“Life is paradise and we are all in paradise, only we don’t want to know it, and if we wanted to, we’d have heaven on earth tomorrow” -Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
The most incredible moments of my life that are sealed in my memory, locked away for the rest of my life, come from experiences or events that awaken my heart and soul and allow me the awareness to recognize the beauty and significance of being alive. It’s like a sudden spark of consciousness is lit and I feel forced to take some time to sit down, look around and appreciate where I am as deeply and fully as I’m capable of doing in that instant. I feel guilty sometimes as if I can’t appreciate or digest the grandeur and magnitude of the splendor before me. The GR20 has led me into some of the most jaw dropping settings I’ve ever been in. It’s not about how high up I can get or how far I walk, but about finding myself in line with the crest of a wave that propels me into these moments of clarity, beauty, awareness, peace and adoration. I’ve never felt more confident in my position in that wave sitting on top of these massive mountains that seem to have been dropped in the middle of the ocean.
I was told that the GR20 was Europe’s hardest trail, but only saw the number 122 when looking at how long it was and felt myself almost scoff at the reputation the trail had. Within the first mile I realized why the trail had been given the title. I had my trekking poles in hand to help keep weight off my shin, but quickly found them useless and began having to use my hands almost as much as my legs to climb into the heart of Corsica. Within three miles I had climbed 4,000 feet, which took about 5 hours to do. In Maine I remember a section called the Mahoosuc Notch that took my friend and I an hour to get through. It was a mile long with huge boulders blocking the trail and forcing you to climb through, over and under them to get past. There was no foot path, but a rock scramble the entire mile. 90% of the GR20 is like that. There were only a handful of times I was actually walking on a path and the rest of the time it was slanted slabs, rugged rocks or burly boulders blocking smooth ground.
Each day felt the same; wake up with the sunrise, start a slow pace up the mountain, gain 3-5,000 feet, traverse a spiny range, descend 3-5,000 feet, pass out. The mountains were unforgiving in their relentless physical demands. Thankfully the heat never rose above 90 degrees, but there was rarely a cloud in the sky. Every step I took on this trail was a challenge and humbled me instantly.
The shapes and patterns formed in the sides and peaks of the mountains left me in awe. There were times I would audibly gasp when I came over a new ridge line and saw the next valley and ridge I’d have to tackle. Mountains for miles. Peaks for ages. It wasn’t just the tops of the mountains that were mesmerizing, but the depth they fell to in the valleys. They didn’t roll down in elevation like most mountains I’ve seen, but slammed into the earth with cliff drops up to 2,000 feet. There were sections the trail would force you to scale the edge of a cliff side that dropped thousands of feet and then force you to climb up rock boulders to get over into the next range. Unbelievable.
There were a few times I would stop and catch my breath and smile recognizing a bit more fear than I expected being up in elevation. Almost every day I saw a helicopter fly around in search for someone needing rescue and only knew that to be true when I got to a refuge and heard from people talking about what the helicopters were doing. Most of the time it sounded like a sprained or broken ankle, but one time it sounded like someone had a really bad fall and a few people seemed nervous about the condition of the hiker being rescued.
I had to take things very slow with my shin issues and with the risk of going to fast and taking a bad step. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to complete the whole trail, but thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent out there. Almost daily I was able to find a beautiful river to swim in and found a lot of time to rest on peaks and find peace without stressing over time or mileage, unless I saw storm clouds rolling in.
My time on the GR20 will forever be held in my memory as one of the most profound nature experiences I will probably ever have. The contrast of ocean, forest, mountain and desert areas that Corsica provides is unmatched by anything I’ve seen. I was so envious of the birds flying around and prayed to have wings to see this entire mountain range. I will most definitely return one day to finish this trail and spend more time relishing in the glory of the mountains in Corsica.
For the next few days I have zero plans. My hope is to rest up and heal my shin as much as possible before Ryan gets here and we head out on whatever adventure we get into. I have a few days left on the island and feel so much peace in going with the flow and seeing what happens. I would like to see as much of the island as possible, but my current outlook on this journey is to let opportunity arise in its own way and to take those chances to explore in a way that doesn’t confine me like I’ve done in the past. We live in paradise and I choose to have heaven on earth today and for as long as I live. Thanks for reading!
- From under the tarp after the storm.