I have been on many lovely and memorable holidays, but the hiking trip Nathan and I took in the south of France in 2009 has really stuck with me.
It was only five days – out of a two-month holiday – but I can practically remember every minute of it. The different road textures, the different gradients, the food we ate, the things we discussed. There were immense stretches of of fields and farms and, even more so, immense stretches of time, every minute of it spent actively engaged in moving forwards, and being in no-one else’s company.
I like being in The Nature, sure, and I like walking, but more than anything, I love getting from one place to another under my own steam. Bushwalking is fun, but it’s an activity for its own sake; it’s about exercise and conquering various obstacles and being outdoors, not a form of transport. In the Blue Mountains, for example, you can find yourself starting your walk at Blackheath train station, spending days going up and down valleys, then ending up at Blackheath train station. This is deeply unsatisfying to me.
In France, walking along roads and paths, we ate up the kilometres, moving from town to town, to map to map, and ending up many train stops away. We could look at the rail network map and say, “We walked every step of the way from here to there!” While I guess there was no point to our hike, it felt purposeful, the way that running home from work is so much more satisfying than just running a neighbourhood loop.
The way I’ve described the hike makes it sound like it was paced like a race, which is far from reality. While there was a great sense of progress and achievement, it was also luxuriously slow, which is why I think it’s so vivid in my memory. We had so much more time to take every little thing in.
I think a walking pace is exactly the right speed at which to experience the world. I went on my first cycling holiday here in Vietnam, and thought even that was too fast. A driving holiday doesn’t appeal to me at all. I would rather cover less ground but get to see all the little insects on the flowers along the way, and at the end, know that the only thing which got me there was my own two feet.