Friday, 14 December 2007

Picture this

In the past weeks, and rather late in our planning, we’ve huddled with consultants over the Raynaud’s situation. A shadow that might have spelled the end of the big adventure – or at least the first half. The consolation prize? Extended over-wintering in Barcelona.

But the consultant gave his blessing, within the bounds of due sense and precaution. Yet was I elated? No. Almost regretful. I ask you: a lazy winter in Barcelona or struggle and burden?

Stepping out into a brightly crisp morning (“a perfect winter’s day,” said Radio 4), I realised how firmly I had reverted to the deep distrust of the elements we modern humans have. From house to car to destination, we spend scarcely five minutes outdoors. In the sedentary indoors, we look out to rain and wind, with no way of judging what it would feel like out there. We haven’t let ourselves grow to know it.

Now more than ever I view the walk as an accommodation with the elements. A personal confrontation of my own fears. Like starting a new job or school, when you hope that all those unknown people will become familiar and friendly; so I hope that each shade of weather will come to be understood and – dare I believe it – a friend.

Despite the medical uncertainty, we’ve been completing our preparations. For three days I wielded a highlighter pen over maps and guidebooks, tracing the line that will lead us through those 2,500 miles. I’ve peered God-like at the bends of rivers and coastal wastes. Stretches near Rouen where the path follows the base of steep bluffs over the river, then zig-zags up wooded banks. I pictured the greens and the browns. From Compiègne to Laon old royal forests stretch for hundreds of miles and we’ll meander in and out of them for days.

The neat vines in the Champagne region to the rising crests of the Morvan mountains: where will we see the first snowdrop, the first violets? At what point will a shimmer of brightness on the branches let us know spring has come? And where will summer finally force me to unpeel my protective layers, long after everyone else?

I imagined ourselves into these landscapes, feeling the slip of mud and the tangle of tree roots from the lines on the paper; the unshaded straight roads.

Alongside me David has created an overview map. It shows clearly how foolish we are, how the straightest route would have saved 1000 miles and led through only gentle lands until the Roncesvalles pass.

Why, oh why?

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