I did not learn of my grandad’s passing until three days after it had happened. It was my own fault I guess, setting off to remote places knowing he was not in the best condition. A mix of guilt and regret were the first things I felt; then came the sadness and the thought that I could have been there. I could have visited and seen him once more, but at the time the idea of going on a mad hike around Mont Blanc seemed far more exciting than spending a couple of days with my grandparents in Spain.
I wrote him a letter two days before leaving, telling him that I knew we would be doing this trip together if he was my age. I said I could not wait to be back and recount to him my adventures on the trail and show him all the pictures. I wanted to show him who I have become and what I am capable of now.
And so I set off on a ten-day hike around the highest mountain in Western Europe, carrying everything I would need during the 170km trek in a backpack. Across France, Italy and Switzerland I hiked up wild mountains, crossed peaceful prairies, walked through green valleys and slept before ageless glaciers.
I discovered a strange mix of emotions when attempting this journey of such grand scale; my legs hurt from carrying a big backpack for so long, I sweated all day and the trail was pretty challenging in some sections – but it is so beautiful… The views keep you in awe every second and the fact that it comes completely down to you, and you alone, to be standing in that exact spot, is truly mind blowing.
Trekking is so different from everyday life, when you can just procrastinate what you have to do for an uncertain amount of time. Or sometimes you are working but it doesn’t feel like anything is coming out if it. When it comes to a long trail there is no way of doing that and it is beautiful. Whilst hiking I never stood in the exact same spot, and even if I did not reach my destination, I would be so far off the point where I was standing that morning, always moving forward.
There was a certain conflicting sense of progress on this route – how every step took me further and brought me closer to Les Houches, the start and endpoint of the trail. The best way I can try to explain it is like drawing a circle, looking for closure, and coming back to the beginning.
I found my grandad again in a warm Italian sunset, as my emotions went up and down – as if their only duty was to echo the pattern of the path I was walking on. Slowly it felt like I was back in Spain, watching the sun go down from the terrace, with him by my side cracking almonds open. For a second I could even hear the sound the shells made as they broke; then I was back in Italy, certain that I had been next to him on that mild summer evening.
I know my being there would have not changed the outcome of things, but I still wish I could have sat next to him and watched the moon rise into the night sky together one last time. I did not expect my journey to be an emotional one so much as a physical one when I started it, but it turned out to be so. In the end, I guess I can say he was there in a way…
Published in Issue #13 of the Route 57 Journal.