THIS ADVENTURE NEEDS AN INITIAL EXPLANATION:
Dense cloud, loitering over and around me, hanging grey and heavy. Darkness has just departed through the door to this steep-sided valley, creating space for dawn to enter. I move methodically and powerfully up the mountain slopes where alpine rhododendrons cling to the rocks, bravely holding out against Summer and her brother, Winter. I am alone out here and the silence is so silent that I can hear every deep breath and footstep that I take, and every crease and rustle of my movements as I climb higher and higher. Rounding a bend, I am confronted with the world spilling away from me, a trail marked by steep cliffs on the upper-side and deep cliffs below. The track meanders forwards along the precipice and as I run, stepping up, over and around each small obstacle along its course, I know that there is absolutely nowhere else that I want to be. That I need to be. Most importantly, there is no one else that I must be. I am a runner, an athlete, a woman, a wife, and an adventurous spirit who needs wild time to thrive. In its simplest form, I am Hanny… and finally, unapologetically so
I hatched the dream to run the length of the French Pyrenees Mountains some twelve-months prior, and despite my broken foot over summer and the fears and setbacks this brought with it, at one point believing that the dream was over, spontaneously, with 2 days of planning, I have found myself back out here on a very long trail to somewhere. I have only 70km behind me and some 700km still in front. I have only climbed a few smaller mountains and I have literally a whole mountain range still to come. My new shoes feel foreign, I purchased them 4 days ago during a flight layover in Portugal. My vest pack is also a spontaneous purchase as our initial plans of slowly fastpacking the trail with a larger pack also changed. My beloved one, along with most of my gear, is stored at Milan Airport in Italy. Oops! I don’t own a copy of the GR10 Trail Handbook and the map is on my phone – but I’ve never really used this technology before and am still learning how to navigate by it! I am chewing lollies because I probably don’t have enough sports nutrition to last me the full 19-days, and I am eating dinner with a teaspoon because I couldn’t bring my titanium spork on the airplane as carry-on luggage. Here in France I only have one change of running clothes, two pairs of socks, my bathers and spare shorts plus singlet to sleep in. Oh, and it is stinking hot as yet another European heat wave has just hit.
Yep, I am so underprepared and I have no real idea of what is in store for me over the next twenty or so days… but somehow I feel more ready than ever to be out here.
It is now day 4 of this wild adventure and I am hidden by fog as I traverse beyond the cliffs and deeper into the real mountains. The aching physical discomfort that arose in the first few days has begun to leave me and I feel stronger, steadier and more present. Even the mental chatter – the fears, anxiety, and even the guilt of being out here without my husband and leaving my work commitments behind for three whole weeks – has now calmed. I feel so utterly present and peaceful as I feel myself living the dream one day, one step at a time. From the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea, over 19-days I am attempting to traverse this mountain range. I may not have been organized, and I am definitely not up-to-speed with the experiences I am in for. I may not be the fastest or joining the dots on the map with absolute perfection, but I am out here because there is absolutely no place else that I want to be, completing a journey that I created, where I get to make up the rules, and all the while marveling at the majesty of the Pyrenees in all her moods. Yep, I’m here because I just couldn’t put out the flame of this dream and it burned so strongly in me, and for so long, until finally I just accepted that running the Pyrenees was inevitable.
What has allowed me to step up to this huge, huge goal is that I have taken the time to empower myself every day for the last few years, to learn to ‘be wilder’ and unapologetically me, so that when the time came I was really ready to ‘perform wilder’. Out here, playing wild, I am my best self. So here I am. In fog. On a mountain trail. On my way to the Mediterranean Sea.
Total number of days: 19
Shortest Day: 24km with 2400m vertical
Longest Day: 47km with 2800m vertical
Total kilometers: approx. 700km
Total ascent: approx. 42,000m
Does any of this really matter? Nup!!
What I used to navigate the Pyrenees Traverse:
Phone App software called ‘Maps.me’ & trail markers
My husband and best mate – Graham. We hired Hertz’ smallest hatchback car. He would drop me off at the beginning of the trail each day and then navigate himself to the pickup point before running in to meet me, exploring the rich trails and mountain diversity too.
Accommodation during the Traverse:
Small ‘Gites’ (bed & breakfast), local hotels or self-catered apartments.
Most comical fact:
I ate every meal with a teaspoon purchased for just 0.5 Euro at the supermarket. This became a symbol of the joy that comes from spontaneity and playing wilder.
Overcoming the guilt of taking the time out for me to chase this huge dream. After this it was having my phone die in a torrential thunderstorm, thereby loosing my safety connection with Graham and also my maps. So, for the last 6 days I had to really step up my confidence, to rely on the trail markers and my evening homework memorizing maps, and to trust myself. In some ways, this created the richest memories for me because I think I was just so present and engaged in the landscapes and task at hand.
We had some pretty hilarious French accommodation experiences. But I think it really was feeling how strong the body can become as it lifted day after day after day into the challenge. In many ways the challenge shifted from the physical to the mental, then to the emotional and finally to this very quiet, almost spiritual place. It was just so surreal to experience such a peaceful mental state, and to feel your body feeling so strong after 700km! So when I reached the finish at the Mediterranean Sea, I actually wasn’t feeling or thinking anything. It was like my mind and body were quiet. It was a pretty awesome feeling!
Highlight of the Traverse:
I cannot pick one! However, detouring to climb Pic du Ani with Graham, traversing her bare rocky slopes, would have to be right up there. Then it was just the dawn starts, the silence, and the forests. And of course, the excitement of seeing the Atlantic Ocean at Hendeye at the beginning and then finally seeing the waters of the Mediterranean Sea appear from the heights of Pic du Canigou (2900m) on the third last day of the run.
What I used on the Pyrenees Traverse:*
The North Face BTN Shorts
The North Face BTN T-shirt
The North Face BTN visor
The North Face Stow’n’Go Sports Bra
Patagonia Active Briefs
2x pairs merino socks (worn together for extra padding)
Salomon S-Lab Sense SG Trail Running Shoes
Salomon S-Lab Sense 5 Vest Pack
Petzl Bindi Headtorch
*I literally had one set of running clothes and 1 set of non-running clothes. Boarding my flight to the start of the trail my total baggage weight was 7kg and this included the remnants of my sports nutrition.
What I carried with me:
The North Face Light Thermal Top
The North Face Hyperair Rain Jacket
2x500ml Soft Flasks
Small first aid kit
Nutrition including spare electrolytes
‘Ibis’ – a stuffed goat who acted as my co-pilot
What I fueled myself during the runs:
Koda Sports Gels (mostly non-caffeinated but with the occasional caffeine included)
Peach Ice Tea
Occasional muesli bars
What I fueled myself on before runs:
Dry crunchy muesli
Soymilk & Tea
What I fueled myself on after runs:
Fruit & Veggies
Soymilk & Tea
Would I do it again? In a heartbeat!
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