Tuesday, 24 September 2013

For my holidays, I went to....

Posted by Jean Adams

This blog is supposed to be about doing public health research. In essence, work-y stuff. Sometimes it is a bit tangential. But, you-know, it can be hard keeping up the work prattle week in, week out. So this post is about my holidays. Feel free to nod off whilst I work through my slides at an excruciatingly slow rate. But please try and snap back to life for the last paragraph, where there’s a work-y punch line.

This year, rather on a whim, we spent our summer holidays mostly doing the GR54 (GR=Grand RandonneeFrench long-distance footpath). We did the GR20 a few years ago. I was cruising around outdoor-y websites trying to think of a summer holiday thing to do that satisfied partner’s ‘somewhere sunny’ requirement with my ‘somewhere hilly with something to do’ requirement and read that the GR20 in Corsica was the hardest trek in Europe. Jeez, I thought, how hard can a trek be? I mean, doesn’t ‘trek’ just mean ‘long walk’ done by people who use those telescopic trekking pole thingies?

Day 10 - walking out from Refuge de la Muzelle (photo: Martin White)
So off we trundled to Corsica, took the train to our start point, bundled out of our hotel at about 0930 – pretty early for a holiday day, I reckon – and nearly died on the trek up to the first hut which we finally arrived at sometime approaching 1900. Yep. Pretty hard.

When I say we ‘did’ the GR20. I mean we did the northern 9 days of the full 15 day trip. But I’ve heard it’s the harder section (yes, I’m competitive outside work too)...

After a rather humbling first day, we grew to love the GR20. Corsica’s mountains are fab – rugged, fragrant, warm, pretty empty when we went. So when someone suggested that we do the GR54 around the Ecrins massif in the French Alps (touted as the hardest trek on mainland Europe), it sounded like it might be just right.

Over 10 days, we walked 176km, ascended (and descended) more than 12,800m, and consumed more tartes aux myrtilles and cafe crème than was probably sensible. We stayed in little private hostels and mountain huts and carried as few pairs of clean pants as we thought we could get away with (one on, one being handwashed/dried, one for emergencies). French mountain huts are, by the way, an outstanding example of just how well the French do everything hospitality - there is often no, or minimal, electricity and luke-warm showers if you’re lucky, but dinner will include a choice of wine and a cheese course.

I find this sort of thing all very restful. There is nothing to do apart from get up, pack your bag (no need to choose what to wear if following a strict underwear rotation system), follow the signs for seven hours, and then let someone else cook you a mammoth meal. Sure ‘follow the signs’ can be quite physically demanding. But there is little active thought required. Ponder over what the shepherd’s do in the winter, consider the tenacity of the little rock flowers blooming at 2500m, try and bag the best mures sauvage before your partner does.

The GR54 was not busy in late August. We met people on the trail every day, but not loads of them. We met a few other GR54-ers in the huts, but they were all following different schedules from us so there was none of that becoming part of mass group thing you sometimes get on popular multi-day routes. We chatted routes, and huts, and schedules, and weather with people. But one of my absolute favourite things about trekking is that we never once chatted work.

At work I am Jean Adams, Senior Lecturer in Public Health at IHS/Fuse/Newcastle. This label precedes almost everything I do. It, inevitably, colours what others think of both me and what I say, do and write. On the trail I am almost entirely anonymous. No-one cares what I do. Mostly they don’t care what I’m called either. But if they do, I have long since given up on trying to convince French people that a girl might be called Jean. All I am is Jeanne l’Ecossaise.

No comments:

Post a Comment