power is stored within ourselves, the power not to give up, the power to put one step in front of the other and watch how far it will take you, the power to simply deal with what is, discomfort and accept it while moving towards a better “next”. The power of being alone with little comfort and be ok with it. The bliss of living an experience like this and knowing that it was only a first step. I recognize that what I did there is nothing special compared to what great explorers have done. I feel just a bit closer to what they may have experienced. This was just enough for me at this point. I will prepare better next time because there will be a next time...
Summary of the hike (thanks to the Garmin II GPS watch):