It’s a question I got asked time and time again. Friends and family asked it before I left and sometimes even when I got back. Countless strangers along the way looked at me a bit puzzled and they all asked the same question: why?
It took me a while to figure out what the true answer to this question was. As I was telling my story over and over again, I started to realise I was not being truthful to them and – more importantly – I was not being truthful to myself. Sharing a personal story with strangers seemed to be easier than with friends and as I told my story it started to change.
I thought I went on this hike to get over a breakup and sure, the breakup was painful. But the longer I hiked, the more I started to realise that the breakup was not the problem, the relationship was. There was nothing horribly wrong with it, but it just wasn’t right and it hadn’t been for a long time.
Along with that realisation came an even bigger one: I had been scared. I always considered myself fearless, but by being alone I noticed how dependent on others I had become. Looking back I remember the exact day I changed, but it is not clear when I started to realise it. Too late, I suppose. Then again, better late than never.
My life changed in that one moment
It happened about a year before the breakup. We were cycling. It was a beautiful summer day and, as a study break, we went out for a drink. We cycled home along the river at about 8 pm and it was still lovely outside. I remember feeling happy and wearing a real summer dress for the first time that year. I can still vividly remember that dress. I never wore it again.
We passed a group of youngsters who clearly had been swimming and were laughing and shouting at each other. From one moment to the next the atmosphere completely changed. All of a sudden a group of four had pushed my boyfriend off his bike and started kicking him while he was on the ground. Five more people joined in. I was able to stop my bike without falling, but this only meant I got their fists in my face instead of on my back. In just a few seconds our lovely evening turned into a horrible fight.
They didn’t take anything, but they left me feeling completely helpless.
Just as suddenly as it started it was over again. They were gone. A mother, who had been out with her child, came over and took care of us. She took us to her home and cleaned my face. By that time my nose was so swollen I couldn’t breathe through it anymore. She rushed me to the hospital.
I ended up with a broken nose, a black eye and multiple bruises on my face. They didn’t take anything, but they left me feeling completely helpless. Without realising it at the time, my whole life had changed.
Taking the trail home
As I hiked I started to feel more free, more self assured and more alive than I had been in a long time. Being forced to talk to people, to trust complete strangers and to tell my story to them had a big effect on me.
I didn’t finish the trek. I injured my shoulder and was prescribed two weeks rest. I didn’t have enough time to rest and hike the last part of the trail. I hiked one more day to arrive in St. Davids, a well-known pilgrimage town. It was the perfect time to finish my trip. It wasn’t about getting to the finish, it really was all about the journey.
The effect that those six weeks had on me was immense. It felt like coming home. Ever since that hike, nature has been a great influence in my life. I can turn to the forests when I feel lost and discover I knew the way all along.