In the chilly, misty morning, as I make my way out of the tent, I discover I have gotten a new blister, this time on the bottom part of my little toe. Hour after hour I have walked for the past couple of days, putting one foot in front of the other – sometimes just matching the previous step. But this is not tedious, and there is something a little poetic about it; how every step takes me further, no matter what I do or how much time passes, I am always advancing. You just don’t walk backwards.
The Tour du Mont Blanc is listed as one of the best hiking trails in the whole world and has been as tough and beautiful as promised so far. Painted on rocks and tree trunks, little yellow diamond-shaped signs guide my way around Mont Blanc, Western Europe’s tallest peak. Over ten days and completely self-supported, my plan is to hike about 170km through some of the most awe-inspiring landscapes I have yet seen in France, Switzerland and Italy.
After packing everything in my blue backpack I set off again and, even though the campsite was pretty busy, I will enjoy the first half of the day all to myself. Traditionally, this hike is completed in an anti-clockwise direction, but when researching for the trip I decided to do it the other way around. And so this morning I leave everyone behind, just as I have done in the previous days.
It is beautiful, how much wilder the scenery seems when there are no people around to corrupt it. I walk through an unlikely trail, barely visible in the close horizon. Fat, loud bells hanging on grassing cow’s necks greet me as I make my way through Switzerland. Its sound accompanies me all day through green prairies and peaceful slopes. The peaks in France were extremely beautiful and almost intimidating; Switzerland gives me a feeling of tranquillity instead…
It’s almost unthinkable, how far my own feet can take me. Only two days ago I spent the night in France, tonight I will sleep in front of a glacier in Switzerland and tomorrow I will walk through the border into Italy. I encounter myself on a different mountain every evening and walk all day with the certainty that I will watch the sunset from that distant location, maybe that valley that I can just make out in the horizon?
People on the trail are not strangers but friends you are still to meet. It is the Spaniards who let me sleep in their room when I could not find my friend at the campsite, or the warmth in Shane’s smile when we unexpectedly see each other again in France after having met briefly in Italy. It is the happiness everyone shows as they say good morning and pass by, the selflessness with which fellow hikers help each other… Everyone is human and everyone is good.
Italy is the land where the food is great and the sun unforgivable – I can actually feel its rays slowly burning my skin. This will be a really interesting day for me; as I walk past some of the most beautiful mountains I have seen so far I am certain that I will not complete the journey. Every step I take brings more pain with it and I try my hardest to hold back the tears every time I move my right knee. I am not going to make it.