This past August I traveled to Venice, Italy. After having a quick look around, I shouldered my 10 kg backpack and started walking north. It took me 31 days to reach my goal: Cologne, Germany, my home.
Along the way, I had covered 45 km of distance and climbed the equivalent of 400 floors up and down again, every single day. And this was my second time doing it.
Two years ago, this trip was the other way around.
Starting at my apartment in Cologne, I went to John O´Groats at the northernmost tip of Scotland. And the year before, I circled the continental part of Denmark, both times walking all the way (though admittedly I didn´t swim the English Channel).
While any of these trips are sure to give you five minutes of fame at any cocktail party, that´s hardly the reason why I do it. But then, what is the reason?
Well, that´s a challenging question, especially considering the nature of these adventures. They´re not designed to be nice and easy. I rather follow what you might call the lone wolf approach, walking as fast and far as possible.
I usually follow a route of my own, so I often have to walk where you are not supposed to walk, like next to motorways or through industrial areas. Along the way, I use no other means of transport and there are no days off.
As I don´t actively seek company, I usually stay alone. You may therefore not be surprised that most of my family and friends are at a loss to understand why I continue doing these types of trips.
I mean, they have a point.
I actually spent the last five years trying to decipher the underlying motives, focusing on single parts but always failing to figure out the big picture. But during my last trip, it dawned on me that it really doesn´t matter.
I don’t need a reason.
These trips are just a part of who I am, or what I could be.
I feel an extreme clarity throughout these journeys. A peace emerges from within me that seems to have slumbered inside since early childhood and is re-released only when no one else is watching. When it’s me vs. me in the great wide open.
There have been signs all throughout, my life calling me to some great adventure. Signs that were sometimes hard to notice and all too easy to be forgotten or ignored. It took a lot of courage to first concede to this peculiar longing and even more so to start actively – and visibly – exploring it.
What I got from taking that first step was more than I ever could have imagined.
These adventures in themselves aren´t fun, from a “normal” human perspective. They are much closer to torture than anything else really. But after a few days, while my body hits the limit, the mind sort of breaks free and I start to really feel, for want of a better word, at the edge.
It is pretty hard to describe this feeling. A bitter-sweet serenity, like experiencing wild happiness and deep sadness at the same time. It is not linked to specific situations, but rather floats in and out of focus, and seems to be settling on the whole journey, in my whole life.
On my first journey in Denmark, that feeling hit me unexpectedly. It was so wild and intense that it nearly hurt. My ill-adapted body really did suffer from absurd daily distances of more than 50 km and a 23 kg backpack.
On the trip to Scotland, however, I was much more prepared, better trained and expertly equipped, and I fully enjoyed it. And on this year´s trip, I started as an expert in this kind of adventure. Confident and skilled in both the required physical and mental aspects. And I set out to finally discover the roots of these feelings in these trips.
I entered an aspirational state of mind much easier and earlier than before, and it prevailed throughout. Then suddenly, with two-thirds of my planned route behind me, there came a time when I just couldn´t see the point of continuing the journey.
For whatever reason, I felt whole, and that I had already reached the goal.
The physical destination seemed meaningless once I had reached my introspective horizon.
Don´t get me wrong, I had a great time. Sometimes I escaped from solitude and spent time with really inspiring people living on mountain refuges in the middle of nowhere. The Alps are a really extraordinary place! And the panorama still stunned me after weeks of staring at it all day.
But there were some intense situations, like when falling rocks would surprise me on a mountain path. Once, they missed me so narrowly that I injured my arm and hip when diving head-first to the ground in an attempt to get out of the way.
But what I had realized is that it wasn´t the walking that made me feel so great, nor the traveling. Instead, what it was really all about, was embracing my instincts. 100%, whole-heartedly, acting on my intuitions.
In doing so, I learned so much about the world and myself. Over the last few years, I feel that I’ve moved much closer to becoming my truest self and leading a truly fulfilling life. It also seems easier and much more natural to “give back” some of this positive energy to others.
I’m realizing this is not only about me, but that everyone has these hidden passions. These desires inside, scratching away at the cage, awaiting release.
And there’s no right adventure for everybody. For some, it may be ice climbing, base jumping or finishing an Ironman. Or it could be writing poems and growing your own vegetables.
If you muster the courage to take your first step on the long walk to exploring your inner fulfillment, you will see the changes unfold in your life you have been longing for.
In the end, I did finish my trip. But I appreciated that I could have stopped the moment I felt complete. These long hikes will surely remain an important part of my life, but I feel ready to move on to other projects.
I´m not sure what lies ahead on the road of my life, but I do know that these past adventures, these explorations of self, have given me the confidence to know that it is going to be great.